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 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.




Things I made. People I met: an end-of-summer summary

I started this post back in August.  That was a long time ago.  This post probably would’ve lingered in the drafts folder like so many posts before and after it.  However, at the gentle nudging of a friend, I’m going to get a post in.

It’s good to be held accountable.

Summer came.  Summer went.  The 2014-15 school year reared its chaotic, energized, and lovely head on the 26th of August.  I was greeted at the doors of the Academic Commons by exuberant student council members and given this swag (as the kids say).

First Day Swag

First Day Swag

I didn’t do a lot of open, digital reflecting over the summer, because life.  But there was some pretty cool and important things going on.  I’ll recap them here.

I had goals for the summer.  Some were met.  Some were derailed by other happenings.  Time was spent with e-textiles.  I enjoyed mashing up the circuits with things like embroidery and cross stitch.

In space, no one can hear you scream.

In space, no one can hear you scream.

The above project was going to be a space scene.  Planets.  Stars.  A rabbit in a rocket ship.  I dismantled it though, because the rabbit looks distressed.  I’ll give it another go eventually.  The cross stitch project is also unfinished, like many other projects around my house.  I’m discovering that I really enjoy the planning of the project and the more challenging aspects (like planning a circuit for the conductive thread and LEDs).  Sticking with the actual embroidery (or knitting of tentacles for a knitted nautiloid) is more difficult. It’s not that the work is tedious.  It’s just a slower burn, I think.

EL wire project

EL wire project

I finally got around to using the EL wire that I’ve had for about a year now.  It’s definitely inspired by the TRON bag project over at Adafruit.  I’d like to do another EL wire project soon that requires soldering.  I think that would make for a nice challenge.

When my son was in diapers, we used one of my messenger bags for diapers and such.  My son is long out of diapers, so I reclaimed the bag, sewed some EL wire on the front with nylon thread and called it a day.  The hardest part of the project was ripping open some seams in order to secure and EL inverter.

Ta da!  Flat line!

Ta da! Flat line!

This project only took a couple of hours (if that).  Immediate payoff!  Like!

Project Update:  The EL wire broke and my stitches are popping.  My sewing does not hold up to brutal, daily wear.  I’m pretty sure I can solder the EL wire back to the inverter.  I’ll make some stronger stitches too when I get back to this.

One goal for my summer of making things was to get out of my house and make as many connections as possible.  I worked with 7 other pretty amazing folks to organize the RVA MakerFest, which put me in touch with many makers and advocates of making in the community.

The most rewarding thing about the summer of making was spending more time at Hack.RVA.  I worked there a few mornings when I didn’t want to deal with my cats jumping on projects.  I went to a few Maker Camps organized by Catherine, Hack.RVA member and fearless leader of the RVA Maker Guild.  I adored the DIY music camp.  Some of us created music boxes out of Altoids tins and those awful, awful singing greeting cards.  You can find a tutorial for the Musical Altoids Tin here.

DIY music box made from an Altoids tin and other bits and pieces.

This plays “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” Over and over and over and over again.

Some other folks experimented with the Little Bits Synth Kit, which was pretty awesome.  I need to get some of these for school.

Making music with the Little Bits Synth Kit

Making music with the Little Bits Synth Kit

Hack.RVA launched a crowdfunding campaign for a CNC router over the summer too.  I backed that, got trained, and need to get trained again since training was an eternity ago.  I really do need to make some house numbers.

It’s mid-October now.  Going to Hack.RVA is second nature now and no longer induces the awkward social anxiety it once did.  I attribute that to members’ willingness to include others.  Or maybe I’ve just found my people.  It’s nice to say something like, “I’m going to knit a Cthulhu mask for my uterus pillow.” and not have people look at you weird.

Don’t judge me.

So that’s it.  My summer of making in a sweeping blog post.  I’m into the fall of making now, and it involves band saws, scroll saws, and drill presses.

*&%# got real!



