Angela May

Exploring Product Design

‘Journal’ Category

Kicking off 2016

Okay, well it’s almost February, but the end of the year was a bit of a whirlwind of deadlines, contracts exploding, distractions… the usual.

I need to look ahead and get back on some these good habits that I established in (but dropped towards the end of) 2015. Just because I’ve fallen a bit behind doesn’t mean that effort was wasted, if anything it showed that it was working and it’s a viable tactic. This means, of course, regular weekly Pro-D and daily art practice.

With regards to art, as an aside, I have been keeping up with daily drawing. I don’t know if seasonal affective disorder is “a real thing” but I do know that it’s much, much harder for me to get up in the winters, and so it’s been a struggle to get myself going and carve out the time in the mornings that is usually dedicated to art. I don’t know how hard I ought to be on myself for this, or if I should just try to eke out a little more art time every day as the days get longer. DST will end in March and hopefully by then I’ll be in a different situation. A lot needs to happen between now and then.

For my professional self, I must admit that learning programming has been a struggle. I’ve been wading through these udemy courses but minor setbacks (like a conflict in some kind of program version or installation) are hurdles that really knock me off my game. I don’t have the confidence to troubleshoot myself through the process and it’s frustrating. I ought to just skip the lessons and move on, but I know that this type of “troubleshooting” is a key component to becoming successful as a programmer.

I’ve generated a huge list of things that I can do and I think that every time I look at it I feel daunted. So today I’ve taken the time to clean it up and re-prioritize, focusing myself only on the next step that I’m trying to do. I’m still excited to learn data visualization, I still think that it’s a good course to set myself towards, even if there are a lot of hurdles in the way. I just need to remember that baby steps are still steps, and the key is to keep going. Knock the barriers down one by one and stay focused.  Don’t beat yourself up too much, you’ve got a lot going on! It’s so funny how ending Wasted Talent is going to be one of the biggest breakthroughs on this course, but there’s still so far to go before I can achieve that. It’s strange how all of these are more related than I give them credit for, but I do have to be real with myself – I’m only one person.

Alright there we go

A bit easier to focus on :)

This year’s theme is “intentional design”. I will endeavor to put more forethought and care into everything I do this year, even if it means producing less. I want to produce the right things at the best quality.

Posted: January 29th, 2016
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Tough couple of weeks, not going to say much.

  • Finished Abundance, was kind of disappointed where it left off. My research will need to continue on.
    • Did watch a seminar on how exponential technologies will affect education, which was interesting.
  • Discovered that my Soldering iron is broken, at least the tip is… might be time for a new one anyway.
  • Still working through the Udemy course about 20% complete now.
Posted: November 6th, 2015
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Abundance Mentality

A reading-focused week, been working through this Abundance book by Diamandis and Kotler. It’s not exactly what I was looking for (in terms of what a post-scarcity economy would look like and how to micro-implement it) but it’s a really interesting book so far. I’ve been taking a lot of notes on topics for further research. The fundamental premise is that technological growth is exponential, and certain exponential technologies are going to change everything and soon. The exponential technologies that are explored in the text are Biotechnology, Bioinformatics, Computational systems, Networks and sensors, Artificial intelligence, Robotics, Digital manufacturing, Infinite computing, Nano materials, and Nanotechnology. I’m still working through it, but I’m learning a lot.

This week I also attended a Conscious Business seminar, where I met others who are interested in conscious business practices. It was fairly introductory but I found a number of terms I’ll be looking into in more detail in the future.

On Wednesday my coworkers Div and Taylor presented a lunch and learn about Python. It was mostly an introduction to the syntax, but I did learn quite a bit about an IDE called PyCharm that I’ll be looking into, and it helped to clarify some of the points that were still confusing to me. Dylan made an interesting point in how remarkable it is that all of these IDEs, libraries and even Python itself is completely free and open source. Everything coming back to abundance…

Today will be more chunking through the Udemy Python course, away we go!

Posted: October 23rd, 2015
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Plodding through this Udemy course. So far it seems much more applicable than the Coursera course, and it moves at a fairly brisk pace so that’s nice. Slowly chipping away at it a little at a time.

