Sunday, January 31, 2021

digital smashes the banana

Jay Silver and Eric Rosenbaum on the origins of Makey Makey

I downloaded Jay Silver’s PhD thesis, Lens x Block, a while back and took some notes. When I came to the bit about “world as construction kit”, I thought, at last, a modern rationale for the Maker Movement. This feeling has persisted, that Jay explains it deeply, whilst others who are great practitioners haven’t found the right words. They use more mundane rationales, such as “we are all makers”.

I won’t try to summarise all my notes to Jay’s PhD here but was reminded of them when I read the Forward to the book by Colleen and Aaron Graves about the Makey Makey.

It took me a while to buy my own Makey Makey because initially I thought it could be just a gimmick without much real depth. But once you realise that the concept is for the digital to smash the banana then that all changes.

I’ll just extract a few words, from the above mentioned Forward, from Jay Silver and Eric Rosenbaum, the inventors of Makey Makey below to illustrate.

We were super obsessed with the everyday world, skin to skin contact, and touching things in nature ...

Scratch has this powerful flexibility and open endedness. We also wanted that kind of flexibility for physical stuff and how to hook things up in a super flexible way ...

Computation is the greatest practical power but it is tied up in coding. And coding has barriers to access no matter how simple you make it ...

We thought a lot about making things tinkerable. One way to do that is to make them really immediate, so you could try something and see its effects right away…. So the idea of the keyboard hack and making a device that thinks it’s a keyboard partly came from that...

In Lifelong Kindergarten (LLK) we’re obsessed with creating the building blocks and fingerpaints for people of all ages...
The reason we were in LLK was because we want to live in a world created by everybody. That can only be possible if you create tools that help people create the world and those tools are very easy to use.

I think this video presents the best rationale for the modern maker movement that I’ve seen Hack a banana, make a keyboard (NY 2013)

"what kind of tools can we give adults who know too much ..."
“Let us smash computers with everyday objects…”
“the world as construction kit”


Graves, Colleen and Aaron. 20 Makey Makey Projects for the Evil Genius (2017), Foreward.

Lens x Block: World as Construction Kit (Jay Silver’s PhD Thesis)

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

making an arduino lilypad monster

I heard about Leah Buechley’s program to make electronics and coding more available to girls and women through linking it to fabric design. So I bought a copy of her Lilypad kit through Sparkfun and her tutorial book, Sew Electric.

This one slowed me right down because I had to learn to sew and learn the Arduino interface C language, both of which I’ve avoided in the past.

During the Christmas holidays I jumped to the third tutorial, an interactive stuffed monster. A trip to Mad Harry’s to buy felt, stuffing and a few other goodies and I was good to go.

First step was design. Initially I designed my monster with 2 eyes but changed that to one when I realised there was only one LED in the kit.

The tutorial explained how to setup the circuits and how to get started on the sewing. I’m sewing with metal conductive thread. Doing the loop to obtain a knot was new to me. Also, I read a tip in another tutorial to put clear nail polish on the finished knots to prevent them fraying, so that’s important as well.

This picture shows the LED connected by conductive thread to the Lilypad Arduino SimpleSnap

Then I went to the Arduino site and copied the code to make the LED blink. Success!

Next step was to attach the speaker, more sewing and then code to make the monster sing! It worked!

For a minute I thought I was nearly finished. But the next section was to attach some Aluminium paws to the monster. So, I had to order some Heat n Bond online and wait for that to arrive. Then with the Heat n Bond I added 4 little aluminium paws to my monster!

Then I sewed more metal thread so the paws became a part of the circuit too. Then back to the Arduino site to do more coding, so that when you hold the paws the monster sings; when you let go the monster blinks.

Just about finished now. Sewed up the monster and added some stuffing. Then I made an eye, mouth and teeth and stuck them on.

Back view
Front view

The LilyPad system was designed by Leah Buechley while pursuing her Ph.D. in computer science at the University of Colorado Boulder. The commercial version of the kit, which launched in 2007, was collaboratively designed by Leah and SparkFun Electronics

The Lilypad was pioneering in its time but is a bit dated now. Next time I’ll make something using the CPX and Flora RGB neopixels from adafruit.

