End of an Era (Birth of a Spirit)

Well, class is over. My last post was all about what it took to complete the final project, which was a mad scramble. The lamp still isn’t quite working the way I would like it to, but I’ve got some time to tinker with it over the month of August, so I fully expect things to be complete very soon, at which time I will post pictures. The main thing I’d like to stress with this post, the last of this particular chapter, is that the making will continue, even though our class has ended.

This class awakened a maker spirit in all of the participants, and what’s great about that is that we will spread that spirit to others around us. The idea of a makerspace is really new to many of my friends and family, but almost everyone I explained it to got pretty excited. I got feedback like “Oh, cool, I’d like to use a 3D printer,” or “I wish my library had one of those,” or “Hey, I do stuff like that all the time–didn’t know it had a name!” I’ve been interested in the skills of many of my friends–whether they create clothing, make guitars in their garage, garden, build furniture, experiment with new recipes–the ideas are endless! We all have a maker in us, whether we call it that or not.

Fall will be jam packed with school assignments, work, holiday plans–but I already have ideas for more projects. I’d like to get back to cross-stitching, for instance, as I have a few pieces I’ve put on hold for years. I’d like to build some small pieces of furniture for my house. I know that my classmates all have plans like this, and I look forward to seeing what they produce.

Keep up the Maker spirit, folks! And keep writing about it; it’s up to us to spread the word.


A Light (or a Lamp) at the End of the Tunnel

Well, our class is coming to an end. I’m sad at the prospect, even though it will be nice to have two more evenings a week free. I liked the atmosphere in class–everyone helping each other and learning how to do new things. I’m really looking forward to our little Maker Faire this week, where everyone will present their ultra cool projects.

Mine (the lamp) had some ups and some downs. There was a lot of trial and error involved, some serendipity, and some disappointment. However:


Oh my goodness it works! Which makes me feel like:


Of course, this result did not come smoothly. First of all, my idea of creating a changeable fabric covering did not work the way that I planned. The snaps would not stick to the wood, even using Krazy Glue. Clearly a stronger adhesive was required, but I did not have one on hand. So my plan changed to gluing the fabric directly to the wooden frame. So in the future it could be changed, but it would be a little trickier.

Then, the worst part: my led strip, which lit perfectly before when connected to my salvage store purchased power supply, all of a sudden would not light. Double D’oh! It will light if I press on the area where the barrel plug connects to the led tape connector, but it’s not ideal. However, this is probably a sign that I need to keep working on a battery powered fix, which was my original intent anyway. For now, I’m going back to the salvage store and trading in the power supply–and this time I’ll bring the lamp for testing! I suspect it is a failure on that end and not in the led tape, as the power supply is older and had been stored with the cord very twisted. So we’ll see.

I’m still pretty darn giddy. My first major project, and it’s (mostly) a success! With a little experimentation, I expect to have an excellent final product very soon.


Hitting a Brick Wall of Doubt and Dismay

Well, my lamp design may be totally crazy after all. I can’t pretend I’m not disappointed; I thought it was a neat idea. I’m beginning to doubt that I have any of the knowledge that I need to create the project that I want to create. I knew frustration was inevitable, because I know nothing about wiring. Really. I can change a bulb, but I remember little to nothing about circuits from school. Kids, learn this stuff early! I took biology and chemistry, not physics, and I was never a kid who played with circuitry kits.

However: I’m determined to soldier on! I may have to change my approach. I still want to use my circular design, but I’m going to salvage what random pieces I can from a surplus store and Frankenstein my way into a new design. I’m also going to play with items that I already have around the house, like old Christmas lights, to see if another option might be to repurpose and recycle old stuff. The pillowcases I bought are also far too large for my purposes. I can still use them as pillowcases (never hurts to have extra), but I think that I will check remnant bins or thrift stores for the covering that I need. A child’s T-shirt might be just the thing.

I haven’t completely given up on the original plan, but it may take a lot of help and time. Unfortunately, with a busy schedule (even in summer!), time is something I don’t have a lot of.

So, to be continued…I’ll update soon with the results of my salvage operations.

Everything is Awesome! Adventures with 3D Printing, Vinyl Cutting, and Scratch

I’ve been awed this week at the level of creativity in our class. Seriously, we’ve all produced such diverse projects. I think I’ve seen many of the Maker Movement principles at work: the projects in class have been personally meaningful, and there is a big sense of play–people are excited and are feeding off of each other’s energy.

I mean, we watched the Lego Movie tonight, for pete’s sake! How can that not be fun?


