Archive for the ‘Maker’ Category

Knit Picking your Way to Happiness

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

I came across this cartoon recently that has an interesting perspective on our present culture. The young person is quite determined to teach her grandmother the proper technique to eat pasta. The grandmother on the other hand has never considered consuming food as being an art form. It is more natural for her to engage in an activity that has been an artistic pursuit, a therapy and most probably, a necessity.

In my own personal hand-on activities there is usually not a lot of repetitive motion. Knitting has always intrigued me as to what physiological benefits there are. Nineteenth-century physicians recommended that working on a simple piece of knitting counteracts restlessness and discontent. Anxiety-ridden women were told that the quick manual movements and the subtle clicks of the needles had a soothing effect. According to THE LADIES’ WORK-TABLE BOOK of 1844;

Useful and Ornamental Needlework, Knitting, and Netting, occupy a distinguished place, and are capable of being made, not only sources of personal gratification, but of high moral benefit, and the means of developing in surpassing loveliness and grace, some of the highest and noblest feelings of the soul.

Kelly Lambert, Ph.D., the author of Lifting Depression makes a strong case that complex use of hands, such as with knitting, releases the neurotransmitter serotonin and engages the effort-driven rewards circuit as the efforts made produce a sweater or scarf.

I also came across an interesting post from MAKE that combines the long tradition of  the “needle arts” with the newer aspects of Maker culture. Agnes the Knit Bot is a humanoid robot that knits on a circular loom. Agnes debuted at the 2013 Maker Faire U.K. Seeing knitting brought together with robot technology is quite delightful. It makes me think of the grandmother in the cartoon. When she was a young woman, knitting away, I am sure she was quite aware of industrial sewing machines but personal robots were not yet possible. And while she may have shown off her handy work at a county fair, I wonder if these events had any resemblance to the present day Maker Faires. Making was already an integral part of daily life and not a pursuit followed by a minority.

In The New York Times in March, 2005 there was an opinion piece written by Carol E. Lee who noticed that knitting was suddenly in vogue. It is worth the read as it stitches together a portrait of knitting and the perceptions of it through time.

My use of the words “needle arts” is not totally accurate as needles are not the only way of getting yarn together in organized fashion. Arms apparently can do the job as well. Audra, a self-proclaimed craft addict demonstrates this in her blog.

If you have anything to share about your own experiences with these types of pursuits, feel free to spin us a yarn in the comment section.

INVENTING- Amateur Style

Friday, November 8th, 2013

A Saskatchewan man with no formal training in engineering or computer science has invented a 3D printer that sells for just $100. WOW! that is something. Then the article goes onto to say that he has been a tinkerer all his life.

With the growth of Maker Faires and Maker Spaces tinkering has taken on new importance. It is especially encouraging to see Maker Spaces popping up in universities where science and engineering students can apply and test out what they are learning. In this case Ryan Grayston, 28, from Yorkton wanted to use a 3D printer but couldn’t afford to buy one. His idea to convert the digital data to sound waves was quite clever. Maybe limited formal education opened his mind to consider the less obvious. The reactions are interesting, here are some quotes:

There are many many people who make home made cheap 3D printers that can print a small blob of resin. …Their commercial version will not be very good compared to more expansive machines in terms of details and size of the printed object. A mere potential cost reduction that is happening elsewhere anyway doesn’t make an inventor or a genius. …they are glorified hobbyists who were able to create buzz.

I think people are missing out on the fact that this 3D printer works in a way that it totally different than the normal X-Y-Z plotter that squirts material out in layers – designs are limited by gravity-supportable structure or the need to print little supports into the design – He is selectively hardening a floating layer of resin which means a far more flexibility in design as it is refined. He has also eliminated the vast majority of the moving parts, creating something that is simpler than a CD player

 the process of lowering a bath of resin as you cure it with a laser oriented by step motors is nothing novel. Sorry, I saw it over 10 years ago.

For this media project I don’t care if the idea is revolutionary or not. What interest me is the process that goes on when you tinker, try things out, experiment. I have had a experience as well where I wanted to have a device that was either commercially expensive or not adequate for my needs. A number of years ago when I got my first HD camera I had problems holding it steady and mounting accessories such as wireless microphone receivers. The camera was lighter and smaller but that was the problem. I decided to design and make my own camera plate. Originally I was going to make just one but eventually I decided to sell them commercially. Life got in the way but I did sell 8 units for a ‘work in progress price’. I have been using the plate myself for all my camera jobs and had some hesitation to get back into selling the unit commercially. While it worked fine for me there were a few design features that would not go over well to potential buyers. I have overcome most of those so I may get back on the selling track.