LEDs, storytelling, and what to do if you can’t draw

One of the good things about closing in on 40 is the self-awareness that comes with experience.  One of the bad things is the worsening eye sight that makes it incredibly frustrating to play with teeny tiny LEDs or solder.  But that’s a story for another time.

I don’t draw well.  I’m ok with that.  I could’ve let that non-skill keep me from paper circuits.  I didn’t.

Instead, I borrowed and remixed the intellectual property of others.  Thanks, Creative Commons!

Richmond is home to many wonderful people, places, and things including the C.F. Sauer Company.  Perhaps you use some of their spices in your Jamaican Jerk Salmon or Sweet Potato casserole.  The Sauer sign is a Richmond landmark and a sight to behold once the sun sets.

Sauer's sign a twilight

Sauer’s sign a twilight

I found Matt Carman’s image of the sign on Photo Pin and decided to have a little LED fun.

First, I placed my Sauer’s picture over the notebook paper and poked tiny holes where I wanted to place my LEDs.  Next, using copper tape, a battery, and a couple of white LEDs, I built this circuit for the Sauer’s sign.

Circuit for the Sauer project

Circuit for the Sauer project

I then placed the Sauer’s sign picture over the circuit, lining up the LEDs with the small holes.

Sauer's sign -- lit

Sauer’s sign — lit

There’s an LED in the upper left hand corner (obviously) and one over the “i” in “Vanilla.”  A red LED would’ve bee nice there, but I didn’t have one on hand.

Also, I’m a terrible smart phone photographer, so the majority of my photos with LEDs are blown out around the light, but you get the picture, right?

After experimenting with the Sauer sign, I decided to try my hand at a bastardized version of 5 Card Flickr.  Rather than relying on random Flickr images (which could be fun), I just went out and found three that somehow related to the apocalypse in my mind.

A photo by Timm Suess

photo credit: Timm Suess via photopin cc

Timm Suess photo

photo credit: Timm Suess via photopin cc


photo credit: ( kurtz ) via photopin cc

I made a few changes in PhotoShop, printed the images, cut them out, and started on my mini, two-page story.

Page one sets the scene.  A apocalyptic wasteland so fashionable in today’s literature.

Here’s the circuit for the first part of the setting: abandoned apartments with a bleak landscape behind.

Wasteland circuit pt. 1

Wasteland circuit pt. 1

And with the image over the circuit.  There’s a light on in the window.

circuit 2I wanted to add a second picture to set the scene.  The old bumper cars.  I worked out a circuit for the two images and two LEDs.

circuit for two LEDs

circuit for two LEDs

And here are the lights (sorry about the bad photo):

Two LEDs in the wasteland

Two LEDs in the wasteland

On page two, I introduce the characters.

Sword circuit

Sword circuit

With a light:

Sword lights up

Sword lights up

And the two-page spread:

Unlit, because I can't hold the paper down and take a pic at the same time.

Unlit, because I can’t hold the paper down and take a pic at the same time.

The text, by the way, is mainly from John Roderick.  The conversation about being good at something can be found in Roderick on the Line, episode 114, “The Gentleman’s B Party.”  Somewhere around the 15 minute mark, I think.

Other thoughts:

The LEDs were often finicky.  I’d like to try soldering them.  I ended up using a knitting needle to really press the tape down around the LED leads.  Illuminate Your Thinking documentation suggests bending the tape rather than cutting it since cutting and placing tape on top of copper tape can sometimes cause a bad connection.

I also used the knitting needle as a bone folder to smooth out the copper tape.  That seemed to help.

I understand that there’s no real narrative in the story above.  I didn’t dedicate that much time to thinking about the story I wanted to tell.  Don’t judge the “story” too harshly.

I want to sit down and look at more of Jie Qi’s work.  Her popables are especially artful and whimsical.  And not at all clunky.

Work by Jie Qi.

That’s what I have for now.  I’m moving back to the Finch and Snap!  I hope to dedicate some time to Python as well.