Otherwise at lunches I’ve been reading the next Tufte book, Envisioning Information. A lot of overlap with the previous book, the Visual Display of Quantitative Information, but still a good read, some really interesting examples so far from Tokyo.

Denis linked to a really interesting article I’ve been chewing on about what the author termed the “Post Capitalist” society. I’m not so sure about the author, but I am interested in the idea of exploring the inevitable outcomes of a major upheaval in our working society. Preliminary research has led me to this youtube channel, which is ok, still updating. If possible I’d like to break away from theory written by old white guys because I feel like the solution is going to come from somewhere else. Getting data is tough, because other societies don’t tend to get the respsect in academic circles that they deserve. May become an anthropology exercise, we’ll see.

Started a new initiative at work where we try new methods every Friday, working out well so far!

Posted: October 16th, 2015
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Python Sloggin’

I want to get back into journalling my progress in an effort to keep a bit more focused on ProD.

Awhile back I did a bunch of soul searching. I spent quite a bit of time on this. I was trying to answer: what should I pursue to get to the next level? What skillset is valuable, but naturally complimented by my existing skills? How can I become more of an asset to my current team? I didn’t think that duplicating their skillset would be the way to go, and I decided to pursue something a bit more uncommon.

Data Visualization is something that I eventually settled on. I’ve always been fascinated by graphs, and I think communicating information clearly is going to become an even bigger challenge going forward. This leverages much of my existing skillset (my technical background, some programming background, as well as good experience with excel and illustrator). I started researching Data Vis – what methods people were using and which tool would be the best to become familiar with.

I started with an OSU course through iTunes U which was very good, but was mostly focused on R. (more info)

Then I read a few books to give a broader context and get an impression on best practices for data vis. In order to select these books I did a lot of internet searching and collected the most-often recommended books, as well as scouring the Amazon ratings. My selections included The Quantitative Display of Visual Information by Tufte which I LOVED and immediately went out to buy his next two books in the series. I also read Visualize This which was interesting but more tutorial-based… I might check back with it later.

The two languages most often cited for Data Vis were R and Python, with an honourable mention to a couple of other languages including PHP and JavaScript.

R looks achievable, and I may still go back to it, but I decided to pursue Python instead, mostly because of its broader flexibility and usefulness in my field of work. So the mission became learn how to program in Python.

After floundering for a bit trying to teach myself this (there is a lot of conflicting information and lot of easy stuff to slog through before I get to what I actually want) I bit the bullet, enrolled in and completed this Coursera Course from Rice. It was okay. I found it very easy to keep up with, and I’m now confident I have fundamentals of the language, but the whole thing took place in this walled garden of a web-based development environment that has all these shortcuts… in actual real life I’m going to need to learn to do all that (installing an IDE, managing libraries, dealing with broken imports blah blah blah).

So my NEXT tactic is THIS course from Udemy:

And I’m going to try to apply what I learn to the data exports in Harvest, because that will be handy for the team :)

Posted: October 9th, 2015
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Recent Design Work

For reasons beyond my control, I’ve suddenly found myself back in search of work! The good news is that for the past eight months I’ve been working very hard as a design engineer at an industrial technology startup and I’ve spent a lot of time enhancing my Solidworks skills. For reasons of confidentiality, I can’t post full renderings of what I’ve been working on, but I do want to give an impression on the type of design work I’ve been doing. Hopefully the “crops” below will give you enough of an idea.

I was also able to do a lot of hands-on work and testing!

Posted: October 25th, 2012
Categories: Journal, News
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Rapid Visualizing Practice

I’ve been taking a course on Rapid Visualization and Product Rendering through Emily Carr. I have lots of drawing experience, but I know that industrial design has its own “style” that I need to learn, and there’s always more to learn!

So far we’ve mostly been working in pencil and chalk. I’ve learned a lot about perspective so far that I’m excited to practice with, and I’ve been picking up great techniques with regards to rendering different materials and shapes.

We started with perspective drawing, this is a perspective model of my HTC Touch Pro:

Simple pencil light and shadow. Did some additional practice with a USB key I have:

Drew this robot just for fun and lighting practice :)

To enhance light and shadow, we then started working with chalk and grey paper. The exercise below is by my instructor, Ying-Chiu Chan, I’ve just reproduced it:

Further practice rendering, this is based on a walkie-talkie by Cobra:

Looking forward to learning more in this course!

