13 December 2007

Comic Collaboration Thing (p.6)

Comic Collaboration Thing (p.6)
Originally uploaded by wormulus
Page 6!

The monkey wrench.

11 December 2007

oh. my.

I just cleaned out the bathroom sink drain. It was possibly one of the most disgusting things I've EVER done. This black/grey mass of goo/hair/who knows what else came out with the stopper. Then I had to poke the drain a bit with the end of a metal knitting needle to pull out the rest of the stuff trapped in there.

But. Totally worth it. The sink drains now!

Comic Collaboration Thing (p.5)

Originally uploaded by navan.ghee
Oh man. Where is this going? I guess it's my turn now!

This lovely page is done by the talented navan.ghee

Voo Doo Cover

Voo Doo Cover
Originally uploaded by wormulus
Somehow I got convinced to make a cover for Voo Doo (MIT's humor magazine), and this is what came out. The theme of this issue is explaining all the humor behind the jokes, hence "Exposed!" For those who don't know, Phos the cat (the flasher, here) is Voo Doo's mascot.

I think it came out relatively well. I wish I would've spaced and sized the title a bit better, though. I didn't have a ruler, though, and was pressed for time.

06 December 2007

a new comic p.3

a new comic p.3
Originally uploaded by wormulus
page three of the elvis comic

05 December 2007

Comic Collaboration Thing p.4

Comic Collaboration Thing p.4
Originally uploaded by wormulus
page four is done.

04 December 2007

a new comic p. 1

a new comic p. 1
Originally uploaded by wormulus
page one of the elvis comic

a new comic p.2

a new comic p.2
Originally uploaded by wormulus
page two of the elvis comic

Comic Collaboration Thing (p.3)

Originally uploaded by navan.ghee
Page three is done! Now it's my turn.
I'm super excited about how this is growing.

30 November 2007

!!! ALSO !!!

$5 + shipping
gets you:
one, 28 page + covers comic. 8 pages of color on the inside that cost me dearly at kinkos. cover is hand-stenciled, two-color!

Get them HERE

carrie okie band poster

carrie okie band poster
Originally uploaded by wormulus
A poster I did for the Carrie Okie Band's upcoming show. I really like how this came out. I think I might actually try to get it framed.

Everyone should go hear their stuff on MySpace

Comic Collaboration Thing (p.2)

Comic Collaboration Thing p.2
Originally uploaded by wormulus
This is page two (me).

Comics Collaboration Thing (p.1)

Originally uploaded by navan.ghee
So, I've started to do this collaboration with navan.ghee on Flickr. Basically, we're trading off page at a time, each person giving the other person three words as a prompt. No crosshatching. No greyscale. This is page one (him).

18 October 2007


summer (part 1 of 3)

summer (part 2 of 3)

summer (part 3 of 3)

I really like the last panel of the last page.
Another one with the clown family.
Another one using Pictionary as a start.
the five words:

the loud is implied... you get to fill in your own sounds.

12 October 2007

52 comic challenges - Pictionary

snow days (pt. 1 of 2)

snow days (pt. 2 of 2)

a comic for 52 comic challenges
i incorprated 5 words from a pictionary card into one comic.
the five words:

incidentally, this comic is also silent, which was last week's challenge.

01 October 2007

no face

no face

This is one of my favorites as of late. I like how awkward she looks, sitting on something that doesn't exist. I also like that she has no face. I think having the complexity of the face would detract from the complexity of her clothing and posture, which is what I was more interested in, anyway. I drew this when I was somewhat delirious with fever from mono this summer. Inspired by Sadie Scheffer.

30 September 2007


Well. I guess that Now that I've graduated, that I can use this blog a little more freely and not feel bad about it.

It's a beautiful day in Brooklyn.

12 August 2007

thesis is a lot of writing

in the middle of thesis throes right now. it's amazing how much writing and editing there is to do. this is by far the longest thing i've ever written. i forget what i wrote by the end of a chapter; how do writers do it?! but trudging along along along. still a bit to go but the end is in sight and i'm convinced that no matter what, i WILL finish.

so far to go
so close.

19 June 2007

I also met with Robbin Chapman

I really enjoyed meeting and talking with Robbin. She's excellent. From this meeting, lots of good ideas and a vague plan.

Things that she wishes could've been implemented with pearls of wisdom
*string of pearls. the ability to visualize a user's pearl activities. i feel like this is a little along the idea of glorianna's path based stuff. but where you can see the path someone took through the pearls instead of creating a path intentionally.
*history of edits. so you can see how people change their work over time. seeing how they learn to explain themselves via this tool

We talked about her pearls of wisdom a lot, and how the questions they asked came out of cognitive science. They're questions that are simple but that lead to rich answers. She suggested having an icebreaker before working with the kids. And also stressed the importance of talking with the people who work with the kids and working with them before working with the kids. Which is something I try for, already.

Vague plan:
1) get something working by end of month. i'm working on this. if all else fails with ruby, there's the wiki.
2) narrow down a population (i'd say 12-16 year olds? narrower?)
3) ask people in MITERS if they'd like to help populate the information space/site. Also get ML'ers and the teachers of the kids feedback before the kids.
4) spend 2-3 weeks in july working with kids and getting feedback.
5) in the meantime, write all i can on my thesis.
6) finalize and turn in.

Anyway. That's the gist of things.

meeting with arthur

i met with arthur ganson a while back (before i was miserably sick for over a week). and here are my thoughts from that.

I think one of the good ideas to come out of this, and something that describes my motivations for wanting to make this website is, in Arthur's words, that "the best ideas are triggered in unlikely ways." I want to help make a tool/application/website that helps trigger ideas -- by seeing other people's ideas, by explaining your own ideas, by being surprised, etc.

Another good idea is that with something like this, the bigger it is, the more valuable it is. The more projects, ideas, experiences to travel between, the more likely you'll find something that triggers an idea in you.

We discussed the fact that neither of us ever really got the whole electronics thing, that "every time [we] try to build electronics [we] just follow a recipe." And that maybe if you could understand, say, resistors, in a more general sense, then see their various uses in specific cases, maybe this would help encourage an understanding.

We talked about how the internet is good for something like this... thinking of it as a network of interconnected nodes. And we discussed features that might help make this more valuable =>

Searching by:
*basic principles (e.g. ratio/power)
*pure ideas/thoughts
*eureka moments/learning moments

so, basically, from this, I will try to have three main types of content that can be added.
1) basic wiki. general knowledge. editable by anyone
2) projects (like pearls of wisdom, or instructables). people talk about what they made and how they made it
3) experiences (more like a blog... personal). people talk about their own experiences in the more personal. eureka moments. etc.

IMP updates and stuff.

on imp so far:
*basic wiki add/edit pages
*basic projects add project
*add user
*basic login
*password authentication

to do in the next few days:
*save/edit projects with user
*save/edit wikis with user
*link login to main page

and the days after that:
*add/save/edit experiences with user
*tagging on all pages
*searching via tags
*image embedding
*video embedding
*sort out the main view

12 June 2007

website/wiki/blog planning

thinking about page flow

so far up and running on rails:
wiki - add pages/edit pages
projects - add projects

to do: a whole bunch more.

11 June 2007

rails-based wiki


it doesn't seem like much
but it's a first step, i guess.

