Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Colour your sound using Snap!

A computer program that transforms sound into colour and then colour back into sound would be sure to blow a few minds.

What happens then: Fun! Learning! Unpredictable but interesting pathways!

I encountered this briefly through Jay Silver / Eric Rosenbuam (who I think of as the very clever hippy digital innovators) and then later through Jens Monig (Snap! developer). I'll write up the Jens version for now and add some references from the creative hippie pair to write up later. I can see this blossoming into a fun, innovative course.

If you prefer go straight to the Snap! program (Whistle Draw) and explanatory video by Jens

Jen is a master of Snap! and I learnt a lot as well as having much fun in emulating his program. I'll document it here since I'm planning to use it at school.

The Synesthetic pair here is sound and colour. At first sound produces colour and then the process is reversed so that colour produces sound

I'm including some preliminaries and extra explanation which Jen leaves out. With Snap! colours I find it necessary to check the defaults so that the colours work. I set the pen saturation and brightness to 100 and transparency to 0. Then if hue is set to 0 it shows red and changing hue through 0 to 100 goes through a ROYGBIV spectrum.
The colours are working as they should be so now we investigate and calibrate the microphone:
I whistled a tune into the microphone and observed the range of frequencies. Since they started at around 700 Hz I subtracted 700 to obtain a starting point of zero. Then I divided by 10 so as to roughly bring the values into a 0 to 100 range. This range coincides with the full range of colour values in Snap! Here is the calibrated microphone:
Next up, write a procedure that will produce variations in colour depending on the sound frequency:
I inexpertly whistled "Twinkle twinkle little star" and recorded the colours by moving the mouse. It looked like this:
You have to untick the sprite's draggable box. This held me up for a while so I'll offer an explanation.

In everyday usage when the pen is down we want to be able to drag the sprite without drawing. That could be inconvenient. When the draggable box is unticked the sprite disappears. You can show it by right click > show on the sprite but can't drag it. When you run the procedure forever [go to mouse pointer] the sprite does show and follows the mouse pointer (not the same as being dragged)

When the pen is down and you run forever [go to mouse pointer]:
  • When draggable box is ticked drawing happens with mouse up but not mouse down.
  • When draggable box is unticked drawing happens with both mouse up and mouse down (the behaviour we want for this program)
Then I wrote a procedure that could play it back. This is the inverse of the earlier procedure, this time converting colour to sound:
Then when I ran my mouse over the image (with mouse down) my inexpert tune played back!

Finally, Jens shows how to save the image so you can try new ones and return to the saved ones later. Click on the Stage and run this code:
You can see the image is saved under the Costumes tab!

Jens goes onto make a piano by whistling the correct notes. But even if you can't whistle well (like me) all you have to do is put blobs of ROYGBIV on the screen to make a piano that might work. Try it and see.

Here is the Snap! Colour your Sound program I ended up with.

When I read up on the earlier work by Jay and Eric (references below) I can envisage lots of new themes emerging from Jen's program. I'll try to get back to this later.

LENS X BLOCK: World as Construction Kit Jay Silver PhD thesis
Eric Rosenbaum: Designing for Creative Play
NB their explanatory notes
colour code
(and there are more Jay Silver videos on the sidebar)

Saturday, December 11, 2021

from Beetle Blocks to a 3D print

I finally got my hands on a 3D printer and have printed a type of project which I think will be suitable for classroom use.

When you talk to teachers who use 3D printers they say a big problem is that they are slow. This makes them impractical since all the students want to print.

But if you print 2D shapes with a small height then that is a lot quicker.

Josh Burker has an introductory 3D print project in his “Invent to Learn Guide to More Fun” book. A rotated heptagon makes an attractive pattern. Maths and Art combined.

Josh used Beetle Blocks to make the rotated heptagon project. It is SNAP-like code. First you make a heptagon block using 360/7 as the angle. Then you spin that block ten times on the z axis,
repeat 10 [rotate z by 36]. Some great maths learning here.

I spoke to a very helpful teacher in Melbourne (thanks Veena) who runs a class with eight 3D printers. She said that the Flashforge CreatorPro2 was a worthwhile buy. They run 24/7 at her school.

My school bought a Flashforge and I setup our new printer. A couple of YouTube videos were very helpful

FlashForge Creator Pro 2 IDEX 3D Printer Review and Test
IDEX 3d Printer Review | Flashforge Creator Pro 2

A boring test print which came with the machine worked ok:

Then I tried the rotated heptagon. It printed with a base and was too small. So I had to read the printer manual to work out the correct settings.

On the third try I was happy with the outcome.
The print took 20 minutes. This is quick for a 3D printer but still not quick enough for a classroom setting. I can see why Veena has eight of them.

