For my final project I chose to create a card holder for the card game, Dominion. I chose this project because I wanted to learn how to work with a new material (mainly wood), and I wanted something sophisticated and useful in the future.
I began by looking up what other people created as card game holders for inspiration on Pinterest.
Above are two pictures that I found particularly inspirational, and I wanted to create something similar. I really liked the top left because it organized it very compactly and neatly, and it was easy to take out the cards. The top right has a very polished look but wasn’t as practical because the cards were oriented in a 360 degree rotation, so the player wouldn’t be able to actually read the cards.
I wasn’t quite too sure what design I wanted though, so I sketched it out on paper first.
This is an example of a design that I first drafted. In the past I made the mistake of not measuring things out and just sort of eyeballing it, so this time I made sure to measure everything, INCLUDING laying it out on the board.
I went to CU Woodshop to buy my wood, and there I learned all about the different types of woods and lengths. I was originally going to buy a thick block of wood but the person there told me to buy 6mm, and thankfully I listened because it turns out the laser cutter only cuts up to 6mm. Learning that was a huge shock and just another lesson that even though I prepped the design and etc, there will always be unforseen things that occur, so iteration must always be an option (and improvement).
I drew the lines on my board before cutting, to make sure my measurements were correct, ad of course it was off. The layout I had created didn’t take into account the width or height of the board, so I ended up measuring out spaces to evenly line up the slots.
Next I layed out my cards on the board to (once again) check that the dimensions were correct, and once it was finalized I began lasering!
I also lasered out tiny squares in case I needed them in the future. The moment I began lasering I realized I didn’t think to count the number of cards, so I wasn’t sure if the slots would be deep enough to hold the cards. Fortunately it turns out that there’s not that many cards to begin with, and only three of the slots needed it!
The last step was lining the bottom with felt. I was actually going to keep the board to just the top layer, but it didn’t look good and the cards constantly slipped around.
I glued around the edges of each slot and then connected it with a strip of felt that I measured out. Finally, I added another layer of wood to the bottom of the board, waited for the glue to dry then sandpapered the edges and the surface of all sides. The sandpaper took FOREVER because I didn’t use the machine, but instead used sheets of paper. It was very gratifying to see sharp edges become smooth though hard work though.
This project was REALLY fun because my friend saw my snapchat then asked to keep the board. That gave me motivation to work even harder and to try to make it as good as possible. I realized that while creating things is fun, creating things for other people is even more fun.
During the process of thinking about the final project, I wanted to re-do the 3D printing about the Disney stuff. For the 3D printing assignment, I tried to use scanner to produce of artifacts. In the Tinkercad, I could not make the exact shape of Disney logo. I used my Disney toy to scan its shape. Instead of using exact same castle shape, I just added the squares and triangles. For re-do assignments, I also used soldering to use LED. The first trial of this artifact was failed because of too much supports and brim. Instead of building support, I removed it and just used the brim to hold the structure.
*Additional 3d model printing : iPhone 6, iPhone 7 cases
After I printed out the 3d model of my prompt, I really wanted to work on the 3d printing model which I really need and want. I started to edit the phone case model. Instead of using the Snow White design for iPhone 6, I searched the dinosaur character and add more design. For iPhone 7 model, I added the character which my friend like. Since I wanted to use two different colors for the phone case design, I asked the makerlab TA for using dual color printer. However, there are mass orders, so I could not use the dual printer. At first, I tried to print separately and stick small pieces together as I did in tacoyaki prompt model. However, the design of phone case was so complicated to stick tiny pieces together. So, TA and I planned to pause the printer and change the color when it start to print new layer. There are also problem in this plan. When I print the phone case separately, I did not need to worry about the support which would be created in the hole in the middle of phone case; the printer started printing of phone case from the bottom part. However, when I printed from the back side of the phone case which has the pop-up layer design, then there will be the support inside the hole in the other side of phone case. What I planned to do was cut the partial bottom part of the phone case so that there the printer will only print out the little bit of upper layer and all of the pop-up design layer. Then I plan to print the other remained bottom part which I cut.
When I used cure to print out, I separated the plane part and design part. For design part, I placed the model 1.3mm above so that the printer could print it above the plane part of phone case
1. The most significant thing I learned about myself as a maker was that how spontaneous and lenient I could be. I have always been a very “organized” perfectionist who got sad at the least significant mistake. I was that person who threw away a whole note paper if I misalign one letter, because it would not look “perfectly clean”. This extreme OCD worried me when I started taking the course, because I thought I would become upset at the smallest things. I did not. I learned that some misalignments and impurities can also become valuable and add up to the aesthetics. The constant compliments I got from peers and staff helped me gain confidence in my projects: I learned to embrace my slanted sewing machine paths, rough edges I got from 3D printing, and the last-minute choices such as adding a random ribbon on my pouch.
2. For my final project, I made a music-jewelry-nightlight-box. One challenge I faced was different types of acrylic shrunk in different sizes while laser cutting, so I got awkward gaps while filling the pieces into the wood. Another challenge was sticking the pieces together. This was more of a tedious job than a technical challenge, I should have used acrylic glue instead of the super glue I used. I am very proud of how thing turned out, even though some chicks have lost their little eyeballs. Kudos for me for planning things out ahead of time, so I did not wait in line for the laser cutter at all, during my two weeks.
3. My learning goals for the project were creating a “multi-media” art piece that also serves as an everyday object and setting weekly checkpoints (timestamp photos) so I will not procrastinate. I met my first goal with creating a box with both wood and acrylic: I got compliments on how I am the first one to design the “stained glass” effect with different colored acrylic. Even though I had to file out bits of super glue from my fingers, I think it was very worth experimenting. I learned that it does not hurt to try out new spontaneous stuff, as long as you have enough time to prepare for it (which I did). My second goal was met by attaching timestamps on my photo documentations.
- Apr 19 – Apr 23: Design box plan (living hinge) and print it out. Design vector
- Apr 24 – May 1: Print Inner boxes, acrylic, stick acrylic in place
- May 2 – May 4: Assembly, add light source and music box piece
I was surprised at how punctual I could be, since I was the one who did (almost) all projects at the last minute. I learned that there is more time to mend mistakes if I plan early or prepare for unexpected incidents (such as the universal laser cutter hinge snapping in front of me). As I had more time in my hands, I could ensure things going the way I want them to be. I had time to wait until the glue dries and stain the wood on dry surfaces. I hoped to learn to work at a steady pace, and I mastered it.
4. The word “maker” came to me initially as a professional occupation, such as developer and designer. A maker should have exceptional skills as well as knowledge and should be able to create high-quality projects out of scratch. For me, a maker seemed like a hard title to earn. However, that perception changed after I took this class. A maker should not be inhibited to professionalism: anyone with creativity can become one. It is not the quality of the product that defines the name; it is the mentality of approaching a given task. The process of planning, creating a blueprint or a storyboard, experimenting new ways of production and iterating through mistakes is what makes a person a maker. I have gone through that process, and now I am a maker.
