Kill your darlings

Tamapotchi note #11

Tamapotchi, my experiment to create a smart(-ass) plant pot, had gotten stuck. It’s painful, but I admit: it failed. The good news today is that I revived Tamapotchi, following my favorite design mantra: Kill your darlings.

I’m not referring to my plants, rest assured, they are perfectly fine. No, I’ve pulled the plug from my first prototype version of Tamapotchi. The reason I got stuck was that I had gotten too attached to the prototype. It took me so long to design, engineer and build, I kept inventing reasons why I should keep believing in it. Classic mistake.

Prototyping is sketching. This is how it works: Human imagination is limited, but creativity makes up for that. We have a hard time imagining what the result of our choices could be, but when we finally see the result, we have no problem coming up with a hundred new features and possible next steps. That is why I, being a designer, need to sketch, and that was why my Tamapotchi was just a prototype. Prototypes, like sketches, are the byproduct of experiments. Think, make, learn and repeat. There’s a song in that.

The ‘old’ Blend Micro (left) and new Particle Photon (right)

What did I learn creating the first prototype? Technical stuff, like Arduino programming (pure fun), Bluetooth communication (NOT doing that again without an expert holding my hand) and building a smartphone app with Cordova (well… it worked eventually). Also, I learned to think about product design beyond the realm of the user interface. And last but not least, I learned about the power of writing about my project. It helped me digest my findings and sharing them kept me motivated.

Some weeks ago I bought a new Arduino-based prototyping board: a Wi-Fi-enabled Photon from Particle. I agree they went a little overboard with these names, but Particle has done a wonderful job with this board, its supporting infrastructure and tooling. The Particle app is where the fun starts. It has a ‘tinker’ feature, which means you can control the board from your smartphone without writing code. Makes checking a hardware setup a lot easier.

Tinkering on Particle’s smartphone app

Because the Photon has Wi-Fi you can flash it over the internet. No need for wires or even to be near it, you can change the software from anywhere. Talking about code, Particle also has its own web IDE, Particle Build, in which you write the software for the Photon. It offers an extensive library of useful plugins as well as documentation. Very basic, but exactly enough.

If Particle publishes a value, then store it in Google Docs

I connected a thermoresistor to my Photon and made it publish its value to the Particle service. Just a few lines of code, but with that I could already build a basic prototype. With my previous prototype I was struggling to store data points in order to be able to plot a chart or analyse a trend. Now I could use IFTTT (If This Then That) to tie the Particle and Google Docs services together. I told IFTTT to pick up the sensor value from the Particle service and to store it in a Google Sheet. I added a line chart to the spreadsheet et voilà: a temperature monitor!

The live chart from Google Sheets

In a next post I’ll tell more about how I used these findings in a more advanced prototype, using webhooks, Clusterpoint and NodeJS on Heroku.

If you want to meet Tamapotchi in real life, I will be presenting it on DevCon16 on april the 19th. For more information and tickets, check
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