This is my first 3D print where I wrote the code and did the printing.

Notes on software function and formats:
You can save Beetle Blocks files in XML format and STL formats. The XML (Extensible Markup Languge) is for going back later and editing the software which made the shape. The STL stands for Sterolithography or Standard Triangle Language or Standard Tesselation Language. This is probably the most commonly used format for 3D printing.

The Flashforge program that reads the STL file is Flashprint. You can edit the STL in Flashprint. eg. view it from different perspectives, move it, rotate it, scale it etc. You then send the file to slicer software which has other features, eg. Raft, enable Wall, enable Brim and much more. I had to read the manual to understand these important features. The Flashforge slicer software format is *.gx. It's proprietary. The generic name for these sorts of files is G-code. The G-Code tells the printer what to do, where to move, how fast to move, and what path to follow.

Burker, Josh. The Invent to Learn Guide to MORE Fun: Classroom Technology Project (2018)
The Beetle Blocks Primer pdf, 68pp
Eric Rosenbaum website. Eric is one of the makers of Beetle Blocks. A very interesting person. He is also a co-creator of Makey Makey and is a digital music innovator. Click on the Media link to see his talks and papers.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

the raging Todd river

I heard thunderstorms all night last night. When I woke up I had received a message that school was closed for years 7-11 due to flooding in Charles Creek. I had never seen water in Charles Creek before. I went for a drive later and saw an IGA van stuck, directly outside the school.
When I drove down to Wills Terrace, the road was blocked. I parked and walked towards the river. There were people and police everywhere. I wasn't allowed close. An OLSH student pointed out a guy who was hanging onto a tree in the middle of the raging river, just to the left of the 2 metre flood sign. You can see him if you enlarge the photo. Someone said he had been there for 5 hours.
I went back later after he had been rescued. He had been standing on top of his wrecked car, which had been swept off the causeway:
I drove back to the school and took some more pics of the causeway there and a family having a swim:
Just had a look at some stats. In the last 24 hours there has been 70mm of rain. You have to go back 20 years to beat that (source)

update: Rainfall since 9am yesterday at #AliceSprings Airport is 95.8mm and rising. 24 hour rainfall has not been this high since 30 January 2001.

The Todd River
Three years in Alice

Friday, September 24, 2021

the 3 game changers: high level overview of the possibilities

The 3 game changers are: (i) block coding (ii) physical computing with microcontrollers such as the microbit (iii) Fabrication Labs, called Fab Labs if community based and Fab Learn Labs if school based.

The 5 types of machines found in a Fab Lab are laser cutter, 3D printer, vinyl cutter, CNC milling and digital embroidery machines.

Here are some possible outcomes that I am seeking support to create. They can be framed as community initiative or school based initiative. The educational and community goals overlap and reinforce each other. They are synergistic.

1) Campaign for an Alice Community Fab Lab (open to the community). This would be great for Alice Springs but also for your town / city where ever it is
The Fab Foundation
Welcome | FabLabs

2) School based Fab Learn Lab (same sorts of machines but desktop variety and school based)
FabLearn Digital Fabrication in Education
FabLearn Labs are a growing network of educational digital fabrication spaces around the world. These labs, developed in collaboration with K12 schools and university partners internationally, put digital fabrication and other cutting-edge technology for design and construction into the hands of middle and high school students.
- source
3) Introduce new subjects at primary, secondary and tertiary level into the existing curriculum based on the
  • 3 game changers (block coding, physical computing with microcontrollers, Fab Lab, and
  • 5 types of machines: laser cutter, 3D printer, vinyl cutter, CNC milling, digital embroidery)
I have provided a list of possible new subjects, many of which have already been well developed. My list will grow further as I deepen my knowledge about the third game changer.

4) A Fab Lab or Fab Learn lab can be introduced incrementally machine by machine spelling out how they meet local needs.
Eg. The Fab Lab in India, Vigyan Ashram grew out of and was synergistic with local work performed earlier by Yogesh Kulkarni

5) Significant structural curriculum reform in schools. Everyone knows there has been a computer revolution but many schools, in fact most schools, have yet to figure out how this revolution can enhance student learning in amazing ways. We have been procrastinating for 50 years now. The Constructing Modern Knowledge group has been leading the way here, see CMK Press – Invent To Learn. Interestingly, I recently discovered that Kurt Seemanns one of the founders of the Centre for Appropriate Technology in Alice Springs has been promoting similar ideas for a long time, which he calls Technacy.

Related: Your town needs a community Fab Lab

Monday, September 20, 2021

21st Century Curriculum

Is 21st Century computational education happening in your school?

