Noisebridge circuit hacking

I’ve been helping out lately at Noisebridge during Circuit Hacking Monday. One week, some people showed up expecting the event and no one was there to run it, so I ran it for someone I knew from She’s Geeky, her friend and teenagers, and a couple of extra adults who were here from Norway and Denmark for Google I/O. I had just been pawing through the soldering supplies, organizing them a bit as I searched for what I needed for my project (messing around with a LilyPad Arduino), and had found a little bag of cheap LED light up badges shaped like teddy bears. So we used those tiny kits to make blinking badges. It was chaotic, but fun.

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I talked with Mitch Altman to find out where his kits for sale were and if it was okay for me to sell them while he’s out of town, and then send him the money. I might, though, just order some kits as cheaply as I can find them, and keep them independently to avoid hassle. As I end up giving tours to lots of new people, many of them from out of town or overseas, I could do them a favor by giving them something geeky to do in the space rather than sit and check their email!

The next week things were back to normal as Miloh and Rolf were at Noisebridge to run the class. Before they showed up, a teenage volunteer helped me set up soldering stations. More and more people kept coming in so the situation got quite chaotic again as we were giving them tours of the space and trying to find room. I realized that next time I would approach things differently — clearing the whole area of people who were working, and setting up 20 or more stations ahead of time, so that we weren’t doing setup and giving tours at the same time.

During the event Miloh and Rolf really took over the teaching aspect. I was somewhat trapped with my scooter in a corner because of the number of people, the table arrangement, the many chairs and the backpacks all over the floor. So I also would like to look at making the central area of Noisebridge less cluttered with tables, chairs, and stuff for the future so that I can participate. In my corner, I again hung with some kids and the teenage volunteer, and a guy who couldn’t hear well. The kid didn’t have a computer to look at the instructions for his kit, and needed a lot of one on one help as he was maybe a bit non neurotypical. The guy who hung out with us could not hear well in a situation with background noise. I’m in the same boat — I’m in my 40s and just can’t hear in a loud, chaotic situation. The kid fixed his Mintyboost and then made a tv-b-gone. The other guy made a blinky badge then was hooked and got one of those big name LED badges, I think. He appreciated the How to Solder comic book print out that I happened to have on me because he missed all of Miloh and Rolf’s explanations. I thought it was interesting that, marked out as somewhat different and disabled, I ended up doing more one on one work with people who had particular access needs.

Our volunteer also was super helpful in that capacity and seemed unusually alert to access issues, like that chairs or cables were in the way of my scooter or that it might be hard for me to get up to get supplies on high shelves. After the event when his dad came to pick him up I saw that his dad had one arm and walked with a cane. So growing up with a parent who has some mobility issues he might be more tuned in than others usually are.

I thought both those things were interesting! And figured it is a pretty good role for me at CHM. If you have particular access needs or are going to bring a bunch of 10 year olds to Circuit Hacking Monday (Mondays at 7:30pm) then feel free to email me with questions and see if I can be there & be helpful: lizhenry@gmail.com.

Basic supplies are running low. We have lots of soldering irons, including a bunch that I think Jake, Lilia, and MC Hawking won in a contest, but they’ve seen very heavy use over the last couple of years. So there are a lot of kind of crappy soldering irons and a few decent ones. We might be able to clean them or swap the tips cheaply. We have lots of snippers and wirestrippers. We need solder, weighted holders with alligator clips and lenses, more of those weighted bases with copper wool for cleaning soldering iron tips, and more de-soldering braid. Plus it would be so nice to have a supply of many kinds of coin cell batteries. After I talked with Miloh about that he shared a giant complicated spreadsheet with me. I haven’t read through it yet! But it would be great to get particular donations for restocking our electronics supplies.

We have shelves and shelves of hardware junk, in bins, and a wall of tiny little parts in tiny drawers meticulously labelled!