(and in the meantime, another more real wiki
http://scripts.mit.edu/~nicholsl/imp/index.php?title=Main_Page )

07 June 2007


When I was a young kid, LEGOs were a big part of my life. I used to love sitting around, building random cars and buildings. Unfortunately, there were only so many LEGOs my parents could afford, much less my own LEGO robotics set. Since I didn't have a good organization system, either, I used to spend the majority of my construction time looking for little parts that I was sure had to be there, but that I often couldn't find. But my desire to build never stopped at LEGO. Throughout my childhood, I never lost my fascination for building with wood blocks, scraps of wood, nails, rocks, hay twine, bits of wire, etc. Basically, I would build with whatever I had around.

Originally for my thesis, I had considered making a low-cost and appropriable construction kit, but for some reason, that never set quite right with me, never inspired me to work for it. After running two sets of workshops in Scotland centered around constructing with wire and other local materials, I realized that it wasn't the materials and parts I wanted to supply, but the ideas and knowledge with which to work with whatever materials were locally available. From this realization, I came to the idea of creating a sort of wiki/blog hybrid, a way to have both the sort of project-based how to combined with a construction encyclopedia. Here are some of the thoughts that went along with this change of idea.

First, I've always been frustrated with what I've been able to find on the internet construction-wise. Either there is a sort of how to, or there is the encyclopedia/textbook. If you end up working with the how to community, it can be rewarding, especially if you're the type of person who already has a good grasp on how to make things. For the beginner, though, this can be intimidating, and one sometimes has trouble knowing where to start. If you end up going to a construction encyclopedia/textbook, it can also be rewarding, but if you lack the assumed vocabulary of talking about these topics (fatigue, creep, moments, force, leverage, torque, power, etc), sometimes it's hard to grasp how the general ideas can be applied to projects. I propose that there should be some sort of way to traverse between these two worlds, between the specific and the general knowledge. The most logical and obvious way I can think of doing this is to have some sort of community/database of projects centered around making things which links back to a database/wiki/encyclopedia which talks about the general ideas (and vice versa). In doing so, you could, for example, read about a mechanism type and then see how it's used in various materials/machines. Or maybe if you had a large quantity of, say, cardboard, you could see how other people have used cardboard in their projects. By providing different ways of searching through projects and information, the user can build up an intuition about how things can be used and get ideas of how new concepts can be used in their own projects. Tentatively, I'm calling this the Idea Melting Pot, or IMP for short. My hope is that this website will function as just that, as a place where people can put their ideas and get ideas from other people, as a place where ideas can combine and meld and lead to new ideas.

Second, although I played with LEGOs, model rocket kits, Erector sets, etc., as a kid, the older I got, the more frustrated I was with these kits. The kits would come precisely with what you needed to make what the instructions said and you could make that, but it never was quite yours, you know? Say, for example, you bought a LEGO kit, no matter how large, you'd construct it with their instructions, and it would be beautiful, and you'd be so proud that you could follow instructions and make such a nice thing. Then you'd take it apart and try to make something of your own from the parts, and it would suck. You'd be disappointed and think that your ideas were no good. And then you'd give up for a while until you got a new kit. At least, that happened to me all the time as a kid, and is one of the reasons I didn't think I could build things well most of my life. From a learning perspective, ease of construction does not always equal greater learning or even greater accessibility. It seems that so much time and energy is spent on making kits that are easy and intuitive to use, easy to assemble, easy to buy and consume, with easy to follow instructions for an easy to grasp experience. It's not in the ease where you learn, it's in the struggle. When kits constantly provide you with good builds following their instructions, you learn that your ideas are not as “good” as their ideas. When the TV constantly shows “talented” people who are instantly good at things without having to work hard, you learn that failures are bad and that if you fail you aren't “talented.” When school constantly emphasises good grades, you learn that there's always a “right” and “wrong” and that you should be embarrassed when you're wrong. And I think this is completely ridiculous. You learn when you fail. “Failure” should be encouraged. Experimentation should be rewarded. We should learn the value of starting sloppily.

Third, again from a learning standpoint, by having the parts supplied for you in these kits, you never have to think of how to design the parts yourself. When kits are designed with connections and spacings in mind, users of these kits never learn how to reason their way through the design process from material to part. By not going through the thought process from material to part, builders miss out particularly on concepts in geometry, in joining, and in material choice. More generally, users don't always grasp how concepts can be transferred from one material to another. In addition to addressing new content, the ability to design your own parts also allows for the inclusion of aesthetic considerations into the part designs and the design of the whole.

Fourth, the older I become the more anti-consumer culture I become. Why do we need these construction kits, anyway, when there is tons of usable material being thrown away each day? Why not, instead, provide people with a way/resource to use the materials they have available, to encourage people to do so? In addition to easing the barrier to exploring concepts that were previously thought incapable of being explored (either by something being unavailable or too costly), this potentially provides for the knowledge of local uses of various materials to spread to places where these materials are also found. I think that we should enable and encourage creative re-use instead of encouraging the purchase and consumption of pre-designed construction kits.

Anyway. Just a few of my thoughts.

23 May 2007

thesis intro - take 1

1 Introduction
The basis of constructionist learning is that one externalizes one's ideas through some type of construction material. During the construction process one needs to learn, appropriate, and functionally apply certain ideas in order to realize what one conceives. The properties of the materials are not only crucial to what one does and does not learn, as they facilitate or obscure the ideas inherent in the construction, idealization, and thought process, but also crucial in determining which populations are allowed access to the educational content inherent in the process of constructing with the given materials. In this thesis, I will propose and examine an open set of construction materials that incorporates wire and other locally available materials in an effort to bring to the forefront the need for accessibility in understanding key concepts in structural and mechanical engineering in communities that have historically been under-represented in these fields; I will explore the theme of interactive, artistic, mechanical creations as a way for builders to express and incorporate their own interests and stories into their designs, and thus, find a personal access point to concepts in mechanical and structural design; and I will explore the range of possible artifacts and styles of expression afforded by these methods and materials, and in doing so, will explore the range of potential new educational content such a process could provide.

Pre-fabricated construction kits, such as LEGO, K'nex, Meccano, Erector, etc., have been around for many years and can be a great way to introduce people to constructing and robotics; the kits' materials enable rapid and solid construction, as the parts and their connections are designed for this purpose. However, the cost of these kits, especially the robotics kits, can be prohibitively expensive. As a result, only certain people, communities, and schools are able to access the kits, and thus the concepts enabled by using the kits. This is particularly true for poorly-funded and poorly-supported schools, such as those potentially found in developing countries, rural areas, and inner-cities. Instead of relying on pre-fabricated kits, I will focus on using wire, a material which can be found almost everywhere in the world, as the basis for mechanisms; other locally available materials, such as cardboard, as the basis for structures; and the GoGo Board, an open-source/open-hardware Logo-based board, as the basis for computation. By exploring the use of these materials I hope to show that deep concepts in mechanical and structural engineering can be understood through using simple materials and tools that are available and accessible to a larger population than the population currently reached by pre-fabricated construction kits.

In addition to allowing greater accessibility, the use of wire as the basis for mechanisms allows for the incorporation of locally specific materials as well as the local knowledge about these materials and their roles in the community. The use of locally specific materials enables a community to access new educational content and to appropriate this new content for their own local needs. This same ability to incorporate local materials also allows the builders to add their own aesthetic touches into the design. This is different from pre-fabricated construction kits where aesthetics outside of the ones afforded by the kits become simple adornment on top of an assemblage of parts. This ability to have aesthetics integrated into the design allows for a different type of construction to be explored, a construction where the aesthetics and the design are united into one whole. Combined with computation and sensing through the GoGo Board, it is possible to have, for example, a set of constructions centered around interactive 3-D story telling/animation. By having a kit focused around such interactive, artistic, mechanical creations, it becomes possible for the builders to express and incorporate their own interests and stories into their designs, and through this, mechanical and structural design becomes more personally accessible to learners who might otherwise have no point of interest.

