Universal Harvester: a Novel

Readers seeking a horror novel will probably be disappointed with John Darnielle’s Universal Harvester.  It is true that some of the novel was a “total [page-turning] creep ride, but the book’s true genius is its atmosphere created by the narrative and the characters’ loneliness–that universal loneliness felt by (I guess) all of us.  Perhaps Jacob Brogan nails it in his review when he writes, “… the only monster is the deep well of our shared sadness. Layers of loss accumulate throughout: Of the media we enjoy, of the communities we grew up in, and, most of all, of the people we love. ‘It’s in the nature of the landscape to change, and it’s in the nature of people to help the process along.'”  Brogan is also accurate when he likens the novel to an X-Files episode.  Is Universal Harvester X-files meets Annie Proulx?  Eh… Nah…  Universal Harvester is its own thing, but I guess “X-files meets Annie Proulx” is how I’d describe it if I had to try to explain it to someone.

Cover of John Darnielle’s book, Universal Harvester

It’s a disorienting novel, and I accepted my disorientation by reading some Good Reads reviews (it was reassuring to see that I was not the only one trying to unpack the novel–and there really is a lot to unpack).

It’s important to consider your choices carefully before settling on a course of action; when you keep changing course, you forget where you are.  It’s disorienting.”     — J. Darnielle

*possible spoilers ahead*

Universal Harvester is a book I’d like to go back to now that I know there are no jump scares, violent sociopaths, and bloody body count.  Like the fields of Iowa and the long, small town country roads, there is a lot of room for exploration.









Spring semester recap

There are four more weeks of what is the very last semester of the maker senior seminar, and I’m not sure how to feel about that.

We’ve done a lot since the Makey Makeys that you may or may not have read about.  Sewable circuits and Arduinos made an appearance.  The Exquisite Corpse Rube Goldberg machine was a huge success (in that everyone created some amazing, creative pieces not in that it worked).

Ray: Symmetrical book stacking. Just like the Philadelphia mass turbulence of 1947.
Peter: You’re right, no human being would stack books like this.

Texting Wedos – part of the Rube Goldberg Machine

We even did some embroidery to celebrate National Embroidery Month (February).

This class of mainly guys enjoyed the embroidery much more than I imagined.  They commented on its meditative nature and appreciated the fact that they had to slow down.  What I loved was the casual conversations that took place at the table as we all sat around and practiced our stitches.

We took some things apart and looked closely at the parts and how they worked together.

We went on a Design Hunt in the Commons and explored what worked well, how things worked together, and what designs need some reconsideration.

These outlet covers are (1) not practical and (2) not durable.

This seal caught the attention of several students. It’s not used often, and they were impressed by its design.

Next week we gear up for a month of true makerspace life where the students get deeper into their questions and interests.

In addition to facilitating the making of things, I’m also taking Thinking & Learning in the Maker-Centered Classroom, which has forced me to reflect on what it means to make things in and out of schools and what it all might mean.

There’s a lot that resonates, and I’m taking the time to unpack some of the stuff now, before it’s too late (meaning before June rolls around and I haven’t stopped to think about all the stuff coming from the text (Maker-Centered Learning: Empowering Young People to Shape Their Worlds by Edward P. Clapp, et. al.) and my IRL and virtual classmates.

Because it’s Harvard and research and such, one can really get in the weeds with the theory and analysis.  But maybe it comes down to this:

When asked about their memorable making experiences, no Agency by Design workshops participants “have described their most memorable making experiences in terms of reconceptualizing the economy or increasing their proficiencies in the STEM subjects” (Clapp 17).

Also this by Gever Tulley, founder of Brightworks School:

“The world doesn’t need more graduates with good grades: What the world needs is voracious, self-directed learners with the creative capacity to see the problems of the world as puzzles, and the tenacity to work on them, even in the face of adversity.” (p. 9).

We’re also talking a lot about agency, agentic action, and maker empowerment.  However, I’ll come back to those when it’s not the end of the day on a Friday.  And also because I’m still sorting it all out.

Makey Makey Eggs & Bakey

There was no bacon or eggs involved in these Makey Makey creations, and given their penchant for expiry that’s probably a good thing.  There were several instruments and an attempt at a flatulent door handle to name a few.

“Often in school we make projects and research and learn and study but by the end we never have anything we can use or enjoy. It was awesome to be able to design and improve and test anything that sparked our interest.”

— Parker


“Specifically, we wanted each string to play a chord. After researching, we found out that the school computers were not updated enough to do chords. But thankfully, Parker showed us how to efficiently use garage band and we had plenty of time to experiment with guitar sounds.” – Jess


“Our original idea was simply to make a trap, using a banana or a door handle so that when people touched it it would make a noise to catch them off guard. This was productive though as it taught us how to use the makey makey and also different ways of grounding it, as that was our main problem. THis proved important as our idea changed to making a guitar.” — David

“I was surprised to see that a project I made, which was just a tutorial, had over 30,000 views on the Scratch web site.  It was kind of nice to see tha something I made a long time ago had actually helped people.”  – Kyle


Makey Makey Eggs and Bakey: A reflection

That I write with great affection,

Even if this project left me a little achy.