All gushing aside, the three tools that we’ve learned to use are not only fun, but useful. The Silhouette Cameo can produce decals, stencils, parts for cardmaking and scrapbooking, and can even cut fabric if you have the right blade. The software is easy to use, and in a very short time I was able to create a really nice decal to give to a friend.

CAD software for 3D printing was a bit more tricky. We played around with TinkerCAD, which is free to download and pretty user friendly, although it might have been a little easier to use if I had a mouse to connect to my laptop–track pads are not the friendliest with that interface. Manipulating the shapes on the three-dimensional design space took practice, but eventually, I produced a design for what will eventually be a dishwasher magnet. You know, the “Dirty/Clean” type of thing that lets the household know what state the dishes are in. Mine says “Dirty” on one side and “Shiny” on the other, and emerged from the 3D Printer looking like this:


Here is the same piece from a few more angles:

IMG_0689 IMG_0688

All photos courtesy of Lydia Fasteland and her trusty phone–thanks, Lydia!

I plan on securing magnets to the back of the piece and painting the letters with bright nail polish so they will show up against the blue. It’s a rough little piece, but I’m pretty proud of my first try with the 3D printer!

We also learned some basic coding skills with Scratch this week. I had a fun time working on a few simple projects, and ended up making a rocketship that takes off once you give it the go-ahead. One of my classmates made a fun game where your ship (The Millennium Falcon in this case) maneuvers through an asteroid field, complete with Star Wars lines and sound effects. So fun! A neat thing about Scratch is the collaborative community of users online: they encourage sharing projects and remixing others’ work in order to perfect a game or animation. The program would be really fun to share with patrons in a library setting, and kids and adults would both get a kick out of seeing the results of their effort. The drag and drop nature of Scratch means that someone doesn’t have to know the intricacies of a programming language to create something interesting. I look forward to playing more with this program and trying different sequences of commands.

So, an entertaining and educational week in Content Creation! Stay tuned for next week, when I should have photos of my final project, the LED wall orb.

The Lamp Design Epiphany

It seemed like one of the hardest things about the final project for class would be to decide what to make. Making is such a wide open world, and there were so many things I was interested to learn that I had some trouble narrowing it down. For instance, while I would still like to build a cat tree, I’ve decided that it would be too time-consuming for the purposes of our final project. (In August, on the other hand…)

One night, while poking around online looking at ideas for a much-desired lamp for my bedroom, the perfect design slapped me in the face–something like this:

moon animated GIF

Well, obviously not the actual moon.

But I’d like something that will hang behind my bed, be relatively lightweight (so I can hang it with Command Strips or small nails), and not radiate much heat. So Sunday, it’s supply run time. I’m going to collect: embroidery hoops (2-3 depending on thickness), fabric to cover them (maybe even a cushion cover or something that I can easily change out to suit another decor), and some kind of LED strip or ribbon. Ideally, I’d like to be able to attach the LED’s to the inside of the hoop, and I’d like to get them to run from batteries rather than have to be plugged into the wall, although a socket is nearby. In a perfect world, I’d program the thing with Arduino so it could be controlled by remote, but that might be beyond my scope at the moment. The beauty of this project, and the maker movement in general, however, is that I may continue to come up with ideas for ways to hack my design and make it cooler.

The part of this project that I’m thinking will be the most difficult is making some kind of a switch that isn’t bulky or heavy. I’ve been trying to research LED strips and different ways to power them, and it’s going to be an education in electronics, I think. There are various ways to solder connections, although I’m a little wary. Since I don’t know really anything about electronics, I’m looking forward to gaining some new skills–without shocking myself too much, of course. Anyone who has expertise in this arena, drop me a line–I’d love to talk shop to make sure I don’t electrocute myself or burn down the house with my new lamp. 

Websites that have been huge inspirations for this: Instructables and Ikea Hackers. Lots of fabulous ideas, although nothing quite like what I want to do. Check these out if you haven’t already, they are terrific maker communities.

I’m very excited to start making, even though the prospect of frustration looms on the horizon.





Vegas, Baby! Or, My Trip to ALA Annual 2014

What does a weekend in Sin City have to do with our wonderful Maker class, you ask? When that weekend involves the crazy, overwhelming but ultimately inspiring time that is ALA Annual. I went with a group of LIS Katies, and while many of the sessions I attended focused on youth services and children’s/YA authors, a few also touched on making and makerspaces in libraries.

