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)

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