The 3 game changers are coding, physical computing and the fab lab or maker space. I agree with this insight which comes from Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager in Invent to Learn. I argue that to have a genuine 21st C education your school has to understand and grasp these game changers firmly and run with them.

I describe below possibly courses which constitute school curriculum reform informed by these game changers. Some could be taught as standalone subjects, others could become part of a curriculum integration endeavour, combining various existing subjects. This list by no means exhausts the possibilities. As I learn more about the third game changer (fabrication) the list will grow.

These curriculum offerings can be classified in various ways:
  • appeal to students in general;
  • appeal to girls (who have missed out in the past);
  • appeal to groups of special interest (indigenous, the disadvantaged);
  • which traditional subjects are integrated;
  • hardware and software requirements.

Perhaps I could do that next time. For now I’ll just stick to listing and briefly describing the courses.

1) Scratch Story Telling:

The core idea is that Scratch multimedia coding is for telling stories in an interesting and entertaining way. I have developed several iterations of a short course I teach to Year 7s: Scratch course new upgrade

2) Snap! Build Your Own Blocks

Scratch is great for a quick and relatively easy start to coding but you still meet computer guys who regard it as a mickey mouse language since certain features are missing. With SNAP! you retain the block code (which makes it easier to learn) and all data types are first class. See Ch IV of the Snap Reference Manual for the detail.

I have started and enjoyed the SNAP “Beauty and Joy of Computing” course more than once without finishing it

There are other SNAP courses available at openSAP:
Get Coding with SNAP!
From Media Computation to Data Science

3) Turtle Art: Web browser version
Students like this arty version of logo a lot! So far I have used this in two ways:
(a) Bottom up – draw a square, then work out how to draw various regular polygons, then explain how the colours work etc
(b) Top down. Give students the code of an attractive finished product. Copy the code to make it. Students love doing this because the final products are so attractive. The cards I use come from a link to a pdf in this article by Gary Stager Turtle Art Software

4) ArtBotics with the Hummingbird Bit

I put a proposal to my school for a new course, called Artbotics, a combination or portmanteau of Art and Robotics. The course application was successful. Gender balance is important so the outcomes do not reflect “toys for the boys”. The art and craft components of the projects should have appropriate weight. Artbotics rather than robotics. Build provocative, tangible sculptures with robotic actuation and sensing

This wasn’t my original idea but came from a PhD thesis by Debra Bernstein which is available at the BirdBrain site.

Follow this link for the sorts of things that can be made. I have built a couple of machines with my own copy of the Hummingbird Bit

5) Makey Makey activities

I am in the process of compiling Makey Makey activities (banana piano, cardboard guitar, tin drum, egg container organ) and trialing them with indigenous students at Polly Farmer. They are popular.

Jay Silver’s PhD Lens x Block: World as Construction Kit thesis words, "World as Construction Kit", are a good introduction to what he is trying to achieve.

6) Android phone App Development with MIT App Inventor

I’ve written several apps for my phone with this block coding language. These include apps you can draw with (Digital Doodle), a game (Pong), a quiz (about US Presidents) and music (xylophone). I then wrote a more ambitious app to help users pronounce Arrernte words, the local language here in Alice Springs (Mparntwe).

7) Maker Course for the Circuit Playground Express (CPX)

This course, developed by Rob Morill, contains 12 guided projects. I have made several of these with Year 7 students successfully (Light Box, Balance Board, Helmet, Fabric Friend, Gondola and Light Bot) and use them for demos when explaining the benefits of the CPX.

8) Micro:bit course
This Microsoft course is targeted to middle school grades 6-8 (ages 11-14 years)

9) CSDT (Culturally Situated Design Tools)

This site starts with artistic themes, most of them of indigenous origin, and then develops computer algorithms to develop them on the screen. Snap! is often used here. In some cases the art is then converted from digital form to physical form, for example, by etching with a laser cutter.

I have developed one CSDT exemplar of my own using a Papunya Tula art theme of dotted circles.

10) Computer Game Making

a) This is an oldie but goodie since most students like computer games. I developed a course years ago using Game Maker software, developed by Mark Overmars. Game Maker was great but, being a FOSS advocate (Free and Open Source Software) I lost interest after he sold it to a proprietary company. You can also make computer games using Scratch (although not as exciting as Game Maker for that purpose) and I offer that as an extension in my Scratch course above (Make either pong, flappy bird or a maze game).

b) MakeCode Arcade
Microsoft MakeCode Arcade is a web-based beginner-friendly code editor to create retro arcade games for the web and for microcontrollers
Go to Documentation for links to courses, tutorials, lessons and much more
Go to hardware to see the boards on which MakeCode Arcade games run. There are 13 listed at this point, I have one of them, the BrainPad Arcade.