One session discussed the next iteration of teen spaces in the library (school or public) and actually ended up mostly focusing on maker labs. The session was led by Maureen Hartman from Hennepin County Library here in Minneapolis, and featured the Best Buy Teen Tech Center at Minneapolis Central, as well as a school library being built in Alabama, a teen learning lab in Memphis, TN, and the DreamYard Art Center in the Bronx, NY. I loved some of the points made during this session. For instance, the design of the newly constructed spaces was left pretty blank, letting the teens make it their own. Aaron from the Teen Tech Center talked about looking for activities “with a low floor and a high ceiling,” so that participants would not be intimidated by starting to learn a new skill, but that they could increase their skill level to a pretty high point.

As many of my classmates already know, I attempted to live tweet my final session from Monday. It was called We Make Everyday: How you’re (most likely) already doing the makerspace thing. Led by Amy Koester (a Children’s Librarian from the St. Charles City-County Library District near St. Louis) and Claire Moore (Head of Children’s Services from the Darien, CT Library), this “Conversation Starter” was designed to introduce attendees to ways that they could do the maker thing in a pretty low-to-medium tech fashion, using materials and resources that they already had or might need to repurpose. The program touted participation from one Mr. Justin Hoenke of Chattanooga, but alas, he was not there in person. However, thanks to the wonders of the internet, he showed up via YouTube and prepared slides. In between the individual presentations by Koester, Moore, and Hoenke, others were invited to come up to the microphone and share projects or initiatives from their own libraries or schools, including how they were able to collaborate with community partners. The back of the room had four stations set up for anyone to try to make simple paper crafts, experiment with LED’s, make a duct tape bow-tie, and build a structure out of marshmallows and toothpicks (sound familiar?).

While these sessions centered around maker spaces for youth, several participants reminded us not to forget about mid-life and older adults. Some libraries have craft time for older adults already worked into their programming, and some make sure to invite older mentors to their youth spaces for inter-generational learning.

If any other attendees want to share their experiences, I’d be curious to know what you learned at ALA Annual 2014! And if you weren’t able to attend, I’d encourage it in the future–Midwinter in Chicago is not too far away!

“There’s No Such Thing As Done”

This week’s classes were all about the AV.

For our first mini project, we played with a few different computer programs to create a short video. We learned some basics of Audacity, an audio recording and editing program, in order to mash up two songs and record/tweak our own voices. We worked with GIMP, a photo editing suite along the lines of Photoshop, to make a logo, a poster, and alter photos. Finally, we took our audio and video creations and mixed them up to make a movie! I used Windows Movie Maker rather than iMovie simply to avoid the headache of dealing with file incompatibilities between my lovely little PC and the classroom Macs.

What tonight taught me:

1. Plan ahead.  All of my personal music files were not in the format that Audacity uses, so I had to spend precious minutes converting the files to the right format. If I’d poked around Audacity a little more beforehand, I’d have known to convert the files in advance.

2. Sometimes serendipity wins the day. As I was mashing my songs together, I had a general sense of how long my video was going to be, but I hadn’t timed things down to the second or anything. Coincidentally, my movie switches to dark clouds *just* as the thunder crash happens in my song mash-up. I mean…um…I totally planned that.

3. There’s no such thing as done. In a maker space, anyway, according to our teacher. While in some respects, this is frustrating to the side of me that likes a neat and tidy ending to things, it’s kind of freeing. Keeping your project open ended means that you can come back to it later, change it, remix it, use part of it in something else, or destroy it. And all of those are okay–you learn from every new thing that you try, even if it doesn’t turn out as you might have planned.

On that note, I had planned to share my video, but I’d like to add a few more bits to it first. However, I will show you the fruits of my photo editing labor–Bring out the GIMP!


This little beauty took merging two layers, doing a lot of cloning, erasing, and smudging work in the background, and creating the pirate “map” with a textured fill. It’s beginners’ work, but I’m pretty proud. Old Hooky here is shaking his fist at an escaping vessel off of Cannon Beach, Oregon. 80’s movie aficionados may recognize the haystack rocks in the background–maybe that escaping ship has some rich stuff on it?

I’ll post the finished product soon–just like Goonies, Makers never say die.

Fantasy vs. Reality: When Your Project Seems Too Ambitious

I’ve been doing a lot of research to try to narrow down the ideas for my final project. Right now, I am kicking around building some sort of LED lamp (either to clip to my headboard or hang on the wall), or a cat tree. I could use both for the house, and one of my goals for the final project was to make something that was practical, or a gift. The gift will probably be shifted to one of our smaller projects, but that’s another discussion entirely. What I wanted to discuss, and what I’m sure some of my other classmates are experiencing, is that ground in between wanting to take on something incredibly cool that would teach you new skills, and taking on something you could realistically make in the time we have. I tend to be the type that has grand plans for projects and doesn’t always complete them. I think the key here is to keep the plan realistic, but push it to the limits of what I think can be accomplished.