Things I’ve made. People I’ve met: a mid-summer summary

Constructing Modern Knowledge is underway, and this tweet from @DesignMakeTeach (or Josh) pretty much sums up my current emotional state.

Like DS106, my experiences at Constructing Modern Knowledge have influenced the way I approach many facets of my life from what I do in a school and library to how I parent my son.  The the DS106 community, I feel connected to many of the passionate and creative people I met in Manchester, New Hampshire last summer.

One day I’ll go back to CMK, but this summer I’m trying my best to recreate the CMK spirit in my own town.

I’ve been exploring e-textiles by mixing the old (embroidery) with the new (the e-textiles).

The 'wrong' side of the embroidery project

The ‘wrong’ side of the embroidery projec

Working circuit and an unfinished embroidery project.

Working circuit and an unfinished embroidery project.

I’ve been trying my hand at entry-level robotics by playing with the Finch and Snap! with hopes of using the Finch as a way to really learn Python.  Though the content seems attainable and Dr. Chuck is personable, the Coursera model isn’t for me.

My helper

My helper

I’m also playing around with the Mousebot, which is not less about robotics or even electronics and more about soldering practice for me.

There's lots of soldering to be done.

There’s lots of soldering to be done.

Bad soldering

Bad soldering

The kitchen is a good place for soldering as the stove vent sucks up gross solder fumes.

The kitchen is a good place for soldering as the stove vent sucks up gross solder fumes.

I don’t know if the Mousebot works yet, because I am still soldering.  It’s sometimes difficult to complete a project in a timely manner when one only has a couple of hours a few nights a week to work on it (and the other things that vie for my attention).

God, I really hope that Mousebot works.

Back in January, I mentioned my hopes of doing a local version of CMK during a #makered chat.  Andrew said (and I paraphrase, because I can’t find the twitter thread) that it only counts if one doesn’t work alone in a basement.  That resonated with me, and I’m trying to get out to work with other people.  Or at least forge relationships that will eventually lead to my working with other talented, passionate, and curious folks.

I loaded up my son and a bunch of tools and toys in a rental car and headed to Roanoke for a “Petting Zoo Times Two” program at their public library.  Outside were ducks, alpacas, goats, rabbits, etc.  Inside were robots, a 3D printer, a Makey Makey, e-textiles, and LED throwies sans magnets.

LED throwies sans magnets

LED throwies sans magnets

Here’s what you should know:  kids will go nuts over LEDs and coin batteries even if there are no magnets and throwing involved.  One saavy, young attendee made several LED doodads toward the end of the night and said he would sell them for $12.  I don’t think he was successful, but I admire the entrepreneurial spirit.

I also reupped my membership at Hack.RVA, where there is a vast library… in the bathroom.  Because I have a stunted sense of humor, I adore that.

The library should always be in the library.

I feel mildly weird about posting a picture of a bathroom on the blog, but oh well.

I also adore the abundance of expertise that exists with other members and their willingness to share.  RVA Maker Guild also hosts many events at Hack.RVA.  Some of the events are even child friendly.

The next generation of hackers/makers?  Hope so.

The next generation of hackers/makers? Hope so.

There are more connections to be made in Richmond.  A Coder Dojo has recently started up at the public library.  Rebecca Dovi is hoping to open computer science opportunities up to more kids in the area with CodeVA.  The list really does continue.

But this is enough writing for now.  I have to get back to that Mousebot and that Finch and the notebook hacking and another embroidery/Lilypad project that I’m kicking around that involves the Sauer’s sign here in Richmond.

photo credit: Matt Carman via photopin cc

photo credit: Matt Carman via photopin cc

Making time for inquiry: a #thoughtvectors post

Earlier this spring I stumbled across a four-week online ALA class called Dynamic One-Shot Library Instruction.  After playing around in #DS106 for a few rounds, I knew this ALA class could be absolutely unbearable.  However, the ALA class turned out to be the very thing I needed.  Heidi Buchanan and Beth McDonough, the course instructors and authors of The One-Shot Library Instruction Survival Guide stymied a looming existential crisis.