c) Minecraft
Introduction to Computer Science with MakeCode for Minecraft
This is a semester-long course targeted at middle school grades 6-8, as an introduction to Computer Science

11) MicroBlocks, the Internet of Things(IOT) and Raspberry Pi

The developers of MicroBlocks include the lead developers of Scratch (John Maloney), SNAP! (Jens Monig and the Hummingbird Bit (Tom Lauwers) About - MicroBlocks so that alone should tell you that MicroBlocks is special. I had to read an article by John Maloney before I understand how it was special. MicroBlocks supports both live programming and autonomous operation. Users can see and test code changes immediately, yet their code continues to run when the microcontroller is untethered from the host computer

The Activity cards are here. Note that some activities involve the WebThings Gateway on Raspberry Pi.

12) Digital wearables or E Textiles

Stitching the Loop is a fully developed course in E Textiles in which students explore electronic textiles (e-textiles): articles of clothing, accessories, or home furnishings with embedded electronic and computational elements. It meets design, hands on and curriculum integration criteria. For more information watch the video first and then follow the links. Course developers include Jane Margolis who has written a book about why disadvantaged groups don’t get access to computer skills (Stuck in the Shallow End) and Yasmin Kafai who has co-authored a book about why children need to learn programming (Connected Code: Why Children Need to Learn Programming)

Video: Stitching the Loop
Introducing: E-Textiles – Exploring Computer Science
E-Textiles Curriculum & Projects – Exploring Computer Science

I’ve also bought a book by Sahrye Cohen and Hal Rodriguez: Make It, Wear It: Wearable Electronics for Makers, Crafters and Cosplayers (2018) which combines electronics with fabrication technologies such as 3D printers and laser cutters to produce wearable products. Actually, the most commonly mentioned machine in this book is the sewing machine. Just to give you a taste the projects include a Fiber Optic Fabric Scarf, a LED Matrix Purse and others.

13) Tape Blocks
TapeBlock: Creative Circuit Making for All
Creative Circuit Making for All: Including People Living with a Disability
Developed by Dr Kirsten Ellis

I have used these with a Year 7 Down Syndrome girl and she could build and decorate a circuit and explain how it worked. Much more can be done which is outlined at the TapeBlock site.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Thoughts on reading Paulo Blikstein (the founder of the Fab Learn Schools Movement)

This article then is not a summary but thoughts arising from a 2013 article by Paulo Blikstein. First, a couple of starting assertions:

(1) We, humans, are homo faber (Latin for Man the Maker), the concept that human beings are able to control their fate and their environment as a result of the use of tools.

Making and the ability to make is a good thing. Although bad things can be made and most things can be used in a bad way, there is a general link between progress and making. I’m simply asserting this here as true. I have argued the case in the past (see reference) and am happy to continue the argument for those who want to argue.

It follows on from this (a corollary) that an enhanced ability for individuals or small groups to make can transform or at least complement commercial consumption. You may want to tweak the commercial design in a way that suits your needs, functional or aesthetic. You might think of a new design that hasn’t been produced yet. Or there may be local shortages or special needs or delays in a world ravaged by a pandemic.

(2) The other starting point is that new things replace or transform old things. We have known this for a while now. I grew up in a world without the internet or smart phones. They represent the first two digital revolutions: (i) Following Moore’s law computers shrank from house size to pocket size (ii) Internet revolutionised communication, cost and abundance of information and storage. Those revolutions continue. Most people want to jump onto those revolutions. They are overwhelmingly seen as a good thing.

The third digital revolution is the Fab Lab. This was developed by Neil Gershenfeld (from 2003) and then brought into schools by Paulo Blikstein (from 2008). Since then Fab Labs have been growing exponentially. Some might argue that this is a wrong reading of recent history and the future. There might be other legitimate candidates for the next digital revolution. Once again, argument is welcome.

So, why was the Fab Lab born? Because these things are desirables for self directed making:
  • Design skills
  • Powerful, multifunctional machines at reduced cost. There are 5 main types of machines involved: Vinyl cutter, 3D Printer, Digital Embroidery, Laser cutter and CNC machines
  • Open source hardware and software

Blikstein’s article is worth reading for the discussion of the rocky path of the birth and evolution of Fab Labs in more detail.


If schools value an activity then they build a space for it: Science labs, PE spaces, computer labs etc. A Fab Learn lab doesn’t have to have all the capabilities of a full Fab Lab, but needs to have enough to put students onto that pathway. The space needs to be created. Then we can argue about the detail of what goes in there, what training is required etc.

Paulo Blikstein provides a theoretical base for this movement. He links Dewey (experiential learning) to Friere (cultural based learning) to Papert (constructionism). I’m well read in Papert but only know a little about Dewey and Friere. I plan to read another Blikstein article where he discusses Friere in more detail. See references.

