blank paper + markers + public venue + high school kids =

Disaster, right?  Not entirely.  The DIY/Maker seminar students took over three blank boards in the hallway for a couple of interactive art projects.


The board on the far left was based on the “Before I Die” project.


The board on the right are coloring pages that can be removed, colored, and tacked back up.  The project was born out of a class conversation about the the effects of a large-scale construction project currently taking place on campus.  Fencing went up around much of the interior of campus.  Convenient paths from getting from on building to another are blocked for now.  The students say its reminiscent of prison or some post-apocalyptic zombie world.  Our question was how can we bring some whimsy to this situation?

It took maybe one school day for students to populate the “Before I Die” walls.

Some comments were reflective.  Some were silly.  Some were knee-deep  chest-deep in the waters of inappropriateness.


Unicorn races

Some reflections were scratched out either by the contributor or other students (maybe even staff/faculty).


Here are some questions/observations I’ve been rolling around in my head:

  • Does a space like this create yet another place where someone can be mistreated by his/her peers?
  • What are the implications of anonymity?
  • If a community sets the standards, how does the community enforce those standards?  Who is the enforcer?  How is that determined?  And what happens when different subsets of a community have different standards?
  • Why are spaces like this so appealing?  What is it that makes people want to share?
  • There is a secret language on these boards–a lot of inside jokes–that alarmed (perhaps rightly so) some staff and faculty.  Is the alarm warranted?  Is the “secret language” reminiscent of children’s made-up languages or is the intent not as innocent?

Senior seminar meets again Tuesday.  I’m hoping we’ll have an interesting class discussion.



Making is happening

so much depends

a little

full of ideas

in your back

So sorry William Carlos Williams.  That was awful.

But you know what’s not awful?  A notebook for your ideas, sketches, and sundry observations.

Notebooks.  Essential.

Notebooks. Essential.

We made notebooks last week.  I didn’t do a formal lesson on how a notebook should be created.  There were no mandates on the number of pages or how it should be bound.  A variety of notebooks in a variety of sizes with a variety of bindings resulted.  They’re even being used.  WINNING!

Maddy's notebook

Maddy’s notebook (above)

Woody's notebook

Woody’s notebook (above)

Today we’re firing up the laser cutter to cut personal manifestos regarding making/creating (or what it means to be an artist, dancer, writer, hacker, musician, etc.)

I did a couple of test cuts this morning.  Here’s the laser cutter in action:

and a couple of test cuts…

Test cuts

Test cuts

Can’t wait to see how the class goes.

Why do we make?

I don’t have a definitive answer to that question.  Maybe the answer lies in Shop Class as Soul Craft or some article I could find in JSTOR.  

I’m going to go out on a limb and give the non-committal answer that people make for different reasons:  necessity, compulsion to make something out of nothing, the challenge of the puzzle, curiosity, and maybe even the satisfaction of seeing a successful finished project after hours/days/weeks/months/years of invested time.

I don’t even know what I make these days.  I knitted in the past.  Dabbled in quilt-making.  I spent a summer during my undergrad years in the dorms during summer school.  One of my hall mates had a sock monkey from his youth (this was before Paul Frank, thanks).  I decided then that I had to have one too.  A lot of time was spent making sock monkeys and weird sock creatures for friends and family.

Weird sock creatures
Weird sock creatures

Having a kid has cut into my time to work on fiber/textile projects.  I dread (am intimidated by) home improvement projects.  Yet I find them to be really interesting once I’m immersed.  I spent a day one summer under the house rerouting a water line.  It made for a pretty interesting day once I got past the camel crickets in the crawl space.  What’s the most fascinating to me about these home improvement projects?  It’s a peek into how the guts of a house work.  It’s interesting to see how things are put together.  That’s really something I never cared about until I bought a house.

camel cricket
photo credit: lobstar28 via photopin cc

Lately I’ve been interested in projects that seem doable mainly because I don’t know enough about the topic at hand to feel otherwise.  An example?  Arduino.  Raspberry Pi.  WordPress.  Google searches and Youtube videos bring answers or at least more breadcrumbs.  The internet keeps the trail warm I guess.  At this early point I don’t even care if a finished project results.  It’s just cool to have something to sink my brain into.

The first rule of knit club…

A couple of teachers started a knitting club for students, facult, and staff.  A reminder email went out earlier in the week.  Tuesday night I ventured into the attic to pull out some yarn that I’ve stored away for the past three years.  I dusted off some knitting needles and cast on.

