A maker’s gonna make

There’s a lot going on.  Academic Dean candidates are on campus and bringing with them a lot of interesting ideas and challenging questions.  One candidate said (more eloquently than I’m about to write) that she wants students to be dissatisfied with the world so that they are compelled to change it.  I’ve been thinking about that and what it means to ask questions and make things.  Mick Ebeling was also recently in Richmond, so there’s been a lot of buzz about Not PossibleI’ve been thinking about dissatisfaction, the pressure of bettering the world, the TED-ification of things, play versus “purpose” and “intentionality.”

I want to carve out a little time to reflect on it all and write things down, just because I think reflecting/writing will help me figure out some conflict I’m feeling.

But that will come later (I hope).

Maker kids keep making, and this is what they’re up to:

Students come up with ideas to put in a Bored Jar.  There are plans for both a physical and virtual Bored Jar.

Ideas for a "Bored Jar."

Ideas for a “Bored Jar.”

With some borrowed materials from the science department and cafeteria, students work on candied LEDs.

Candied LEDs in the works

Candied LEDs in the works

After re-working her circuit, this student gets the lights for her skyline going.

City Lights

City Lights

A reverse geocache box is in the works.

Reverse geocache box in the works

Reverse geocache box in the works

This student teaches himself to knit while waiting for a model to print on the Makerbot.  A visiting middle schooler (bottom right) looks on.  No time wasted.  Texting not allowed!

While waiting for something to print on the Makerbot...

While waiting for something to print on the Makerbot…

A student has watched a ton of Unity tutorials.  She created the landscape and added her first character.  In a blog post a student recently wrote:

I would first of all like to take the first bit of this blog post to thank the inventors of ‘how-to’ videos for simple origami structures. Aaron Rodgers may be the NFL MVP, but you know what? You’re the real MVP to me.


So true.  Tutorials are the MVP.



Some students have christened the small rehearsal/recording studio.  It is now “The Beats Lab.”  Some students are working with Ableton Live and an Akai midi pad to make some “sick beats.”  They’ve been calling on Bruce from the cafe to walk them through some of the software.  Bruce has mastered coffee and audio production.

In the Beats Lab

In the Beats Lab


Knitted nautiloids–better late than never

Last spring my son was fascinated with the Walking with Monsters: Life Before Dinosaurs series.  The fascination is understandable.  The first episode is full of giant sea scorpions, giant squids, and the biggest underwater pill bugs you’ve ever seen.

I got it in my head to knit him a giant squid.  After a little hunting online, I landed on this “George the Giant Squid” pattern even though it cost $6.  Knitting began back in late May/early June.

I really failed to document this making of this guy, but that happens.  Here are some highlights:

  • Some stitches were dropped in the making of the yet-to-be-named squid’s body.  Also, I’m not sure what I did to totally ignore the directions to make the top of his head.  Oh well.  Next time.
  • One is supposed to knit the arms in the round.  I didn’t, because I found it extremely tedious to knit a small number of stitches in the round.  I sewed the ends of the arms together
  • Because of dropped stitches, there were some noticeable holes in the body.  I patched these as best I could and then sewed an inside lining, which I stuffed.
  • I sewed the two tentacles and 8 arms together and then sewed that to the body.  There are actually seven arms.  I found a straggler on the sofa after sewing them to the body.  Again, oh well.  Next time.
  • My son insisted that I sew the mouth to the bottom of the squid where the mouth would actually be.  I talked him out of this.  I also ignored his request for a beak.  He didn’t seem too put out by it.  Next time.  Oh well.
Yet-to-be-named knitted Giant Squid

Yet-to-be-named knitted Giant Squid

Arms and tentacles

Arms and tentacles

I wish I had taken pictures of the sewn lining and other stuff, but most of my decisions with this project were spur-of-the-moment decisions or fixes based on preexisting knitting/sewing knowledge.

And there’s the interesting part (to me).

I’ve been knitting for about 15 years now and sewing for longer.  I don’t know everything there is to know about either craft, but I’m comfortable with them both.  I have the confidence and an understanding of the language to work through things I don’t know as I come to them.  I know enough to not think twice about veering from a pattern.  I know what makeshift fixes I can do when needed.

I appreciate this agility.

I don’t think the confidence and agility necessarily comes from the 15 years of “experience” though.  I think it’s from having a basic understanding of how knitting/sewing work, what the stitches do and how they look, etc.  I think the confidence comes from practicing and tinkering and making things.

So, yay.  Finished project.  Confidence.  Agility.  Comfort.



Time and space for wild imaginations

I did a double take at my calendar.  Second semester started January 6th, which means the DIY/Maker senior seminar started January 6th.  It seems like we’ve been going for both weeks and weeks and just days.