Over the course of this semester, I’ve learned a great deal about not only the act of making, but also the community that surrounds it. Reflecting on my projects, the biggest takeaway I received from this class is that projects aren’t just a one-way street. Many times, I would come up with an idea and stick to it until the end, whether it be the design or implementation, and if a problem ever arose, I would find ways to work around it rather than revisiting my original design. This often led to hacky results that looked out of place.
I still remember my first project in this class – the laser name tag, which I designed to look like a circuit board. While some of the placement details may have varied, I barely modified the design from conception to final product. At that time, I was satisfied with the outcome, but when I saw what my classmates had made, I was amazed by the different ways they had interpreted the “name tag” aspect, which made my project feel boring in comparison. As someone who doesn’t like to take risks, I feel that my early projects focused too much on making something that was possible, instead of being willing to experiment and dare to fail.
As I worked on more projects, I’ve come to realize the importance of flexibility and the ability to adapt to unforeseen problems, even if it means backtracking and throwing away things that have already been done, instead of “digging the hole deeper”, as they say. I’ve gained the confidence to try new things that I’ve never done before, even if it means that there’s a possibility of failure.
For my final project, I wanted to utilize the extra time that we had to experiment with various designs. As a lover of mechanical keyboards, I was inspired while shopping on Amazon by a “switch tester”:
These testers are normally just keys that are not attached to anything, and are used for experimenting with different types of keys. When I saw this I thought, what if I could build something like a switch tester, but one that worked as a real functioning keypad? I came up with an initial design:
Before finalizing my design, I experimented with the dimensions of the holes to ensure everything would fit together properly. To do this, I used some scrap wood and laser cut various hole dimensions and spacing, and tested them to see which would fit best. For those curious, the optimal size ended up being 13.5mm wide, with 5mm between each hole.
As this was my first time soldering, I also had a lot of trouble getting the wires to connect properly to the Pi. My original idea was to have a pair of wires for each key, but that would require 18 wires, and I found it incredibly difficult to solder wires adjacent to each other on the Raspberry Pi’s pins. After looking around on the internet, I discovered a clever technique: instead of having a pair of wires for each key, I could have one wire for each row and column, bringing the total number of wires to just 6 connecting to the Pi. The idea was that I could send a signal along one of the rows, and listen for it along each column. When a key is pressed, it would connect the circuit, letting the column pin receive the signal that the row pin sent. Pretty cool!
Here’s a video of the final product in action, running a Tic-Tac-Toe game that I wrote:
For my project, my goals were to learn how to solder, and also to experiment with at least three different designs, to push myself out of my comfort zone and attempt new things. Given that I’d only worked with breadboards before, I had originally designed my circuit without considering how I would connect the pieces together. A few times I had soldered a piece of wire, only to realize afterward that it was the wrong length, or I had attached it to the wrong pin, and removing it turned out to be even harder than adding it in the first place. One of the trickiest aspects for me was getting the solder to stick to the pins. I ended up asking a member of the fab lab for help, and they suggested using a wider tip for the soldering iron, which helped a lot in getting the solder to stick. In retrospect, I should have practiced soldering on something disposable before working on my project, which would have prevented many of those accidents.
For the design aspect of my final project, I ended up trying a variety of box designs. My initial plan called for an all-acrylic box, with the keys layered vertically on top of a Raspberry Pi. I soon realized that this would make it too tall to comfortably use, so I went with a flatter but wider design. One problem I ran into after laser cutting the box was holding the keys. I couldn’t find any wood thin enough to snap the keys into, and the acrylic simply didn’t have the friction required to keep the keys in place. I remembered that during my testing the wood held the pieces pretty well, so I decided to replace the lid with wood, and to embed the keys directly into the lid. This worked even better than the original design, since it left more space for the circuit underneath.
To me, the word “maker” used to just mean a person who created things. Now though, I realize it is more than just about following instructions from the internet. In my opinion, “making” is about innovating – whether it be by remixing someone else’s work, or inventing something new entirely, and sharing that with the world. In my opinion, the product being personally meaningful is only a byproduct of innovation – of course it is meaningful to you if you designed it, after all. I feel that this class has definitely challenged me to think outside of the box, and I feel that the projects where I have went beyond the basic requirements were far more meaningful to me.
The most surprising thing I’ve learned and accepted this semester is that it’s okay to make mediocre pieces in the process of learning a new tool. I’m someone who is used to spending a lot of time planning art projects, and being asked to come up with designs quickly — sometimes on the spot — was a totally new way of thinking for me. I learned to take myself a little less seriously, and focus more on the process than the finished product. This is invaluable to me, as growth doesn’t come from a final piece, but the moments that lead up to it.
With this conclusion in mind, I chose a final project that would be more process-intensive than anything I’ve done before: a fiber optic dress. This logistics of this project involved quite a lot of doodling during class and using the world around me to brainstorm. I’m proud of my idea to weave fiber optics into tulle, a mesh fabric that was lightweight, nearly invisible, and extremely conducive to holding the filaments in place. In the end, I completed a high-low satin and organza circle skirt with about 400 feet of fiber optics and 16 addressable LEDs.
My first learning goal was learning to create more professional clothing using techniques in the lab. In my proposal, I wrote:
The serger has always been intimidating to me, and I rarely take the time to do things “right” in my own sewing projects (proper seam allowances, pressing the fabric as I go, etc.) Also, I’ve never had the opportunity to make a full-length dress, and I’ve only done one circle skirt before; here, I hope to gain more experience with shape, structure, and design of fuller garments.
I’m pleased to say that I made major progress on this learning goal! With a lot of help from Duncan, I learned how to use the serger. After pressing the hem, the outcome looked much more professional than anything I could’ve achieved with a fold over hem, especially on the rounded edge of the skirt.
Of course, the reason I rarely do things professionally in my sewing is because it takes a lot of time, and this project was no exception. With a time limit of just a few weeks, I didn’t have time to pin every seam to perfection. However, I still feel that I improved my attention to details such as seam allowance and thorough ironing, and this really improved the fit and drape of the final garment.
For my second learning goal, I wrote the following:
I want to force myself to adapt quickly, since I’ll inevitably run into snags that will make my project feel impossible to complete in 3 weeks. For example, if I figure out that one of my core parts isn’t working as well as expected, like the LEDs or fiber optics, I’ll try to come up with a new method that still incorporates these items rather than ordering a bunch of new materials. I likely won’t be able to put as much detail as I’d like into this skirt in the timeframe given, so I’ll have to dynamically re-evaluate my expectations to make sure I meet the deadline. I tend to be overambitious, so scaling down to a minimum viable product is something I’d like to practice. Accepting the fact that my final project may look nothing like my original sketch is part of this adaptation.