Many people have achieved successful learning about systems, feedback, control, and some mechanics through working with pre-fabricated construction kits, yet because these kits' connections and shapes are pre-designed by the manufacturer, several key concepts in mechanical and structural design are left unexplored when using these pre-fabricated kits. Because the pre-fabricated parts are designed with connections and spacings in mind, the builder has to provide very little thought as to how to space and connect. Thus, using a pre-fabricated kit means quicker and more intuitive construction, but also means that the users of these kits never learn how to reason their way through the design process from material to part. By not going through the thought process from material to part, builders miss out particularly on concepts in geometry, in joining, and in material choice. In addition to providing an access point for new hands-on educational content, the ability to design your own parts also allows for the inclusion of aesthetic considerations into the part designs and the design of the whole.

In addition to providing the design for the parts, the makers of these kits often provide step-by-step instruction guides on how to connect the given parts into the intended whole. Combined with the pre-designed and pre-fabricated parts this affords almost effortless construction. Although many people often de-construct the final whole to use the parts in their own constructions, the fact that the beginning user can usually never make something that is as well-designed as what is first built can lead to dissatisfaction which results in a possible lack of motivation for future constructions and therefore for future learning. However, typical to design, the affordances that ease certain aspects constrain others, and such is the case with having construction start with the materials rather than the parts. The time it takes to construct something solidly starting with only the materials and tools is significantly longer than with a kit that comes with pre-designed parts and instructions on how to use them. As experience working with the materials and tools, as well as experience with thinking through the whole design process from start to finished machine increases, the time it takes to construct a sturdy, aesthetically pleasing, and functioning machine decreases. In an attempt to address the potential rough start of working with materials instead of pre-fabricated parts and in an attempt to break from the tradition of providing a step-by-step instruction booklet, I will attempt to provide a learning framework for gaining experience about constructing one's own designs with accessible materials and tools through the use of a hand-drawn booklet focusing on the “grammar” of mechanisms and structures, the design process, and possible ideas on how to find or scavenge local materials. Additionally, because mechanisms are notoriously hard to explain with static representations, I will provide a collection of animations that represent the funcions of the different mechanisms. All of this will be openly available via the Internet. It is my hope that through this work, I will enable the learning of mechanical and structural engineering concepts to as wide population as possible.

18 May 2007


so i figured i'd talk about mechanisms and the ways i've noticed the kids approaching them.

it seems that the kids find it easiest to grasp simple rotational motion off the bat. the fact that they can plug the motor into the gogo board and instantly see it run aids in this; it's obvious what it does. many groups have made merry-go-rounds, roundabouts, etc. from there, many groups have gotten the idea of increasing the diameter of rotation to make it look like it's going "faster"... making car chases, etc. i haven't counted all the projects, but it seems like even if this isn't the idea that ends up being used in the end, it's one of the first ideas to be had.

from there, one increase in complexity comes when using the motor as a wheel... a simple sort of rotational to linear motion, and something that is available for observation in their everyday lives.

these mechanisms (rotational and wheel) come about from a direct observation of the affordances of the motor. and maybe if the group is starting without a clear idea of precisely the motion they want, they're more likely to allow the materials to dictate their design more throughly.

more complexity comes when the kids decide to use the motor with a string as a simple winch. this is something i had not thought of, but it makes sense as a concept that is available in western society with the idea of a reel (rod and reel). this first came about with the pultneytown p7 group in wick, and after that, as their photos got introduced into the photos i showed in the beginnings, more and more groups did this.

another sort of motion that kids ask for, but don't know quite how to get, is some sort of jumping motion or rocking back and forth. i try to ask them if they have seen anything like this, but a lot of kids haven't. a couple of kids came up with a crank/single link system; they were all mechanics' kids, i found out upon questioning. usually i have to suggest this idea by suggesting that they look at some of the photos/videos of what other kids have done in hopes that they will find something useful to them. i also try to have at least one physical example of a single link system. a common mistake kids make is that they try to hold the link still at the pivot on the wheel. they then seem surprised that it doesn't work. when this happens, i never tell them they've done it wrong, but rather, i ask them questions about why they think it doesn't work. usually after one or two questions about what they think would happen if the pivot isn't a pivot, they figure out that it should move.

a couple of teams are able to use/understand two linkages, but only when the mechanism is presented to them as something to play with and build off of.

jose valente suggested that i try to be clear and aware of my effect on the kids. my effect becomes clear when i question and steer them towards certain mechanisms... or even just suggesting that they go look at other groups. my effect is also clear with the two bar mechanisms. i don't think any of the kids would've come up with that on their own in the time they had (neither the two hour workshops nor the two day ones). just from my own experience, i don't know that i would've come up with it if i hadn't have seen an example. so i think that the role of examples, providing examples, and providing a suggestion as to where to look is important.

i also think that it's important to look at the way these groups approached their projects. some grabbed a material and were like... this is cat's fur! we will make a cat! and others were like... this is the motor, we can make a wheel, we'll make a car. even others were like... we want to make this, how can we make it move like we want. so, either an idea sparked from the materials (be it the motor or the craft materials or whatever) or a goal formed from their own imaginations and finding the materials and methods to fit that. those seem to be the two ways that the groups approach things. and with those two approaches, there are different results with different mechanisms. it seems to me that the groups that have their own motion in mind are more likely to push what they can do with the motors/programming, whereas the ones who get their mechanism idea from the observable affordances of the motor/wheel seem to make machines that either drive around or spin.

17 May 2007


another mechanism animation from sadie and me.

and here are some of the things that the kids in scotland built using this mechanism

this is the first group that thought of doing this. after them, there were more.
a group of teachers make charlotte's web
hickory dickory dock (teachers)
raising a flag
little red riding hood
skier going up a hill

crank with one bar

an animation Sadie Scheffer and I made of a crank with a single bar.

These are some models made by young people in Scotland which use this mechanism:

singing girl
easter bunny
car crash
man blowing bubbles (plan)
man blowing bubbles
man kicking soccer ball
flapping bird
ship crashing into iceberg
girl jumping on trampaulin (close-up)


an animation Sadie Scheffer and I made about how to make a simple crank out of wire.

06 April 2007

scotland thoughts pt 2

on the reactions of girls to the workshops:

The first 2-day workshop went wonderfully. Afterwards, the kids all wrote personal little essays about their thoughts. Two of the girls (out of the 30 total kids) specifically said that they loved the workshops and had never thought science could be so fun. I was especially excited at this, because the girls who said this had shown real understanding about mechanisms and the building. In fact, one of these two is one I'd say understood things best out of the whole class, both this workshop and the shorter three hour one I did with this same bunch back in February. She seemed really keen to design and build things, coming up with the idea of making a track and having a pulley through a straw to pull Jack up the hill.

More generally, the girls in all the workshops seemed to be involved and engaged and on talking to them, most seemed to have a reasonably good idea of what they were doing and what the group was doing. In all-girl groups, it was good to see that the girls had to make things. In mixed groups, sometimes it ended up that the girls did the crafty part and the boys did the mechanisms, but that wasn't always the case. Particularly, in one group, the boys were the ones doing all the crafty bits and the girls were working on the structure and the mechanism to make a disco ball drop down from the sky. Another mixed group was more united, with everyone doing bits here and there. Some doing structure and would then start decorating the structure. This group (made a jewelry box) had a very mixed distribution of tasks. The group with the flying car also had a nice way of dividing up things evenly. There was one girl in one of the classes who was great. At the final class discussion, she really asked a lot of questions and was happy to talk about things. Definitely no shyness there.