Some good points made by Blikstein about the potential and dangers of introducing Fab Learn Labs to schools are summarised below. Read his article for much more detail.

Everyone has some experience in making. Hence, the Fab Learn approach augments existing skills and hence provides a solid starting point for nearly all students.

The new machines mean that to a large extent digital work replaces manual work in the making process. This creates opportunities to transform the “toys for boys” situation which prevails in most maker spaces.

You can make things with cardboard, true. The new machines mean you are making a more professional, durable, aesthetic and satisfying product

It is highly desirable that school curriculum be transformed (project based learning and a merging of subject domains) and that longer time slots be introduced to allow for completion of complex projects. Existing time slots (eg. 60 minute lessons) can be seen as more efficient but force the teacher to provide lots of scaffolding to get the job done. Learning new skills, some of them complex, properly always involves error correction and this takes more time.

The process of designing and making something you want to make provides a great boon for motivation and involvement. It also introduces the risk of despair when things go wrong. This does represent a transformation of a common school practice where things are sometimes (often?) dumbed down to a point where failure is rare.

In any school process there is always the danger of trivialisation. This can arise from both students and teachers, eg. Keep making keychains on the 3D printer rather than a more challenging task. The role of the teacher is to steer learners towards complexity.

Digital Fabrication and ‘Making’ in Education: The Democratization of Invention (2013) by Paulo Blikstein

Travels in Troy with Friere: Technology as an agent in emancipation (2008) by Paulo Blikstein (I’ve promised myself to read that)

Meaningful Making Books 1 & 2 (free to download!)

Some old articles I wrote about technology and progress:
Technology and indigenous progress
Technology as Trickster, revisited

Monday, July 19, 2021

dotted circles revisited

Roughly 18 months ago I did a SNAP! Project (“dotted_circles”) which was inspired by and partially imitated some aspects of Papunya Tula art.

This resembles a small portion of a work by Charlie Wartuma Tjungurrayl, Untitled, 1985, (from p. 2 unique perspectives)

I'm revisiting because I cited this work, with a link, in an article, The Wider Walls, I wrote for a book which will soon be published. But when I revisited the linked to SNAP! page (dotted_circles_6) I discovered some problems.

First, you have to turn on JavaScript extensions

Second, the User Interface (UI) is so poor that I had difficulty myself working out how to draw a reasonable dotted_circles art piece. This is because, in that iteration, I gave the user more control in an attempt to more closely imitate aspects of Papunya Tula art works. The user has to draw the circles one by one changing the settings of radius, colour and any others as they go along.

So, what I've done is a new imitation from the ”Unique Perspectives” art book as an exemplar. By explaining the exemplar, I hope that will help the user figure out how to do a more varied piece of digital art.

I'll explain the code of the exemplar in some detail below.

The latest dotted circle I've done is dotted_circles_7

Partial imitation of an art work by Pinta Pinta Tjapanangka, Untitled, 1998 (p.23 unique perspectives)
  • Go to settings and turn on JavaScript extensions first
  • Press space bar to run the exemplar
I've used the “build your own blocks” feature to break it down into three parts:
Here is the code explained part by part
hide the dot (it still draws when hidden and we don't want a black dot when we are finished)
clear the page
set the pen to dark grey
lift the pen (don't want a line drawn yet)
go to the centre
set pen size to 600 (large, to fill the whole screen)
pen down
move 0 (the pen will draw even with move 0)

set the pen to mustard colour (#56)
dot size 10, lumpiness 2 (lumpy is more realistic)
move 0 (draw the centre dot)

set current_radius to 15
set dot_spacing to 10
pen up
set number_dots to dot_number
(dot_number is calculated by 2*pi*R / dot_spacing)
the next repeat draws the circle dots with the intended dot spacing and lumpiness
then increase the radius by 10
repeat a total of 8 times, each time the radius increases and the number of dots increases, while the spacing remains roughly the same (not quite though because of the dot lumpiness)

If you are curious about how the new blocks were made in Snap! then right click > edit on them. You will see, for example, that
dot_number = 2*pi*inner_radius / dot_spacing,
... mmm... inner_radius should have been called current_radius. So the dot_number is worked out for each new circle as the radius expands.

Snap! used to be called Build Your Own Blocks, which is one of its great strengths.

Dotted Circle Samples
Culturally Situated Design Tools: Dotted Circles Exemplar version 2

Saturday, July 17, 2021

your town needs a community Fab Lab

My town being Alice Springs

1) What is a Fab Lab?