I was definitely correct that this was an overambitious proposal. In the case of a three-week project, “adapting quickly” turned out to mean a lot of electrical tape and pins. The final project was pinned together rather than sewn, but I was happy to trade this shortcut for a very dense, thoroughly woven fiber optic skirt. I’m glad that I learned to step back and let one component shine rather than burning out and trying to do everything. Also, the LEDs weren’t nearly as bright as I was expecting them to be, which was disappointing, but forced me to be more creative with sanding down the fiber optics to release more light. It was surprising and liberating to come up with solutions like these rather than starting over with a whole new set of materials. This was a meaningful project that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, yet accepting that it couldn’t be perfect in three weeks helped me grow.
Before this class, I would’ve called myself a maker without hesitation. However, the “Why I Am Not a Maker” article we read in class challenged my view on this definition. To me, a maker is someone who is laser-focused on the end goal of producing some physical object. Makers are defined by the success of their projects, not their personal growth or the growth of their community, and this is not what I want to be. After some panelists in class spoke about the intersection of social justice and fab labs, as well as the many roles a fab lab can play in a community, I no longer consider myself focused purely on the goal of creating things. If I can help someone become self-sufficient at a particular skill, or provide outreach to get a young girl interested in electronics, that will bring me a greater amount of fulfillment than showing off a finished product. Don’t get me wrong — it’s fun to pour your heart into an object and be proud of that finished result. But the title of maker ignores the community that enables such success. Therefore, I now think of myself not as a maker, but as a collaborator, student, teacher, and hopefully always a learner.
My final project is a stuffed animal called Monster Fo. because it is about food. Monster Fo. can tell you what to eat and how to cook it. You can put it on your bed like a usual stuff animal. And when you wake up, you can shake it and let it decide what your meal will be!
In the feedback of my 1st final project proposal, Duncan asked me, “What constitutes a well-done project for you: how well it matches your original design, how well it functions, or how pretty it looks?”
For my Monster Fo. The project, I want it to look good but also want it to be well-functioned. From the 3D printing assignment, I actually wanted to make something that is usable and looking good. Yet, I ended up doing a more artsy project, a 3D print of me as a chopsticks holder. I realized it’s not only a design. When we are making a prototype which is usable, we need to consider the possible material, the tool and the technique we should apply.
Not until iteration assignment, I started drawing the ideation sketch. The iteration project is to make a 3D paper-cut model for the game “travel frog”. There are three components: 3D paper cut design, copper tape circuit, Arduino hidden in a press fit box.
There are also several problems I had for iteration assignment which influence my process for the final project. I first printed the press-fit box, and then I started making the design. However, I tore it apart from the wood and re-do it because I noticed the circuit should be hidden under the design as well. Moreover, when I finally finished the code and put Arduino inside the box, I noticed that the box is too small for the Arduino, and the hole is too small for the cable. Apparently, if I printed the press-fit box again, I will need to do everything again. Luckily, I can re-print the side and make the hole larger, so both fit. After I submitted my iteration assignment, I knew that it’s not what I wanted. At least, it did not look like my ideation sketch.
It is like computer science’s divide and conquer algorism and also like writing an outline for a long paper. The ability to divide a big project into smaller one helps a lot. The ability to manage the time for each component is also crucial. Those are the most significant thing I have learned over the course of these assignments.
After several failures doing these assignments, before I started my final project, I draw a detailed ideation sketch and separate the project into five components: press-fit box, the skin of the stuffed animal, food token, cookbook, and the recipe.
Food token is like the lottery. One side of the token is the image of a food, such as broccoli, egg, chicken, and etc.
Press-Fit box is the mouse of Monster Fo., which is used to store food tokens.
The skin is the outside of the Monster Fo. It’s made of fabric. There is an open tooth, where food token can come out, and a zipper on the bottom of it to put tokens back.
The recipe is a collection of the card. On the card, it lists the ingredient used and steps to make the food.
A design I did not use eventually. But its suppose to be the cover of the original cookbook idea.
The backpack is used to store recipe. There is a screen printing logo in front of the bag to show that the monster and the backpack is a set.
None of those is really hard to me. However, it’s still my first time sewing a stuffed animal, especially it contains a box, so I cannot just leave a tiny hole and put stuffing inside. One challenge can be, how to make it more like a stuffed animal, that it can be soft and stuffy. I solve it by making four pillows like stuffing surround the box. When I made the first pillow, I realized if I want to find the thread, I will need to do it on the opposite side. Luckily, I can hide the first pillow, and work better when I was making the skin. I am really proud of how cute the monster looks.
One another challenge I had is that, it’s quite time-consuming. This is relevant to my learning goal: time management.
I challenged myself to do a well-done project in time, thus a well-functioned and good looking stuff animal. It’s also Duncan who told me to do a timeline. It’s the best suggestion I got for my final project.
I made a timeline. The first component that needs to be done is the food token. In order to know how big the press-fit box should be, is to know how big those token need to be. The second component is the press-fit box since it affects if the stuffed animal can function or not. And then I used the box to scale the stuffed animal, used the stuffed animal to measure the size of the backpack, used the backpack to measure the size of the recipe.
I also gave myself the backup day. I did use it because the whole sewing process took me one more day. One day I used for resting and continue the screen-printing part. In addition, to use the knowledge I learned from the previous assignments, I questioned myself, “do you give yourself iteration time and what does iteration mean to you?” It’s not like changing some part to make it works, but maybe the whole process: the part I can improve after everything is done.
The Monster Fo. looks cute and can function. Yet, I would like to do a 2nd Monster Fo., the one that can get the token more easily and look not like any existing character.
Although I finished my project on time, I do not think I give myself a time to do an iteration. I believe that in order to publish a product or even a paper, it must go through many iterations. A final product might not look like the first sketch but are better for a better user experience.
The final project is meaningful to me. Not only because I learned so many tool and techniques, but also how can I manage on time. Recently, I spent a lot of time in my student RSO. When we are planning an event, there are many things we need to consider, and every part is built on one another. It’s as complicated as making a Monster Fo. I believe in the future, no matter which project or environment I am in, this will be a very important skill.
Last but not least, at the beginning of the semester, I wrote that everyone should be a maker. It is still true, people constantly making something, such as grew a child up, write a book, or even bake a cake. But I don’t think everyone called themselves as a maker. I do not consider myself a maker after all. People who called themselves as a maker might be someone who constantly making a product. This product can be sold, can be for interested. But most important, they themselves are aware of their passion and aware of this making process.
Question 1: Initially when rereading my assignment write-ups, I was impressed that for pretty much every project I ended up with something close to what I originally wanted/envisioned. When I read the posts, I remembered that there were always small changes, problems, and surprises along the way. Dealing with these issues was usually not an extremely painful or lengthy process because of the relative simplicity of the projects and all the resources around me – other people, online tutorials, videos, etc. Through all of the assignments, I gained confidence in my ability to learn new concepts and skills and apply them to create physical objects – something I didn’t have much experience with coming into the course. Most of my hobbies, work, and education have centered around more theoretical/abstract knowledge. What this means going forward is that I have no excuses for shying away from more ‘hands on,’ physical projects! While I still consider myself a novice at most of the techniques we’ve used and there are many techniques I haven’t explored, I know that with time and assistance from others I can succeed in making what I set my mind to (or at least learn a lot while getting closer to my goal and adapting it as needed). I think as I transition out of this class, I should take the opportunity to attempt more complex projects since I don’t have to worry about due dates, etc.
