Tuesday, 14 May 2013

I need your help

Okay, lovely people, it's time to think about painting, and I need your input.

As you perhaps know, I'm building a giant Soma cube to take to Nowhere in July. There are 240 different ways to put its seven pieces together to form a cube.

And I've discovered (by using mathematics!) that though a cube, of course, has six faces, it is possible to choose one complete square face from each of ten different solutions of the cube such that none of the ten chosen square faces share any of the faces of the pieces that compose them.

In other words, if you gave me ten different square pictures, I could carefully paint the pieces of the cube so that, if you solved the cube one way, you'd get one of the pictures, and if you solved it another way, you'd get a different picture, and so on. The cube would secretly have ten faces!

So I want you to help me choose ten different square pictures, so I can decorate the cube like that. Here's the spec:


One face will be reserved for a Nowhere logo. The other nine designs are to reflect different aspects of life that conflict with each other or compete for attention ... something like:

  1. Family
  2. Friends
  3. Work
  4. Rest
  5. Travel
  6. Home
  7. Your topic here!
  8. Your topic here!
  9. Your topic here!


Each design should be bold and simple. That way, it will be easy to see even in dusty conditions. Also it will mean even a software engineer can understand it. Think icons, traffic signs, special symbols in typefaces (♥¸ ☺, &, ☢, ♜, ⚥) and so on.

 The finished cube will be 1.2 metres on a side, but there will be some narrow gaps between the pieces. Each face is made of nine smaller square faces. Ideally, each design should cover all nine of the smaller squares that compose it.

What you should do next

  • Open the face template that shows, in proportion, how one square face will be made up. Print out a few copies and put them on your desk or wherever. See what you can fill them with. Maybe doodle on them when you're on the phone or bored. Photograph or scan the results, and share them with the +Soma Cube, or send them to nowherecube@gmail.com.
  • Think about the things in your life that you wish would add up, but which don't. Do you love the sunshine, but know that only one rainy city will ever be truly home to you? Do you love burning things, but worry about your carbon footprint? Share your thoughts with the +Soma Cube or send them to nowherecube@gmail.com.
What's in it for you, beyond fame and glory? Something, I promise ... but I'm not saying what yet.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Making Faces

I spent most of the May Day bank holiday cutting cube piece faces. I've now finished all the large pieces, which also means I've finished all the difficult concave cuts.

I learned a couple of industrial economics facts from this.

The first is that, even on small-scale production of things such as the nine identical L-shaped faces I needed to make, it pays to specialise. That is to say, it's faster to do the first cut of all nine, then the second cut of all nine, and so on, than it is to do all the cuts of the first face, then all the cuts of the second face, and so on. That's because setting everything up for each kind of cut takes time, and doing different cuts one after another also makes me likely to forget where in the room I left the various tools.

The second thing I noticed is that, because working more efficiently allows me to do the same amount of work in a shorter time, it also means I'm doing more physical activity per unit time. So one symptom of increased productivity is more sweat. (In my normal line of work, the extra 'sweat' from increased efficiency is experienced by a data centre, so I don't notice it so much.)

I wasn't entirely sure that I'd get the cuts for the more complicated pieces right, so I made models of them in Blender. (I tried Sketchup first and found it fiddly and surprisingly buggy. Blender has been harder to figure out but I found it very slick once I discovered how to use snap-to-face.)

Here's one of my models on Sketchfab. Unfortunately that site doesn't do animation yet so you can't see how all the pieces are going to go together or what the inside looks like.

Now there are lots of boring square and squarish pieces left — 37 of them, to be precise. I can make it interesting by working out how to cut more than one of them at once without sacrificing precision.

Aside from that, I need to acquire and start cutting the wood for the frame. 34x34mm timber is readily available and will certainly be solid enough, but is a bit heavier than I'd like. I suspect I could get away with something slenderer than that, but I can't find anyone selling smaller square cross sections.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Further Feet

Following on from my last foot-finding foray, I've done some more experiments. It's possible to cut a tennis ball in half in a zigzag sort of way, so that the halves each fit neatly on a cube corner. There are four downsides of using tennis balls, though:

  • They're really difficult to cut in half;
  • The hair falls off them (especially along the cut) and gets everywhere;
  • They have a second-hand value, so they're cheap rather than free;
  • They're quite bulky.
So I'm not convinced that tennis balls are a good solution.

I also tried cutting bicycle tyre into pieces that fit better on a corner. The previous design for this used three separate strips for each corner; unless constructed very cleverly, it's likely to open up along the diagonal and not protect the corner as well as it could. This new design uses only one piece but stays over the corner better.

The prototype is similar in shape to the sort of sticking plaster that is designed to go on an elbow – for similar reasons. The only downside of it is that it doesn't have the same rotational symmetry that the earlier tyre-based design had. However, I think a final design could be more equilateral in shape.

It would be useful to work out a way to use a template to cut the pieces of tyre accurately and quickly. I doubt that jig saws work on rubber.