A Fab Lab is a place where it becomes possible to make (almost) anything. Due to falling costs what was previously done by big corporations is now becoming accessible to everyone. The Fab Lab Charter insists that they are open to the whole community.

Here are the types of machines found in a fab lab:
  • Vinyl cutter
  • Laser cutter
  • 3D printer
  • CNC machines
  • Digital Embroidery machines

The killer app is personal fabrication, the ability to make what you can't buy in a store

Fab labs communicate with other fab labs around the world. Design can be local with global help. The making is local.

Fab Labs have been growing exponentially around the world since the first one was developed by Neil Gershenfeld in 2005. There are now roughly 2000 fab labs in the world, 6 in Australia and none in the Northern Territory.

The cost of a fully equipped Fab Lab is roughly $100,000 plus a technician & manager's wages

2) How would a Fab Lab benefit Your Town?

It would be a hub for Learning (exchanging ideas and skills), Training, Innovation, Design and Manufacture. This is a combination of things that are sometimes difficult to achieve but also highly engaging. Engagement breeds motivation. It requires informed leadership and planning for it to work. But the experience world wide shows that it is doable.

Here are some of the possibilities:
  • Produce meaningful things for personal use. Sale is also possible.
  • Recycling “junk”into useful products
  • Tap into the 21st C learning pathways being developed by future thinking schools (block coding, microcontrollers and digital fabrication)
  • Help to put disadvantaged youth onto a meaningful path

One of the many implications of COVID is the need for manufacturers to become less dependent on long supply chains spread over the globe. The Fab Lab succeeds brilliantly here with its emphasis on its ability to make almost anything locally. Fab Labs have helped manufacture essential equipment during the COVID crisis.

More can be written about how anyone can buy into the Fab education process, with the Fab Lab being an endpoint.

3) Some other selected information of interest

Location of Fab Labs in Australia: Melbourne, Ballarat, Adelaide, Sydney, Perth and Brisbane (source)

In 2014 the Mayor of Barcelona pushed a button to start a 40 year countdown to urban self sufficiency. The aim is that the city can produce what it consumes. This is an illustration of the Fab City movement.

Fab Labs have been utlised to help at risk youth eg. South End Technology Centre, Boston; Incite Focus, Detroit, USA

Following on from the success of the Fab Lab movement the FabLearn movement was launched in schools by Paulo Blikstein in 2008

Neil Gershenfeld describes Fab Labs as the 3rd digital revolution, the first two being (1) the shrinking of computers to the size of smart phones and (2) the Internet. He provides the stats to show that Fab Labs are growing exponentially from 2005 until now.

The Fab Foundation site has a detailed spreadsheet showing the equipment and costs of setting up

Computing tends to be dominated by boys. The Fab Lab machines shifts the tradition tech environment more towards software design skills. Moreover, curriculum can be orientated to encourage girls, eg. Digital wearables.

Mobile Fab Labs have been used to extend the hands on learning and capacities of a stationary Fab Lab to a larger audience of users. (more information)

Fab Foundation
Fab Labs
Gershenfeld, Neil; Gershenfeld, Alan; Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld. Designing Reality: How to Survive and Thrive in the Third Digital Revolution (2017)
MIT Professor Neil Gershenfeld on How to Make Anything (Almost). (video, 28 minutes, 2023)
Gershenfelds. The Promise of Self Sufficient Production (2021)
Coronavirus tracking project for fab lab network development and deployment
Gershenfelds. Soon You’ll Be Able to Make Anything. It’ll Change Politics Forever (2018)

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

the urgent question of 21st C education

It seems I discovered the answer before I could formulate the question clearly. Will forming the questions clearly create more uptake of the answer. The question becomes:

How do we educate all youth (including the disadvantaged) along an engaging and productive pathway?

Call that the urgent question of 21st C education, especially in Alice Springs where everyone is complaining about out of control and violent youth.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

learning to solder at 74 yo

Well, you have to have a good reason, the right frame of mind, to learn something new.

Slowly it dawned on me that maker ed was the way to go for both school and community reform for the 21st C.

Soldering, although not absolutely essential, was a highly desirable skill, that would extend my ability to make new things. I'm still at the stage of making things driven by microcontrollers and soldering is required quite often for that.

So, right frame of mind, tick.

Next, you need good tools. I wasn't too sure what tools exactly but over a period of time of exploring the adafruit site, that became clearer. I have now ordered these tools for myself. In the interim because we setup a new Artbotics course at school and ordered tools for that I have access to those tools right now (all prices in USD)
  • Hakko FX 888D soldering station $129.95
  • Hakko 20-30 AWG wire strippers $14.95
  • Flush diagonal cutters CHP170 $7.25
  • Helping third hand magnifier $6.00
  • solder sucker $5.00
  • Multi coloured heat shrink various sizes $4.95
  • solder wick $3.00
  • Simple pliers $3.00
  • TOTAL USD$174.10
  • ROUGHLY AUD$226 (multiply USD * 1.3 exchange rate)

Good tools, tick

There is still a lot of hands on learning to do. Fortunately, there are excellent resources including YouTube videos out there.

