Hardware History

This week at HQ, we’ve started doing something called “deep work”. The people at Do Lectures, whose book we’re reading this month about writing good email newsletters, recommend it as a way to not be distracted by all the things that pop up in our lives now thanks to our phones and the web and all that. It’s good! We’re going to persist.

Our deep work mechanics at this stage are that I’ve set an alarm on my phone that goes off at 2pm, and again at 5pm, and in that window, we try not to use our phones and turn off the WiFi on our laptops.

One of the main jobs we have at the moment is to think more about sales and marketing. We haven’t especially done any yet, apart from talking about our work to people who mostly already know us, so we’d like to broaden our audience a bit – hence reading about writing better newsletters. Would you like to sign up for our newsletter? We thought we’d start with our homepage, which hasn’t been changed since we wrote it, really, back in 2016. (Not proud of that!). So, we’re working on that.

During that exercise, we were flung off into a lovely exercise of pulling things off our shelves, and arranging it — or knolling it — on our big work table. It was really satisfying to see how Museum in a Box has evolved.

Here’s a wobbly panorama of the whole scene to start with. Packaging, Box inserts, the Box and its various design branches, the “brain” which is all the hardware/software inside, our progress bar, and the sound elements, from volume knob selection to amplifier design.
You can see the Box insert cards, from the very first idea of a scribbled “Updates” card, to our current TRY ME! cards, which give people who’ve bought a Make Your Own kit something to play before they’ve finished their collections.
These are the various elements of the “brain”. From earliest at the top, to most recent at the bottom. Exciting to see Adrian’s very first comp of our physical progress bar, which we developed because the Box took about 30 seconds to start up. Now it takes about 12 seconds!
And finally, we have about ten hardware versions we consider to be major milestones in the design. It’s not quite Dyson’s 5,000 iterations, but we aren’t as rich as him, so, there’s that. It’s still really satisfying to track the design evolution and how we’ve continually synthesised feedback and technical considerations.

We’ve parcelled all the iterations up into their own labelled boxes on the shelves instead of them being all over the place, which I find comforting.

Possibly the best bit is that Charlie’s also made an awesome 3D model of the table with all the bits and bobs on it!

New Year, New Box, New You!

“Radically better”

As we move into 2020 we want to take a moment to talk about the latest version of the Box, version 1.3. We’ve dedicated much of the last year to developing it, and we LOVE it!

Our new v1.3 Box design
Behold version 1.3! Think it doesn’t look much different? Think again and look under the hood…

At the beginning of 2019 we sent 40 boxes around the world in our pilot. Following the feedback from that, and coupled with a wish list we had already built up, we identified a number of ways we could improve the Box.

At the same time we set ourselves the ambitious goal to build 1000 boxes by the end of the year. Building large numbers of the previous design wasn’t ever going to be practical, it was made up of a tangle of wires that we had to hand-wire ourselves and it relied on a variety of components ordered online from a multitude of suppliers. The Boxes were also subject to the occasional injury when transported around the world, so it’s suffice to say we had our work cut out!

Some of the ways we sought to improve the design included:

  • Better audio – louder and clearer!
  • Faster assembly time
  • Fewer parts
  • More durable design
  • Logging boops offline

And so we started work in the spring; Adrian worked on designing the PCB as a neat home for all the components that were previously crammed into the box, George developed the awesome instructional graphics on the board and worked on software improvements, and Charlie designed a new acrylic ‘skull’ and mapped out the positions for the electronics and how they would be mounted inside the Box. So here it is…

The new PCB…

We LOVE the new PCB and it has a few important features worth talking about. Importantly there’s no wires. Previous Boxes included a large micro-USB extension cable, aux jack, and loads of wires which got in the way. Now the jacks are tiny components that sit at the back of the board and are devoid of the tangled wires that criss crossed older versions. This means we no longer have to hand solder anything (Yay!) and the boxes will be far more durable, reliable, consistent.

The ‘Brain’ of the Box is now a neat stack of three separate boards: A Raspberry Pi 3A+ sits at the bottom, then there’s our main custom board and progress LED board (affectionately known as ‘Blinky Lights’) which slots in a right-angle socket; and finally we have a stacking header and plastic standoffs which raises the reader high above the main PCB just underneath the surface of the box. Primed and ready for Booping!

Our beautiful board (note the handy prompts to help you understand what’s what!)