Question 2: For the final project, I made a box with LED strips that display air quality data for two pollutants (ozone and particulate matter 2.5) in twelve U.S. cities. The data source (airnow.gov) maintains monitoring stations, and assigns a quality score of 1-7 based on the detected levels of pollutants. My project uses a python script to retrieve the data and light up the appropriate LED with the appropriate color (mapped to the 1-7 scale). The most challenging part of the project was probably finalizing the idea – originally I wanted to do a wooden map of Champaign County with streams in acrylic and lights displaying streamflow data underneath, but there were many reasons I changed my plan: the LED strips were less flexible than I thought, there were only 6 stream gauge points in Champaign County and they could not be easily connected using one LED strip, the streams would have to be oversized to fit the strips, which would cause the map to look confusing and cluttered, and there was a perpetually long line for the large laser cutter, which I would have needed to create a large enough map. I felt much less stressed out when I came up with my new plan using air quality data, and it helped a lot that airnow already ranks the air quality on a simple scale. I am proud of learning how to work with raspberry pi, and getting to use the unix knowledge I learned in a class last semester as well as develop my Python skills!
Putting it all together…
An incompletely cut piece of wood meant lots of time with pliers and sandpaper
A rainbow light show happens every hour
Writing the script to pull Airnow data
Question 3: My first learning goal for this project was to develop more confidence working with hardware and electronics through trying out new types of hardware and a different type of circuit setup than I had attempted before. I found a wiring diagram online for the raspberry pi and neopixel strip, but the actual learning came in the parts that were not fully explained or were slightly different for my materials. For one, my neopixel strip had four wires coming out of it, and it took me a while to find out that the ‘fourth wire’ was actually the ground wire doubled up with the data wire. Although in retrospect this was fairly obvious given the wire colors and other information I had about the strip, it felt like a grand ‘ah-ha!’ moment at the time. I also learned that my leds appeared to be in GRB and not RGB, so I had to adapt my color assignments accordingly. I also got to learn about other fun electronics things like capacitors, level converters, and powering up the pi and the led strip. Just working with the pi in general helped me understand computers in a new way, and view them in terms of the basics – power, memory, peripherals, etc. The online tutorials I used were indispensable in giving me a place to start, and I think as I gain experience with more wiring set ups I’ll gain more confidence, eventually relying less on tutorials and more on experience.
My second learning goal was to become more comfortable asking for help through getting advice/tips from people at the beginning of the project and when I was stuck. I didn’t actually get ‘stuck’ in the project that much, but I did remain conscious of this goal and it added a lot to my experience. Initially I talked to Dot about the raspberry pi and I explained my idea for the project to her, and from this conversation I realized that I would have to build a frame/backing for the laser cut portion (at this point I was still planning to do Champaign County), and that I would need a keyboard, mouse, and display to set up the pi. This conversation also illustrated that sometimes, things people tell you don’t click until later. Dot told me I would need an external keyboard, mouse, and monitor, yet for some reason I was still picturing interacting with the pi via my laptop’s usb port (like Arduino). Once I got the pi in the mail and there were no accompanying wires and no way to interact with it, I understood what she meant! Other points I asked others for advice were in hooking up the LED strip, plans for the press-fit box, and drilling a hole in the box after I realized it needed to be bigger than the one I had laser cut. Each time I asked someone for advice or help, they were very nice about it and it gave us a chance to share ideas and connect over the project. It also pushed me to refine my ideas and explain it more clearly. This project was one positive step towards being comfortable asking for help, and I’ll have to continue the practice.
I am happy with the final project, and I’m also viewing it as a starting point for other projects! I have a much clearer idea of what these types of projects involve now, and the potential of the raspberry pi. The project is also meaningful to me because it relates to processes and people I care about (i.e., environmental health and air quality in cities that I have some connection to).
Question 4: In deciding whether to consider myself a maker, I am keeping in mind the Atlantic article by Debbie Chachra. I think her critique on the ‘maker’ identity is still relevant, and I’d prefer to think of the skills I’ve learned in this class contributing to more thoughtful interaction with ‘things’ in general, rather than being just about ‘making.’ Gaining skills to iterate, explore, and meaningful interact with and expand upon what is made helps me think more carefully about how products are made, who makes them, and why they are made. It also challenges me to consider making something myself in the place of buying it, and fixing broken items instead of throwing them away and buying new ones. I agree with Papert’s quote about significant learning being hands-on and personally meaningful – I could have read about all of these techniques and understood them conceptually, but still been very shy about using them if we hadn’t had the hands on experience. I also learned a lot from looking at what other people made using the same techniques and the same prompts – that was a major benefit from being in the class. It pushes me to think outside of judgment/ranking terms (better/worst/best), and appreciate other people’s creative processes.
After rereading my write-ups, something I’ve noticed about myself as a learner is that I rarely make the exact thing I originally intended or envisioned to make. I’ve never really reflected on this before, but this approach to projects and work is how I go about doing a lot of things in life. When I am pressed up for time or when I realize that something is not going to work out, I change the course of what I need to do without much hesitation. And it’s not so much that I am giving up, but rather, I am willing to adapt quickly as the situation changes. This is something I think I have always done, but reflecting on our labs and assignments in makerspace made me call it out. Actually, one of my learning goals for this final project was to try and achieve the original vision for the project (which I failed). However, looking at that learning goal now, I really shouldn’t have set that goal because I like that I can adapt to change and different obstacles. I also appreciate that makerspace does not chastise us for changing the project, making mistakes, or failing. The freedom gives me the space to try more or different things that might be perceived as “risky” for a school project.
For my project, I made an interactive choropleth map of Chicago. There’s a joystick attached to an Arduino which control neopixel lights that display different colors or strengths of color through the acrylic or geographic areas of the city to represent values/quantities in the area. These values or quantities come from public datasets; example datasets would be population density, median income, number of bike racks, number of home burglaries, etc.) Although I didn’t have everything hooked up properly during the showcase, there’s supposed to be an LCD on the board and it’s supposed to show the user what dataset they’re looking at.
I had a lot of challenges along the way, but I guess the biggest challenge was lack of time – I felt incredibly rushed through the entire project which ultimately impacted the resulting product. I typically like to do substantive research before buying, building, working on a project, but I had to order parts (like neopixels, capacitor, etc.) without much due research. Fortunately, most of the things I ordered worked out all right – though I kind of wish I didn’t get lines of neopixels, but rather, programmable LED strings. Also, I was rushing when I was buying my materials at the FabLab and bought clear acrylic when I should’ve gotten frosted acrylic, and for the showcase/presentation, I had to back the clear acrylic with computer paper that was packaging taped to the board.
