Multi-talented artist, engineer, producer — Maximilian Mueller, gives us an inside look on what it’s like to **insert a ton of stuff here**
Can you tell us about yourself and what is it that you do?
Sure, I’m from a small village on the Hudson River, about 60 miles north of the city. My academic background is in neuroscience — I went to Bard College and did research on the effects of a drug they give to cosmonauts on zebrafish behavior. After graduating I moved to the city and did consulting work for a nootropics(smart drugs) startup and worked on music. At the time I was deciding whether to go all in on that or try to get into medical school. I scored a few commercials for companies like Google and Kraft and landed a meeting at Columbia records, but in the end, I got a regular job and started studying for the MCAT. Shortly thereafter my lung collapsed this kinda put my life on hold for a while. While I was in recovery I thought up the smoking cessation device — and that’s what brought me here today. I also develop digital products, most recently an app to help chemists analyze spectroscopy data. Oh, and the zooms! I also do visual art — I make these images I call zooms that are natural landscapes “extracted” from the built environment.
What encouraged you to start Allochron?
I wanted to tie together and legitimize some of my passion projects. Putting a name on things makes them seem more real to me. Also, coming up with a name is just so fun. Allochron comes from allo — a prefix that means “other”, like allosteric regulation in biochemistry. And chron means “time”, so the entity comprises all the things I want to be doing all the time, but can I do mornings and nights aka “other” time. Also, it’s a little easier to justify all the time you’re spending to friends and family if it’s official “company” business!
What are the biggest challenges that you’ve faced working on your projects?
Time scarcity is the biggest challenge, for sure. That, and just trying lot’s of things for the first time that of course do not work out like you planned. Even if a mistake is small, it might mean you can’t try again for another few days or even weeks. For example, the lathe I was using to prototype this device was upstate. Even a little hiccup like a subway delay or having to stay late at work could totally make the trip up non-viable for one reason or another. It’s alright though. You know how some people get a runner’s high? I get a similar feeling from doing things I don’t really have to do at inconvenient times. It feels good to know that you’re trying.
Space too is a big one.
Where do you get your inspirations from?
I’m really into thermodynamics and flow systems but I don’t have any formal engineering training. I mean, I learned about it in chemistry, but the way I’m usually thinking about it is, “Why is x thing this way…it’s thermodynamics!” I love that it’s applicable to systems of all kinds, even societal ones.
Anyway, that’s a long way of saying that I look for natural forms to emulate, or places in a process that are obstructed or with time would streamline. It came to rest there because that’s just what the conditions allow, and for that reason, it seems natural and is pleasing to the eye. And usually, it’s really a question of “Okay, how in the world am I gonna do this?” and then it’s a matter of “Okay, this I know how to do, this I can probably learn in a week, etc.” Then the solution just presents itself.
The inspiration for cigair came from the incentive spirometer I had to use after my lung collapsed.
What exactly is cigair?
Cigair is a smoking cessation aid intended to help end rather than prolong nicotine dependence. It satisfies the urge to smoke by mimicking the air resistance felt when taking a drag on a lit cigarette — a series of air chambers running through the device achieves this effect. To use it, you simply go through the motions of smoking, just bring it to your mouth and inhale (but don’t light it!). The user maintains the ritual and motor aspects of the behavior — that’s why I think it’s so effective, it’s half physical and half psychological.
The device itself is made from maple (walnut coming soon) and tooled with a lathe. The case is 3D printed ABS, which I then spray painted and sealed. It secures the device using tension and prevents dust and dirt from entering the transverse air passage when stowed in a pocket or bag. ABS was used because it sands down better than PLA. I tried acetone vapor smoothing the plastic, but I ended up melting it far too much the first couple of tries. Ray suggested using filler primer instead, and that’s worked out great.
Can you tell us a more about your design process?
I start with the logo! Not that the initial one ever ends up being used, but i find fooling around in illustrator very calming, it helps me think. Having an abstract representation of a project helps when thinking, too. Then I read everything I can about the problem and let myself fall into a Wikipedia hole. Afterwards, I make some music to get into a flow state and that sort of let’s all the information settle in my head. Every morning I make a list of assumptions I’ve made and topics to ponder. As long as one gets crossed off by the end of the day, I’m happy.
When working on a physical object, I look for an object of a similar size, hold it and stare at it just to get familiar. I try to make a very crude model next out of pretty much anything I have lying around. If it’s 7 am and I’m in my apartment, it might even be paper or a vegetable.
For digital products, it’s a bit more straightforward, I always design the UI first and spec out the data pipeline second in plain English.
What do you feel like you need to improve upon?
An ever growing list of things. To name a few: CAD, materials knowledge, and networking. My existing network is really limited to the music world. I’m planning to donate devices to the smoking cessation initiative at Bard. A lot of people are passionate about getting others to quit, so I’m hoping that it will spread organically.
What advice would you give to aspiring designers like yourself?
I would say one asset that an aspiring designer has is time, even though they probably have very little of it. What you do with your time early on is really up to you, there’s no one to answer to or expectations to meet, other than your own. I read about wood properties for a month and no one could stop me. In the absence of deadlines, go on tangents (within reason), they will be interesting if not valuable.
What are your plans for the future?
My plan is to finish up the spectroscopy app. That should ship in the next few weeks. Right now I’m trying to tie up all my loose ends in time for a grad school application. I’m hoping to attend the the Royal College of Art’s Innovation Design Engineering program. Other than that, I want to get cigair into as many hands as possible and help people quit smoking. Looking forward, I’m really interested in thinking about how machine learning is going to affect the music composition process. (I’ve got a few ideas that are just ideas)
Where can we learn more about your work?
You can check out allochron.com. You can find my music if you google the words “riptide colorzooming”. (Editor’s note: Here’s the soundcloud link for the lazy.)
Any last thoughts?
Working with Ray and Jerry is fun, educational, and efficient — they are experts. If a print needs adjustment, a flurry of keystrokes in CAD takes care of it. I’m still a CAD novice, so that sort of thing is crazy to see. Their advice on painting/finishing and details about the printing process come with interesting stories about past projects and a tangible example. I’ve also got to mention that I was able to talk about spectroscopy and in vivo study methodologies with them, it’s like, “Okay they are engineers and designers but they also happen to know about this?” It was a special experience that I wasn’t expecting. I’m trying to think now, what am I printing next?!*
*Those are Max’s exact words, not ours :)