I read the Hakko Soldering Station Instruction Manual and took notes. I read some online tutorials and watched some YouTube videos.

I did the same for wire stripping techniques. Check the leads you have bought for wire thickness in AWG (American Wire Gauge)

I practised with joining 2 bits of copper wire together, using the helping hand.

My first real soldering job was wiring up a GEMMA M0 to a neopixel LED dots strand for the neopixel fairy crown project. This one is relatively easy since the holes on the GEMMA are so big.

My next job was to achieve through hole soldering for the neopixel jewell 10 minute necklace. The holes on the jewell are much smaller and the solder is meant to fill the holes. If you are a beginner, like me, don't be fooled by the racy video which shows the whole thing being made in 10 minutes. It took me 2 days!

By the time I started the neopixel jewell soldering I had become a little complacent and overconfident and so made a complete botch of it. There were 3 leads of hook up wire to solder. One of them I fluked but for the others the solder didn't go into the holes and there were big blobs on the surface. I wish I had taken a pic to show you but probably it was too much of a shame job!

I hadn't learnt the technique. It's a matter of paying ATTENTION, close attention to what is being displayed in the YouTube videos.

Initially, I thought it was a disaster. But luckily I had a thin blade in my flat and realised I could clean up the mess with a bit of scraping.

In attempting to learn the technique, I drew some pictures in my notes. From what I had read and watched I thought I was meant to simultaneously heat up the metal pad around the hole, the lead or wire going into the hole and the solder itself. ie. don't just heat the solder, heat all the parts that need to join together.

I tried this a few times but it didn't work! The solder didn't melt even when I turned up the temperature of the iron to 400 degrees C.

Eventually, I realised, that the tip of the iron didn't generate enough heat to warm everything up. The instructions hadn't said this but when I went back and rewatched the videos I could see it was more like this, heating with a broader section of the iron.

This was the biggest hurdle I had to jump (so far) in learning to solder.

I learnt to slow down, take it step by step and refer back to the experts on YouTube whenever a problem arose.

My final neopixel jewell, wired up to a GEMMA M0, looks like this.

The final product of course doesn't show the trials and tribulations I went through.

At the end my feelings were part punching the air triumphant and part relieved that I had jumped what was for me a high hurdle.

Ultimately, to learn a new technique, to learn something new, you need to be motivated by a goal you want to achieve. For me that goal is to become a 21st C maker. That goal is a motivator to persevere and keep learning when difficult problems arise.

I'm wondering how I can communicate these lessons to my students when I go back to teach.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Turtle Art web browser version

I've written about the beauty of Turtle Art in the past. I learnt recently, via Gary Stager's blog (here), that a web browser version has now been released. It's a beta.

As a refresher, I made square which rotates around a vertex and changes colour:

They have a new feature where you can save as a SVG, creating a workflow for digital fabrication tools. I found this to be buggy still. When I tried to save Hairline it slowed down my browser and then froze the page. Later, I found this comment in the Help:
"The TurtleArt Converter is an experimental feature. We update the version regularly" (p.13)
To upload a previously completed project you drag and drop the PNG file onto the workspace. I had to read the Help to figure that out.

Samples provides a useful learning sequence, which starts like this. The developers (Brian Silverman and Paula Bonta) know how to teach.
Exemplar # 1 uses forward, right, repeat and clean to draw a 10 pointed star
Exemplar # 2 shows how a slight variation in the first exemplar produces a different pattern
Exemplar # 3 shows us how to modularise the code by naming stacks. This made me think I should redo my example above so that the main procedure calls a square procedure:
Help is useful, very clear, well written with timely graphics. Here are some things I learnt from Help:
  • p.3 click and hold a block to see what it does
  • p.5 describes a cool way of adding an input (box1, box2 or box3). Drop it on a named hat. Then alter the relevant numbers to the desired input (eg. box1). Then use the hat control block (automatically generated when you name a hat) to specify the inputs you want. I used this method to make circles which vary in radius
As already mentioned the Web Turtle Art Converter is still buggy in my Firefox browser.

However, I didn't know anything about drawing machines so I looked up axidraw which was mentioned in the Help (p.11). This provides another new way to bring maths to life! The AxiDraw v3, USD$475 is their most popular model. More details here.

Gary also provided a link to an Exploratorium article which describes the workflow from Turtle Art to the Vinyl cutter. More maths for the 21st C here!