Posted: October 27th, 2011
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Early Experiments with Arduino

I picked up a great Arduino starter kit from Maker Faire in June. This is something that I’ve been wanting to experiment with every since I first heard about it (which I think was only a few months ago). I have some good theory under my belt from Engineering, and some good programming experience, but I this post documents my very first interaction with Arduino ever!

This is the kit that I got:

A pretty good kit, I think, it comes with all of the necessary components for a good batch of experiments (including motors and actuators), and the booklet has good beginner experiments to follow. The booklet is what I’m using for the rest of this post.

(It comes with stickers! Things are looking up)

Step one is to attach everything down to its holder assembly. The breadboard is easy, comes with and adhesive backing, but unfortuntely I got a bit happy with it and it’s too close for the bolt to sit in its intended location.



EVERYONE STAY CALM this is nothing I can’t fix!! I just used some alternate bolt-hole locations and it’s secured down just fine. I wish these bolts were a *bit* longer, but it works fine :)

Next step is to download the software. (The website is adorable!)

The instructions were very much required at this part, I wouldn’t have been able to fumble my own way through installing these drivers, I think, but the instructions were very clear and I got it done.

OK, first project time!!
Blinking LED… basic enough :) :)

Blinking lights are truly the 'hello world' of Arduino!

Blinking lights are truly the 'hello world' of Arduino!

First project success!! Played around a bit with changing the pins, setting the LED to different brightness, and even played with the fade program. Also confirmed my suspicion that the 2 pin diodes in the diagram were only there to hold the paper down! >:| not cool, that is way confusing! (not punching through the paper anyway, that is for lame-os.)

Next project involving eight LEDs.

When I plugged in the arduino again, pin 9 was blinking with my old code! New code worked like a charm – very satisfying to have something work the first time! :)
Wrote my own little program to make the lights blink two by two.

Finished off the evening by getting a little motor to spin.

All in all I think this is a very promising start. I know I’m very late to the Arduino game, but it’s exciting and fun and I’m looking forward to working with this platform.

Posted: October 15th, 2011
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Progress Update

I haven’t updated this particular journal in awhile but it’s not for lack of working on Exploring Product Design! Quite the opposite in fact!

Spring is convention season, and I spent the spring months promoting my first book, We Are The Engineers. Conventions are always a ton of work – coordinating flights and accomodations, getting all of my display in order, making new merchandise, promoting the event itself… I’ve cut back on conventions significantly compared to last year but those first few months are still packed solid with work.

The Summer I spent completing my Professional Engineering application. This was a huge goal of mine for the year, and meant taking my Law and Ethics course, studying for and taking my professional practice examination (I passed!), and completing my Work Experience Report – a 24 page report detailing all of the work I’ve done since I entered the world of professional work. I just finished wrangling the last feedback form from my managers and colleagues (8 total!) so I am DONE… it’s just a waiting game now.

In between all of that work I still managed to make make time for self-directed product design education.

Three mini projects that I spent time working on (none of which are that big of a deal, but I want to use this space to log ALL the little things that I end up making).

1. Improved Fly Trap

This one was an easy build from existing components, but I have been ‘testing’ it throughout the summer and it works great! The best fruit fly trap I’ve discovered so far was this shallow mixture of vinegar and dish soap (to reduce the surface tension of the vinegar). There are fruit fly traps of similar design for sale, but I couldn’t find one locally and it was less effort, I figured to just make it myself!

This is the prototype – easy enough for anyone to make, a water bottle with the top cut off and inverted. You need to tape the seam so flies can’t escape out the sides, however, so disassembling it for cleaning is a bit of a pain. I wanted a similar assembly with an easy to remove lid for cleaning.

A quick trip to the Daiso next door and I picked up these beauties… simple glass jars with a soft plastic lid top.

Quick integration with a funnel and… presto! DIY Fly Trap.

2. Improved Button Display

At conventions I sell buttons with my art on them – individually and in packs. I’ve experimented with various methods of display for these buttons… bowls, dishes, clips. The most advanced that I’ve come up with so far is an old picture frame covered up with black fabric. This way I can pin all the buttons on and people can easily see the designs that are available.