For my first goal, I said it would be really nice to be able to code datasets (e.g. median income, population data, number of bike racks, etc.) to the LED display. I kind of met this goal. The reason why I didn’t have the datasets coded into the Arduino and the LEDs by the day of presentation was actually because of technical difficulties I was having with the mapping software (GIS). That’s kind of funny because I am (supposed to be) way more adept with GIS than Arduino things, but that is what happened. Although I did not have real datasets for the project during the presentation/showcase, I know for sure that all of it could be set up quite easily once the datasets are prepared.
For my second goal, I said I want to make something that I would be proud to display, even if that means I have to reiterate parts of my project. I definitely failed this. In hindsight, this was an awful learning goal to set since it was a relatively complicated two-week project during finals. Iteration and the contemplation of design/process of making takes a lot of time. I learned that it’s really easy for me to say that I will do iteration (because we all know iteration results in insights and better results), but when it came down to it, I just didn’t have the resources (ie. spending more money on material for redoes) and time.
Even though I did not meet both my goals, I still really like my project and I see the value in this big interactive choropleth map as an aesthetic/teaching piece. At first, I wasn’t very happy at all with the product I had to present during the day of the showcase. But as I received more comments from people who saw it, I liked what I made more and more. I appreciated all the praise and critical feedback I received, and over the course of the day, I came to own that I spent a lot of time working on a pretty cool project that wasn’t completely finished.
I’ve never heard of the “maker” identity before this class, but I’ve been “making” things for a while now, so was I a “maker” before this class? Before this makerspace class though, I never “made” so many projects (ie. physical things) in such a short amount of time. Every week, we just thought up of something and started making. Before this class, I had a lot of hesitation when starting a new project. Doing new projects every week with Makerspace has definitely helped rid me of this mental barrier. I think I am/was often discouraged to even start a project because I feared that I would not end up with perfect results, but this class has really taught me that I should forge on because trying and making something – even if it’s not what I originally thought it would be – is so much more rewarding than not having started anything. If it wasn’t for this class pushing me to work on all these projects, especially the final two projects, I’m sure the barrier would’ve been too high for me. Now that I have traction for picking up materials and fiddling and making, I’m sure I will be making with less hesitance.
My capacitor started leaking because I plugged it in the wrong way… #noob
Yikes, rastering took about an hour
Testing out the neopixels
LCD wasn’t working. Duncan told me I should’ve used the “backpack.”
Geographic Information System (GIS) is the bane of my life.
Held up by packaging tape but it works
After reading my studio assignments and write-ups, I have learned that I can get really rigid when it comes to deviating from what I have decided to do. I get afraid of the unknown and do not like to poke around in things I do not understand. There are certain things I have developed my confidence in, such as laser cutting and using Inkspace. I have learned that I really enjoy playing with that program. I also really enjoy using the Vinyl cutter and making fun Vinyl stickers. However, I feel like my confidence in the Arduino field is stagnant, which is surprising since I’m a computer science major.
I made a Settlers of Catan board game holder for my final project.
Here is a photo of my first time trying to create the board. I foolishly forgot to set the polygon to not mess with the dimensions.
I only realized this after the Catan board did not fit. I actually panicked and was really upset since it was not going the way I had expected.
Then I redid the steps, this time making the polygon have the right dimensions. However, this time around, the laser cutter did not cut into the board. I was using a 1/4inch board instead of the 1/8 like I had the first time around. I tried to go over the board twice, but each time it was just burning the board more and not completely cutting. I had to ask a staff member for assistance and he used the bandsaw to cut out the pieces and hammered out the small card holders. Since this wasn’t exact, I had to cut out the rest of the card holder with an exacto-knife. It took a while since the knife was not very sharp.
I’m most proud of the fact that the board ended up working for the most part and the card holders had some space for the cards to pop out.
My first learning goal was “I want to push myself to interact with the staff and learn how to use the woodshop tools because I tend to shy away from things that I don’t know how to use.” Well regarding the woodshop tools, I had asked a staff member to teach me how to use them however they said to stick to laser cutting so that’s what I decided to do. Interestingly enough, I still somehow ended up able to watch the staff members use the woodshop tools on my project since the laser cutting didn’t end up doing its job correctly. I did get to interact a lot more with the different staff since there were different staff when I went in and I really enjoyed receiving help from them and getting advice and support. It made me wish that I had been less afraid to ask for help in the past because I probably would have utilized the makerspace a lot more had I felt more comfortable there!
My second learning goal was “I want to create two designs for the board before I start building my project so I won’t regret my decision later on.” Originally I had wanted to just create a board only to hold the board and then create card holders separately. My second design is what I ended up doing. I realized it was not really necessary to create a second card holder especially because there was so much space on the board to do it all. However, if I could redo the project, I would have utilized the extra space more and spread the positioning of the cards instead of having them all on the bottom.
I could be happier with my final project. I had wanted to create a board like this, where there would be more depth to the board, but I didn’t know where to order this stuff. My project is meaningful to me though because I will definitely be using this board since I actually wanted one.
After this class, I do consider myself to be a maker. To me, I used to think I need to create incredible things to be a maker. I thought calling myself one would be disrespectful to those who are creative. The quote from Seymour Papert does mean a lot more to me now. I now realize that to be a maker, I just have to enjoy what I’m making and it has to have a meaning to me. I should be making something because I want to make it and I’m intrigued. In the beginning, I used to feel like my products looked bad compared to other students’ work. I would feel like I could not be a maker. However, now I happily acknowledge that everyone is creative in their own ways and has their own quirks. The hands-on nature of this class did make my learning more significant. Now I know a wide range of tools that I can use to make whatever I want. I can think of something I want to build and using the knowledge I gained from this class, know where to begin.
Sadly, the time has come to write my final blog post for the Makerspace course. These blogs were my favorite moments of being able to express my happiness, frustration, and experiences related to my work in the class. Nevertheless, all things come to an end. I’ll be going over how I’ve changed as a learner over the semester, what I accomplished for my final project, what my goals for the final project were, and my opinions on the “Maker” culture/identity and where I lie in that space.
Going over my previous posts, I noticed a couple of places where I think I have acquired/improved my skills as a learner. The first I noticed was my time management. Over and over again I’d find myself racing against deadlines as the projects went by in our course. Previously I’d spend Sunday, two days before my deadlines, trying to cram all of my ideas and the final production into a small amount of time at the Fab Lab. I believe the reason I kept running into this problem is because the tasks required of a student in Makerspace are vastly different than those of a classic course. Makerspace required physical presence and active progress on a project. In contrast, many of my CS assignments I can finish in a few hours at my kitchen table with a large amount of breaks between my work. It took me time to adapt but I slowly became more comfortable setting multiple slots of time on the side, heading to the lab, and making progress on my projects.