There’s now a REAL-TIME CLOCK (RTC) too. Previously if a Box wasn’t on WiFi we had no way of logging when a Boop had happened because the Pi doesn’t keep track of time when it’s not online. So this new RTC allows us to timestamp a Boop and log it next time the Box is connected to a WiFi network.

Testing the board and speakers for the first time

Then there’s the DIGITAL-TO-ANALOG CONVERTER (D.A.C.). As the board says the D.A.C. ‘converts digital audio into analog sound for the amp’. This along with our super swanky and loud speakers make for waaaay better audio, that is free of static and incredibly clear. This alone makes the experience of using a Museum in a Box, particularly in noisy environments, so much better.

1000 Speakers!
1000 custom made speakers!

The new speakers not only pack a punch but also weigh a lot less which in turn makes them far easier to mount. V1.3 is almost half the weight of previous versions which will reduce both the cost of postage and it’s environmental impact when shipped around the world.

The new Skull…

A side by side comparison of the Museum in a Box design changes from 2018 to 2019
A comparison of the Box design evolution from 2018 to 2019

With our new PCB came the challenge of mounting it inside the ‘Skull’. Past versions required us to fix bits to the sides, top, and base with an opening on the underside. This was fastened by screws in the feet and some t-nuts that were an incredible pain to mount and often came loose!

The advice we kept receiving when talking enclosures was to injection mould it. The main benefits of that being a moulded enclosure is ‘preassembled’ and ready to put the electronics straight in. It’s also very scalable and would allow us to integrate snap fittings into the design for mounting components inside.

To explore this we did a lot of research into moulding and a bunch of work CADing and prototyping different enclosures. We also took a team trip to visit Protolabs in Telford and learned a great deal from the brilliant people there and received an exciting factory tour of their setup. We attained quotes but ultimately decided not to go with injection moulding for two reasons:

1. The upfront tooling cost is very high and hard to justify for the small batches we planned to initially produce.

2. The overall aesthetic of the Box has become part our identity. The ability for us to easily modify the design, and teach others to build the Box (such as our amazing Verizon volunteers!) feels much more appropriate for our scale and values.

So, having decided to stick with our laser cut look we needed to find a neat way to mount the PCB inside the Skull. The solution was to switch from a bottom opening to a front loading Box. We created a neat groove on the back panel for the PCB to slide into and sit neatly in the middle of the box, lining up with openings at the back for the micro-USB and aux jacks. The Box can now be opened, the PCB removed, and replaced in mere moments!

Get in the groove! The ledge the PCB slots and rests into, lining up with the aux & power jacks on the skull.

The extra front and back panels are held in place and made removable by using some neat snap rivets which can be removed from the outside. We used these rivets for speaker mounting too where before we’d faffed about with tiny nuts and bolts and a laser-cut stand.

Blinky Lights – We use these to indicate that the Box is ‘warming up’ and ‘ready to go!’

Other new features include a new progress LED board which is slicker and uses some recycled acrylic offcuts for the shims that we sent to the PCB manufacturers European Circuits. We spent a long time looking for the perfect light pipes to use with surface mount LEDs but ultimately decided to stick with through hole LEDs and our big green green LED. Why? Because they look bright and amazing!

New Packaging!

A new Box deserves new packaging to go with it. We revisited a previous design using a more compact container and an insert that conceals the power plug and various admin and try me cards so all you see when unboxing is your shiny new Box!

Finally there’s the latest version of the software. We’ll talk about this in more depth another day but we’re chuffed that the Box now boots up waaay quicker than it used to and includes more audio guidance when working through steps like WiFi and updates.

The new assembly time…

With our new design manufactured we decided to assemble the first 20 Boxes. We were blown away to discover that assembly now takes ~7.5 minutes per Box – a 2000% increase from the old design!

George and Charlie building 20 boxes in 2.5 hours!

In future this saving will enable us to fulfil orders quicker than ever before. The Box was intentionally designed for disassembly and as a result we proudly no longer use glue during the assembly process. The Box will now be much easier for people to disassemble and recycle at the end-of-life and we will share a breakdown of the parts and materials inside the Box in due course to make safe and appropriate disposal even easier.

And so with our shiny new Box design came our first test…

First boot up of v1.3… we figured out the Zeus print, eventually!

So there you have it, our new Box and the culmination of over nine months hard work. I hope that proves an interesting insight into some of the design decisions we made in developing v1.3. We love it and we hope you do too!

Our shop is now online so you can buy your very own v1.3 Box with a Make Your Own kit now! Kits are available in Individual, Educator, Small Org and Large Org options and colours include CMYK, Transparent, and Plywood.