Sew Electric: A Collection of DIY Projects the combine Fabric, Electronics and Programming by Leah Buechley and Kanjun Qiu (2013)
Arduino create web editor
Spark fun Lilypad

Footnote: How the code works. The analogRead values of the circuit are roughly 1024 by default. When we hold the aluminium foil hands of our monster, this drops the analogRead values below 990. The Serial.println(sensorValue) part of the code was used to obtain these values through the serial port. We write an ifelse statement, so that, by default, the LED in the eye blinks but when we hold the monster's hands the song plays and the eye stops blinking, temporarily. This part of the code is shown below:

void loop() {
sensorValue = analogRead(aluminiumFoil);
Serial.println(sensorValue); //send sensorValue to computer
// touching the aluminium foil drops the analogRead value below 990
if (sensorValue < 990)

Saturday, January 23, 2021

building the Circuit Playground Express inch worm

This shows the potential to build simple cardboard robots with the Circuit Playground Express. It's a good place to start to illustrate the making side of the CPX.

The instructions here are comprehensive.

Materials: Cardboard 35x11 cm, Velcro, Duct tape, Scissors, Box cutter, Googly eyes, Paper clip (small)

Electronics: Circuit Playground Express; Battery pack, 3 xAAA with on/off switch; Micro servo; Alligator clips to male jumpers

When constructing the inch worm I had a few minor issues with the online instructions. I'll record them here:

To make sure I had the servo arm in the correct starting position I jumped ahead and wrote the code that moved the servo. Then set it up on the cardboard strip and ran the code to make sure it was moving as shown in the online video.

You need a small paper clip to connect the servo arm to the cardboard. The larger one I had was too thick to go through the holes on the servo arm.

I didn't have any strong adhesive dots, as recommended in the online materials, so for the servo and the battery I used duct tape. But use velcro for the CPX for ease of removing if you need to edit your code.

I did follow instructions for adding teeth and toes to the feet. It needs grip to move. But in the end my inch worm hardly moved on felt. But it did walk well on my work tray and I provided a downward slope, too, for the video shot.

Coding: The final code includes a clap (and finger click worked too) start, which is great.

Here are a couple of short videos showing my inch worm moving, with a finger click start. There is a deliberate 2 second delay while the lights flash before it moves off

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Round Square Scratch Coding Competition

I ran a Round Square Scratch Coding Competition for Year 7s at my school last year. My school is affiliated with the Round Square organisation.

It began with me providing a starter template:

I advised students to do letter magic with synchronisation, cloning, music and X factor to win the prize. The prize was a micro:bit. Any year 7 could enter at any time throughout the year. The criteria for winning was simply a quality entry as judged by me.

In the end there were 6 winning entries. I've put them all together in a Scratch studio for anyone to see. Go here.

Some great work by young students. Check it out!

Friday, January 15, 2021

scratch course upgrade

I'm sticking with the story theme which is certainly possible even for introductory projects.

Art has more of a place! I've noticed that quite a few students spend a lot of time tweaking the looks of their sprites and backgrounds. So, here and there, I've encouraged that. Although, overall, I'm far more focused on the coding I am keen to encourage the artistic flair as well.

I’ve upgraded use of the music extension tools, showing how to make your own music. In the past I just used random, which I now see as a copout. I’m also trying to get them to tinker more, not just copy what I have done. Of course, that will have to be reinforced more in class.

Weird animals: The cat barks and the dog meows. Rearrange some body parts too.

Speak: The cat changes into a horse. This introduces the text to speech extension. There is a little action before and after.