There once was an idea, a piano,

I thought through Scratch it would sing like a soprano.

Alas, the the program was of low quality,

And me, who is of great frivolity,

Decided to give Scratch a “no.”


Then, I heard a glorious song,

From another group, it came along.

It was Garageband they had pulled up,

In my head it was stuck.

To switch to this program, it wouldn’t take long.


Off to work I went,

And a lot of time I spent,

A piano was made by another.

But another idea did I discover!

Over change of plans, I did not lament.


Every stretch and every stick,

Laying copper wire was easy but not quick!

Every bend was a compromise,

Glue was what I came to despise.

By the end I was already sick.


But low and behold,

The metal could I fold!

The bends should be copper on copper,

Then the glue will no longer be a blocker,

So my keytar I began to mold.

I was surprised at my design.

Maybe I learned it somewhere devine?

Without any effort it seemed to come,

Probably because I surf the internet until  my mind is numb.

With the pictures of cable management I had seen, it was right in line.


Time constraints were frustrating.

Good thing I didn’t spend any time waiting!

With not a moment to spare,

Or a moment to stare,

I finished the project I was creating.

All in all, it went well.


In fact, I think it was just swell.

I enjoyed this project very much.

It was different to make an object to touch.

I look forward to the next one, farewell.  

— Jasmine

Oh, hello.

photo credit: Bine Rodenberger Winter Wonderland via photopin (license)

It’s 2017.  How did that happen?  With the new year come resolutions.  Or goals.  Or things I’d like to make happen.  Some of these things include writing, taking a sewing class, getting back to the makerspace, and finding the time to reflect on what happens in the library and beyond.

What will probably be the last semester of the maker class started today.  I’m excited about the questions and ideas the kids will bring.

We started today with an overview of the course, what to expect (with the caveat that plans can change at any point depending on what they want to explore), and what they thought they knew about what it is to be a maker and what makers mean to Richmond’s identity.

We did a Think, Puzzle, Explore thinking routine to unpack their current knowledge of making and what questions they have about Makers, makerspaces, and DIY culture.

We’ll circle back to the Think, Puzzle, Explore in a few weeks to see how their thinking has evolved.

A LOT of students are curious about 3D printing (understandable).  The prospect of digging into the DIY/maker culture beyond the 3D printer is quite exciting.

I knitted some things: a blog post in (mostly) pictures

Years and years and years ago when I lived in South Carolina, I came across a newspaper article in The State (or maybe The Free Times) about the South Carolina Knitting Guild.  I went to a meetup (before Meetup was a thing).  I got knitting lessons.  After that, it was scarves for everyone!

I gave knitting up for a while.  Who had the time?  I recently came back to it though, and I’ve been pursuing other textile/fiber related crafts like embroidery and crocheting and such.


Attempting to learn to crochet. Crocheted macarons

This return to knitting has a lot to do with my son and this book of sea creature patterns.


It’s fun to knit for kids.


Angler fish #1


Angler fish #2


Sea star


Eyeless octopus

knitted Hermit crab. In progress.

Hermit crab. In progress.

I’m also thinking a lot about the history of what’s considered to be feminine crafts thanks to conversations with other fiber/textile-loving friends and Margaret Wertheim, who visited The Steward School earlier in the year to talk about the Crocheted Coral Reef project, which got me thinking a lot about STEAM, interdisciplinary/transdisciplinary/multidisciplinary/whatnot studies, the importance of downtime, and the people who encourage and amplify our crazy “What if we did this…” ideas.

Like all summers, I have big plans for exploring questions.  One area of interest is the use of craft for social comment in both the past and present.



How Xena: Princess Warrior started something beautiful and great

The Steward School hosts a Visiting Innovators Program that’s brought in some interesting people this year.  Gary Stager visited earlier in the school year followed by Dr. Margaret Wertheim, who is known for her science writing, the Institute for Figuring, and the crocheted coral reef project, a project which emerged from an evening of sisters crocheting while watching Xena: Warrior Princess and Christine Wertheim‘s simple statement, “We could crochet a coral reef.”

Both of the Visiting Innovators Programs at Steward started with hands-on MakerFaire-like events for all ages.  The maker event preceeding Dr. Wertheim’s session offered the opportunity to make squishy circuit coral reefs, crochet parts of the Steward School’s coral reef and more.

Steward's crocheted coral reef in progress

Steward’s crocheted coral reef in progress

The hands-on event was followed by a talk by Dr. Wertheim with activities for kids in another room.  (Do you know what it means to offer activities for kids and to host events that appeal to all ages?  It means a lot.)

Dr. Wertheim talked about the origins of the crocheted coral reef project, the power of community-driven art/projects, what happens when you have a “science person” and an “art person” collaborate, and gender and technology.  The short session really encompassed a lot of themes and issues that run through this whole maker movement, #makered, and STE(A)M.

Participatory Projects and Community

The crocheted coral reef started over 10 years ago and quickly took over the living room of the Wertheim sisters’ living room.  The reef eventually made its way into exhibits all over the worldSatellite reefs soon popped up all over the world too.