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Yesterday I spent some nice time in the afternoon doing a Dice Kit with my son. We couldn’t find any decent epoxy or glue, so went to the fabric store on the corner, but ended up getting a big tube of contact cement from the dollar store. I gave a lot of tours and hung out with my friend who came by to fix her headphone wires. We’re both going to help TA at Black Girls Code in San Francisco. She ended up also using the wood shop for another project – modifying wooden artists’ brush handles to make those long tapered sticks so useful for holding up long hair and especially dreadlocks. Claudia aka Geekgirl showed up too and told me about how she is going to Rwanda in September and has a job there teaching IT and computer programming to middle school girls. Nifty! Meanwhile, my son played with MC Hawking and read comic books in the library after he was done with the Dice Kit. Along the way he learned to figure out the values of resistors from the color code chart (and learned it is not hard to just memorize the numbers.) We looked at my LilyPad and he got to the point of comfort with the code to make a scale go up and down again and modify the time of the notes. I gave the world’s worst and briefest explanation of what a function is and what it means to pass it variables, but he caught on with no effort. I’m very spoiled as a teacher when I set out teach him anything! He gets the idea too quickly!

Anyway, I sat up far too long that afternoon, and sadly had to leave before Replicator Wednesday kicked off. It has been nice going out into the world a bit more, this last month, more than just for the grocery store and physical therapy.

One last note: this is what happens if you leave your bike blocking the elevator at Noisebridge!!! It gets put into the E-WASTE bin!

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Blogging class at the Redwood City Library

I just taught a community education class at the Redwood City Public Library, “Start Your Own Blog”. Ten people pre-registered and showed up to the small computer lab in the Teen Homework Center. None had ever started a blog, but everyone had basic computer literacy and a personal email address. The blog-starters were all ages — from middle school student to senior citizen. Roz, a librarian, and Michele, who does IT stuff for the library, helped out. I believe Roz also started a blog, “Gardening by Flashlight,” as she followed along with the steps of blog creation.

Before the class began the librarians showed me their page for The Big Read, a community reading series happening in March, co-sponsored by Villa Montalvo. You can get a free copy of Farenheit 451 from the library. Some students from Mission College set up a very fancy web page with forums and a way to participate: load the page and click on “Confess” to answer their amazing questions about self-censorship. How many times today did you stop yourself from saying something? Did you pause before sending an email, or leave one unsent or unwritten? Good questions like that, and space to answer in. (I’m going to ask my English Composition students at Evergreen Valley College to participate for class credit.) You too should go and confess your moments of self-censorship to the Redwood City Library. Give them some love!

I began the class by explaining what a blog was: a web page you can update very easily, using web forms. We used Blogger. Two students had difficulty signing in, though they were using valid email addresses. The librarians helped them sign up for new gmail accounts, but that was pretty distracting for the other students!

As with any hands-on computer class, I sometimes had to pause, walk around the room, and get everyone back on the same page again. I also had to remember to say, at times, “Everyone please look up here at the screen…” to get people to look at my demonstration, rather than what they were doing.

What I didn’t expect was for people to be so excited that they wanted to write lots of long blog posts! That was cool! I thought people would write “First post” and “Um I don’t know what to write” and things like that. But no! I stood at the head of the room hearing the soul-warming sound of clickety click click of industrious typing, seeing the beautiful deep concentration on people’s faces. It did help to ask people at some point to stop, hit publish, and remember that they could go back and edit later. I busted loose with a speech about how you could edit stuff, disinhibited, empowered and freed by the control you had over your own words. Yay, that was fun! I saw some lightbulbs go off in people’s heads at that thought.

At the point where we logged out and in again, people were confused by the choice between “New Blogger” and “Old Blogger”. They thought they were now Old Bloggers because they weren’t New anymore – they’d already gone through the process! That made sense, but I hadn’t expected it. So if anyone from Blogger/Blogspot is reading this, free user feedback for you, though you’ve probably already heard it.

Here’s what I would do differently for the class:

– Emphasize the step during creation of the blog of writing down on paper:
— Your login name (which is the gmail account that’s being created!)
— The URL of your blog
— The address you will go to in order to edit your blog in future (http://blogger.com)

– add a step for telling the instructor the blog name and your login name!

– Making a link. I’d write out instructions on how to do that with the “link” button rather than typing a href etc. etc. etc.

