Mini Interview: Amanda Ghassaei


Amanda Ghassaei is a software engineer and an educator.

What got you started?

As a kid I was always into crafting and making things out of paper and cardboard, and those interests eventually took a more computational turn as I got older. My first introduction to Max, Arduino, and electronics was in a final project I made for a physics class; I built an infrared-sensing multitouch screen that communicates with Max, which I’ve just recently posted on Instructables. I was pretty much addicted from then on; I started writing patches to run on my touchscreen and continued exploring diy electronics/audio/programming/design. More recently I’ve been doing a lot computational design and fabrication with CNC routers, laser cutters, and 3D printers.

How do you know when something you are working on is finished?

To be honest, I find myself revisiting old projects all the time, so in my mind they’re never really finished… That being said, I think one of my criteria for putting something down for a long time is that I’ve got all the documentation online. That way a project can still provide practical value to someone or maybe even continue to be developed without me, it makes the “end” of the project feel a little less final.

When do you like to use chance or random processes?

I love using random processes in my work, I think it helps give digital art and media more of an organic aesthetic quality. More recently I’ve been learning about genetic algorithms, hill climbing, and other strategies for optimizing systems or exploring a variety of potential solutions to a problem; many of these optimization processes are driven by randomness as well. Some of the work in this field done by Karl Sims is particularly inspiring to me. One day I’d love to apply something like this to Max, I have this idea floating around in my head about writing a program that generates .maxpat files using a genetic algorithm, where user input could evaluate a patch for “fitness” and reorganize Max components to optimize some awesome synth output.

What’s something that you would like to be able to do with technology in your work but you can’t at the moment?

As I’ve gotten farther into web development, I’ve started to look at the web as a platform for my creative projects because of its potential to make software tools as easily accessible as possible. I love building interactive applications and seeing other people use them, but requiring Processing, Python, or Max Runtime to execute these apps limits the amount of people who will actually bother to try. I’d love to create 3D design tools for the web using JavaScript (some of the stuff nervous system is doing is really cool), but currently it seems like it’s difficult to create something reasonably complex without doing a ton of legwork. There are some interesting tools out there to help (I’ve messed around with OpenJSCAD a bit), but I’m still struggling to find something that has exactly what I need.

What inspires you?

I primarily studied science – physics, chemistry, math – in college, so I’m always thinking about ways to incorporate the ideas I loved about those classes into my projects. The Fourier Theorum has been especially compelling to me: an infinite number of sines waves can be combined to form any sound in the universe. Trigonometry, sinusoidal oscillators, analog electronics and mechanisms… I really love the sinusoidal sculptures made by Reuben Margolin, this one looks like it’s straight out of a quantum mechanics class.

On the design side, digital fabrication (with 3D printers, laser cutters, etc) has completely transformed the way I think about making everything; I’m especially inspired by the potential of computational design paired with CNC fabrication to rapidly bring complex ideas into reality. Organic geometries and algorithms, construction processes found in nature, and self assembly are topics I’d like to explore more in the future.

What is the most difficult obstacle you need to overcome in order to do your thing?

Recently my work has been focused primarily on design and digital fabrication, so I’ve been hitting many of the obstacles in that field. Most notably, we’ve got these amazing precision machines that have the potential to cut and print incredible geometries, but there’s a huge bottleneck in our ability to get large files into the machines and perform the tool path planning needed to run them. I’ve been doing a lot of generative 3D modeling – writing programs that create very complex 3D models – but often when I try to send my designs into a machine for fabrication, the software chokes and crashes. This was a huge obstacle in my 3D printed record project because of the enormous detail in the files.

Amanda’s website