The second place that I noticed an improvement was my ability to create physical products. Coming from a software/digital background and using technology every day of my life, has made me very comfortable with completing tasks on a computer. However, the entire story changes when I was asked to create physical products of my imagination. I kept looking to find any resource that could tell me exactly what to do and the exact steps to making something. However, that is impractical. Every project is different and I found that, generally, one will only be able to find general techniques to assist in making an idea a physical, working object. This class taught many of those techniques, and eventually I found it easier to use them to my disposal and create physical outputs faster.
Both of these things developed me as a learner and led to the success of my final project, a solar-charged power bank. One of my biggest issues is that my phone is always dying. Typically, I leave my phone charger at home and my phone will die at some point during the day. My goal was to create a power bank that could charge on the go as I my day went on. Solar energy is awesome and I wanted something to I’d really use, so I proceeded with the idea. I faced several challenges including designing the internal circuit, failed 3D prints, dedicating hours to creating, and physically creating the final product. I can say with upmost certainty that I would have failed the project if I hadn’t had the help of the Fab Lab staff. The pictures tell the story.
Failed TAZ print.
The little plug indicates charging. It’s using solar energy!
A timer indicates how long it has been either charging the power pack or charging another device.
The battery icon indicates it’s charging another device. (My phone)
By the time I finished the project I was convinced that it wouldn’t work. When it charged from light and when it charged my phone, it honestly felt like magic. I was so happy and proud of what I made.
I had three learning goals with this project.
- Push myself out of my comfort zone in seeking help from others and the Fab Lab staff.
- Challenge myself to complete a project containing electronics. It will supplement my CS major and provide useful skills and experience.
- Complete a project involving solar components because “free” energy is awesome!
The first goal was my main learning goal. By recommendation of my TA, Sara, I kept track of my interactions with Fab Lab staff and other people (you can see those full logs at the bottom of this blog). I ended up completing my project with help from Sara, Duncan, Dot, Andrew, Brandon, Clinton, and Wayne. Every single one of these Fab Lab staff helped me in one way or another to complete my project. I purposefully gave myself a project that would require assistance from others and it worked! From it, I learned that leveraging help and getting comfortable with asking for assistance results in unthinkably fantastic consequences. When I finally finished my power bank and it successfully worked it was beyond belief. More unintended consequences from social interaction with others in the lab included having fun, and releasing stress about my project. Overall, I had fun.
My second goal was to build with electronics. I had done simple circuitry before but nothing involving things like solar panels, soldering, and complex components like a charging board or a DC-DC converter. It was very intimidating and I managed to learn a lot via Google and the Fab Lab’s staff member, Brandon. In fact, most of my time spent on this project was researching power banks, charging circuits, etc. Only the last day was assembly. It surprised me as I was expecting assembly to take the longest.
My last goal was to create a project with solar panels because it is of my personal opinion that solar energy is awesome. This goal was pretty self-explanatory and I accomplished it by creating a working solar-charged power bank. To supplement this goal I’ll share some interesting facts I learned about solar energy along the process. The California Energy Commission will soon vote on a plan to become the first state to require that solar panels be built into new homes, condos and apartment buildings from 2020 onward. Currently, around 40% of California’s energy comes from renewable sources (including hydro). Illinois pales in comparison at 6.1% renewable energy. Another interesting fact comes from the arrangement of multiple solar panels. If one arranges solar panels in series, output voltage will sum. When arranged in parallel, output amperage will sum. I used this to my advantage in my project and arranged my panels in parallel to increase charging speed.
I’ve come quite a ways in this class in terms of how I am as a learner, and some of my learning goals. These all tie into my thoughts on being a maker. I do consider myself a maker. A friend of mine mentioned that he believes all humans are implicitly makers, and I’d have to agree. Since the dawn of humanity, making is what has made progress, but it is also what has brought culture. Makerspace has had an impact on my status of a maker, in that, it made me a better maker. All people have the ability to make, but not everybody has the opportunity to make. If someone asked me at the beginning of the semester what a maker was, I’d have answered, “Someone who makes anything with anything.” My answer now would be, “Everyone”. Makerspace offered an opportunity to explore making in a learning environment. It offered an environment where makers could help, support, and improve each other. I respect efforts in education to bring these communities into curriculum as they are radically different, yet still useful. I believe the reason I struggled at times with this course was because it is so different than what I’m used to. I’d like to end on a note of thank you. Thank you Jeff, Sara, Dot, Duncan, and all the other Fab Lab Staff for making Makerspace a fantastic course.
04/24/18 – Lab section. Still don’t have any solid plans or drafts yet. Reviewed the solar panels that the Fab Lab had. I wasn’t sure as to how to test what solar panels offered the most amperage or what voltage they had. I asked for some help from Sara regarding the cells. She said that I could measure the panels with a multimeter, so I measured them and found the best contenders for my solar panels. They are 69x110mm and each provide 5V and ~110mA (relatively decent and cell phone safe). I will start working on 3D models for cases.
05/01/18 – Lab section again. I don’t have any 3D models for the case yet; who knew that taking four CS classes at the same time would make for a busy schedule in the last weeks? I’m designing the models today. I have to connect the two solar panels in parallel to increase amperage. Output volts will stay in the 5 – 5.5 range for my solar panels but amperage will double (woo parallel!).
I’ve started my 3D models and am using measurements from the objects required to build the power bank. This includes a recycled laptop 16850 battery, a battery holder, a charging board, and a 5V DC-DC converter. Measurements came out to 69x110x29 mm.
I got help from Brandon, who is seemingly the Fab Lab’s electronics expert. He helped me solder my solar panels and coat the mini USB wires with solder as well. So I learned how to solder! I hope to be able to get his help when it comes time to put everything together. I need to finish and print my 3D model first though.
05/02/18 – I’m at home trying to finish the 3D model for my case. Going to the lab today to print the case. I hope it works out! I will be seeking assistance when I get there.
I went into the lab. I asked Sara what she thought about my final 3D print model and she gave me some good advice on what to modify. I spent ~1.5 hours with Wayne and Clinton trying to get the TAZ 3D printer to work with a finer nozzle, because my print was too big for the other printers. Eventually Andrew had to come and help make it start working. Tomorrow comes the solar assembly.
05/03/18 – I hope to head into the lab as early as possible today. I’m interested to see my case print. I really hope it worked out. I was thinking if the case didn’t work out, I’d do all the electronics and solar panels and wiring without the case. Afterall, my learning goals for this final assignment wasn’t on how to use a 3D printer, they were learning to communicate/seek help with the Fab Lab staff and learning about solar/electronics. Hopefully, Brandon will be able to assist me.
I got to the lab and my print from yesterday failed. Apparently the bed on the TAZ wasn’t heating? We started a new print on one of the smaller printers but it’ll take 7½ hours. For the time being, I’ve abandoned 3D printing the case and instead gone for a press fit box. I spent some time re-doing measurements in Inkscape so that the electronic components would fit correctly. Dot helped me laser cut the box out with the Epilog but that wasn’t working; it wasn’t cutting all the way through the ⅛” plywood. However, we got it to work on the Universal cutter. After that it was just a matter of hanging out in the electronics room and getting help from Brandon every once in a while.
