Author Archive

October 16, 2011

Scrapyard Challenge at MobilityShifts

by Farah

When I signed up for the Scrapyard Challenge workshop at MobilityShifts, I took to heart the organizers’ claim that no electronics experience would be necessary to participate. Although I’m completely clueless in that department, I wanted to give it a go anyway in the DIY spirit of the class. Jonah Brucker-Cohen and Katherine Moriwaki conduct these workshops all over the world where they have participants take old electronics and other “junk” and use the parts to make something new. For this one, we were making simple sound machines.

I had expected the workshop to be more instructional, but its loose structure actually works in its favor. Rather than a complete step by step tutorial, we were given a brief lesson on how electronic switches work and how we could make our own; then, the workshop leaders essentially let us have at the table of junk. I wrote in my reading reflection paper about Vygotsky’s ideas on the importance of play for the development of children and mentioned that I thought workshops like the Scrapyard Challenge sounded like a good example of that for adults. Sure, you can probably teach people (or teach yourself) how to hack electronics through classroom style lessons. It’s more fun to learn by playing, which for me ended up being trying and failing and trying again.

A friend had given me an old boombox to work with, and a trash artist named Todd helped me in disassembling it and figuring out what we could do with it. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a power supply that worked with the interior motors, so we decided to try something else. I ended up making a switch by soldering some wire to a metal Slurpee tin, which we had tested to see if it was conductive. I attached the wires to the organizers’ Arduino board and made some sounds by opening and closing the tin. Admittedly, it was quite lo-fi compared to some things others were making.

Just as Vygotsky says that children have differing levels of proximal development, I think that adults do too depending on the field. However, seeing what others do and being guided by someone with more knowledge helps bridge that gap. The ultimate success of these workshops is that through play, they enable newcomers to learn basic principles of electronics and gain confidence that they can DIY. No, I’m not an expert after a couple hours of tinkering, but I’m a lot less wary of trying something more complex another time.

Below are a few of pictures I took. You can see more here:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And here’s a video from the workshop:

September 28, 2011

GeekMom’s 10 Takeaway Lessons From Maker Faire NY

by Farah

Blogger Andrea Schwalm wrote a great post summing up her experience at Maker Faire. Her points (aside from the one about how her son is so great) touch on a lot of topics we’ve discussed in class or posted about here like sustainability, the importance of play, programming with Arduino, ham radios, hackerspaces, etc. She includes tons of links to the projects and groups featured at the Faire as well as recent news stories about making/DIY. It’s definitely worth looking at if you weren’t able to attend or even if you did go and want to further explore some of the initiatives encountered there.

One of the things Schwalm links to is Jody Culkin’s “Introduction to Arduino” comic. For those of us without prior programming experience, this might be a helpful primer in advance of Nick’s workshop:

Click the image to download the PDF!

September 21, 2011

Makeshift Magazine: Global DIY

by Farah

Makeshift is a new “quarterly magazine focused on grassroots creativity and invention around the world.” It sounds like they are trying to expand upon what the Maker Faire and Make magazine do and introduce people to global perspectives on DIY that they might not otherwise have heard about. They have contributors in 20+ countries, so it’ll be cool to see what kinds of projects they end up featuring.

The Atlantic had a small preview a couple of weeks ago: there’s a farmer/roboticist in China, a man in Kenya who made a text message controlled smart home system (photo below), a technology Fab Lab in Barcelona, and a few more.


Photo by Erik Hersman

As the narrator in the video says, “sometimes making is a tool for survival, enterprise, or self expression. Particularly in environments of scarcity, you will find immense creativity.” I think that this is a really important contrast between DIY in more affluent communities versus other cultures where DIY initiatives often grow out of the need to be resourceful with what’s available. Several people in class criticized the Maker Faire for not focusing on sustainability enough, which is a totally valid point. I’m curious: what do you guys think about this project?

The Kickstarter for Makeshift has already met its goal, but you can still pledge if you want a copy of the magazine or any of the other rewards.