It was, as they say, like riding a bike.  God love you muscle memory.

I joined the knitters during the 45-minute clubs and committees period.  Kids passed by.  Some of them exclaimed, “I used to knit!”  Some of them said, “Oh!  I want to learn how to do that.”  A couple of kids sat down and called up their knitting stories.  A grandmother was often involved.  One of the history teachers–a self-proclaimed dabbler in the fibrous arts–pulled up a seat, showed off a picture of a quilt he made during a minimester in college.

Making: bringing people together since the beginning of time.

As stories were told, I knitted for the first time since 2009.  It all came out perfect.  No stitches were dropped.  A row that was pearled rather than knitted was fixed in a couple of minutes without help from anyone or a tutorial on Youtube.

swatch of simple stockinette stitch

That feels good.

I won’t deny feeling lost or adrift as of late.  Unmoored is a word my more educated colleague used.  Somewhere along the line I decided that it would be cool to learn about Arduino and Raspberry Pi.  Yes, I’d like to know how to solder a circuit board.  In fact, I’d like to know about resistors and capacitors and 555 timers.  Mastering WordPress sounded like a good plan too.  And because I know very little to nothing about any of the aforementioned things, it all seems very doable.  That it until one sits down with an electronics manual and quickly finds that the spare hour dedicated to doing this stuff has passed, and there’s no free time anywhere in the near future to pick it up again.

I’m doing this “learning new stuff” thing wrong.

I’m hesitant to say it, but maybe the question is why do I want to learn this new stuff anyway?  Is it just curiosity?  If so, can it wait until my son is in college (or at least old enough so we can figure it out together… assuming Arduinos are where Jobot’s interests lie).  Do I think it’s worthwhile to know this stuff so that I can share it with kids at school?  Yes, definitely, but do I need to be the ‘expert?*’

There was a time when curiosity was enough.  Though curiosity without free time creates nothing but dilettantes and wishes.

* Yes.  Yes I do.

“If this conference sucks, it’s your fault.”

“If this conference sucks, it’s your fault.”  That was the proclamation issued by Wren Lanier, one of the organizers of RVA’s Bill Conference.  The conference’s tag line: “Ideas are easy. Making things is hard.”  Yes.  That sounds about right.  That’s familiar.

The past week moved too fast for me to really give much thought to Bill.  I went in without expectations.  I went in surprised that I remembered to go.  It ended up being a really good way to spend a Saturday.  There was a nice mix of people, good energy.  There’s talk of future Bill meetups, and I hope that happens.

Like most unconferences, the Bill Conference had no key note speakers, no predetermined sessions, no breakout sessions.  The folks who talked had very little (if any) preparation and pretty much waxed philosophical about what it takes to make things from movies to iOS apps to community.

(One of the conference participants talked about his involvement in the 48-hour Film Project.  This short was the submission for 2012’s event.)

Some of the themes from the day: (1) Set your ideas free (write them in a notebook or share them with others).  See what comes back in the form of feedback or help.  (2) Commit to sucking.  It takes time to get good.  Making bad things is necessary before the good things can be born.  (3)  Procrastination is usually a sign that there are no constraints in place.  Add constraints if that is what works for you.  (4) Don’t get so hung up on the preparation.  If you’re preparing too much, you’re not doing anything.

I think it was Taber Bain who recommended keeping for a week “a list of things that annoy the s**t out of you.”   After the week ends, consult the list and commit to fixing/hacking some of those annoyances.  It’s the perfect suggestion for a person who wants to do something.

Lists/notebooks/some physical or virtual manifestation of thoughts and ideas were mentioned several times throughout the day.  Writing something down, recording a voice memo, or whatever isn’t a revolutionary idea, but it’s definitely a habit I need to nurture.

photo by Brenderous (Flickr)

Thoughts and potential good ideas are easily lost in all the noise.

Wren’s assertion that a sucky conference would be the fault of those of us who paid to attend was spot on.  Unconferences are participatory.  The topics discussed are decided on by those who paid (whether in money or time or both) to come.  I briefly thought about “presenting,” but decided against it when I saw myself pacing the stage and muttering, “Uh…. um…. uh….”  My participation included: listening, thinking, and an occasional tweet.  This could be described as passive, which leads into tomorrow’s topic…

On deck….  The burden of being a “mute.”