Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Why Make at all?

This is one of the questions I keep asking myself when I visit makerspaces. I have seen toys, lamps, digital scoreboards and so forth. Why not buy them from the market? Yeah cost is an issue for some gadgets. But a lamp? a toy boat? Why do they build them instead of just buying?

Now I begin to realize that it is a way of life. According to David 'It's an attitude thing'. When there is a requirement they find a way to build it themselves. Market is their last resort. To build this kind of an attitude one needs to start somewhere. You need not invent a robot at the first go. Even lighting up an LED using a circuit would do. How I know this? Because it has happened to me! I was stimulated by the work by makers, by the pride they describe their innovations, by the fun they have working on hacks. So, I attended a soldering workshop at my uni and ordered an Arduino UNO start-up kit on eBay. Now I am thinking of making an automatic light system for my front yard.

Revisiting my teens - Soldering after a long time!

If we time travel back all the way to the stone age, we would see humans making things they required on their own. Then our requirements became complex. We saw some people are better at developing somethings than us. So we began to exchange things we made narrowing us to some especialities. Then we invented money, so we can exchange papers for artifacts. This continued for centuries to the point where we seek commercial market to buy each and everything, where we left with almost no especiality in design. At makerspaces what I see is a combination of the spirit of the stone age with resources of the technology age. This spirit is the courage and willingness to do experiments and make mistakes. Resources can be kit technologies, 3D printers and online tutorials. 

Makers are largely driven by their desire to hack than any other thing. I asked David 'How was the feedback for the Maker Faire?' His response sounded:

'We did our best on the day. We just wanted to show our tech to other people. We are not much interested about feedback. We had a great day!'

He said that it's not the numbers that matter - number of people of attending an exhibition or a meetup. It is the activity of making something that inspires them that matters.

'If someone feels like hacking a tech, just start working on something may be with one of your friends. People will come. But, even if they don't does not matter'

Making things for intrinsic rewards means that the completed artifacts do not necessarily address a requirement as such. When they feel like hacking something, they just go ahead and do it. Rod has found an eScooter by the street and has taken in to the makerspace. He and Alex were hacking it when I went there (in the video). I asked 'What is your plan with this?'. The reply was 'ahh just trying to take this apart and see what we can do...'
"When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and you argue about what to do about it only after you have had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb."
-Robert Oppenheimer

People tend to think the technologies that makers use are easy to handle. I do not agree with it completely. While using a kit like Makey-Makey is quite straightforward, tasks like programming an Arduino kit, creating a 3D model require some learning. But, it is this learning process that is not so difficult now. You can find heaps of resources online and in makerspaces. With a shot of courage you can learn many things. When you learn the basics, the rest is walk in the park if you stretch your creativity muscles.

I don't know how to design the light system. I don't have any plans or sketches with me. I am no technician by any means. I did some electronics when I was in high-school and I was no good at that too! I just have an idea. I trust myself that I can do it (of course I know there is help online). I believe that it is this courage one requires to start developing things that can ultimately create a 'way-of-life'. As David say 'Spoon-feeding times are over, let's create our techs on our own'. It is courage than expertise that matters. I know I am bound to do some mistakes in the process. That is how I plan to learn new things and improve my design.
But why am I going through all these 'troubles'. Why don't I just buy it? Why I want to make it? Hope you know the answer now!
"We are more likely to fail as craftsmen,... due to our inability to organize obsession (for perfection) than because of our lack of ability"
-Richard Sennet, The Craftsman, 2008
My Arduino kit has arrived, so it's time to start hacking!

Hacking time!!!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Kid Hacks at Hack'n Show

Let's have a look at some of the hacks made by kids at the Hack'n Show competition. I was awed to see kids taking an interest in gadgets in a world where video games and social media dominates childhood. These kids looked like 8 to 15 years old.


One of the kids who participated in the competition was a child of a techspace member. He (and his friends) looked very excited and knowledgeable about the gadgets. Habits get inherited. It's nice when they are good ones. I noticed that the kids were more conscious about eco friendly innovations.

"I think this [the Solar Powered Car] is cool cause it uses solar power. I get excited about making things that can use clean energyto keep save our environment"

"It [the Eco Pop Boat] is cool because it is made from recycled parts and is steam and solar powered"

The winner of the Kids Competition received a pack of Arduino kits, circuit boards and sensors, while all the competitors were awarded 200$ worthy of similar gifts. After the faire Steve talked with the winner and told 'You may not need all the stuff there. You can share them with your friends' reminding me that sharing is one of the key values in a makerspace!