Many of the teachers and helpers who came along commented that quite often the groups with girls and the all-girl groups tended to make a better thing overall. More care was paid to the making of it, and getting it to look how they wanted. I had thought this myself, so it was good to hear this from some source other than myself.

scotland thoughts pt 1

On having autistic/special needs kids in workshops:

These were the first workshops I had any sort of special needs kids, which was quite the experience for me. Mostly so, because I was amazed at how compassionate and accomodating the other kids were. But also because I was pleasantly surprised at how they got on in the workshops.

There was one kid who was autistic who insisted that everything be yellow and that it had to have a clock. He was working in a group with four other kids. They all wanted to make a car. So they talked with him, and he was insisting clock, so they came up with making a car driving around a yellow clock. They started making the car, yellow car for the boy, and he set off making a yellow clock. He made the structure to hold it and they all worked together to get it all together. In the end, it was a yellow car flying around Big Ben. During the two hours I had with them, they were all engaged and happily working.

At another workshop, there was this kid who had a hard time doing anything. One of the helpers I had was really good with him, though, and would sit and talk to him about what he was doing. The kid set about making a scoop to pick things up (like... the motor spins around and has a scoop to grab things at the bottom). He stayed busy the entire time, though I don't know that he was really able to do much. His teammates were very nice and tried to give him things that they thought he could do, and included him on everything on the project.

Another girl, the last day, was this special needs kid who also had hearing aids. And apparently when she got bored or didn't want to do something, she would switch her hearing aids off and then they'd take her back to the special ed part of the school. She had done just that earlier that day at a K'nex workshop, so I was worried about how she would take mine. But she stayed until the very end, working away on making a basket full of easter eggs and helping make this chicken popping out of an egg. She seemed really happy to work on what she wanted, and her group was happy to have her do that.

And the last kid, somewhat autistic. A little slow seeming when you talked to him. He was the guy who helped everything but who didn't really come up with anything on his own. But he was really useful for the group getting their thing done (a penguin with a fish in its mouth with flapping arms and chewing mouth). When one of the visiting teachers asked what he had been working on, he said "nothing," but the rest of the team started saying "no no no... you did this and this and this and you helped with this. you were kinda the manager." Which I thought was really sweet.

Anyway. It was interesting for me to see how they worked and how they worked in the groups. And it was good to see that, for the most part, they all found something to do to help the overall progress of the projects.

01 April 2007

maybe i should write things down here

Thoughts on Geertz's Local Knowledge: "Art as a Cultural System"

If art is, as Geertz says, something that must be viewed within a cultural framework, if "to study an art form is to explore a sensibility," if art "materialize[s] a way of experiencing, [and] bring[s] a particular cast of mind out into the world of objects, where men can look at it," (Geertz, p. 99), then art, as such, goes hand in hand with engineering, with science, at least if one is to follow a more critical theory of technology. As Feenberg says in The Critical Theory of Technology, "[m]odern technology is no more neutral than medieval cathedrals or The Great Wall of China; it embodies the values of a particular industrial civilization and especially of its elites, which rest their claims to hegemony on technical mastery." Engineering... conceiving of and making an object... is a way to bring an internal experience, an internal knowledge, "out into the world of objects." David Nye in Technology Matters discusses the history of technology and story, saying the two are inextricably intertwined to the point where it's impossible to know which came first. Story is intrinsic to technology, and also to art. If we had no reason to make something, we would not make it. Whether that reason is "expression" or "to do such and such" is immaterial. A rudimentary story is the drive, at least to the point of "I will use this material and that material and possibly this other one, go through this process, and come out with something that (hopefully) resembles my conception." These stories are influenced by the values of culture that one comes from (to influence what seems "worthwhile"), by the perceived affordances of the materials, by the personal experiences of the maker, etc. and, as such, engineering, technology, and art are should be viewed within and understood through the cultural framework of the maker.

And, really, if you look at it as such, art and engineering aren't so different, after all. One just pretends to be objective (to the point where some people believe technology to be deterministic), where the other admits its subjectivity outright. But both are the using of materials to make a final thing... only the story, the process, are different.

06 March 2007

scotland stories

A story from Thurso:

Four girls were making a tiger trying to paw at a butterfly flying around a tree. That's the tree, above. And they had been trying for five minutes or so to glue down the tree to the cardboard, but it just kept falling over. And still, they kept trying. So I went over to them to ask them what they were doing. They said they were making a tree. And so I asked them if this is what trees looked like. And they said "yes." So I asked, "is this really what trees look like? What to trees have to keep them standing up" They looked confused, but after a bit of thought, one of them said "trees have roots," and as soon as she said that, another one said "we can cut slits up the sides and give our tree some roots." So they did. And their tree stood.

16 February 2007

scotland... an overview

ok. i know david is itching to have some sort of more concise thoughts from scotland. seeing as i've managed to come down with a cold and am having trouble organizing my thoughts as a result, this has been slow to come. but it's friday. and worth a shot, even though my nose is runny and my throat sore. it will be informal. forgive me.

one of the things i found really interesting from these two weeks in scotland was the observation that pretty much every group had some story to tell about their machines. here's the bunny running away from a poacher with the gun who's trying to get the easter basket. or here's a guy crossing a road who gets hit by a car over and over. albeit, short stories. but stories nonetheless. which gave me the thought that an interesting direction to take this involving a longer workshop and with more sensor/programming is to make an interactive story. and, i know, david, that you've been mentioning 3-D animation. and, yeah. i think it's a great idea and direction to go in. it's something that the teachers can also get their heads around as a way to bring english/writing skills into something technical and artistic and mathematic. multi-disciplinary. it's something that i think the kids would really get. whether it's a non-fiction or fiction story... doesn't matter.

and this kinda ties in with david nye's assertation in "technology matters" that it's impossible to determine which came first: story or technology. because technology is dependent on story telling... e.g. "i need to do this and maybe if i turn this and use it like this i will get what i want." rudimentary story... but still story. the more complex the technology, the more complex the story, in some sense.

anyway. that was one observation. the other, regarding gender, is that not only are the girls fully involved, even at an age (13/14) where a lot of girls lose interest to science/math/technology, sometimes the girls work better than the guys. especially when it comes to group work. there seems to be a better division of the tasks and less arguing. whether in mixed groups or just girl groups. and having them create something of their own design means that even though the girls may be making a pink ballerina... they're still making a pink ballerina who has to stand up and whose legs move. still technical. but something they care about.

so. other thoughts. lots of kids didn't know how to use pliers or wire cutters. and in the groups where i didn't introduce this to them, it was interesting to see them trying to cut wire at the base of a pair of pliers that has no wire cutters there. like... they got the idea that the wire goes in and that you squeeze, but they missed the fact that it needs to have the cutting part there. so... in terms of introducing kids to building things, it's amazing just how basic you have to be. and something i would've taken for granted at their age is something that i need to remember to explain.

and they really enjoy being trusted to work with the tools. which is good, i think, for building a sense of confidence. this confidence is an important part of me wanting to do this.

that's all for now. a more in-depth look later on.