That makes no sense, does it?

We’ve managed to get so much done, but we really haven’t had that many class meetings when it comes down to it.

What have we done so far:

  • Started class with a design sprint, which involved the building of a paper airplane.  The plane had to have a flight time of six seconds.  Students can only uses scissors, paper, and staples.  To make it even more interesting, each team has a $40 budget.  Paper is $1, each fold is $1, cuts are $2, and staples are $4.  We did our design sprint in a 45-minute class period.  No plane flew for six seconds.  However, a couple of days later a group of boys did discover some gliders on Thingiverse. which did fly for 6+ second.  Perhaps printing gliders from Thingiverse isn’t all that impressive; but having a group of kids who have never touched a 3D printer figure out how to download a file, prep it for printing, and then actually print it was very cool to me.
Paper airplanes

Paper airplanes

Behold, the Tech Zoo

Behold, the Tech Zoo

Playing a Scratch game with Makey Makey

Playing a Scratch game with Makey Makey

Someone fell into a Scratch rabbit hole

Someone fell into a Scratch rabbit hole

  • Started projects!  We are 2-3 days into actual projects.  It’s completely insane.  The class flies by for me.  Hopefully it flies by for the students too.  There are 18 kids working on 18 different things for the most part.  There are some amazing ideas circulating out there too.  I’m especially impressed with Clair’s list of ideas and Emily’s thoughts.  It’s that kind of wild imagination that I hope can be nurtured by the time and space this class provides.

Some random thoughts/highlights:

  • Sam (he’s going to start blogging.  Oh, he is.) has been working on an Omniwheel Robot after learning to solder Tuesday.  He was wiring the motors today, and was frustrated by the instructions. By the end of class he exclaimed that he had things working.  I asked what he did.  His reply, “I thought about it for a little while and applied some physics.”

Maybe that’s insignificant for you, but it’s what I’m aiming for.  I want students to apply what they’ve learned in other disciplines to their projects.

This is my third semester teaching the DIY/Maker course.  Last semester I had a group of kids that were (so I thought) unmatched in their enthusiasm and curiosity.  My current class is diving right in too.  My first class stared at me a lot, but I’m pretty sure that it had a lot to do with the fact that we weren’t in a makerspace, and I didn’t know what I was doing.

What’s challenging is managing 18 different students with 18 different projects.  I think this will get easier as the students get used to searching for tutorials, using forums, using each other, etc.  However, right now it’s too easy for a student to slink off to hang out with  friends or for the quieter students to get lost in the chaos.  I need to improve the dividing of my attention.

Sometimes I’m sure someone will cluck, “And where is the academic value in all of this… this knitting… this magic wand making…  this sewing of LEDs?!”  There’s a valid defense, of course.  But that’s a post for another day.




To the exploration of rabbit holes!

Today is the official start to the spring semester.  I meet with my senior seminar class for the first time tomorrow, and I’m really excited about the potential of the unknown.  It’s a new group of students with new interests and ideas.  That’s exciting stuff.

Bits and bobs for makers

Bits and bobs for makers

We’re starting with a design challenge that I picked up from a middle school teacher at The Steward School.  The students will be designing and making a paper airplane, which must remain in the air for at least 6 seconds and travel a straight path before landing.  They can only uses scissors, paper, and staples.  To make it even more interesting, each team has a $40 budget.  Paper is $1, each fold is $1, cuts are $2, and staples are $4.

Part of the design challenge has them documenting what they already know, what they need to find out, what goes well, what doesn’t, etc.

Students will be maintaining their own domains again this year through Reclaim Hosting.

I’m hoping that this design challenge, though small, will set the tone for the spring.  My goals are for the students to discover rabbit holes, have fun in that discovery, and provide detailed documentation of the explorations.

It’s going to be a good group of students, and I can’t wait to watch their ideas unfold over the next few months.


Ideas in the open

Last night I was at a board meeting for the local hackerspace.  Lots of stuff was discussed: met goals, culture, community involvement, doing more projects, protecting the time required for projects, etc.  I got to thinking about my lists of projects, which mainly exist on my phone (typically always handy for writing down ideas), but also in a variety of notebooks.

Too many notebooks

Too many notebooks

Some of the projects are in progress.  Most are just ideas, because of one excuse or another.  The projects usually don’t get past the idea phase thanks to one obstacle or another.  I thought I’d put the projects out in the open.  It’s always good to be held accountable for things.  And I need to write more.

