Blog Post #4

Reflection on Class

We definitely learned the best way to occupy twenty graduate students for over an hour in class last week.

  • Step one: make sure graduate students understand the basics of building a circuit.
  • Step two: put out a box of assorted miscellaneous materials with very little conductible materials.
  • Step three: put that infinite creativity and ingenuity to the test by telling said students to integrate an LED (or more!) into some sort of design that has a switch.

If I was doing this again, I would add a step four. Step four would outline acceptable snacks to feed the designers to fuel their ingenious energies. While step four could arguable be the most important, I want to highlight step one. It was during that time that we learned all the necessary skills to be successful in the bigger and looser project later one in the day. Step four would fuel the project, but we would not need any of the other steps without step one.

I will be the first to admit that I have not had much to do with the technology side of the world outside of using my computer and phone for the bare minimum of its functionality since I was in elementary school. There are a great many vague memories of powering lightbulbs with potatoes and putting together rudimentary circuits. I did remember how a circuit worked: negative, positive, power source, switch, and the thing to power. However, I had not put my hands on wires and built my own in a very long while. In my opinion, going through those motions was essential to reaffirming my understanding of circuits. This allowed me to branch out into more complex ideas about switches and focus on the aesthetic components of my design in the miscellaneous box project.

I am obviously an advocate of learning the skill in an easily measurable and communal project where everyone completes the same thing, before moving onto a related project with more creativity and individuality. You learn the skills, then you are able to stretch your wings a bit and test the limits of your new knowledge. It was the way I was taught many skills throughout my life. This is not the only way to learn and implements skills. There was some conversation that advocated making the same thing to limit stress about coming up with a ‘good’ idea, while others considered the inevitable comparison between individuals working on the same thing. In my mind, the best scenario is based on the context with one caveat that there always be room for creativity and innovation. Even if everyone gets to draw a different design on the cardboard housing of their flashlight, it is giving that little bit of yourself that makes the project yours.

Reflection on Readings

The chapters in Free to Make this week focused on toys and the maker mindset. It is almost like someone planned and intended these chapters to be read concurrently with an introduction to Arduino. My favorite line of the whole book (so far!) came up in the Toy Maker chapter and brought up the idea of moving beyond the intended purpose of things. I immediately thought about what I had learned about Arduino. Just like you can take apart a toy and use its components to make something new, you can take the basic Arduino set up and use it to create an infinite variety of unique things. I realize now the immense variety of gadgets and gizmos (aplenty!) I could make from number of things in just my home alone.

Yet, that has not been my default way of looking at the world. I’ve always had a grasp on the things intended to create innumerable iterations, like yarn and knitting needles. I even see that potential in the Arduino, who seems to exist to be rifted on in different ways. What I do not always see, is that potential in ordinary things with an express intended purpose. I can MacGyver just about anything, but I require an impetus; I require a problem to solve before I can see beyond the intended purpose. For instance, I had so much trouble sitting down and preforming the equivalent of cold calling 100 different uses for a pencil. Yet, I have used a pencil to prop open windows, reset my electronic, taken out the graphite, and created sculptures from the pencil shavings. I believe that teaching others to not be limited by the intended purpose is both a very important and very difficult task. Arduino may be a kind of gateway into that mode of thinking. It is such an accessible medium that seems to have no single set intention, which frees the designer from their preconceptions and could allow them to unlock the unintended potential in other objects. It would be great to see how Arduino facilitates that process of thought.

If we have learned anything thus far, it is that the maker movement loves openness. The sharing, exchange, and collaboration of ideas, designs, and products is a key component of what makes a maker a maker. It was not a surprise that this idea comes up in the Maker Mindset chapter of Free to Make. If I wasn’t yet convinced that Arduino exemplifies the maker movement itself, the way Arduino was build on the idea of open source components, programs, and software did. Simply thinking about the huge variety of projects that have come out of the maker movement simply because of the transparency and free movement of information around Arduino design astounds me. There are cat feeders that differentiate between cats and clocks that track family member movement just like Harry Potter. I want one! And not only can I have one, I can make it and customize it to suit my individual needs because they shared the designs. The Make Use Of video about Arduino highlighted the thing itself is not unique, but the community makes it so. It was an idea that was reiterated in the Ted Talk we watched; collaboration is key. And as a result, we have an incredible amount of accessible knowledge to draw on and a million different viewpoints to consult.

The last thing I loved, was the idea of playfulness. The concept that whimsy not only belongs, but has an essential place in our technology driven world. Since whimsy is important to me, I can incorporate it into anything I make or contribute to. Someone who puts accessibility above all else in design, will highlight that in their ideas finished products. If we both put our ideas into the world, someone else might make something both full of whimsy and accessible. The interplay between individual creation and world wide collaboration is fascinating to me. I can’t wait to see other places where it pops up!


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