Make Every Week: Wind-Sensor Candle

How would you build a digital candle someone could actually blow out? My 11-year-old daughter and I tried to answer that one evening, just for the fun of it.

We looked online to see if there were ways to detect breezes without a set of spinning cups. We quickly learned about hot-wire wind detectors, which monitor a warm wire and detect tiny changes of voltage as air passes over it.

Even better, we found a $17 device that does exactly that and has Ardiuno code to go with it. Score!

We bought it that night, and, quite honestly, it has been sitting in my bin of parts for months. (In the meantime we built a whole bunch of candles you extinguish by tipping over.)

So for this week’s #MakeEveryWeek, I gave the blow-out candle a try.

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Make Every Week: A “Tiny” Cat Toy

The short story: This week I made a blinky-buzzy toy to occupy our cat with a random sequence of teases. And he loved it!

The longer story starts just over a year ago, when Team Blinky friend Liza Stark gave me an 8-legged computer chip the size of a peanut and said, with wide eyes, “You can do amazing things with these!”

So for #MakeEveryWeek No. 3, I learned how to play with this minuscule computer.

It's ATtiny

The little chip was an ATtiny (pronounced like an author, A. T. Tiny), which is essentially a super-simple Arduino.

Its legs correspond to a some of the familiar Arduino pins: power, ground and five input-output points. More details are on the Sparkfun site.

Illustration (CC) BY-NC-SA 3.0 by Sparkfun

Just like an Ardunio, you can code it to light LEDs, read simple sensors and buzz buzzers. You program it using Arduino desktop software and the Arduino language. You even use an Arduino as a kind of “mother ship” to load programs into the ATtiny — because it's missing all of the connectors Arduino boards have.

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Make Every Week: Lunch Bot

We never know where to get lunch.

Oh, we know where we can go. But the moment our team steps outside, no one can answer “Where should we go?”

So for my second #MakeEveryWeek project, I made a bot to pick a place.

At work, we use Slack to message each other. A feature of Slack allows other programs to post messages in our chat windows using “incoming webhooks” — web addresses that accept data and then pass it into a Slack window.

Any computer on the internet can use the incoming webhook, you just need to know your team's secret webhook URL. Which I do. :-)

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Make Every Week: A Bendy Mangnifier

Making makes me happy.

Whether it's a map, a blinking hoodie or a Twitter bot, I get a thrill from making things. Yet I don't partake this euphoric drug often enough. Which is ridiculous.

So every week this year, I'm going to make something. 

Could be small, could be simple, could be silly. Some should be tricky and/or blinky. And best if I learn something new in the process. 

But at least one thing. And I'll blog about each one here.

So without further ado ...

Week 1: The bendy magnifying glass

For a while I've owned a little tool called a “third hand” to carefully hold tiny things while I solder other tiny things onto them. Looks like this:

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Drinking and Soldering

Yes, those are the secrets to happiness. 

(Well, at least the soldering part.)

I was fortunate and mildly terrified to explain all of this before a group of ridiculously smart people in November at the Newsgeist conference run by the Knight Foundation and Google at the Cronkite School of Journalism in Phoenix.

(The "Institute of Higher Learning" mentioned here is the New School's Journalism + Design Program, where I'm lucky to be an instructor.)

Make, Map, Blink: A Cooking Class

Starting this week, I'm teaching Make, Map, Blink, a course at the New School university in Manhattan. It's an evening of cooking up data-driven projects -- both on the table and on the screen.

The course is a little quirky in a few ways, including that any New School student can attend: It's held in the cafeteria in the Eugene Lang building every Wednesday night at 7 p.m.

For those of you who can't attend (or aren't New School students), all of the course material, code and slides are posted in this Github repository. A link there also will sit on the left rail of this blog.

"Live Blogging" Daddy Robot Camp

Welcome robots! I'm leading my daughters and a friend through some summer fun building simple robots.

This is live prototyping at its finest (by all of us). I'm tweaking the hardware and software by night, and running "camp" at the kitchen table by day.

The main learning concept I'm aiming for: "If A is detected then B happens," like IFTTT does so well. It seems to be a good, base robot function. Also: Making robots is fun.

My hope is that the kids get to express hands-on creativity, and that I can get Arduino to help me bring their creations alive. As Liza Stark advised me, make sure they have their hands on the project more than I do. Let's see if that happens.

I'll keep posting here as we work through the week. The fun begins today!

The Plans

Given a set of "if" sensors (light, temperature, movement, distance, buttons) and a set of "then" actions (LEDs light, servos rotate), the girls each came up with a plan for a robot:

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Extinguishable LED Candles

We love Blinkies. Especially simple led throwies.

Lately, we've been playing with "candle flicker" LEDs, which contain a tiny chip that makes their warm light flicker like a flame.

Tape 'em to a battery and watch glow. They're great. But we wanted a version we could, essentially, blow out.

Enter the tilt switch.

This little component is a small cylinder, about the size of a bean, with a metal ball inside. When the cylinder is vertical, the ball rests on two metal leads at the bottom, completing a circuit. Tip it, and the ball rolls away, breaking the circuit.

So we combined tilt switches, flicker LEDs, coin batteries and some plastic battery holders to make 15 little candles.

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