14 February 2007

meeting with chris re: thesis proposal

originality: marginal. well-traveled technique in art, well-tested technique in STEM education with one change in nuance... it's wired!

contribution to field: "a more diverse construction toolkit that is to be used for building a wider variety of interactive computational artifacts than what currently exists."

contribution to media lab themes: some incremental contribution to education: i do like the use of found objects - this is a good thing for some one in constructivism at the lab to try. otherwise seems about average for the areal.

awareness of related work: good.

proposed methodology/evaluation: fine.

scope: narrow. i believe that nichols could expand the notion of environmentally-specific materials and topics. how does she relate this to design for development style work?

quality of presentation: fine

suggestions for minor revisions: broaden scope to develop methodologies for integrating local materials, themes, topics.

suggestions for major revisions: expand theorization of indigenous or local knowledge and technologies. polanyi and baird refs are good, but should include some geertz, some dunne, and some other viz local/tacit technology. she can see me for more references.


ok. so. wow. it's hard for me to organize my thoughts today.

themes to bring out:
mutual debugging?
local availability of materials

1) mutual debugging being that by using wire, there is the option to "debug" a mechanism... more so than having to rebuild it every single time. is it actually possible to carry the thinking of the computer to the physical world? the physical world back to the comptuer? do they help reinforce each other?

2) as opposed to lego/erector sets/k'nex... using what's locally available. again, this is one of my major arguments for using wire instead of other things as a basis for mechanisms. kids in africa use wire to make moving toys all the time. wire can be found in old telephone cables, old fences, baling wire, etc. and wire can be used to incorporate found objects and found mechanisms... to build stands for things... to prototype.

things to watch out for: don't come off as self-indulgent. be clear as to why i'm doing this but also be clear in my generalizations out from my own experiences. tie into not only the constructivist angle, but also into the sustainable/local/developing angle... and... open source?

sigh. so much to think about. i'll give the proposal another try.

13 February 2007


07 February 2007

thoughts on workshops... seed or not.

So I've just been reading over this email that David sent to the group. And... I agree with him, I guess. Especially coming from finishing a bunch of small workshops in Scotland. And, though, I realize that these workshops are to establish relationships with schools to then do further work in, I find myself arguing for the same thing each time: more time, repeated work, time for reflection, time for group talk, and most importantly for the teachers to take initiative because I'm only one person and I can't be everywhere at once... and because it can't be me who carries everything... it HAS to come from within. And so, in lieu of writing up my record of the workshops, I'm going to talk about this right now. Although I can't speak to the context that these words were originally spoken about, I think they apply to the more general thoughts. And so I will speak to them from my own (albeit limited) experience.

To quote David, "Discrete, standalone workshops give people a nice experience but that is all. Whenever we engaged in workshops, it was always in the context of a bigger engagement towards change. It was never to just do some workshops that do not have any chance to build upon each other and to make a real change."

This is true. Standalone workshops are simply standalone. Yeah, it may introduce people to things, and yeah it may spark some thing for some short time, but the real learning doesn't come in there. The learning and deeper thoughts come in through reflection and repetition. It comes when the students are working on something they care about... when they try something and it doesn't work so they try again and try again. And if you want to talk about construction, why construction and hands-on projects are important, then talk about experience and the fact that experience only comes through time and the fact that there are things you can only learn through experience. People are going to have experiences, regardless... life is a string of experience. Our jobs are working with others, finding the strengths of all, and localizing for the best possible experience, but to also be realistic that things take time.

In my situation with working within the Scottish school system, I'm using these shorter workshops as a way to gauge the teachers for their own initiative... to try find someone to work with while I'm not around and to set up something that can continue without me around. It's hard working within the school system. No joke. For the teachers to give me even a day with the kids, they have to ask all the teachers who would have the students that day and agree upon it... in addition to the head teachers. So until I gain the trust of the teachers, it's hard to have more than just a short workshop. I'm pushing hard to not let it stand at short workshops... but if the teachers themselves don't take some initiative, then I will just go to other schools. And, you know, I've actually been pleasantly surprised by the thoughts of some of the teachers I've met. At the ones who've thrown away the list of curriculum for their classes and who've gone for something more. You can see it in their students. If things here stayed simply at the level of short things that don't go deeper, I'd feel like I'd failed, because there's potential for so much more.

But some of the teachers here, oh man, they look completely miserable, and I find myself wondering if it's possible to convince them of the ideas... to reignite some sort of spark in them. Some of them, though, will sidle over and ask quiet questions when they see the kids working... you can tell that they're dubious at first, but a few of them start asking more and more questions. At the schools, I try to invite everyone in to see the work that I can, so they can see/hear for themselves. Hm. Maybe I should get to some point. I guess what I'm saying is that in this (my) situation, I think the short guerrilla workshops are maybe more for the teachers than the students... to see what can be done and to hear what I have to say. To spark some ideas in them and to get them talking with each other. To have them carry an idea forward. And to get them to place some trust in me for longer times with their kids and themselves... to get them to try things themselves.

Ok. Back to more points from that email from David: "time is short, needs are huge, and doing nice little things that have minimal impact is not how we should use the privileged positions that we have. Our obligation is to do more."

Right. But, then, I agree wholeheartedly to the idea that I was introduced to at a young age "ab illo cui multum datur multum requiritur" -- to whom much is given, much is required. And I truly believe that we could bring about some great change. But, again, I know that there's only so much I can be doing in a given amount of time. It would be great if our group were bigger, or if there were more people working on this. Which is where I think we should be... enabling other people to do this. And I don't know that I can necessarily "do more" within the timeframe for my master's, but I can certainly do more with my lifetime. I guess I didn't really realize how huge needs are until coming over here and seeing them firsthand. Here's Scotland, a developed country, and a country that's struggling to move past the monolithic curriculum that's been set up. There are teachers here who are meeting together and talking about great ideas and who I really want to succeed. But then you meet some of the other teachers, and you realize just how far there is to go.

Again, back to David's email: "There are plenty of nice little projects in the world, that give a nice little experience, but do not add up. There is far too much dissonance in the educational world between expressed philosophies and actual activities. We cannot be part of that. We have to be honest, with others and with ourselves."

True. But how do we build up a critical mass for change? Connectivity is key, as well as breaking the enforced mediocrity that curriculum provides. Education shouldn't just be about the minimal amount of achievment to get by (both by students AND teachers). Life isn't separated into subjects, either. We should encourage people to find their strengths and use them. An education that's locally developed for the strengths of the students, teachers, and community, but an education that can still address main key topics... I guess the main topic being communication of ideas ... which is math and building things and writing and talking and music: they're all forms of expression/communication.

And, I guess the last bit that I have questions about: "When I hear of projects like on climate change, or on alternative energy, there is nothing real that kids can construct that gets deep enough to demonstrate the value of construction. There is no use of computation and computational thinking. They are nice little science fair projects. But everyone does those. we are not needed in this regard. we are needed to bring the ideas to life that we have, that are important, that are different, and that others do not get."

True, everyone does science fair projects. And everyone must believe that doing them has some value, else they wouldn't be doing them. But I'm just wondering what's considered something "real", something "deep enough". Where do the values of construction come in? And, I realize that within the context of the email, climate change and alternative energy has one meaning, but is it possible to get "deep enough" with those topics? If a school worked on alternative energy and managed to get their school off the grid -- is that deep enough? If a classroom studied climate change and managed to change something in their community -- is that deep enough? I mean... I guess what I'm saying is that maybe it's not deep enough to just introduce the idea that there's alternative energy and look you can make models of it... but if they actually start figuring out how to apply it to their lives? I guess I'm just not sure where you define "deep enough"... or is there ever really an enough?