It’s all assembled and works great! I swear electronics are literal magic.
For this assignment, we had to take a look back at what we’ve done so far in the class, and improve upon something we’ve made. Iteration is a key portion of the making process for multiple reason. For one, it’s very rare that a final product will come out perfect right off the bat, and there will almost certainly be miscalculations or bad measurements. Another reason is that during the development of the product, it’s almost natural to come up with improvements, and depending on the severity it may be necessary to start from scratch. In both of these scenarios, the process contributes to learning, which is itself another key portion of the making process.
For my project I decided to improve upon my name tag from the first week of class. My initial design, while comparatively advanced with respect to what was expected of us, was rather simple in my opinion – the only “wow” factor was a couple RGB LEDs.
The starting point of this project.
Since the time that I finished that project, I was considering making a newer, better one. I still wanted it to have the same intent (i.e. wear it to career fairs), though. Whether it was making a cleaner end product since I’m now more familiar with the processes, or a different design since the original one was kind of eclectic, or more advanced/complicated features to evoke more emotion, I didn’t know for sure. I just knew for sure I wanted a better name tag.
I decided to do all three.
My main inspiration was seeing my friend at a career fair type event, and he had an Arduino powered “name tag”. I kind of hesitate to call it a name tag, because it was really just an Arduino and an LCD wrapped in note cards and Scotch tape, affixed around his neck with some string. I got the most inspired by the Arduino/LCD, and knew I wanted to include something like that in my name tag.
Since a full size Arduino is comparatively really large for use in a name tag, I wanted to use a smaller microcontroller. Luckily, the Fab Lab had a couple Adafruit Trinkets in stock that I could use. This was almost exactly what I wanted – very small, doesn’t use a lot of power, and easily programmable. Why do I say almost exactly what I wanted? Stay tuned!
Cute lil Trinket!
So now that I determined I wanted an LCD, I decided to take it to the next level and add buttons to have it be an interactive name tag. Using the buttons, you can navigate between different information that would be present on my resume like a menu. I figured this would be really fun to implement, and it would make for a really cool name tag. I got to work on the circuitry before starting anything else, because I knew that would place the most constraints on my physical design.
This is where the pitfalls of the Trinket really became apparent. The biggest one is how limited its functionality is. Obviously, for this project I don’t need anything OTT since all I’m doing is displaying things on an LCD and getting button input, but the ATtiny85 (the microcontroller on the Trinket) is devastatingly underpowered, with how limited the program memory and IO pins are. Ultimately, this only allowed me to have less than one third the total information on my nametag, and I had to do some finessing with the software to get the functionality of four buttons in three inputs. In the end, I was still able to get something to work!
All programmed up and working as intended! Though not as informative as I’d like…
In terms of design, I really liked the way that the brushed steel acrylic ended up looking, especially having it behind the transparent acrylic and having accents on the front, so I decided to stick with that. I was originally planning on going with the same color scheme that I used on my first name tag – transparent light blue with the brushed steel. As I was brainstorming ideas, I decided I wanted to have brushed steel surrounding both the LCD and the buttons, and that I wanted the buttons to be on both sides of the LCD.
While coming up with the design, I realized that, with the brushed steel surrounding the LCD and the buttons, the name tag will end up looking kinda 1950’s style. I then realized that, with the greenish glow from the LCD, it would make sense to have the transparent acrylic be green, so that I can have a Fallout inspired name tag (for clarification, Fallout is a video game series that takes place in an alternate America in the 2200’s that got stuck in the 1950’s until a nuclear war wiped everything out, so everything is very 1950’s themed and “nuclear looking”). Once I made this realization, I got very excited to see what the end result would look like.
The final design! (May be a little hard to see)
Now that all the prep is done, it’s time to get to work!
First order of business was to cut all the components out of cardboard to see what the finished product would look like, as well as to test spacing and measurements to see if it’s all mostly okay. While working on my first name tag project, there were a couple times that I didn’t think something through all the way and didn’t realize that until it was too late, so this time I was extra cautious – measure twice, cut once (though I made cuts a lot of times, just not in the final materials).
Even for cardboard, this looks pretty good!
This ended up being a very good idea, because I found that the space at the bottom of the LCD was just small enough to fit under (what would be) the brushed steel bezel, and that the button holes were a little off. In addition, I realized that the buttons were a little shorter than I expected, and as such I would need to design another layer to go behind the buttons to provide support.
After resizing, it was on to cutting the pieces from the actual material. The last element I had neglected to take care of was my name – I wanted to make sure my name was in a nice 1950’s styled font. I spent a fairly long time picking out a good font, and at the end of the day found something that was almost perfect. The imperfections in the font were very minor though, and easily fixed with a bit of vector manipulation in Inkscape.
I think the end result looks pretty damn sexy, and definitely worth the extra effort.
All the pieces I may need for this project!
Test fitting by holding everything together with clamps.
During the test fit, I realized that there’s low key a lot of room inside the name tag and that it’s nowhere near as thick as I was expecting it would be…more on that later!
So much room for activities!
I then glued together the individual pieces of each half, and got to thinking about that extra space.
All glued up – the excitement just keeps building!
I figured I wanted to do a removable backplate, which would make it really cool looking if you can see the electrical wiring behind the scenes. I bounced ideas with James at the Fab Lab and he suggested the idea of magnets to hold the backplate in place, so I quickly whipped up a quick backplate made of green transparent acrylic.
******* magnets…how do they work?
I realized I would need to drill some holes in the existing “button support plate”, no big deal. I marked out the holes using the backplate as a guide and went to the drill press to slowly start making the holes, being careful not to crack the acrylic. Well…
Just kill me now fam…
I guess even if you’re incredibly careful, things still can go the opposite way that you want them to. Even though I almost lost my mind and passed out when this happened, a silver lining opened up. When the acrylic cracked, it broke the glue joint between the two pieces of acrylic, and I was able to cleanly remove the button plate. I had just enough material to make a backup one, so I quickly made a replacement with the holes pre-cut, so I didn’t run into the same situation.
Possibly the biggest rollercoaster of emotions ever experienced in the Fab Lab.
Once that mess was taken care of, I decided to make use of the extra space by having “external” electrical components. I decided I wanted a physical switch to provide power, as well as a barrel jack connector so that changing batteries is easy. I initially tried to drill a hole for the switch, which worked for a little bit, but ultimately the acrylic cracked once the drill bit got too wide. I just made the cut out using a Dremel, and it turned out that I would’ve had to do that anyway since the switch was too wide otherwise. I also made a cutout for the barrel connector for the external battery, and mounted the switches inside using double sided tape (later securing with hot glue).