So here are the ideas, progress, and reasons I may feel intimidated by said ideas.  Feel free to provide suggestions, tips, information, etc.:

The Project List Made Public

1.  Zombie apocalypse novel (short story/novella) set at a zombie survival training camp

  • I started this idea for NaNoWriMo 2014, because I don’t write enough.  When it’s time to write something, I feel rusty, awful, inarticulate, and slow.  I’m also forgetting grammar rules.
  • I gave up on this idea about a week into NaNoWriMo, which is usually when I give up on NaNoWriMo efforts.  My thinking:  (a) Why am I doing this again?  (b) Are there better ways to spend my time?  (c) Yes, there are other things I could be making and/or doing.  (d) I wish I could draw, because this would make for a great comic.  (e)  I should team up with my husband.  He can draw.

See how I forked that incomplete project into another project?  Pretty neat, huh?

2.  Zombie apocalypse comic set at a zombie survival training camp

3.  Whimsical Seussian birdhouse

  • What?
  • I’ve spent some time in the Hack.RVA FabLab.  I’ve used the drill press, band saw, and scroll saw.  I haven’t used them very well.  I happened to notice that we have the aforementioned tools in the wood shop at school.  So convenient!  I told one of the keepers of the shop that I wanted to learn to use some of the tools.  “What do you want to make?” he asked.  Why not make a whimsical Seussian birdhouse?  I also figured this project would be a good excuse for getting back to the CAD Dojo.
  • I haven’t touched this project, because of time (lack of) and the mild intimidation I feel toward AutoCAD.

4.  Jamie Lee Curtis’s embroidered face (in progress)

Embroidering Jamie Lee Curtis's face

Embroidering Jamie Lee Curtis’s face

  • This one is in the works.  The early works, but the works all the same.  A couple of years ago, Diana Rupp visited Fountain Books in Richmond.  I bought the Embroider Everything Workshop book, which I touched once in two years.  Embroidering Jamie Lee Curtis is a good project for practicing stitches for another next project….

5.  “We Live in a Heroic Age” embroidered on something

  • A story I shared recently: “Up until July 1st, there was a guy named D—- worked at school.  He is an awesome human being.  Creative, funny, a holder of big, exciting ideas, a Harvard grad, but you’d never know it, because he had a way of talking to everyone about anything and making people feel comfortable regardless of their background.  D—- went to be head of a school in horse country.  I was talking to a former English teacher who is now the head of the lower school at another local independent school.  She tells me about D—- visiting a year ago or so.  There talking about serious matters as people sometimes do.  He grabs her hands in his and says, “S—-, we live in a heroic age.”
  • Have truer words been spoken?

6.  Tumblr of Polaroid selfies

  • Does this already exist?  Surely it does.  I should search for it, but not right now, because I am busy.
  • Polaroid selfies are a thing.  I’m sure of it.  The selfie wasn’t born with the cell phone.
  • How does one create a submission form using Tumblr? (I don’t have to use Tumblr.)
  • How does one weed out photos dressed in an Instagram filter/frame?

7.  Y’all gonna make me lose my mind (in progress)

Cross stitched lyrics

Cross stitched lyrics

You will find lyrics to this DMX song ALL over the Internet.

Proving my point

Proving my point

See.  Mine will be special though.  It will eventually have sewable LEDs and a LilyTiny.  It will be amazing.  Also, I have three words for you: sewable LED sequins.


8.  Knitted bandolier for things you need to carry

  • I’m not even sure where to go with this.  Crocheting may be a better choice.  Are crocheted things usually woven tighter?

This kid has a bandolier for snacks and toys.  It’s cool, but a knitted bandolier would be cooler.  Maybe.

This child featured at http://www.made-by-rae.com/2011/03/guest-tutorial-snack-bandolier/ has a bandolier.  We should all have bandolier.

This child featured at http://www.made-by-rae.com/2011/03/guest-tutorial-snack-bandolier/ has a bandolier. We should all have bandolier.

9.  Script for a horror movie called Hacker Space (inspired by the 1986 classic, Chopping Mall)

10.  A great American novel told through the flotsam and jetsam one may obtain through a network hack (inspired by the Sony hack).  Emails, names of folders and folder contents, movies, pictures, memos, calendars, etc. etc.

  • This would make for a great exquisite corpse.  Anyone want to collaborate?

That’s it.  Or at least those are the things that have been written down.

The numbers or an ode to power tools

Back in the late spring and all throughout the summer, there was a home improvement project.  It involved painting, some landscaping, and other things here and there.  My little house went from white to gray.  Shutters were removed so were the house numbers.

So I need house numbers.

Before the 2013-14 school year ended, I had the idea of making numbers from cans.  I got started on that project today.  Six months later (give or take).

Numbers and tools

Aluminum numbers and tools

I used the big red scissors to cut the cans.  I started in the mouth of the can and then cut vertically to the bottom.  I cut both the tops and bottoms of the cans, flattened said cans, and then used some templates to cut out the numbers.