– Log out, quit the browser completely, and start from scratch to log in again, find your blog in one window, and open a new editing window.

– I’d consider making it a 2-part class, perhaps over 2 weeks, but better yet, Monday/Wednesday or Tues/Thurs.
— The instructor will have the list of everyone’s URLs and login names, in case someone forgot on the 2nd night.
— It could also work well as a 3 hour class with a coffee break in the middle, on a Saturday.
— It really does need a followup to help people have continuity and a little extra practice. It’s a lot of information to absorb all at once.

– An added note at the end to suggest that people go home and teach someone else, a family member, friend, or co-worker.
— That spreads whatever cool empowerment people can get from blogging
— Trying to teach someone else is a really good way to learn something in depth

– I forgot to mention other blogging services, some free and some not: Vox, WordPress, LiveJournal, Typepad, and for Spanish speakers Blogalia or Blogalaxia. With a longer class or 2 classes, I would do a quick tour of those sites. Blogger is lovely, but there are other options!

Maybe the students from the class will come and leave me a comment, so I can link to them. The ones I remember are:

Philip, who wrote a mystery novel, and who used to work in TV news, and who I think I know from past meetings of the Redwood City Not Yet Dead Poets: Philip’s Code.

Richard, who looked like he was in maybe 7th or 8th grade (but I could be wrong) and who came with his mom, and who is a huge star wars fan: Star Wars Freak.

A very lovely person whose name I have forgotten but who is a technical recruiter… I can’t remember her blog name

A dad and his high school or college-age son, and the son was super good at it all already, and the dad was starting a blog on his personal finance business for long-term care

Esperanzamj, who started a blog about hope and creativity

Gina, who was blogging in Spanish, ¡espero que me di su blog url aquí en los comments!

The woman who has a craft business and teaches classes and makes soap and beauty care products

And everyone else. That was really a lot of fun.

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A girl can wield a mean soldering iron

When I was around 10 and 11 I was very into soldering irons, little electronic bits and pieces, and anything that made me feel nerdy and mad-scientist-y. I loved the smoky metal-hot smell of the solder and how scary it was… and making things that worked and were “real”. At first I just made different kinds of switches and circuits with tiny lightbulbs, and then advanced to collecting hydrogen in a test tube and lighting it on fire to make it pop. EXCITING! The coolest thing I ever learned about was electroplating. I copper plated every small metal object in our house, adding all sorts of weird stuff to the copper sulfate solution to see what effect it would have; my sister’s dollhouse toaster came out really well when I made a strong solution using tons of ketchup. And hello, what could be cooler than safety goggles and a voltmeter?

I had a point in here somewhere.

Erica Rios of Xicanista, a former instructor for Techbridge, passed on this job call for me to post:

Techbridge Program Manager

Want to make a difference in a girl’s future? Help change girls’
images of and experiences with technology and have an opportunity to work with a dynamic team of educators. Techbridge is an innovative program to inspire girls in technology, science and engineering. The program is hosted after school at elementary, middle, and high schools in Oakland, San Lorenzo, and at the California School for the Blind in Fremont. In these after-school programs, girls work on a variety of projects such as making solar LEGO cars, soldering, digital photography, and building robots. The girls also participate in field trips and meet with role models.

Under the supervision of the Program Director, the Techbridge Program Manager is responsible for supporting and supervising staff, coordinating and implementing our after-school programs, developing and piloting curricula, and leading professional development workshops for teachers, role models, and professional audiences. We are looking for an experienced and dynamic individual who has the ability to supervise a team of instructors, work with the Techbridge project director, and oversee the development of training and resources to teachers, professionals and partners.

It sounds like a GREAT job getting to be a nerd role model for techy girls. Write to techbridge@chabotspace.org if you’re interested in the job!

Now, part of my point was that I was extremely into the soldering and circuits and experiments, but I reached a point very quickly where I had nowhere further to go with it, and no where to go for information or leadership. Books from the library only went so far, and then information stopped. How to take it further? So — if you DO get involved with a program like this, or you know a young nerdlet, please try to find them mentors and books and extra information, to keep their interest going and feed their love of science and tech.