The point of my story is that I am an amateur but as a camera plate user I have had time to tinker the invention into a half-decent design. I know there are better camera support systems designed by professionals and better 3D printers. But it is amazing what can be made in basements with basic tools and off-the-shelf or recycled parts. Here is a story about another inventor you may find interesting.

Happy (Geeky) Father’s Day

Sunday, June 16th, 2013

In the Globe & Mail on Friday there was an article on Scott Bedford, creative director by day, crafter by night. He has a  Webby-award winning website and is the author of Made by Dad. I am glad he added the subtitle on the book cover “Projects you can build for (and with) your kids”. When I grew up and was messing around in my father’s workshop I don’t remember him stepping in and doing things for me. He just me let at it, as long I was working safely. I remember the first shelf I ever made. It was with 3/4″ dowels, wire & buckles and 1/4″ Masonite sheets. It was very light-weight and very rickety. The shelf units I have made since are definitely of higher quality. In life I have learned there are somethings you just can’t teach. I also have had the realization that, especially in the domain of making things, the ONLY way to learn is to make mistakes.

Another hands-on dad I have come across is Ken Denmead who was trained as a civil engineer. He has published three books and is the publisher and editor of the blog GeekDad and an editorial director at MAKE Magazine. You can learn about him at

There is a lot of practical information on a blog site managed by two dads who are lifelong friends and really into DIY, How-To, family and gadgets. Pete and Marty’s site is called

I wish I was THERE.

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

A few weeks ago there was the eighth annual Maker Faire in San Mateo, Calif. Since that first Faire in the Bay Area in 2006 the movement has grown substantially with over 120 community-driven Mini Maker Faires around the world, including Tokyo and Rome (an increase over last year’s 60 events). Last year I was at the Mini Maker Faire in Montreal and the World Maker Faire in New York. In the HuffPost I read a blog entry written by Michael Nobleza, executive director of the Children’s Creativity Museum. He talked about their booth at the Bay Area Faire where the kids could shape clay into characters that they could then bring to life using table-mounted iPads and iStopMotion animation. The iPads had run out of power but somehow the kids were perfectly content having their clay characters come alive without seeing the final result on the tablets. This is an example of the concept that it’s not about what you make, but the process of making; Creating Spaces for Kids to Make and Learn.

If it you need an overview read; Maker Faires spread the DIY gospel. Maker Faires are like maker projects themselves. Some skills can’t be acquired until you roll up your sleeves and just do it. Similarly, these events can’t be fully appreciated until you finally go to one.

Why Maker Faire may be Silicon Valley’s most important export was a Los Angeles Times article written by Chris O’Brien who attended the 2013 Bay Area Maker Faire with his son. His observations have some very valid points. Considering the attendance at this particular Faire has gone from 18,000 in 2006 to over 120,000 in 2013 it is more than a curiosity for a niche audience. It truly has become a cultural phenomenon. We are still in a world dominated by technologies that revolve around consumption. Hands-on/maker activities/DIY are not as common as they once were but the success of Maker Faires do give us some HOPE!

LEGO Can Put a Smile on Your Face

Sunday, April 7th, 2013

I recently came across a posting on Facebook that had this picture. There has been around 2,000 comments. Many speak about gender stereotyping and toys that are marketed to girls etc.. I found the picture intriguing because of what she has just accomplished. Her smile of pride and joy is just overwhelming. Even the jeans fit the scene perfectly. These are jeans ready for play; ready to get torn or dirty if need be; ready for the unpredictable, precarious, not always what you predicted world of the MAKER.

I talked about this with my wife and shared that it is sad so many toys out there are just kits where you can make one thing and that is it. She pointed out that if a child builds, let’s say, hogwarts castle from a kit there are still opportunities for imaginary play afterwards. “That is a point”, I responded but then it occured to me that a child could build hogwarts castle with plain Legos along with items from the dollar store and still get to play imaginary games. If you want to see a number of vintage LEGO ads you can find them at DESIGNBEEP.