For a while I’ve been thinking about the library instruction that I do here at school.  Most of it involves a 15-minute introduction to databases that students may find useful for a research project.  The “instruction” was my absolute least favorite thing to do.  I was bored.  The kids were bored.  Change was needed.

After a week at Constructing Modern Knowledge last summer and rolling the article, “Beyond Active Learning: A Constructivist Approach to Learning” around in my head, I was asking how DOES one apply Constructivist approaches to library instruction, especially instruction that may be one 45-minute class period?

Jessica Gordon, in her explanation of the “Brainstorming for Inquiry Project” for TeamCreate, poses some excellent questions that one hopes all curious people ask:

1.  What do you want to find out?

2.  What have you always been curious about?

3.  What do you wonder?

My question is how do you get a disengaged student sitting in an English class that he/she may not want to be in (but has to take) to ask the above questions about The Great Gatsby or Beowulf?

Leonardo Dicaprio in Baz Luhrmann's Gatsby.

How could you not care about me?








After all, research projects/papers/products exist as does needed to get credits in X subject whether you care about that subject or not.

I kind of have an answer to my own question.  One of the many things I’m enjoying about #thoughtvectors is the time for reflection.  Students reflect on readings in their nuggets.  They explore associative trails.  There are concept experiences where students put the theories into action.  This time carved out for thoughtful, reflective, exploration is key to question asking.  Even for the student who could give two s***s about Jane Austen.

I think I can safely make the broad statement that just because we are human beings, we have thoughts and/or questions about things we may not care much about. It’s the capturing of those thoughts/questions rather than letting them flit away that’s important.  Essential really.

I’m impressed by #thoughtvectors, because it’s time (an entire course!  EIGHT WEEKS!) dedicated to thinking about thinking/inquiry/questions/passions/research.  It’s not inquiry as a unit, research as a box to check off, or inquiry as an afterthought.  Making the time to reflect on the content and information our students encounter both in and out of school is bound to result in better questions, and connection/sense-making.



Show me your browser history, and I’ll show you mine.

I am thoroughly enjoying looking at the browser history of other people.

That makes for a great movie title.  Other People’s Browser History.

As I look at the screenshots, I sing in my headspace Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me.”*  This sharing of browser histories is an intimate act.  We’re just getting to know each other.

Perhaps sharing one’s browser history should be required on a second date.  Maybe even the first date.  The browser history is the new book shelf.  You judge people by what’s on their book shelf, right?

Here’s a screenshot of my browser history:

Screenshot of my browser history

Screenshot of my browser history


Fascinating, no?  My Firefox preferences include erasing the browser history every time Firefox closes.

At the end of every day, I typically have a good 7-8 tabs open as reminders to go back to the sites to read, explore, etc.  Rarely do I ever find the opportunity to go back to anything.  I half appreciate the reminder that is an open tab.  I’m half crushed by the pressure of having to keep up with the flow of information that comes through Twitter, news channels, Boing Boing, Brain Pickings, etc.

Most of the time the crushing force of too many orphaned tabs won out.  I declared tab bankruptcy at the end of many days, and just close them all out.  However, for a while I was taking screenshots of said tabs before abandoning them.

I look back on those screenshots several months later, and they provide some interesting insight into what I was interested and focused on at the time.

orphaned tabs

orphaned tabs — don’t judge the 795 “unread” emails.

More orphaned tabs


And more orphaned tabs.  I guess it's really all the same stuff.

And more orphaned tabs. I guess it’s really all the same stuff.

Screenshots of open tabs is almost as revealing as keeping a daily journal.  I may have to go back to capturing those internet moments.


* I don’t really sing “Somebody’s Watching Me” in my head.  That would be kind of weird.