Rooster wakes up Frank: Shows how to send a message from one sprite to another to co-ordinate the action

Cat glides to mouse: To show how the glide block works in an interesting way. This time I plan to quiz the students more to check their understanding of Cartesian co-ordinates

Teleport: How to switch backdrops and code the stage

Interactive whirl: Painful things happen to the squirrel when you move the mouse. I have introduced a 2 colour gradient background so more students will utilise that feature in their own projects later

Dance then add a sound: Dance character, code the stage and add your own voice

Ten blocks challenge: Time for students to have a go at creating their own stuff, using these ten blocks: go to, glide, say, show, hide, set size to, play sound until done, when this sprite clicked, wait, repeat

Create a project using only these 10 blocks. Use them once, twice, or multiple times, but use each block at least once

Two player maze game: Coding the arrow and WSAD keys to setup a game.

Scribble 1: Use the pen extension to create some random scribble

Scribble 2: Remix a more elaborate scribble program made by the teacher. Students are then invited to tinker with the background gradient, colour range, pen size range, lengths of lines and background music (stage code)

Twinkle Star: I show them the codes to make a nursery rhyme and then add an animation to illustrate

Previous course: introductory scratch projects with a story theme

Thursday, January 14, 2021

artbotics curriculum proposal

Here’s a proposal I put to my school about a new course, called Artbotics, a combination or portmanteau of Art and Robotics.

Proposal: That a new, experimental class be created to trial an integrated curriculum STEAM approach in the Middle School in 2021. This particular integrated curriculum would combine Science, Digital Technology, Engineering skills, Art and Maths in a Design, Make and Appraise format.

Curriculum Goals possibilities: Two possibilities are mentioned here: Students would be skilled up to the level where they can, usually working in a team, design and make projects that:
A) they find personally and / or socially meaningful. These projects will be displayed publicly as part of their evaluation
B) can be used to help educate other students. These projects will be evaluated by testing them against other students in a cross age tutoring context.

Implications: For it to work well these changes would need to be made:

  • Block times of 2 sequential lessons, eg. 2*2 = 4 lessons a week. Achieve more curriculum integration by having the same teacher(s) for the same class in Maths and / or Science and / or Art.
  • Team teaching desirable for upskilling of some other teachers
  • Projects involve planning, building, coding and testing. Necessary skills include problem solving, dealing with complexity, persistence in the face of difficulties, teamwork, communication and flexibility. Assessment should be structured against these traits.

Class composition: This could be Year 7 or Year 8. Or, vertically integrated across 7, 8 and 9 (possibly a gifted class). Or, an extension of the Polly Farmer concept into the mainstream curriculum (indigenous class).

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. The curriculum content can help build a gender neutral culture as follows:

  • Themes not just challenges
  • Encourage story telling
  • Exhibitions rather than competitions

Rationale: Different rationales can be argued:
1 The new literacy: Multimedia (music, sounds, animation) + block coding (eg. Scratch, Make Code etc. has become the new dominant literacy (replacing print). Everyone should have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the new literacy

2 The computing revolution has moved on. The new game changers are physical computing and fabrication labs (growing exponentially around the world). The inventor of Makey Makey, Jay Silver, expresses the movement of computer labs outwards in this way, “the world as a construction kit”

3 Anticipating the future:
“The future is here today: it’s just not very evenly distributed” William Gibson Fab Labs are the new big idea. A fully fledged Fab Lab is expensive but could be developed, with Government support, as a Community Drop in Centre. The global digital world interacts and informs the local physical world is where our society has evolved to. In one phrase: bits to atoms. This becomes more relevant in a post COVID world where human movement is restricted.  

Bernstein, Debra. Developing Technological Fluency through Creative Robotics (2010)
Cross, Jennifer. Identifying and Cultivating Diverse STEM Talent through Creative Robotics (2014)

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

don't separate the what from the how

Who is Mitch Resnick? He is a leader of the amazingly successful Scratch site, which has many millions of great projects developed by a mainly young community of coders. It also has a very well thought out interface which helps teachers like myself keep track of their classes and students work.

