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

Creativity and Courage (things said at CMK): a reflection (pt. 2)

I mistakenly left my iPod in Virginia, so I was tethered to my MacBook and old school notebooks during the few scheduled sessions, impromptu conversations, and #cmk13afterhours.

outdated technologies

I’m also very embarrassed by my old school phone

I’m sure people looked at me the way I look at folks who write checks in the line at Target or use AOL or Hotmail.  Next time I’ll remember not to judge check writers or AOL users.  We all have reasons for doing what we do, I guess…  Maybe.

I’m looking back through my notes as some of the things that were said over the week.  I want to think them through here.  Feel free to support or challenge the thinking or continue as your were out there in the Internet.

Creativity and Courage

Manchester, NH is only an hour away from Boston, so a trip to MIT’s Media Lab was on Tuesday night’s agenda.  The introvert in me considered skipping out, but it’s MIT’s Media Lab.  That’s argument enough for getting over any social anxiety.

Upon entering the Media Lab, we encountered a few exhibits representing the cutting-edge work taking place at MIT.  Wheels + Legs and the Silk Pavilion are two exhibits currently on display.

part of the Wheels + Legs description

part of the Wheels + Legs description

part of the Silk Pavilion description

part of the Silk Pavilion description

 

I was especially intrigued by some of the cardboard prototyping done for the Wheels + Legs exhibit.

Prototyping from the Wheels + Legs exhibit at MIT's Media Lab

Prototyping from the Wheels + Legs exhibit at MIT’s Media Lab

We slowly made our way to the 6th floor where we were to listen to Tod Machover.  He talked about “Death and the Powers,” an opera commissioned by the Association Futurum of Monaco.  He talked about “A Toronto Symphony: Concerto for Composer and City,” a bold collaborative endeavor with the people of Toronto.  A similar collaborative undertaking is in the works for the 2013 Edinburgh Festival.

Someone asked, “Why don’t you do any work in the United States?”

Machover essentially said that American symphonies were, for the most part, conservative and hesitant to experiment for fear they’ll lose subscribers.

I wish I could remember Machover’s response word-for-word.  Basically he implored us to be creative and courageous whether we’re teachers, administrators, or on a symphony’s Board of Directors.

The advice resonated with me, because I buy-in 100% to the idea that the library should have a makerspace and digital media labs like YouMedia.  I believe that the library was a coworking space before coworking was cool.  I believe the library–a common space, a shared space–is ideal for workshops, forums, roundtable discussions.  The library is an ideal place for creation, not just consumption.  Despite the trendiness and the cliche of that previous statement, I believe it.

Sometimes it’s tempting to back away from these beliefs when we still exist in a culture where people perceive libraries to be about books and quiet and librarians to be about the Dewey Decimal system and teaching citation styles.  It’s not that these things don’t belong here, it’s just that there’s so much more to the work than that.  I can help a student think about a research paper and show her/him how to properly cite a source.  It’s equally exciting (ok, more exciting) to help a student make a movie or watch a student play around with a Raspberry Pi that she/he got from the library.

Raspberry Pi

cc licensed Flickr photo by qgil

There was a lot of talk at CMK about creating democratic cultures in school and the erosion of democracy through the defunding of public education.   I was surprised that this conversation popped up in several different venues over the week: once in a late night lobby talk and then again in some of the few scheduled sessions.

I’m thinking about libraries and how they support democracy through the provision of tools and shared space and the programming of thought-provoking workshops.  The library is a democratic space, because students (or community members) have access to books, articles, 3D printers, cameras, green screens, etc, which gives them the freedom to defend ideas and possibly create physical manifestations of those ideas.

I feel lucky to work in a pretty progressive school.  There’s a lot of tradition here both in culture and academics, but I think minds are open to change and new ideas.  As we move into a new space in August, I’m interested in seeing how new ideas take root, what butts up against tradition, and what is born from courage and creativity.

 

 

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 — http://cogdogblog.com/