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.