Summer of doing and making

Tell-tale signs that the school year is coming to a close are everywhere.  Seniors are gone, AP exams are in progress, invitations for retirement receptions and faculty/staff appreciation lunches are out.  Kids are punchy.  So are the adults.

Summer is just around the corner, though, and it’s going to be awesome.  There’s lots of making and doing on the agenda.  There’s the Constructing Modern Knowledge conference in July.  I’m going to revisit MIT’s Learning Creative Learning MOOC.  There’s possibly a new roof in my future.  Some fascia, flashing, and gutters need reworking too.  But most importantly, there’s DS106.

from the Twlight Zone "The Midnight Sun"

Beat the heat in the DS106 Zone

I found a short clip from The Midnight Sun” on Netflix.  I downloaded the video with Clip Converter and then used MPEG Streamclip to extract the .png files.  I’ve used Gimp in the past, and I feel somewhat comfortable with that for animated GIFs.  I was getting ready to build my animated GIF in Gimp when I had the idea to change the 110 degrees to 106. I wasn’t quite sure how to do that, so I ended up recruiting one of the art teachers at school for guidance.  I switched over to PhotoShop knowing that he was a master of that software.  There was a lot of fumbling and trial and error on my part, but I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.

So folks…. these unseasonably cool temperatures aren’t going to last for long.  When the heat and humidity is too much to bear, it’s time to find a cool, dark space, and make art, dammit!

image by Alan Levine

image by Alan Levine —

Process or outcome. What’s more important?

It was a good week.  A positive way to ease back into the routine after a leisurely spring break.

The DIY/Maker kids wrapped up their independent projects and presented their process/projects this week.  The projects included a puppet show, a matchbox pinhole camera, a board game, a couple of video projects combining spring break footage with music, baskets made from found cardboard and yarn, and a photography project that involved taking photos of students’ and creating collages from those portraits like this image by this Mike Marrero (I think).

pinhole came

We spent some time talking about process versus product/outcome, a point of conversation inspired by Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto for Growth.

I asked if Mau’s statement was true.  Is process really more important than outcome?  The opinions were mixed, and to be honest I’m really undecided.  No, maybe it’s less about being undecided and more about responding to the question with, “It depends.”

In my efforts to learn Scratch, something I’ve been doing as part of MIT’s Learning Creative Learning MOOC, process matters a lot.  I’ve been paying close attention to what works for me as a learner, especially as a learner of something completely new.  What causes friction?  The process has been insightful and has maybe provided some “data” I can use the next time I take on something new.  However, the more I roll it over in my head, the more I think that reflecting on the process IS the product or desired outcome.  The point isn’t to necessarily master Scratch, but to consider how I learn and what it means to be a student and/or self-directed learner.

But here’s the thing… if someone is paying me to create a product or get something done, a bunch of navel gazing and half-baked blogging about “process” isn’t going to make many people happy.

It’s the process where we learn from mistakes and where we learn what works well.  It’s the process that teaches us how to create that awesome product.  It’s the process that toughens the mental and physical resolve to get after it…  to get things done.

Or maybe that’s all hippie BS.

The class consensus was that it was indeed the product/outcome that was most important.  However, one student–a puppeteer–boldly admitted that he could’ve cared less about the final product.  It was the process–the making of the puppet show–that was the most fun… the place where the memories were made.

Truth.  The process lends itself to memory making.  Maybe those memories involve laughs with friends, but those memories are also, “X works for me.” and “I suck at Y.”  All useful insights to have when moving on to the next product or outcome.



“Focus diminishes serendipity”

I watched Joi Ito’s Keynote address to the OER meeting a few days ago

I made many notes on things that resonated with me.  One thing Ito said that I found especially profound was, “focus diminishes serendipity.”  I’m partial to this philosophy, because I feel like I can now justify the fact that I’m easily distracted with “Well, if the director of the MIT Media Lab lacks focus then it’s just fine for me to investigate this new shiny thing over here.”

An acquaintance of mine once described herself as “mildly interested” in just about everything.  That’s very much my problem.  I think there are common threads in being mildly interested in everything, the philosophy behind the power of pull, and the nature of librarianship.  I’m going to think more on that though.

I’d like to say that my distractability just keeps the doors open for the adjacent possible.  I think that’s partly the case.  But on the other hand, being easily distracted makes it very hard to get things accomplished or dive deep into something.  I’ve had an Arduino kit on my desk for about 6 months now.  Have I opened the box?  Nope.

Maybe the difference between being the director of the MIT Media Lab and me is that Ito doesn’t have to actually do a project.  He really just needs to put the right people together.  Connect the right resources for the person or people with the questions.

Or maybe he doesn’t have a three-year-old who happens to be more fun and cooler than Arduino.

I like to imagine what I could get done with three of four (or more) hours of silence and solitude.  I’m pretty sure that the stillness would lend itself to some unprecedented concentration and productivity on my part.




The ‘Gears’ of my childhood: a LCL post with an unhappy ending

I’m in MIT’s Learning Creative Learning MOOC, and I think it’s going to be a MOOC with which I stick.  Much like DS106, LCL promises to be fun and engaging with philosophies to ponder months after it ends.

One of the first reading assignments is to read the foreward, “The Gears of My Childhood” from Seymour Papert’s Mindstorms.  From what I hear, reading just the foreward of Mindstorms isn’t enough.  It’s a book I plan to continue with over the next few weeks.  There was a short writing assignment with the reading.  It goes something like this:

Read Seymour Papert’s essay on the “Gears of My Childhood” and write about an object from your childhood that interested and influenced you (and share with your group).

I would like to sit here and tell you that the Apple IIe that my parents brought home one evening was the most profound object to enter our house.  I’d like to say that I learned how computers really worked, that I learned how to program in elementary school, that I demystified computing, technology, whatever you want to call it.  I didn’t do any of that though.

I typed words and sentences into the command line, pressed enter, and pretended that I was doing important work, making big things happen, dominating my enemies.

The only thing I was really dominating was on that Apple IIe was “Sammy Lightfoot”

screenshot from Sammy Lightfoot

Image from

and “Below the Root,” (which was based on the novel by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, one of my favorite authors at the time.  Although her name was in the credits, I was not clever enough to make the connection between the game and her until years later.  Um, I may have also stolen a copy of Below the Root from a library that will go unnamed.  I know.  I feel bad about this).

Screenshot from Below the Root

Image from

The day I solved/won/beat “Below the Root”–a game that I spent weeks playing–is one of the more memorable days from my childhood.  I vividly remember waking up and thinking, “This is what I need to do to win this game.”  And then I did it.  It was very much one of those “Aha!” moments that is actually a result hours/days/weeks spent cogitating about the problem at hand.

The Apple IIe wasn’t the “gear” of my childhood.  It was just an outlet for play and imagination.  It was, like Legos, Barbies, and a motley assortment of Smurf figurines, a way to create universes with complex plots, character motivation, protagonists, story arcs, etc.

With my rad gaming experience and interest in creating alternate universes, I really should gotten into game design or something.  Instead I studied English in college.  How depressing is that?  I went from making my own stories to reading about other people’s stories (and then writing mediocre essays about those stories).  From active to passive.

At some point there was an almost overnight shift (or so it seems) from playing to self-doubt and self-consciousness.  I’m still trying to figure out when this shift occurred and why it occurred.