There were a few problems with this display. The first is that it wasn’t tall enough. At conventions it’s best if you can keep your display at attendee eye-level. Second, over time the fabric was getting worn out with holes all over it. Third, setup (pinning all the pins to the board) was a bit time consuming.

Finally, for some reason, the second people see buttons pinned to this board their first instict is to pull them off. Of course it is very tricky for people to get the pin off the fabric, and it’s a pain for me to replace. I decided that I wanted to facilitate this behaviour.

My design criteria for the button display were (in order):

1) Lightweight, compact and easy to set up and disassemble. My entire display kit needs to fit in a rolling suitcase, and the suitcase needs to be under 50lb or I get charged overages on airlines. The more weight taken up by display, the less merch I can bring! Assembly is also critical because I have to tear down and be out of the hall as quickly as possible – minutes matter.

2) As tall as possible, bringing the merchandise as close to eye level as possible

3) Easy to pin and remove display for button singles AND packs

4) As clean elegant as possible.

The major epiphany for this project came when I realized that pin-backs stick great to MAGNETS. I forget how I discovered this, but I have yet to see another convention seller using this technique to sell their pins. What I needed was a GIANT MAGNET! This was probably the most difficult part of the project. I found an 8.5*11 sheet at Michael’s but it wasn’t thick enough to hold the pins reliably. In the end I had to go with an online source and get the thickest magnet sheet I could. This thicker sheet works like a charm.

The display itself is just a piece of wood board (thinnest I could find) painted white. Works fine, but I might move to a lighter acrylic. The prototype feet are foamcore and this arrangement (two feet + stabilizer) worked really great.

The display was very stable and quick to assemble and disassemble. Next I’ll re-make the base in another material. The racks at the top are re-purposed folder hangers attached with hot glue. With this arrangement I can feature up to 9 different button packs.

Here is the button display in action. The magnet works GREAT, people grab the pins without thinking about it. When it comes off they think they are magnets but quickly realize they are pins. At the base is a small basket of pins (yet again for unknown reasons, people LOVE running their fingers through bowls of pins). People want to take the button packs off the racks, too, which is a pain, but at least it’s replaceable. So far the biggest problem has been the racks snapping off in transit.

There are definitely improvements I’d like to make to this display for next season, but I’m probably going to discontinue selling button packs at shows… maybe buttons altogether. They seem to have fallen out of fashion.


I have an old salt lamp with an incandescent bulb that I wanted to convert to solar. My first attempt was the coward’s way out (gotta start somehwere!) – repurposing a cheap solar garden lamp. Disassembly of the old lamp was easy, but the lamp is VERY cheap (only $3 I think?) and while I was trying to solder longer connections, I damaged the board. My experience with electronics isn’t good enough yet to figure out how to fix it, or how to best salvage the remaining components, so my next step is to try to build the circuit myself from scratch. I’ve bought all the components and gotten a good set of instructions, I just haven’t had a chance to sit down and do it yet.

During the summer I also made it down to Vancouver’s inaugural Mini Maker Faire! I really enjoyed this event, it was awesome meeting vancouverites making amazing things. I used the opportunity to pick up my very own Arduino kit, and I’ve started messing around with it. Next post!

I’ve been amassing a good collection of Industrial Design books that I plan to go through to teach myself the principles of good design and sketching. In my collection so far are:

The last design book I finished was “Change by Design” by Tim Brown, founder of IDEO. I really enjoyed the book! I want to re-read it and write up a mini-review.

Finally I registered in a few more Emily Carr Industrial Design courses. Starting immediately: Rapid Visualization and Product Rendering, and later in the winter: working with Rhino.

Whew! Reading that list you can hopefully understand why my life is a constant battle with exhaustion. I’m really trying to move forward with product design as best as I can but the full time job and my webcomic audience of 10,000+ can be very demanding :)
Posted: October 11th, 2011
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Early Adventures in Soldering

So, I have a confession to make.  I’ve never soldered anything in my life. I’m not sure exactly how I skipped this developmental step.  My parents were very supportive in my early quests to learn sciency things: I had a microscope, lego, access to simple woodworking tools… all that wonderful stuff… but no electronics kits. Probably because, as the comic suggests, I’m one of the clumsiest people on the planet. Maybe their house insurance didn’t cover offspring idiocy.

