Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Maker(ish) Me

About a year ago, I took a dive off my comfortable, low-tech beach into rather high-tech waters.
I have learned basic circuitry, adding both lights and motors, and can now solder.  I am blogging and even using Twitter.  Lots of fun projects have come out of this learning, but recently I have felt that I sort of have hit a wall, and that it was time to learn something that has forever sounded scary and above my head- programming. Yikes, shiver.

John Cohn, mad scientist. Photo- Wikipedia.
But when I saw a listing for an LED headband workshop with John Cohn, it was over- attending was a must. SO much of a must for me, that even though the class was full, I showed up at the right place and time with crossed fingers that maybe there would be a spot for me- and there was!

The amount of information in this man's head is unfathomable, but despite his advanced understanding of all things tech, he is very patient with people like me who are beginning at zero.

John helping a a child and mom solder teeny tiny spots on the headband they made
Using a 9V battery, an Arduino, and an LED strip, I soldered and coded my way to making a fairly fabulous headband, which can be changed in the future to be, say, slow changing red and green for the holiday season, or flashy and fast red, white, and blue for July 4.  And it seems sort of/maybe likely I might actually be able to do that by myself.

Rainbow princess!
And it changes colors, which in a darkish space changes the light in the entire room, which is pretty extreme.

Blue Period.
Being able to change the color in the room is sort of a superpower, my own personal Rainbow Brite moment.
And now the world shall be a rainbow! Bam!

In the end, I turned my headband into a belt, actually, which I then decided to should rock for the December Generator Social, which was all about wearable technology.  To go with the belt, I made a pair of light-up ruffles to put on my heels.  This design came from Becky Stern, of Adafruit, in one of her fantastic tutorials. The thing is, I tried and failed three times with the conductive thread following Becky's directions.  I don't know why, but my battery case, no matter how snugly I sewed around the battery, never had enough pressure to make the contacts stay on if I wasn't pinching them.  As I was about to go to bed, visions of a paper circuit appeared, and figuring that sleep could wait, tested out the idea.  Success! Solder, copper tape, a folded piece of paper, some tape, and a battery lit up my shoes for me!

Glow shoes!
This was kind of a big deal for me, because creating a circuit truly of my own design represents a huge step- I finally understand a material and process enough to be able to not just copy designs, but to create an original idea, like a circuit I have never seen before, and have it succeed.

My feet all glammed up and ready to go out!
At the Generator event there were lots of great ideas and interesting, inspiring people. On display: Light-up sewn houses! The structure was made out of stitched felt houses, dipped into liquid starch. Each house was positioned over an LED throwie, which is basically just an LED and button-cell battery.

Lauren Larken from Flynn Elementary's afterschool program wore a tiny sweater swag! An LED throwie attached to a small angel ornament and bit of pine.

Proving brooches can be hip.
This teacher hacked her "ugly Christmas sweater" with LED's for the blinking tree lights, and included a tiny vibrating motor to ring two silver jingle bells.

Jenn Karson of UVM's maker space and founder of VermontMakers spoke on some of the things that make wearble tech appealling, including several dichotomies- elements of the visible versus invisible, soft and hard components, as well as disciplines that are traditionally areas highly genderized- sewing for women, electronics for men.

Masks by Eric Roy, who has automated parts of his leather mask-making processes by using a laser cutter.
Handpainted leather masks
 Blinking scarves, crocheted light-up headbands, high-tech winter hats, LED embroidery...

Nance Nahmias, Generator's Outreach Coordinator, all decked out

LED trimmed embroidery and applique.  Rudolph's nose has never been brighter!

At right, Lucie deLaBruere, of CreateMakeLearn
 In the above picture, Jill Dawson is pictured at left, and her hat was amazing, because she coded it to project a little holiday tune from the speaker (and she coded the tune itself), and the LEDs blink in time to the music. Outstanding!

So, this interest of mine has evolved for one very clear reason- my own son.  He is interested in all things electrical and mechanical, and in order to support those interests I needed to grow a little knowledge.  So that's how I found myself playing with SnapCircuits a couple years ago, trying to catch up with him and learn a thing or two.  

That's what is great about kids- not just my own, but all of my students as well- is that the relationships are so cyclical.  They bring ideas and interests, and in order to foster them more fully, I learn new things, then share my new learning with them, and in turn they teach me more or ask great questions, which leads to more learning. And that's what lifelong learning is all about- inquiry, and sharing discoveries big and small with others.

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