I'm summarising here some of Mitch Resnick’s insights into criteria to use in teaching digital technology:
  • The maker movement and the coder movement fosters creativity far more than using computers for delivering and receiving information
  • Computational participation is a better guiding framework than computational thinking. Computational participation is broader in that it includes personal expression, creative design and social engagement.
  • Our aim should be that our students think, “I want to do this!”, far more motivating than the self efficacy aim that our students think, “I can do this”
  • Curriculum reform ought to be changing what we teach, eg. design a project around an idea or interest, not only how we teach

These points can be combined with those made in an article by Mitch Resnick and Brian Silverman which I summarised 18 months ago (how to evaluate construction kits: ten design principles)

In that article I'm thinking, in particular, of point 2 wide walls; point 3 make powerful ideas salient, not forced; point 5 keep things as simple as possible; point 7 a little bit of coding goes a long way, and, point 10 iterate, iterate and iterate again as a design principle

Taken together, these points are a powerful critique of the ACARA curriculum guidance approach which read this way:


  • Design algorithms represented diagrammatically and in English, and trace algorithms to predict output for a given input and to identify errors (ACTDIP029)
  • Implement and modify programs with user interfaces involving branching, iteration and functions in a general-purpose programming language (ACTDIP030)

This could be critiqued as boring wooden language generalities but it's worse than that. ACARA tells us what without the how. The what and the how should not be separated but rolled together in an engaging package taking into account where the learner is starting from.

So, in practice, schools dodge around ACARA by tying up their teachers with mainly meaningless paper work for the audit and then if any energy and understanding is left over letting them get on with the interesting stuff.

So, what is both laughable and tragic is that Mitch Resnick still has to argue these principles with Mark Guzdial (who in the end admitted Resnick was correct) because in Guzdial's words the whole education system is permeated with the philosophy that Thorndike won, Dewey lost, that is we are stuck with standards based education, rather than education that stimulates the natural curiosity and capabilities of children.

Kafai, Yasmin B and Burke, Quinn. Connected Code: Why Children Need to Learn Programming (2014), Forward by Mitchel Resnick
The first goal of a CS course should be to promote confidence ...(see comments 2, 3, 11, 13, 14, 15 and 16 for discussion b/w Mitch Resnick and Mark Guzdial)
Thorndike won, Dewey lost

the real political problem in America

update Feb 14:
Go here for the full text of the letter by the former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund to Nancy Pelosi. Main points (1) Intelligence services did not anticipate a violent attack (2) the police chief's request for National Guard before the day was denied due to bad "optics". (3) the police chief's urgent request for National Guard on the day was held up for approval for 4.5 hours.

Such levels of incompetence are impossible to believe.

Ted Cruz wanted to question Nancy Pelosi about her knowledge of the above but Democrats decided not to continue with witnesses in the impeachment process.

update Feb 12:
Did you hear that a police officer, Brian Sicknick was bashed with a fire extinguisher during the Capitol riot and later died? It turns out that that was fake news. Nobody seems to know how he died or even when he died. Read this.

update Jan 27:
(14) Rand Paul pushing back on Democrats double standards about inciting violence: link

(13) Tulsi Gabbard (combat veteran Iraq war, Democrat, 2020 Presidential candidate, accused by Hilary Clinton of being a Russian asset):
"The mob who stormed the capitol to try to stop Congress from carrying out its constitutional responsibilities were behaving like domestic enemies of our country. But let us be clear, the John Brennan's, the Adam Schiff's, the oligarchs in Big Tech who are trying to undermine our consitutionaaly protected rights and turn our country into a police state with KGB style surveillance are also domestic enemies, and much more powerful and therefore dangerous than the mob who stormed the Capitol .... (cuts to John Brennan clip) ..."

(12) Capitol Police chief apologizes for security failures during the assault, including a delay in calling for Guard troops.
Yogananda D. Pittman, the acting chief of police, also confirmed that the Capitol Police Board, an obscure panel made up of three voting members, had initially declined a request two days earlier for National Guard troops and then delayed for more than an hour as the violence unfolded on Jan. 6 before finally agreeing to a plea from the Capitol Police for National Guard troops
(lots more detail in the article)

update Jan 25:
(11) Scott Adams listed 7 unanswered questions about the security of the US election system (link):
1) Has there ever been a large scale election fraud that was only discovered by chance? If so, does the opportunity for a similar fraud still exist?
2) Could a hacker with 'God Access' to election systems change a national election result in a big way that would be undetectable via recount, audit or any other method?
3) Would selective recounts and audits requested by the losing side be sufficient to detect fraud that could be spread across multiple precincts so as to look nothing like a good turn out?
4) Would the combination of physical ballot recounts plus statistical sampling to make sure that some number of individual ballots were valid, detect all forms of large scale fraud?
5) On a scale of 1-100%, how secure are our state election systems in terms of any opportunities for large scale national fraud?
6) Have US elections ever been rigged in ways that election officials never contemplated until it was discovered?
7) Have election EXPERTS seen any red flags for widespread fraud in the 2020 elections?