Anyway. Just some off the cuff thoughts not overly censored.

06 February 2007

Lionel Academy pt. 1

Out on the Outer Hebrides. Two groups... only an hour and a half for each, believe it or not. Much less than ideal, but the students did well, all things considered. I'm especially impressed with the bunny being chased, by the car crash, and by the giraffe eating a tree. More discussion on this to come in the following post.

Group !
(bird flapping)

Group @
(pink panther dancing)

Group #
(bunny chased by poacher)

Group $
(dancers... failed)

Group %
(dog wagging its tail)

Group ^'s plan
Group ^
(giraffe eating)

Group &
(man drinking tea)

Group *
(man hit on head with boxing glove)

Teacher Meeting

So the night after Nairn, I went to a meeting of ten or so teachers discussing a possible activity to go along with the new curriculum for excellence. Their idea is to have schools take 6-8 weeks and study wind power (a topic that's quite relevant, because a lot of debates are going on locally about where wind turbines should be and whether or not in the ocean or on the land, etc.). The meeting was interesting because it wasn't just math or science teachers... there was an english teacher, too... and maybe others?

Maybe I should introduce the curriculum for excellence before I go any further. I guess the main goal is curricular change. But focused around a multi-disciplinary approach... a project-based one.... redefining what "evaluation" is. Hm. I guess the webpage has that on there. But it's all rather vague still, and it seems that even the teachers themselves are trying to get their heads around it. There's also glow, which is meant to be a way for all the schools to be connected together.

Aaaanyway. So this group of teachers was focusing on one of the examples for the new curriculum. They're trying to put forward a guide rather than an instruction set... something that can allow for the teachers to have flexibility for their schools and local strengths. They don't want it to be something that is the same everywhere. They want the teachers to communicate what they're doing... what worked and what didn't.

The english teacher was really excited about getting kids to write about things related to project. The math teachers are interested in working with science teachers. Everyone at that table seemed really excited about this.

And I'm not getting it across well here, but I think they all had a good mindset about things. They're interested in process instead of goal-oriented learning. And not only process, but repeating the process and trying to get things growing and changing.

Yeah. I'm not sure where I'm going with this, other than just being happy that after the meeting in Nairn, it was refreshing to be with a group of teachers who seemed to really care about what they did and also a group that was really trying to push new things forward. I think that they're maybe a group that could really benefit from contact with our group/seeing what our group has done in the past. And it made me really wish that we had a better system for showing/talking about what we've done.

nairn part 2

Okay. More thoughts from the Nairn trip.

As far as the workshop went, only one team tried a more complex mechanism. The rest just tried to mount the motor and get direct rotational motion out of it. And the team that tried a mechanism didn't really finish. So. Hm. I blame this on myself. Because even with the same amount of time (or less), other schools managed to build something off of a mechanism... and could actually explain the mechanisms to me.

In addition to the workshop with the kids, I also met with a group of teachers after lunch. It was amazing how different this group was compared with Jamie in Plockton. I guess, first off, the room we were meeting in was very dark and an old nurse's office.... a little creepy, actually. The teachers seemed downtrodden, tired. It was quite a lot of work to get them to talk with me. There were two chemistry teachers, a math teacher, and a technology teacher. Out of the four, the technology teacher was the most talkative. And after a while, the math teacher opened up and started talking more. One of the chemistry teachers never raised his head from staring at the ground. The other chemistry teacher had seen the workshop and had good thoughts, but was overall still very quiet. All in all, the teachers at Nairn seemed interested, but reserved. The teachers who were around the room while the kids were building things all just observed things and then would come over and quietly ask me questions. I did my best to give them a feel for what I was about and what was going on.

I also got a chance to talk with the ICT youth challenge teams. Two of them. That was nice. The kids were really talkative and happy to give me their impressions/ideas. Neither group had gotten through to the next round. I was amazed, though, at the fact that they were still adamant that their ideas were good ideas. The team that had proposed the idea for an electromagnetic sphere that could levitate you and get you to move around in response to video games... well... a good sci-fi holodeck idea... but not something that was really feasible. But the one boy was convinced that it would work because he had "done the equations." Which I'd be happy to see, but I doubt that they were quite right. Nor do I think it would be as cheap as 1000 pounds (sterling), like he seemed convinced it would be. I mean... I guess my thoughts on that would be that he would probably learn quickly after starting to try to prototype this just how hard and expensive it would be... as well as just how little his equations probably helped.

But despite the students' enthusiasm, I left the school with a feeling of heaviness. The slightly oppressive architecture wasn't helping, either.

nairn part 1

I have the documentation of this workshop (2.5 hours) mostly on the school video camera... so I'm waiting on the footage from them. Since there was only one of me, it was hard to get photos as well as try to video the kids explaining their ideas. So for now, I'll just put up what I have and try to explain until I can get stills from the videos (as well as the videos themselves).

Group *
Group *'s finished product
This group was a group of three mixed boy/girl... two boys, one girl. Twelve years old. Their idea was an ice skating penguin. They really had trouble trying to get it to stand upright, and in the end, it just collapsed. When asked what they would do differently next time they replied "focus more on getting it to work and then work on getting it to look nice." They worked well together as a group, trying to split up tasks between them. Penguin was attached to the motor, and the motor was on top of this plastic cup with a hole in it. In the end, it was just too much weight for the strength of the plastic cup.

Group &
Group & (pt 2)
This was a group of four mixed boy/girl... two and two. Again, age twelve. I don't have a proper photo of this finished as of yet. But it's a cow leaping over a moon with a shooting star chasing it. There's the star and the cow there. They were quite clever in how to get this to stand up ... kind of like a tri-fold poster presentation thing. they attached the moon directly to the motor to make it spin. Complete with stars and a background. They finished right on time, but I feel they didn't really push themselves as far as the mecahnism went. But they came up with good structural solutions for the shooting star (they had problems with it spinning around the wrong way) as well as the motor mount.

Group ^
This was a group of four boys who made a hero/villain fighting while flying over Hollywood. That's a palm tree there. Again, this group attached the people directly to the motor. Instead of mechanism problems (i.e. not using a mechanism other than the motor spinning), they had really hard structural problems. As in, they had trouble figuring out how to hold things in place. So, although maybe not as mechanically sophisticated as one might've hoped, they figured out a bit of structures. And they came up with a particularly quick/clever solution (thought not a good long-term one) of holding the motor in place with a rubber band.

Group %
This was a group of four girls who made a boat with a baby and a shark swimming around the boat with a person who had fallen in the water. Quite a complex story, there. Shark directly attached to motor. They had trouble with the stand for the boat (that you see there), but after asking them a few questions, they came up with the idea to give it some supports coming down from the top to the corners (making triangles to help keep it upright). This group worked exceptionally well as a team, dividing up tasks so that everyone was working all the time and it all came together at the end.