Whatever the reason, I managed to go through all of my childhood and even several university electrical courses without ever soldering anything! (We always used breadboards)  These days I’ve got the itch to test my personal boundaries and try new things, so I marched down to the local electronics shop and bought an assortment of things, DETERMINED to try soldering something together. If my destiny is to fail spectacularly, so be it!

Let’s back up for a moment. In case we have non-techies in the audience, soldering (pronounced “SAW-tering” in US English) is the process of joining a conductive material to electronic components so electrons can flow between them. (I believe it was lead at first but it’s now a form of… tin?)

An electronic circuit can’t work without a continuous path of metal. The solder acts as a bridge between components (like the battery, resistors, LEDs) and the circuitboard (which has paths of metal embedded into it).

Back to the story, I’d purchased the running microbug kit, pictured above. Any eight year old could probably put this together, so it seemed like a good place to start.

Here’s my workstation.  The red handled thing is the soldering iron. The complete instructions are laid out there. To be as multi-lingual as possible, all of the steps are spelled out in crude pictograms. Some are easier to understand than others. Reminds me a bit of origami instructions! The metal tube-looking thing is a coil of solder that came with the iron. I’m sure I’ll need more soon!

Here are the two types of resistors used in this circuit.  The little coloured lines are a code for resistance value (Ohms). According to the kit, brown-black-brown is 100 and red-red-brown is 220.  I wasn’t really interested in verifying that, I just wanted to get to THE BURNING

Stick it in the appropriate slots and feed the wires through… flip the circuit board over…

… and there we go! My first ever solder. I really can’t tell if these are good or not, they are probably terrible. I tried really hard to get the fabled “volcano shape” but I was also really worried about not having enough solder to make the connection. So I erred on the side of caution and put probably way more solder than I needed.

Repeat as directed

Once the resistors are down, the kit instructs you to solder down the fancier components… transistors, a switch, and these little doohickies that I learned later are light sensors! (in the kit they were just referred to as ‘LDR’. NOW I KNOW)

LEDs. I learned that the SHORT leg is the cathode, and you need to make sure that goes in the BLACK side of the indicated hole. I’m sure I will screw that up someday. Mayber there’s a mnemonic. Short-Cathode-Black. ShCaBl. The short black cat jumped in first… this is terrible nevermind.

Definitely the most exciting part of the kit for me were these little motors. Motors!! They’re so adorable… Most of the motors I deal with are the size of an ottoman or larger (hundreds of horsepower), so it’s exciting being able to hold one in the palm of my hand.

The instructions had a strange pictogram of what looked like a police baton pointing to the sides of the motor. I figured out that they wanted me to use a metal file to roughen up the sides so solder would stick to it. I just roughed it up with my snips since I didn’t have a metal file, seemed to work ok. Getting them to stay at the weird angle (as pictured) was a challenge, I needed like six hands to do this!

Most of the components are down now, including the little motors. As you can see there are a variety of solders, probably ranging from terrible to oh-God-why in quality. By the end of it, the best technique for soldering seemed to be a sort of chopping of the solder wire a few mms away from the target. This seemed to reduce runaway solder. If you miss, the solder cools into a neat little sphere that you then have to chase around the board with the tip of your iron. Fun, in a way, but I can tell this is not ideal.

This was the hardest part for me, bending the connector wire to the lead and through the hole to the rest of the board. Very difficult to bend, I was certain I was going to break something.

… but I did it!

In the end, I put the batteries in this sucker and… well… it did something! But I screwed up in several places. First, the switch didn’t work.  I think this is because the three connections were touching a little. It was an accident! I tried to slice them apart and clean it up a bit, but I guess it was a lost cause :(

Beyond that, only half of the circuit seems to be working… One motor and LED (on the same side) don’t work, so when you turn it on the poor thing just vibrates awkwardly in circles. The light sensor worked, though, and I had fun shielding it with my hands and uncovering it.

So, all in all a noble failure, I think. I learned a lot considering I had to get over my fear of burning myself horribly and I’d never soldered anything ever. I’m tempted to buy the same kit and try again, but I’ll probably just buy a different kit.  I WILL MASTER THIS YET

Posted: October 5th, 2010
Categories: Journal
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