update Jan 21:
(10) Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (MI-13) led nine of her colleagues in sending a letter to Congressional leadership, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, urging that national security powers not be expanded in light of the attack on the U.S. Capitol that occurred two weeks ago, as such measures often lead to the erosion of Americans’ civil liberties.
Press release
Full text of letter

(9) Why the Dems impeached Trump a second time: to pressure him not to pardon Assange and Snowden
He believed it might swing a few Republican votes for the impeachment

update Jan 17:
(8) Video with commentary showing a highly organised group leading the break in to the Capitol building. They were not typical Trump supporters (dressed alike in black, wearing masks). Who were they? The commentator says antifa. What seems clear, from a variety of sources, is that nearly all the protesters were peaceful but there was also a highly organised, military style group of unknown origin, who came with a plan and equipment to break into the Capitol. Will we ever know who they were? They were wearing masks so harder to identify. Here is the video.

update Jan 16:
(7) Credible eyewitness account from Jan 6:
I saw provocateurs at the Capital riot on Jan 6
Summary: Police acted very strangely tear gassing a crowd who supported them; well organised provocateurs (political persuasion not known) led the attack.

This account seems to me to be consistent with Giuliani's (point (2) below)

(6) The true voice of the new elite ruling class in the USA, expressed by Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic, describing the people who went to the Capitol:

Here they were, a coalition of the willing: deadbeat dads, YouPorn enthusiasts, slow students and MMA fans. They had heard the rebel yell, packed up their Confederate flags and Trump banners and GPS-ed their way to Washington. After a few wrong turns, they had pulled up into the swamp with bellies full of beer and Sausage McMuffins, maybe a little high on Adderall, ready to get it done.
Glenn Greenwald comments on the above:
"[T]hese people know they are scorned and looked down upon...& the more you humiliate & make them feel powerless, the more you take away their ability to organize and express that rage, it's gonna find an outlet in more destructive ways."
(5) Manuel Lopez Obrador, President of Mexico:
“I can tell you that at the first G20 meeting we have, I am going to make a proposal on this issue,” López Obrador said. “Yes, social media should not be used to incite violence and all that, but this cannot be used as a pretext to suspend freedom of expression.”

“How can a company act as if it was all powerful, omnipotent, as a sort of Spanish Inquisition on what is expressed?” he asked.
- Mexican president mounts campaign against social media bans

(4) Profiles of some of the people who entered the Capitol on Jan 6th. Here. Note that some of them were not Trump supporters and played the role of provocateurs, see entries 6,7, 8, 9, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23. According to the last entry (23), John Sullivan may have been partly responsible for Ashli Babbit's death (10, 11)

(3) update Jan 14:
Just listened to a great podcast from Megyn Kelly, Tech Censorship And Independent Media, with Glenn Greenwald and the CEOs of Parler and Substack (2 hrs). She begins with her own analysis, then interviews John Matze, Parler CEO, then the CEO of substack, Chris Best and finally Glenn Greenwald. I found out a lot about Parler (not setup to be a right wing feed). At the end, Glenn Greenwald gives his opinion that the current craziness is a vengeful outpouring, built up since 2016, of those forces who saw their rightful ownership of the Presidency snatched away from them. Am I asking you to listen to a podcast that goes for a whole 2 hours? Yes, if you want to understand America, the world and freedom of speech.