Now came the fun part – electronics!. The way that the LCD and the controller were connected by default ended up being a bit too tall and would not fit in the name tag as they were, so I had to remove the controller from the LCD, as well as the potentiometer (the little turny-knob thing). This ended up being a bit of a pain, since de-soldering all 16 of the connections from the LCD was very tedious, and the unleaded solder that was used would not stay hot for long, but ultimately I got everything separated as I wanted it to be.
Phase one done.
The real pain was soldering everything back up together. I figured that since there are 16 connections between the LCD and the controller it would make the most sense to use ribbon cable, since that’s what you use ribbon cable for. Well, it turns out that the ribbon cable at the Fab Lab is very weak, and probably not meant for soldering, seeing how many times I had wires break on me during the soldering of the LCD and the controller (it happened about 4-5 times). This was probably the most stressful part of the whole project, since any single wire not being properly connected would make the whole thing not work. But, I still got it all done.
After too much blood, sweat, and tears…it’s reconnected.
I don’t have any more pictures of the process since I was racing to finish before class, but the rest of the wiring/installation was fairly straightforward. Not like there was anything incredibly interesting to document anyway.
Anyway, here’s the finished product!
In the end, I’m very pleased with my project. I’m very glad I had an extra week to work on it, because even though it was still rushed I was able to be more meticulous with it. I definitely got a lot out of prototyping (or “iterating”) with the cardboard, so I didn’t run into any surprises with respect to the physical design of the name tag. The electronics were fairly easy since I’ve been doing electronics since middle school, bar the fact that. I’m a little disappointed at how weak the processor on the Trinket is, since I’ve been doing Arduino since middle school and know how much a regular Arduino is capable of. Either way, it came out very well, so that’s enough for me.
Comparing to my initial name tag:
Boy how far I’ve come!
I think it’s pretty clear that this was an improvement over my previous name tag, in all aspects.
Overall, this is definitely, by far, my favorite project in the class. I wasn’t boxed in to doing what I was “supposed to”, and could actually have fun and explore my creativity to endless depths. I definitely want to revisit this project on my own time, and make it even better than I made it this time (maybe having integrated batteries, better microcontroller, better interface, larger screen…the possibilities are endless!!).
I think the most important skill I’ve developed over the course of all the assignments actually isn’t something that I put in any of the writeups! When I was writing up the results of each project, I was thinking more about the project itself and how I made it than the way I was approaching the planning and execution, but I think planning and execution are the things I improved on most by doing these assignments. For the first few, I jumped into making the final product straight away, without a lot of design beforehand, but later in the semester, I tried more challenging things which required a lot of design to get right, and a lot of rethinking and iteration when they went wrong. I think I got better at figuring out how to approach the process of designing something complicated with multiple parts that have to work together.
I think I’ve also gotten more comfortable asking people for help. It always felt super stressful to ask one of the open hours staff to come help with a project I was working on, since I felt like I was interrupting whatever they were doing, but it’s gotten less stressful as I’ve gotten to know the lab and the people here more.
For my final project, I made a stuffed cat that could connect to wifi to download and display cat facts. I worked on the electronics and sewing parts in parallel for the first couple weeks of the project, and integrated them together in the last week.
One of my learning goals for the project was to get more comfortable with iteration by taking on a project that was likely to fail a few times while I was building it. I think I definitely succeeded at doing that, since most of the details I put in the proposal didn’t end up working. Originally, I wanted to use a text to speech library to have the cat actually say the facts it pulled from the internet, but even after spending a long time putting together an amplifier circuit to boost the cat’s speaker as much as possible, the output voice ended up too robotic to understand. I ended up switching to using an LCD screen to display the facts in the next version, and re-used the speaker to play a meowing noise to let people know when the cat recognized it had been touched.
The wifi part also ended up being much harder than I thought, and I had to go through a couple versions of the way the cat would request and receive data to come up with something that worked. I originally wanted to pull cat facts from Twitter, but found the Twitter API very convoluted to use, and dependent on other libraries my wifi module didn’t have, so that avenue was a dead end. I found an alternate site: https://catfact.ninja, which is a website that just gives you cat facts, because of course that exists! But the website requires you access it with TLS, and the firmware built into my wifi module didn’t support HTTPS – which is pretty awful, and if that’s a common practice it might explain why so many IOT devices are so insecure – so I had to figure out how to build and flash new firmware onto it. Even then, the website I was trying to hit refused the connection for some reason, but I talked to Brandon and he suggested creating an AWS Lambda function to act as a proxy, which ended up working (Thanks Brandon!).
All of the revisions of the original design took way more time than I anticipated, so I wasn’t able to achieve the goal I’d set out of learning to use the vacuum former to make a fancy top hat for the cat to wear. I think the main lesson I’m taking from that is that things always take longer than you expect they will, even when you think you’ve factored in all the unexpected delays. If I ever do a project like this in the future, I’ll make sure to add in extra time for things to go wrong in completely random ways – though undoubtedly even that won’t be enough, because Murphy’s Law is cruel and vengeful.
I also wanted to make a project with lots of coordination between different parts. That ended up going pretty well, and the final result involves a lot of mixing different libraries in the Arduino code – serial communication with the wifi module, controlling the LCD display with I2C, using the PWM functions of the digital pins to make sound come out of a speaker. While researching the problems that arose in fitting them all together, I ended up learning a bunch of stuff about the Arduino platform, like how PWM and interrupts work. I think making a reasonably complex project like this is a good way to learn the details of a system, and it’s something I’ll do for other things I work with in the future.
Finally, one of my learning goals was to learn more about sewing. When I think about typical “maker” tools and techniques, I think 3D printing, laser cutting, vinyl stickers, and maybe woodshop tools, since those (especially 3D printing) seem to be the parts everyone focuses on when they promote the maker movement, and those were the things that were available in the other maker space I’ve been to, at the Harold Washington Library in Chicago. The Fab Lab here is the only place I’ve been to that has sewing machines and fabric available for public use. But there’s no reason textile crafts shouldn’t be part of a modern maker environment, and I wanted to make the most of the opportunity to experiment with them while I had the chance during this class.
Pinning down exactly what being a “maker” means is tricky, and while I’ve really enjoyed this class, I don’t think I’m ready to wholeheartedly jump into that identity. Adopting the maker label seems too restrictive, since there are things that are ambiguous in whether they fall under the maker identity or not – things like textile arts, and cooking. For some maker communities (though not this one), I think the label means focusing on the newest technology to make things, which is cool, but it shouldn’t be an exclusive focus. I enjoy things like baking and sewing that are more traditional as well, and I wouldn’t want to label myself with a name that makes some people think I’m putting those interests down.
I do think that the goal self-identified maker communities have of promoting hands-on learning is awesome, and being able to immediately apply stuff we learned in class to make something creative was the best part of this class. I think I worked a lot harder on the assignments and final project than I would have if we were told exactly what to make, since I had a personal investment in having something I thought was cool at the end.
Overall I’ve really enjoyed this class, and I hope the future versions of it continue to be great!