September 20, 2011

Thoughts on the Maker Faire

by Farah

Photos: woman weaving bracelets in the crafts area and a deer (moose?) head I assembled from laser cut cardboard pieces in the NYU/ITP tent. A few more photos here.

Like others have mentioned, there was so much going on at the Maker Faire that it was hard to pick and choose what to partake in. Since part of my interest in this class is to be more hands-on with DIY experiences, I decided to go in with an open mind and just be up for trying new things. Deb wrote a little bit about our experience with the free knitting class. We got a quick lesson from some hilarious, sassy older women who have been doing needlework for a long, long time. One of the main things I came away from that lesson and the Faire as a whole with is that whether you’re knitting, making your own biodiesel, or hacking electronics, DIY projects are a lot of fun, but they also require incredible patience, commitment, and practice.

I managed to cast on and knit a few rows of stitches under the guidance of my instructor Helen. In my opinion, my rows were looking a little shabby, but Helen had me stop after each one and say out loud, “Damn, I’m good!” before checking if I had made any mistakes. When learning a new skill with your hands, it’s frustrating when you’re trying really hard but can’t figure out how to release the muscle memory of something you’re used to doing, like typing or writing. Once you start getting the hang of it though and allow yourself enjoy the play of making something instead of approaching it solely as work, it becomes a lot easier. I think that Helen’s point about taking a moment to express confidence and pride in your work is something that applies to all forms of DIY. No matter the field, everyone was a beginner at some point, and you can’t move forward if you only focus on what you’ve done wrong.

It was also great to see so many kids and their parents there, especially with all we’ve been reading about early childhood development and education. However, while we were watching Mousetrap Live, Nitin made a good point that as diverse as the attendee demographics appeared to be, the one group that seemed to be missing were the families who actually live in the neighborhood. I tend to have this idealistic view of DIY as equal opportunity: people from all ages and walks of life can learn a new skill by doing. In reality, events like the Maker Faire can tend to attract a largely white, upper-middle class crowd unless the organizers make a conscious effort of reaching out to people outside of that demographic. That’s something I think we should be cognizant of as we continue to look at other DIY initiatives.

All in all, I’m glad to have gone to the Maker Faire and I look forward to more enriching DIY experiences!

September 13, 2011

Bio: Farah Momin

by Farah

Hey guys! I’m Farah and my hometown is Peachtree City, GA, whose claim to suburban fame is that it’s a planned community with a system of golf cart paths laid throughout. People drive golf carts to school, restaurants, shopping, basically anywhere in the city limits. Yes, it’s totally bizarre.

(Me + huge ice cream sandwich from the Coolhaus truck)

I spent my first two years of undergrad at the University of Georgia, intending on majoring in Magazine Journalism. After realizing that I might not want to pursue a career based in print media, I took some time off before transferring to Eugene Lang College here at The New School. I did the BA/MA program there, which allows students to finish their bachelor’s degree (I did mine Culture and Media Studies with a focus on Digital Media) while beginning to take classes in the MA program. This is actually my last semester, and I’m both excited to be done and sad to be leaving.

I’ve been working for awhile now with Prof. Trebor Scholz on several of his projects, including The Internet as Playground & Factory conference and the book he edited last semester, Learning Through Digital Media. I’m also currently interning at The Access Network/BlackBook Media, helping with research and development of their local online & mobile initiatives. Lastly, I recently started doing some freelance blogging and community management for thought-leadership event series Applied Brilliance.

There has been a thread throughout my studies of using digital tools to work, play, and learn collaboratively, so I’m looking forward to further exploring those topics from a critical perspective in this class. I’m also really interested in getting more hands-on with DIY projects and initiatives. Creativity used to be a much more physical thing for me when I was younger with painting, drawing, making collages, etc. As I grew up and got more into technology, the process of “making stuff” has become a lot less tangible. While I still enjoy the play involved in using Photoshop or Illustrator and creating websites, I’m excited to get back into the physical world of DIY.