Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Free Download: A Guide to Visual Communication

Howtoons is a wonderful resource which combines fun projects with comic illustration. It is listed with other sites under Project Inspiration, at left.

One particular Howtoon that might be useful at this stage of project brainstorming is Seeing the Future: A Guide to Visual Communication. This can be downloaded as a .pdf file or read on the web as a series of pages. Either way, it's a great introduction to working ideas out graphically. The Makers Notebook was made to be doodled and drawn in like this, but of course you can do the same thing anywhere you have paper and pencil. Or even just a pencil—

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Stewart Brand on Buildings

"The right information in the right place just changes your life."~Stewart Brand
One of the first resources that gave me the feeling of being able to learn or do anything was The Whole Earth Catalog and its attendant magazines, Co-Evolution Quarterly and Whole Earth Review. To read these publications 30 or 40 years ago was like web surfing through paper or wandering through the world's most interesting library: they contained subjects you wouldn't have known you were interested in until you came across a paragraph written by a big-hearted enthusiast, perhaps reviewing a book or offering the address of a supplier.
The man behind the Whole Earth franchise was Stewart Brand. Yesterday Jane at Sugru wrote about a book and television series Brand did around 15 years ago called How Buildings Learn. Her blog post is here.

I love her point that buildings are something people commonly change and customize, even if these same people would not consider doing the same to other objects.

Our family is watching this series together, enjoying Brand's questions about what makes a building work and what changes are made as occupants' families or businesses evolve. Try asking these same questions of everything else in your life and see where they lead.

How Buildings Learn, Episode 1 "Flow"

How Buildings Learn, Episode 2 "The Low Road"

How Buildings Learn, Episode 3 "Built For Change"

How Buildings Learn, Episode 4 "Unreal Estate"

How Buildings Learn, Episode 5 "The Romance of Maintenance"

How Buildings Learn, Episode 6 "Shearing Layers"

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Exploratorium Open Make Session 1

"Behind this is just a natural curiosity in what's around us."—Dale Dougherty
Yesterday was the first of the Exploratorium's Open Make sessions in conjunction with the Young Makers meet up. There is so much to see and do at the Exploratorium that it was hard to make it all the way to the Tinkering Studio in the back, but eventually we got there. C was drawn to making a membranophone from a film canister, pvc pipe, a piece of latex glove, and the top of a small water bottle. It actually makes a pretty wonderful sound.
We got so caught up in doing things that we were late to the plussing session, arriving just in time to hear Tony talking about a rough timetable: exploring ideas in January, narrowing them down by February, having a pretty clear project plan by March, and making good progress on the project by April.

Every Young Maker at the plussing session received a Maker's Notebook in which to track their project. The notebook is like a Moleskine with graph-paper pages, a sleeve in back containing two sheets of maker-oriented stickers, and a short reference section which encompasses everything from common technical abbreviations to adhesive charts to lists of Mercury Retrogrades and best places to dumpster dive. The kids were all over these.
After lunch, we headed for the McBean Theater to listen to the Featured Maker Interviews. The tiny auditorium was packed; you can actually get a better view via the webcast here.
At the end, the floor was opened for questions for the Makers, among which were:

1. What is your favorite tool?
  • Answers: wire stripper, vise grip pliers, hot glue gun, my fingers.
2. What inspires you?
  • Two of the makers were quick to mention their dads.
3. Have you ever made a working miniature car?
  • —which drew laughs from the audience, until two of the makers answered 'yes' and a third mentioned his Beagle Chariot!
4. . What's the biggest creative challenge and how did you overcome it?
  • Shawn talked about the importance of iteration, meaning you do the project as many times as necessary, acquiring new information and reworking after each attempt.
5. What is your success-to-failure ratio?
  • Lanny: "The iterative process means you never fail. One hundred per cent success rate!"
The focus of this year's Open Make sessions will be on materiality. All the makers interviewed yesterday worked in some way with plastic, and plastic was the theme in the tinkering area, as well. 

In February, the featured material will be cardboard; in March, it will be metal; and in April, wood. This reminded me of an upcoming Nova series that we were thinking of following: Making Stuff, which premieres January 19 on PBS. It might coincide nicely with upcoming Open Make sessions.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Young Makers Yolo has begun!

Five families gathered last Sunday to begin a regional chapter of the Young Makers Program. Some of the kids immediately conceived of projects they want to do, and some are still brainstorming. Some will be heading down to San Francisco tomorrow for the Open Make sessions at the Exploratorium. We have a lot to do and learn still.

This blog will be a place where our members can post their progress so that all can learn from each other. Maker Faire, here we come—