The search for all the articles I have written about Turtle Art: here

Thursday, July 08, 2021

My publications about the 3 game changers of 21st Century learning

These are my more substantial, big picture, publications, gathered in one place:

innovation meets resistance: the war between ancients and moderns

Own your own factory, that makes more factories (March 2022)

Organising a 3D printer building activity(January 2022)

the 3 game changers: high level overview of the possibilities (September 2021)

21st Century Curriculum (September 2021)

Thoughts on reading Paulo Blikstein, the founder of the Fab Learn Schools Movement (August 2021)

The Wider Walls in a book commemorating the 50th anniversary of the seminal paper by Cynthia Solomon and Seymour Papert, “Twenty Things to Do with a Computer.

Your town need a community Fab Lab (July 2021)

Maker Space and Middle School Curriculum Reform (June 2021)

Culturally Situated Design Tools: Dotted Circles Exemplar (December 2019)

The three game changers and disadvantaged youth (Nov 2019): presented to and discussed with Leon Tripp, Regional Youth Programs Coordinator, Southern Region, Department of the Chief Minister and Cabinet

Digital Innovation in Secondary Schools (July 2019) Submission to The Education and Health Standing Committee (a committee of the Western Australian Legislative Assembly) inquiry into Digital Innovation in Secondary Education

The teaching of coding (Jan 2019)

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

musical glove with the CPX

  • The notes play a regular pattern at whatever pitch: 1 beat, half beat, quarter beat, rest quarter beat, quarter beat, rest quarter beat, 1 beat, rest half beat.
  • Twist hand to the right increases the pitch
  • Twist hand to the left decreases the pitch
  • Tempo starts at 120 bpm
  • Tilt hand up from wrist increases tempo by 20 bpm
  • Tilt hand down from wrist decreases tempo by 20 bpm
  • Loudness starts at 128
  • Shaking increases loudness by 30
  • Turning hand face up decreases loudness by 30

This is a great tutorial by Kathy Ceceri. In turn Kathy's inspiration was Imogen Heap who pioneered the MiMu Gloves.

Here is an Imogen Heap TEDX talk about and demonstration of the gloves: Sculpting Music with Mi.Mu Gloves

Given that the MiMu gloves cost 1,299 pounds for one and 2599 pounds for a pair this one is a poor persons version. The end product sound is not quite as good ;-) but the concept is brilliantly illustrated.

The making part is straightforward. I bought a cheap pair of leather riggers gloves at Bunnings and attached the CPX with some velcro. I want to clip the battery pack onto my belt so the only other piece of equipment was a JST battery extension cable.

The coding is the more interesting / challenging part of this project. You start with a single note (for instance, middle C) and can vary up to four things: the pitch, duration of the note, tempo (the default is 120 bpm) and volume (ranges from 0 to 255). My simpler version, so far, just varies 3 of those things, the pitch, tempo and volume. Follow the link to Kathy's instructions for varying the note duration as well.

Setup code, you need to make a "loudness" variable:

Tilt the fingers / hand up or down to change the tempo:

Map the sideways tilt (angular pitch) to the frequency (musical pitch) of the notes. I mapped a maximum tilt to the left (+90 degrees) to Low C (represented by the number 131) and a maximum titl to the right (-90 degrees) to High B (represented by the number 988):
(Click on this image for a closer view of how the map function works)

Use some remaining hand motions (shake and face down) to change the volume. For this I created the variable "loudness":
Finishing touches, I've just focused on the core functionality for now. I could:
  • make the neopixels light up in different ways depending on the hand motion (update 11/9/21 I've set the photon hue trail to the tempo value and paused the photon by 500 msec as it travels. I'm getting a nice range of photon trail colours as the tempo changes.
  • add a small speaker to make the sounds louder (I have ordered some from adafruit)(update 11/9/21 I've hacked some speakers through the A0 speaker pin to the speaker jack, this improves the sound since the CPX speaker is too soft
  • incorporate the note duration features as suggested by Kathy, the author of the adafruit tutorial (update 11/9/21 I've copied Kath's suggestions here so now have 4 variables: the pitch, duration of the note, tempo (the default is 120 bpm) and volume (ranges from 0 to 255)
The notes play a regular at whatever pitch: 1 beat, half beat, quarter beat, rest quarter beat, quarter beat, rest quarter beat, 1 beat, rest half beat.
Twist hand to the right increases the pitch
Twist hand to the left decreases the pitch
Tempo starts at 120 bpm
Tilt hand up from wrist increases tempo by 20 bpm
Tilt hand down from wrist decreases tempo by 20 bpm
Loudness starts at 128
Shaking increases loudness by 30
Turning hand face up decreases loudness by 30