Part of the Steward School's crocheted coral reef.

Part of the Steward School’s crocheted coral reef.

The satellite reefs like the Colorado Department of Youth Corrections reef, the Latvian Schools coral reef, and the Irish coral reef are made by community members with diverse backgrounds.  Some are scientists, crafters, artists, students, and prisoners.  All have their names included in the exhibitions around the world and in the crocheted coral reef book.  It was this insistence on including the names of all participants that was especially interesting to me.  Ownership can be empowering.

crocheted coral reef at the steward school

crocheted coral reef at the steward school

Since attending the workshop, I’ve made several references to “Xena Princess Warrior Moments.”  Wonderful things come out of downtime and those low pressure moments spent with people who compliment and energize us.  Big ideas grow from those “I wonder…” and “We could make….” moments. Right now I’m very interested in being more sensitive to those in my life as well as helping students more attuned to those ideas that may seem trivial or small.  It so happens that I’m taking a Visible Thinking class with a few colleagues.  The class has provided many strategies for making one more aware of one’s thinking.  I’m looking forward to unpacking what I’m learning and how it pairs with inquiry, research, and #makered.

Steward School jelly

Steward School jelly




A little bit of a Design Blitz

Typography & Symbols

Studio Two Three is a wonderful community print shop located in Scott’s Addition.  They offer a variety of classes, from hand lettering to lithography.  They’ve been known to use a steamroller to print giant maps of Richmond.  Studio Two Three also knows about bringing in the community much like we do here in The Village.  I believe the S23 folks put out a call for volunteers to assist with the chiseling of the woodcut used for one of the RVA maps.

I believe the print below is the 2014 RVA map.  It’s a pretty great use of typography.  All of the Richmond neighborhoods are listed in variations of whatever font is used below.  There’s some bold lettering.  Not-so-bold lettering.  Big letters.  Small letters.  It’s variety but all tied together by the constant font choice.  Then we have “RICHMOND” in big, bold letters.  And a different font.  It works.

S23 smartly used the outline of the Richmond city to hold the names of the neighborhoods suggesting to folks who may not know that one is indeed looking at a map of a city.

Studio Two Three RVA Map

Studio Two Three RVA Map



If only The Village had maps so detailed and full of useful INFORMATION.  Here’s what I like about this map: The gray with the black strip.  I have a feeling that all Lonely Planet maps use this color scheme (I could be wrong) so that one can immediately think, “Hey!  It’s a Lonely Planet map.  So reliable and trustworthy!”  Of course the blue “Lonely Planet” logo in the upper left corner can also lead one to the same thought.

This design doesn’t play around.  It’s not fancy.  You’re told that this item is a city map.  You know it’s a map of Bangkok.  This design does not play around or look for a cute, new way of saying what needs to be said.  I appreciate that.




This tote bag is pretty minimalist, me thinks.


Here’s another tote bag and another example of interesting typography.  A few years ago my husband and I were enjoying tasty burgers at Strange Matter on Grace Street.  A metal band was preparing for the evening show.  Their merch table was set up and ready to go.  They were selling tote bags along with the more pedestrian items (t-shirts, beer koozies).  Nothing screams “Black Metal!” like a tote bag, so I had to have it.

The band’s name–Wolves in the Throne Room–is in the upper left hand corner.  There’s no way you would’ve guessed that without me telling you.  Admit it.


Everyone changes in The Village: a #prisoner106 design assignment

The Village library is full of some entertaining and suspenseful reads.  It’s important to have hobbies and materials that keep our minds busy.  We recently had several donations of “I Can Read” books all from different Community members.

Cataloging new arrivals in The Village library

Cataloging new arrivals in The Village library


I picked up The Schizoid Man and thumbed through it.  I’ll add it to the collection despite the worn and torn book cover.

I Can Read MoviesBeggars can’t be choosers, amirite?

How I did it:

Several Village dwellers created some impressive book covers from scratch.  I took the “creative edit approach” as The Village psychiatrist calls it.

I wanted to capture the essence of Rover as well as the lava lamps that appear throughout The Prisoner.  I found a Creative Commons licensed lava lamp photo (thanks Anderaz) through Photo Pin.  I imported that into GIMP and erased everything but the three bubbles.  I think my next steps involved playing around with greyscale, contrast, the invert tool, and maybe some other things.  I took a few screenshots, but couldn’t really tell you the order I did things:

Tinkering with contrast

Tinkering with contrast


Tinkering with grayscale


Tinkering with invert


Tinkering with brightness and contrast

After the lava lamp/Rover was all set, I downloaded Mitch’s War Games cover and proceeded with my “creative edits,” which I now feel kind of lame about, because the book cover is copyrighted.  I supposed I could argue that it all falls within Fair Use, but still….

My creative edits included:  change the book number from 15 to 2, changing the copyright date from 1964 to 1967 (when The Prisoner) came out, changing the book cover image (obviously) and the text.  It would behoove me create my own book cover, because I could benefit from experimenting with different effects and brushes and other tools available to master image manipulators.