Box colours range: Cyan, Yellow, Transparent, Plywood, Magenta, Key
Box colours include: Cyan, Yellow, Transparent, Plywood, Magenta, Key

Have a wonderful New Year from all at Museum in a Box.

📦🎁🎅🎄🧦🎉🛠️🏺🏛️🔌💡🔉🌰

Brown Paper Packages Tied Up With String

Some of our first Make Your Own kits leaving the nest for Spain, Canada, and the USA!

Great Zulu stories and notes from the Arctic,
Bright yellow boxes and Make Your Own pilots,
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of our favourite things…

New courtroom faces and snap tins for miners,
Queens losing heads and a lobster that blushes,
New PCBs that can tell you what’s what,
Kids so excited they’re all tied in knots…

Beautiful boxes and factory stories,
Magical objects and Japanese letters,
Powerful gods and goddesses that win,
These are a few of our favourite things…

When the rent comes,
And the bank shouts,
When we’re feeling sad,
We simply remember our favourite things,
And then we don’t feel so bad…

Bright civil servants returning to workplace,
Teachers who test things and tell us what’s working,
Web shop in order and cash coming in,
These are a few of our favourite things

US museum our top Make Your Own’er,
Bilingual cards made by Spanish teenagers,
Planning new projects in prep for next year,
All of these things fill us with much good cheer…

Visits from artists and kids and fun actors,
Touring to Cape Town and Cambridge and Tilbury,
Red velvet boxes with treasures within,
These are a few of our favourite things…

When the rent comes,
And the bank shouts,
When we’re feeling sad…
We simply remember our favourite things,
And then we don’t feel so bad
!

Very happy Chrismahanukwanzakah to you and yours! We’re looking forward to a rest over the New Year, and what fresh mischief we can make in 2020!

Make Your Own Pilot: Feedback from two Auckland primary schools

One of our Make Your Own pilots, Auckland Museum, created a Box that they have now tested with two local primary schools, and they made this brilliant video to share what happened, and what the students and teachers thought:

Auckland Museum’s user feedback video

We were especially excited to hear how the teacher towards the end leant very naturally into:

  1. how much easier it is when the museum comes to the classroom, and
  2. that Make Your Own is a fluid extension of a museum sending a Box into a class.

Thank you very much to Mandy, Claire, and Tom at Auckland Museum for this wonderful record.

Quotes from the transcript that stood out for us:

  • “It converts objects into stories and audio.”
  • “Yeah, the boop box is really fun cause it’s like having playing and learning combined.”
  • “I really liked the fact that they didn’t have an insight into what it was going to be. They had to listen, they had to use a different sense, rather than just looking or sitting at a device.”
  • “One of the things we’d really love to see is this becoming part of an interactive piece of work for the kids, where the kids get to experience the objects, hear about the objects, link that to their own inquiries, but even being able to take the next step and being able to perhaps code their own little tags, so that they can take what they’ve seen from this and then use that as a way of sharing their own learning rather than just purely receiving the information, being able to create and share information through that medium as well.”
  • “The greatest benefit to us of this kit and this program is the availability to our teachers in their classrooms. And to our kids being able to access this information without necessarily having to go to the museum. And, I think, when we think about how we want to engage our children in learning, every moment counts, so the opportunity for the kit to be here and travel to us and for our teachers to have time with it beforehand, to experience it and think about how they are going to use it really has much wider reaching implications than the traditional model of going to a museum, seeing an exhibitions and talking about it when we come home.”

New Commission: The Tower of London for Historic Royal Palaces

Turns out the Tower of London is literally one of the most inaccessible cultural highlights on the planet. That’s because it’s the Tower of London: Fortress, Palace, Prison.

This presents the Community Engagement Team with a particular challenge: how can they help people understand what a visit might be like? Particularly those who are local? Obviously, the Tower is a huge tourism hotspot, but there are also Londoners nearby who have never visited, and are unlikely to because it’s difficult to access, physically, financially, and culturally. Enter our new Collection, developed in partnership with the Community Engagement team at the Tower, and in particular, Jatinder Kailey. We have created a Collection that explores the three historical themes of the Tower, exploring its existence as a fortress, a palace and a prison. We were also able to repurpose quite a bit of audio that the Tower had produced previously for other contexts, which was good.

