I started another MOOC…

… and I’m going to finish it by god!

I signed up for the Think. Create. Code. MOOC.  I felt like it was a good entry point into coding/programming since it seemed centered around the making of images and animations with ProcessingJS rather than starting out with print (“hello world”).  In other words, the payoff is faster.  The gratification is instant.  Those things are important.

Once the semester is truly over, my goal is to move into Python (again).

The “Think. Create. Code.” community is large and impersonal (or so it seems), but I managed to find people locally.  I created a coding Meetup through the Women of HackRVA and folks joined up.  We’re using Basecamp for asynchronous conversations, the posting of resources, etc. and trying to get together once a week for encouragement and troubleshooting.

My initial thoughts on ProcessingJS is “Why would you do this rather than using PhotoShop?”  It takes a long time to create primitive shapes with lines of code.  I answered my own question when a member of the group mentioned this octopus created by a MOOC mate.  One day I’ll have my own octopus, but in the meantime I have these:

Pine needles in winter  Shades of greyTriangles pt. 1Triangles (pt. 2)I’m looking forward to getting into the more advanced, interactive work just like I look forward one day (soon) getting as far as chapters 12-15 in Python for Informatics.  Right now ProcessingJS has a deeper hook.

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.




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.


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!



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