And then there's one more team that I don't have any photo of. Nor do I really remember right off hand what they worked on (this is what I get for waiting a few days to write this up... but I haven't had any spare time to do so and now I'm just staying up way too late to get this done before I forget). But this team of four boys had so much trouble. They wanted to do everything! And in the end, they really didn't have anything that worked. They were the only team, though, that tried to make a mechanism, of sorts. But they got distracted by the super hero/villain team. And they got discouraged by not knowing the answers right off hand, though I did my best to encourage them and talk them through questions.

plockton part 3

i also got a chance to meet with jamie's senior product design class where the kids were working on their portfolios... models and drawings and design concepts. i was pretty impressed with the kids' ideas and ability to make models... but, still, the idea is a product. and they don't really get a chance to actually build the thing they design (short of models). but unlike other teachers who teach this subject, jamie doesn't confine them to "chairs" or something along those lines. he lets the students come up with their own ideas to work on. the students seemed really engaged and excited about what they were doing, which was nice to see.

hm. i don't know what other thoughts i have about this.

i guess i could expand on jamie as a teacher. he has a lot of skills in being creative and building things. and he's a really engaging teacher... passionate about what he gets across.

03 February 2007

plockton part 2

ok. so. a more thorough discussion of plockton.

as i mentioned, the students didn't quite manage to finish. but despite this, they all were excited to take their machines and work on them to get them to work, even without me around. jamie kean has a great area and is a good teacher... i think he has the right mindset about what works for the kids. it was the first workshop, so i was a bit nervous.

the kids were mostly first year (12 years old). i was a bit nervous at the start. taking charge in front of a group of kids is something i definitely need practice at. the kids seemed to have good ideas as to what to do, and definitely things that were feasible, but they seemed to have trouble figuring out how to make things move. also, kids seem to be on the whole more concerned with making things look nice before trying to get it to work. i don't know if that's because it's easier or because they want it to look good before trying to get it to work... something along the lines of make the parts right before putting them all together.

the laptops didn't work with the gogo boards. we had USB to serial converters, but still the computers wouldn't communicate with the board. and with only two hours for the workshop, i didn't really have time to figure that out (i hadn't recieved the laptops until that day). so... i gave them a basic program to run the motor with a touch sensor to turn the motor on. not ideal in the least... but... triage?

plockton part 1

Wednesday the 31st, I ran my first workshop of the year in Plockton High School. Jamie Kean is the head teacher of technology/technological studies there, and it was his classroom and his space that I used for the workshop. I met Jamie when he came to MIT last September with one of the winning teams from the ICT Youth Challenge. I only had two hours to run the workshop, much like the workshops back in May, and this wasn't quite enough time for the kids to finish. But there were some good ideas and some good thoughts that went into things. I guess I'll go into more detail now.

Group !
This was a group of four girls age 12. As they didn't think they were really good at drawing, they ended up just writing a few words down and then starting to build. This group wanted to make a bird whose wings flapped to begin with, but after they tried to make a bird out of wire, they decided that the bird looked more like bumble bees. As a result, they changed their original idea, and went with multiple bees. They thought that if they put the bees on a spiral, then the bees would look like they were constantly flying up.

Group @'s preliminary design
Group @
This was a group of three boyx age 12. One of them played the guitar. They tossed around a few ideas at first, but because they were working in a group, they decided that a band would best work. They wanted the drummer's head to bob up and down (the motor was hooked up to the head via a wire/straw that you can see here. In the end, it sort of worked, but things weren't all held down in their places.

Group #'s preliminary design
Group #
This was a group of three girls age 12. They wanted to make a ladybug that flapped its wings. They thought of this because they liked ladybugs. While I was asking them how they thought they could get the wings to flap, and asking them if they'd seen anything like it around, one of them said that they had a wooden duck whose wings flapped at home (similar to the butterfly I made in Costa Rica, actually). So they went about trying to make it. They made a stand for the motor out of straws and wire and plastic strips and were going to put the ladybug on top. The cotton balls were to make the ladybug's body... they were going to wrap yarn around the balls to make the right shape.

Group $'s preliminary design
Group $
This was a group of three girls age 12. As you can see in their preliminary brainstorm, they went through several ideas before settling on this one: a man who has a hoop in his hand to blow bubbles. They managed to get his arm moving, but didn't have time to attach everything to the base.

Group %'s preliminary design
Group %
This was a group of three boys age 12. They wanted to make a football player kicking a football (i.e. soccer, for us Americans). They got the leg moving, but didn't manage to make the thing stable enough to stand.

Ok. Now for some more in-depth thinking on my part after just getting past what it was that the kids did. Coming soon (i.e. after dinner... maybe in two hours or three)...

01 February 2007


quines and loons.

anyway. \\\\\\\\

two workshops so far. plockton and nairn. plockton was 2 hours. nairn 3 hours. less than ideal, no doubt, and not quite what i had wanted. at least in the sense that i had wanted (and asked for) longer workshops and workshops where i could have the same group of kids for a repeated time. tomorrow is stornoway, and will certainly be a long day. i'll go into more depth on things in the posts to follow.

so, yeah. not as long as i had wanted, but as i've been explained, this is because of two reasons. 1) it's hard negotiating within the schools, because even though one of the teachers might be really keen on this, they have to convince the teachers before and after them to give up their class periods. 2) this is a way to find new schools/teachers to work with, introduce myself to them, win them over, and then ask for more time/more intensity from them in march. so this visit, i'll see who i work well with and who is willing to carry the ball farther.

more thoughts to follow.

from Nairn today

29 January 2007

the carpet at my scotland guest house

16 January 2007

workshops in scotland

so the fist workshops have been postponed a few days at least, possibly a week?, but i still don't know when i'm going. which is frustrating, but i've been asking and the answer i get is that there are still things being worked out with the schools, and the woman organizing this didn't get back from christmas/new year break until the middle of last week. but i guess this is god because i get some more time to work out what it is i'm doing in more detail.

i wanted to have more time to work on this while visiting my dad for a week, but i ended up having to drive him around to the doctor and to physical therapy and to get food and to help him get dressed and take care of him and all, which was more than i thought i'd have to do, but, then, i guess shoulder surgery is rough and charlotte takes an obscene amount of time to drive around.

maybe i should be less optimistic.
it's hard, though.

i have the gogo boards thanks to roger and michael. i'm ordering the motors today... should be here soon. there are a lot of materials leftover from the first scotland workshops last may... like safety goggles and pliers and soldering irons and glue guns and wire. but we'll need more wire and more craft materials.

10 January 2007

thoughts from carolina

while sitting around here reading polanyi and trying to figure out just exactly what i need to do in scotland, there's this TV that is on mostly constantly, which is such a change for me. dad and daryl both watch hgtv and the food network and diy stuff. and although i'm fond of diy stuff, i always wonder why these shows irk me so much. i mean... it's refreshing to see a woman with a drill. but, still. and suddenly it dawned on me exactly why i don't like these shows.

+ the tone of the voice gets to me: "what _i_ like to do..." "you could do this..."
+ their projects are usually a little uninspired
+ they seem so smug about how creative they are

but most of all

+ they show you how to do one particular thing, but don't go into the more basic level of how they came up with this to begin with or how to innovate your own.

because what if i don't want to make a foot stool that's held up by cowboy boots? but the method of drilling/attaching legs was useful for me to know. i just shudder to think that there are hundreds of these foot stools now all over the US looking exactly the same and made by people who think this footstool will make them "B-Original". and then i was thinking about instructables, which, yes, tend to also just show how to do one problem. but i think that having the forum/conversation to ask questions is good for building up your own ideas. sure, replicating something you've seen is good to learn techniques... but at some point, if replication is all you're doing, is it really worth it? what really makes it your own? what if i don't care about cowboy boots or tennis rackets? how do i get from these shows things like, how do you know that you need an 11/64" drill bit with those screws to pre-drill? how do you know you need to notch things? how do you know what tools to use? how do you know what screws? etc. and at some point, the only way to get this knowledge is to either ask someone when you're having trouble or to have it dawn on you one day when you're trying to build something of your own design.

or maybe it really just is their smug tones of voice.