This is what the postcards look like:

Being an Aussie, I particularly enjoyed contributing research and copywriting for the 18 postcards in the collection, studying a bunch of the stories and characters from within the walls, either living there by choice, duty, or force. As I researched, I learned how many people have had been beheaded there, which gave me an idea for the custom container we built to hold the Box and the Collection. What if the Box looked about the size of a head? Grey on the outside, blood red on the inside!

We enlisted the considerable talents of our Maker of Special Things, Takako, who made a beautiful container fit for a King’s head. We supplemented the Collection postcards with some replica objects, like a giant diamond and a coronation anointing spoon, and wrapped everything in red velvet, which usually makes anything way more fun.

Now, Jatinder is reaching out to local groups in the community to visit them, and share the treasures of the Tower with folks for whom a visit is difficult, and we can’t wait to see the results!

It was also a pleasure to drop it off in person at the Tower. What a thrill.

OFF WITH THEIR HEAD!

Abira Hussein joins the Museum in a Box Advisory Board

We’re thrilled to announce that Abira Hussein has joined the Museum in a Box Advisory Board. 

We first worked with Abira back in 2016, when we assisted in developing the “Healing Through Archives” Collection, which she took around to lots of different community spaces and educational settings. It was a brilliant and fun project, gathering and presenting stories told by older women in London Somali communities, and combining them with photographic, sound and music archives from the British Museum and British Library. It was also really our first foray into the development of a Collection where objects were described by people who had used or experienced them, and described in the ‘mother tongue’ (instead of a Professional Expert). Since then, this work has blossomed into her award-winning NOMAD project, developed in collaboration with Mnemoscene.

Abira is a seasoned public speaker and seasoned academic, now undertaking a PhD at UCL entitled The Archive and The Community: using digital technologies and participatory approaches to co-create new archival spaces and knowledge within Somali communities in Britain. She’s also an Associate Producer at All Change and a Research Associate at Culture& and King’s Digital Lab!

She’ll bring a new dimension to our Advisory Board, thanks to her wide-ranging network, expertise in developing social impact projects, deep familiarity with the UK/EU funding landscape, and her reputation and ability to speak truth to power. 

Abira joins our other fantastic advisors: Gill Wildman, Nick Stanhope, and Ben McGuire.

On the ground at HQ – our 100 Box run is coming together…

It’s been a while in the works, but things are looking very good to build out our biggest run yet: 100 Boxes!

It was our goal this year to figure out how to make 1,000 Boxes, and, well, even though we’ll probably only build 100, that work has allowed us to understand and have a way forward to making Boxes much, much more quickly.

The Skull

Charlie has done the lion’s share of the work associated with making the “skull” or exterior casing of the Box even better. The shape itself has been simplified and optimised so it’s much quicker to assemble. We were lucky enough to have a hardy bunch of volunteers from Verizon Media help us build 100 skulls in a day a few weeks ago. The first time we made skulls, it took about a day to make three.

At the end of the day, you can see 100 skulls made!

The Brain

The Brain is what we’ve always called what’s inside the Box… the electronics. Here is where we’ve done a ton of optimising… and revealing the tech. Before, we would have gathered all the various electronic components from all over the place, from wires to resistors to washers to everything. We assembled them by hand here at HQ.

But now, we have our very own PCB design, largely laid out by Adrian with a few design touches from me, and it’s a thing of beauty, and, importantly, not made by us, but by trained professionals at European Circuits.

George holds the new design in her hands for the first time!

And here’s Charlie turning it on, mere moments ago.

The very best part is that we’re still on our production schedule track to make the 100 Boxes next week, and then SELL THEM ON THE INTERNET.

We have our shop online now, at shop.museuminabox.org, so if you’ve been wanting to buy a Make Your Own kit, or a Museum in a Box tote bag, or even our Greek Gods & Goddesses collection (although you’ll need a Box to play that), now’s your chance!

Be the first to own one of our snazzy tote bags!

We’re changing our name a little bit: Ltd. to C.I.C.

When we formed the company back in October 2015 – four years ago! – we opened up as a stock-standard company limited by shares. It’s something I had done before – in 1998, in Australia – and a system of governance I am much more familiar with than, say, a charity.

Part of our raison d’être was to do good and make money, and we’ve always had a commercial bent, as our few years of successful commissions with our partners attest. We had also – somewhat naïvely in hindsight, I think – presumed that we could join the ranks of those working towards venture capital investment, but that never felt like a good spiritual fit, and I was always discomfited by conversations with finance folk who were pressing us for the now-conventional strategy to scale, scale, scale.