I'll put this up now and add detail later if necessary. Glenn Greenwald correctly and succinctly identifies the real political problem in America at the moment:
Tech monopolies -- FB, Google, Apple, Amazon -- have more concentrated wealth & power than any in history. They have used brute force 3 times in 3 months to manipulate US politics: censoring NY Post, banning Trump, destroying Parler.

And liberals are overwhelmingly supportive.
- source
(2) I went to Rudy Giuliani's site to get his take. Then found that a video he had made about the January 6 Capitol protest has been censored by YouTube so he has republished it on rumble. So, better watch that one now before it disappears totally!

I watched it. Go here. I do think Rudy's analysis is important to obtain the full picture of what is happening. I'm not saying he is right, I can't tell, but do think he is very credible.

But one irritating issue is that his analysis is punctuated by ads. It destroys the ambience. He is discussing really important issues and it is broken up by adverts.

Anyway, Rudy was at the rally and did speak. He says there was no sign at the rally proper that there would be violence. The violence was planned beforehand and separate from the rally, he say, by antifa supporters. He presents evidence in his video in support of that claim.

One final thought here: What possible justification can YouTube have for censoring this video? They are Orwell's Thought Police, no other explanation.

Saturday, January 02, 2021

US elections: the Kraken?

update Jan 3: Ted Cruz and 10 other Senators will not endorse US Presidential election results (link to full statement)
"Voter fraud has posed a persistent challenge in our elections, although its breadth and scope are disputed. By any measure, the allegations of fraud and irregularities in the 2020 election exceed any in our lifetimes.

"And those allegations are not believed just by one individual candidate. Instead, they are widespread. Reuters/Ipsos polling, tragically, shows that 39% of Americans believe ‘the election was rigged.' That belief is held by Republicans (67%), Democrats (17%), and Independents (31%).
"Ideally, the courts would have heard evidence and resolved these claims of serious election fraud. Twice, the Supreme Court had the opportunity to do so; twice, the Court declined.

"On January 6, it is incumbent on Congress to vote on whether to certify the 2020 election results. That vote is the lone constitutional power remaining to consider and force resolution of the multiple allegations of serious voter fraud.
Congress should immediately appoint an Electoral Commission, with full investigatory and fact-finding authority, to conduct an emergency 10-day audit of the election returns in the disputed states. Once completed, individual states would evaluate the Commission's findings and could convene a special legislative session to certify a change in their vote, if needed.

"Accordingly, we intend to vote on January 6 to reject the electors from disputed states as not ‘regularly given' and ‘lawfully certified' (the statutory requisite), unless and until that emergency 10-day audit is completed.

"We are not naïve. We fully expect most if not all Democrats, and perhaps more than a few Republicans, to vote otherwise. But support of election integrity should not be a partisan issue. A fair and credible audit-conducted expeditiously and completed well before January 20-would dramatically improve Americans' faith in our electoral process and would significantly enhance the legitimacy of whoever becomes our next President. We owe that to the People.


We have been waiting a while (2 months) for reliable evidence to back the claim that the US election was stolen from Trump.

Providing some links here for such a claim and evaluation of that claim by Scott Adams. Adams is a Trump supporter who has spent time and energy debunking other such claims that initially looked credible.

1) Tweet from Rudy Giuliani, Jan 1, 2021 (link):
In a country with a free press, you would know:

1. The Georgia Senate Judiciary Committee issued a report demonstrating the vote was stolen from @realDonaldTrump .

2. The vote was unanimous and BIPARTISAN to audit Fulton County’s Absentee ballots.

3. And to de-certify Biden.
2) Summary of evidence (watch the 5 short videos) showing that votes were flipped from Trump to Biden by the computer system. The allegation is that the machines had a vulnerability and that Trump's votes declined and Biden's votes increased by the same amount at specific times. This should not be possible in a fair election.

update Jan 5: Data Integrity Group - Presentation to GA Senate Hearing 30 Dec 20 - Linda McLaughlin Data Analysis (14 min)

3) Scott Adams discusses the evidence here, watch from 18min 50 sec to 32 min. He points out that if this is not debunked within a day or two then it does discredit the whole US election process. If it was done in one place then obviously it could have been done in many places.