House numbers

House numbers

I found some scrap wood in the scrap pile at Hack.RVA.  I debated about whether I should use the bandsaw unsupervised.

Should I use this?

Should I use this?

I used the bandsaw unsupervised.

I think everything went ok.


1.  I can’t cut straight lines.

2.  Is a bandsaw supposed to sound like 1,000 cats thrown in a bag?  I don’t know.

3.  Is the bandsaw the right tool for cutting a straight line?  Seems as good as any, so is there a wrong tool?

I got to thinking about power tools and an experience I had this week at Tomahawk Creek Middle School.  Members of the TCMS’s Tech Club participate in the E-nabling the Future project.  They modify files for prosthetic hands and arms, print the pieces, assemble the hands/arms, and then ship them off to the people who need the device.  Wednesday was an assembly day.  The gauntlet for one of the hands needed some sanding.  I gave a Dremel to a student who had been trained.  She took it, turned it on to the highest speed, and it got away from her, nicking the the library table.  She got it back, turned it off, and handed it to me.

“You turn it on,” she said and handed it back to me.

We compromised.  She held the Dremel, and I turned it on so that it gradually increased in speed.  By mid-morning, she found her footing, got the feel for the tool, and was sanding parts like she had been doing it for years.

Power tools are weird things.  Horribly intimidating to someone who’s never used them before and so, so intriguing at the same time.  I have no feel and no instinct for saws or drill presses.  I lack the intuition. What are they supposed to sound like when things are working well?  What do they sound like under stress?

I’ve owned my car since 2003, so I feel like an intuitionist when we’re on the road together.  I know how it’s supposed to sound and what it feels like to drive 35 mph or 65 mph.

I’m pretty excited about getting to know some of these tools just as well as I know that car.

As for the house numbers…  I’m waiting for paint to dry.

Waiting for paint to dry

Waiting for paint to dry

I’ll let you know how it turns out.

UPDATE:  Done-ish!!

The Numbers Project.  Kind of Done.  Done enough?

The Numbers Project. Kind of Done. Done enough?

I feel like I should put some kind of sealant on them, because these numbers will cut a b****  are sharp.


A thousand beautiful things or all the possibilities

I could crumble into a ball and cry at least a hundred times a day because of life’s unrelenting unfairness, inequalities, and general asshattery.

But then there are so many small, beautiful things that lift the heart and inspire and change one from the inside out.

1. A chance meeting with friends and a visit from existential pug

Existential Pug

Existential Pug

2. Getting to know one’s sewing machine

slippered foot from a sewing machine manual

Getting to know the sewing machine. Are bedroom slippers required footwear?

3. What happens when you leave Legos out in a public place

lego tower

When opportunity knocks

4. Playing cards and getting to know new people

Cards with friends

Cards with friends

5. Solving problems with the help of internet forums


Power tools at sun rise. Does a Dremel count as a power tool? Rotary tools at sun rise.

6. Working together

Sign explaining Enabling the Future

The Enabling the Future project

7.  Watching kids lead

Taking measurements

Taking measurements to model and print a 3D prosthetic arm

8. The friendly faces of power tools

The drill press

Hello, friend

9.  1,000 possibilities

Screws and stuff

Screws and stuff

The quick burn

I spent Friday sick at home.  It’s going to be a fall/winter full of chronic sore throats and sinus issues, I just know it.

I used my found time to work on a superhero cape for my son.  It was a lot easier than the knitted nautiloid I started back in May.

There are a bazillion tutorials for no-sew superhero capes.  I settled on this one from Parents Magazine.  I ended up sewing instead of using the fabric glue, because I didn’t have that on hand.  The stitches are sloppy, but Joe loves it, and that’s all that matters.

Superhero cape!

“Power Ranger Green!” is what’s typically exclaimed when the cape is green. I didn’t know Power Rangers were still a thing.

I also did some knitting.  I have it on good authority that cowl scarves are going to be all the rage this fall and winter thanks to some show called Outlander.

I started knitting a cowl scarf that was supposed to look like this:

Chunky cowl scarf

Chunky cowl scarf

Instead, it looks like this:

knitted cowl scarf

my knitted cowl scarf

more of the knitted cowl scarf

more of the knitted cowl scarf

It doesn’t really look like the scarf at thecreateryshop.com at all, does it?  This may have something to do with the fact that I failed to follow the directions.  One is supposed to start knitting with two strands of yarn.  I just used one.  It’s ok.  I love it, and that’s all that matters.

Also, I have a skein of grey yarn left, which means more knitting, which means more binge watching of Gilmore Girls.

Gilmore Girls is on Netflix!  It no longer matters that my husband loaned my Gilmore Girls DVDs to a friend four years ago and never got them back.

All is right with the world.