09 January 2007


ok. so my first workshops are the year are scheduled to be at the end of january in scotland. the details are not quite worked out 100%, but i think the rough plan is that i'd fly to scotland on the 20th, work with the teachers for a couple of days so they can have some hands-on experience, after that, work with the students for a longer period of time. after that, there's a couple of days i would need to do the youth challenge judging. and then i'd meet with the teachers again before i left to get their thoughts/reflections on the workshops and prepare with them to continue on with the work while i'm gone.

i think it's crucial to work with the teachers first because of the hands-on experience they'll get. i think it will help them help me in the workshops and i also think it would be good to get their opinions/reflections/thoughts on the process. and it will help them build up their confidence and maybe encourage them to carry on while i'm gone. i think maybe something similar to the workshop in costa rica -- two days or possibly three working on one project. introduce the gogo board and sensing. show them my work, ganson's work, maybe some other work if i can find it (tinguely? others? previous workshops' work?)

for the kids, i'd want to give them a preliminary version of a kit. i don't know that i could have much of a resource booklet for them... but they'll have me, i guess. and i could definitely ask them what advice they'd consider useful to have. i need to flesh out the kit contents a bit, still. i also need to make the gear makers, which i can make when i get back to boston. as for themes... um... well. so far it's been nature and dancing. but i don't know. i'd like to brainstorm a list of themes that might be good for this. hopefully i'll have enough time for them to delve deeply. i want to ask them questions about their backgrounds and interests. have they ever built anything before? have they ever repaired anything? what do they want to do in the future? what do they like? hopefully i'll have a good gender distribution in the group(s).

for the follow-up with the teachers, i want to get their opinions on the kids' progress as well as what they themselves learned. maybe get ideas for the next workshop and things that they could work on while i'm gone.

that's still not fleshed out enough. but things i should work on:
1) getting kits together
+ what's in a kit?
+ what am i bringing vs. what am i getting there?
+ how much wire per person?
+ rough resource booklet with drawings of mechanisms
+ mechanism examples?
+ examples of sculptures

2) figuring out travel plans
+ waiting on laura dingwall
+ need to coordinate with jacqueline for documentation

3) camera from david???

why wire v.10

another section of my proposal based off of the why wire post from before. edited many times.

From a young age, I have been surrounded by wire. At first, I used wire for practical things around the farm, which led me to make wire jewelry and even small sculptures. When I was in my second undergraduate year at MIT, I saw Arthur Ganson's exhibit at the MIT Museum and was fascinated by the machines I saw there: here were materials I knew and understood being used in novel ways. I was so inspired by seeing this that I decided to start building mechanical wire sculptures of my own. I found that it was a great way to merge wire and the machines in which I was interested. As a result of this exposure, I constructed a gyroscopic kinetic sculpture for my undergraduate thesis in mechanical engineering as a way to build up my own physical intuition. With the Future of Learning Group, I decided to explore the use of wire as a construction material, for I believe it has many benefits that other materials or building kits may not have, especially for people who might otherwise not find these means accessible.
Fixed materials such as LEGO are useful because they are standard, clasp together well, and have spacing that facilitates gearing. They are popular because one does not have to think deeply to use them; their shape informs the builder how to construct with them. The thinking on the part of the designer is limited to how to brace structures and how to incorporate the gear spacings and parts provided in the kit. The size and shape of what one can build with LEGO is for the most part limited to small and rectangular objects. Moreover, the cost of LEGO is prohibitive in most school settings, particularly in the developing world. Working with wire not only loosens the cost constraint but, more importantly, removes the constraints on size and shape, while adding an opportunity for the builder to explore mechanical and structural design in a new and more creative way.
Flexibility is wire's primary advantage as a material; wire provides physical flexibility, flexibility of the final form and scale, and flexibility in terms of the imagination of the designer to be free build what he or she can imagine. The physical flexibility of wire provides limitations for the designer to work around, which results in every aspect of the machine being considered and constructed by the designer, from gears to connections to axles to size to the more purely aesthetic considerations. This includes incorporation of found objects and craft materials. If the builder does not understand the material's limitations and take them into consideration when designing, the structure might fail. Wire's physical flexibility is also important because of the trial and error of mechanism design it allows: the final design can be tweaked until the mechanism functions (at least, within limits of bending the wire to fatigue). Another affordance of the flexibility is that the resulting kit can also be used in places where it is not easy to afford LEGOs or to precision-engineer machines, such as developing nations, rural areas, or even just regular schools anywhere in the world.
The physical flexibility of wire allows for creating curves, a large range of scale, and the inclusion of found and scavenged objects, thus resulting in flexibility of the final design. Such flexibility gives the builder freedom to come up with a project that they personally care about and expressed in terms they select themselves. Rather than being forced into particular expressions by the limitations of the material, wire provides an underlying syntax adaptable to the epistemological and aesthetic stance of the designer. This connection provides an entry point for people who may not otherwise be interested in using and thus acquiring these concepts. As a feel for the wire is developed, prototyping a new design becomes more like, as Alexander Calder put it, “three-dimensional line drawing.”1 In the end, to make a sculpture work and to make it aesthetically pleasing, one must learn and apply principles of mechanical engineering, physics, and mathematics. The proof of learning is in successful design and construction as well as in the ability to articulate the ideas in artifacts and ideas.

thesis proposal intro

in case anyone was wondering where the hell i went for a while, i was caught up in writing my thesis proposal. i figured that since i spent so much time on it, it would be good to put it here piece by piece. so here is the intro:

For my thesis I will create and study a more diverse construction toolkit that is to be used for building a wider variety of interactive computational artifacts than what currently exists. Rather than being fully formed, the new toolkit incorporates wire and other found and flexible materials to expand the possibilities for expression and to encourage the designer to learn principles of mechanical and structural design in order to use them. Through using this kit in a workshop setting, I will explore how flexible construction materials enable deeper exploration, learning, and comprehension about key ideas in mechanics, engineering, physics, and mathematics. I will also examine how flexible materials can expand the genre of computational constructions and how such an expansion potentially attracts a more diverse population to creative work in engineering and science.
The basic concept of learning through constructing is that by having to confront the challenge of making something function in the world as desired by the builder, one needs to acquire knowledge about the underlying principles. While the use of robotic materials for understanding control, systems, and feedback has been explored, the limitations of existing pre-fabricated construction kits and materials do not enable the same understanding for principles of mechanical and structural engineering. By incorporating wire and other flexible materials, one changes the constraints on what can be built, thus enabling not only a different kind of expression and creativity, but also demanding that the learner begin to understand and appreciate the properties of the materials, the geometries, and the underlying principles of mechanical and structural design. Some examples of these principles include using triangles to build truss structures, changing geometry to increase bending stiffness, and converting the motion of a motor to the final desired motion.
In working with children, I will use the creation of interactive kinetic sculptures as a means to connect with a population that might otherwise not be engaged with learning mechanical, structural, geometric, mathematic, and scientific concepts. My hope is that the open-endedness of the toolkit will provide an opportunity for the builder to use their own interests to engage with and explore new realms of knowledge.
This thesis will present the new toolkit, explore how the toolkit facilitates learning of key principles in mechanical engineering, study how children learn the underlying principles and put them into practice, and study whether new populations change their points of view about engineering and science.