I think this fetishisation of scale is really destructive and actually antithetical to building a real, profitable bricks-and-mortar business. The ease with which one can scale up a software service cannot be mapped on to a business that makes things. But, that’s another blog post for another time.

The official record!

The thing we wanted to tell you is that we’ve become a Community Interest Company. We got the certificate from Companies House this morning.

If you squint at it, it’s basically the same as a company limited by shares, except there’s an asset lock in place (so if we go under, our assets are passed along to another CIC), and our social purpose (getting cultural education into hard-to-reach places) are now enmeshed in the company’s articles of association. Our purpose is also no longer individual shareholder profit (and frankly, it never really has been, actually), but to state that overtly feels good.

We’re very happy to re-emerge as one of about 14,000 Community Interest Companies in the UK. It’s fun to watch the list of last month’s new registrations… feels like the right crowd to mingle with. And let’s just say we’re eating lots of Celebrations at HQ, and a special thank you to Bee Kelly, who’s volunteering with us at the moment, and helped push through the paperwork.

What’s this? A new online shop opening soon?

Yes, that’s right! We’re busily preparing ourselves to sell our new Make Your Own kits online! We hope to open up the shop before the end of the year so we can send out early sales before Christmas. It’s exciting to know that some of the kits are already spoken for – headed for a teachers’ association in Spain, and a museum at Harvard, and more places!

outline of the four kits on offer

There’s more info on our new Make Your Own info page, and if you’d like to be notified when we launch it, please sign up for our newsletter!

WANTED: Django+Shopify Developer (ROCKSTAR WOLF)

Illustration by @ritwells

THANK YOU FOR YOUR INTEREST IN BECOMING OUR ROCKSTAR WOLF. THE POSITION HAS BEEN FILLED.

Location:
Anywhere in the world, collaborating with a UK team (GMT)

Contract:
We are on a tight deadline to deliver our online shop in early/mid November so will consider any working patterns which help us deliver this. Your work to build our online shop will provide the income we need to keep you on!

Deadline:
4 Nov 2019 12:00 GMT


What’s the job?
We are an educational technology social enterprise called Museum in a Box. We bring museum objects and their stories directly into classrooms and into students’ hands anywhere in the world. From Egyptian archeology, transatlantic slavery, to explaining how the justice system works, we work with major insitutions such as the V&A and Smithsonian Institution to bring the curriculum to life. We’re also working on a Make Your Own kit version, too – a method for students (or families or organisations) to create their own collections, learning all sorts of cross-curricular skills as they go, and we’re launching a Shopify presence as soon as we can.

The Box itself is powered by Raspberry Pi, running a Node.js app to manage interactions, media and simple usage data, and we have a working Django web application that already manages users, collections, boxes, and other bits and bobs. We already have users who are making their own collections remotely too.

We are looking for someone who can primarily integrate Shopify with our Django web app.

We are a team of designers and programmers, and a growing crew of freelance creatives. The big gap that this position would fill is bringing two separate services together so Box and Kit sales can be easily managed by staff, and also easily configured by folks buying kits. We expect to do this work manually to begin with, but you can definitely help with that, and hopefully, you’re the type of person who loves throwing great software solutions at tedious manual workflows!

In the role you will:

  • Lead on ensuring Shopify is fully integrated with our existing Django web platform.
  • Add a Django-based user forum to our web platform.
  • Add a short list of new features to our web platform to accommodate group operations and group Box ownership

The ideal candidate will:

  • Be fluent in Django/Python/JavaScript.
  • Have at least three years professional engineering experience.
  • Have programmed a Shopify integration previously, demonstrably.
  • Have worked on a demonstrable web application used by more than 1,000 people. 
  • Have an active Github presence.
  • Enjoy UX filigree, both conception and execution.
  • Likes showing rough working software in progress.

About Museum in a Box Ltd.
We’re a small company based in Hoxton, London. Our mission is to help museums increase access to their collections and help put culture into hard-to-reach places.

We are updating the idea of museum handling collections with 21st Century tools like 3D printing, Raspberry Pi, and great stories combined with multisensory interaction design.

There’s a lot more information on the web:

How to apply
Please send us a one-page cover letter explaining how you meet the role requirements and your resume via email to info@museuminabox.org with the subject ‘Django+Shopify Rockstar Wolf’. Links to online projects/code are expected. We are a small team and cultural fit is very important for us so use your application to help us learn more about your interests, passions and ways of working.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR INTEREST IN BECOMING OUR ROCKSTAR WOLF. THE POSITION HAS BEEN FILLED.