For instance, even though it would be awesome to construct the ultimate cat palace, I’ve managed to keep my sketches to a 4′ tall structure with multiple platforms and scratching material. Right now I’m in the phase of pricing materials, and figuring out how to get my hands on the right construction tools. I consider myself pretty IKEA-level handy, but don’t have access to much beyond a hammer, screwdriver, and hand saw. However, this is where getting creative comes in, and that’s where things could get really fun.

Or, if I go with the lamp idea, I’ve been looking at what can be done with conductive textiles/thread, or strips of LED lights. I’ve even been looking a bit into Arduino to see if a programmable lighting system could be accomplished. This is where I began to get overwhelmed: could I even attempt something that unknown? Do I owe it to myself to try? Or is having a completed product more important than risking failure but learning a lot of new things?

I’m sure there are others out there who are trying to bridge the gap between fantastic ideas and that little voice that says: keep it simple, silly. I’d love to hear thoughts.

Gotta Focus on the Journey

So for me, school was a lot like this:


My schools were not the most competitive or elite, but there was always an atmosphere of rewarding individual accomplishment. That good grade, that high test score, was what teachers wanted. This week’s readings made me wonder what school would have been like if more of my classes had taken a different approach. Some of the most challenging classroom experiences I’ve had have been while making something. I took art classes nearly every semester in high school, partly to develop an existing interest (I’ve drawn constantly ever since I was little), and partly to learn new techniques. Ceramics was probably the most difficult, because working in three dimensions was so different from drawing pictures on a flat piece of paper. While we were required to produce projects using certain techniques, it was the effort that was most important. I’d always done pretty well in a traditional classroom and with standardized tests, so a way of “grading” that was less quantitative was a tough switch at first. Some students had higher levels of proficiency, whether through experience with the medium or an aptitude with spatial thinking, and this led them to produce some pretty spectacular creations. I learned quickly not to compare my work to the more advanced students, because that just made me cranky. I had to learn to grade my work against my own past efforts, and try to keep improving. It seemed so much easier in English class, where I could just write a paper that satisfied certain parameters, and get that good grade. But which lessons were more important to learn? 

In college, I spent a lot of frustrating time in the costume shop, trying to get better at sewing and costume construction. I can’t count the times a project would have to be redone and I’d end up in angry tears because I just couldn’t get it! Even though I loved the subject matter, I think that I was so conditioned to the traditional classroom and the psychological rewards of good grades that it was hard to stomach when something didn’t come easily. Theater is full of the kind of collaborative learning that makers thrive on—it takes a group of people, each using different skills, to come together and put on a production. Every time you participate in a production, you learn from what you and others have done before, and change it to make it your own. I found it really interesting to read about the ways that online communities like MMORPGs and message boards encourage this same sort of group learning environment. I’m looking forward to the projects in this class, even if learning how to use the tools doesn’t make sense right away. Being focused on experimentation, tinkering, and engineering (using what I know and what I can learn from others), rather than meeting just the right criteria for that big final grade, will be a much more valuable experience. Bring it on, frustration–I’m ready for you.

The Great Maker Caper begins…

Thanks for visiting my blog! The posts to come in the next two months (and beyond, I hope) will be focused on learning more about the Maker movement and taking steps to become more of a Maker myself. How will I do this? Through my summer 2014 class in the MLIS program at St. Catherine University, Content Creation. We will be working on activities such as video and audio production, photo-editing, 3D printing, and vinyl cutting.

I was interested in this class because I like the idea of maker spaces, both in and out of the library. I admit that I don’t know much about the technology involved, but I am excited to learn new things. In the readings so far, I’ve been impressed by the emphasis on collaborative learning and teaching others what you know. Part of a library’s role in the community is encouraging exploration, creativity, and knowledge, either by providing access to information or providing space for community members to get together and explore. Including a maker space in a library is another way to do that.

All of the creative tools that we will be using together sound interesting, and I like that I haven’t used any of them very much. Sometimes just diving in and playing around with something is the best way to figure out how it works. Also, I’m sure that some of my classmates might have some experience with these things, and I know that librarians can’t help but share what they know. I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone comes up with for our Maker Faire at the end of the semester!

That’s about it for now. I’ll keep everyone posted on future developments.