tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:/posts johnkeefe.net 2016-11-29T11:52:54Z John Keefe tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/1109067 2016-11-18T14:29:38Z 2016-11-18T14:29:59Z Fast Company on WNYC's Storytelling Experiments

Fast Company writer John Paul Titlow did a great job capturing the spirit of experimentation at WNYC -- and me doing an ill-advised live demo on stage:

"Anyone who thinks old-school media can't be stealthy and innovative has never seen John Keefe text a room full of people from a command line on his laptop. But tonight, the senior editor for data news at WNYC—a public radio station founded in 1924—is showing off some things he built to help his colleagues tell stories."

Read the whole story here.
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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/1101119 2016-10-22T20:47:03Z 2016-10-22T21:15:08Z Alexa Baked in a Pi

You can put Alexa in a Raspberry Pi, and that is pretty cool.

Alexa is Amazon's intelligent agent, like Siri for your living room. Standing nearby, you speak to it with a question or a command, and it responds verbally.

Normally Alexa lives inside a $180 device called an Amazon Echo, or the new $50 Echo Dot. But Emily Withrow at Northwestern University's KnightLab told me it was possible to put the Alexa code inside a cheap Raspberry Pi hobby computer. And I happened to have an old Pi lying around.

So I gave it a whirl!

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/1093837 2016-09-27T04:39:16Z 2016-09-27T12:59:14Z Making Liza's Fireflies

Several friends recently planned a party for maker, e-textiler and all-around awesome person Liza Stark — and I wanted to celebrate her with blinkies appropriate for the occasion.

The event was to take place in a rented house with a porch overlooking a slice of woods.

I decided to fill the trees with digital fireflies.

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/1085860 2016-09-13T01:33:00Z 2016-09-14T00:31:16Z Now Available: Family Projects for Smart Objects!

It exists! I can't believe it!

My first book, Family Projects for Smart Objects: Tabletop Projects That Respond to Your World is in my hands. The Kindle edition is available now, and Amazon is taking preorders for the paperback edition that comes out September 24, 2016. 

It's a collection of 11 projects designed to introduce beginners to Arduinos, sensors and "internet of things" things. I tried to make it as accessible as possible, with clear instructions intended for girls, boys, women and men who have never done anything like this before.

The book grew out of my attempt to make something every week for a year (and blog about it).

Other fun facts:

  • I wrote much of it on my phone riding the NYC subway to work.
  • I promised myself I'd never write a book (thanks to Quinn Heraty for talking me into it).
  • It's published by the folks who make Make Magazine.

If you're into making and live in the NYC area, come out to the World Maker Faire October 1-2. I'll be there both days, demonstrating some projects and talking about the book!

"Family Projects for Smart Objects" at the World Maker Faire, NY Hall of Science:

Saturday, October 1, 2016 at 2:45 p.m. — Zone 3 Make: Show & Tell Stage

Sunday, October 2, 2016 at 11 a.m. — Zone 3 Make: Show & Tell Stage

C'mon out!



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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/1077047 2016-07-29T01:43:27Z 2016-07-29T01:48:18Z Tracking Harlem's Heat with Sensor Journalism

harlem_heat_ba_Credit-JohnKeefe-WNYC

How hot is a Harlem apartment?

We're trying to find out.

There are now DIY sensors in about 20 apartments, measuring the indoor heat and humidity -- in the middle of a heat wave.

It's the latest sensor journalism project from WNYC's Data News Team, in a collaboration with blog AdaptNY, community group WEACT and observation platform ISeeChange

And this week we worked with maker space HackManhattan, which hosted a soldering party to build more sensors.

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/1076090 2016-07-26T04:19:53Z 2016-09-14T00:31:42Z Book Making: Done

Between the last post and this one, I made a book!

Family Projects for Smart Objects is a collection of 11 projects based on Arduino hobby computers. They’re DIY activities designed for beginners who want to learn about sensors and make “Internet of Things” things.

Or just make stuff with people you love.

The book is currently with a team of designers who are working to make it beautiful, useful and fun.

Game plan is to publish in time for the World Maker Faire in New York this fall. If you’d like a note when it’s published, just jump onto my mailing list.

Ridiculously, that’s not all I’ve been doing. More posts ahead about cool (and hot) things I’m exploring at work and on the side.



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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/973499 2016-01-18T23:39:42Z 2016-01-18T23:40:30Z Make Every Week Begets a Book


About this time last year I set out to make something every week in 2015.

In the end, it was actually “Make Every 1.7 Weeks.” But two exciting things happened along the way:

  • I made many, many more things than I would have otherwise, learning a ton.
  • I was invited to write a book.
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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/950422 2015-12-15T14:35:56Z 2015-12-15T14:35:56Z Adventures in Minecraft & Parenting

When it comes to screen time, there are two activities where we give our daughters a lot of latitude: coding and Minecraft.

This morning I published a post on Medium called "Gardening at Night: One Dad's Guide to Minecraft." It's something I've been noodling on for a while, inspired by my daughters and by a few other parents who wanted to know how our family got started with the game.

Please let me know if it's useful to you or anyone else you know!

Separately, I've been collaborating with Jodi Jefferson to create a meetup geared for girls who play Minecraft called Girls Who Mine. We've met a couple of times, and are making it public with an event we're crafting for January. If you're interested, and live in the New York City area, jump over and add your name to the mailing list. We'll keep you posted.


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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/940522 2015-11-29T04:00:53Z 2015-11-29T04:03:17Z DIY River Sensors: The 5 Minute Summary

Here's the high-wire act in which I describe the West Virginia University sensor-journalism project with 20 slides that advance automatically every 15 seconds. This took place in a room of brilliant thinkers at Newsgeist 2015 earlier this month in Phoenix.

More details about the sensor project are available on the StreamLab site and in an earlier blog post.

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/933600 2015-11-14T16:47:21Z 2015-11-14T16:57:21Z Make Every Week: Programs in Python

“Daddy, I want to learn Python,” announced my 12-year-old daughter a couple of weeks ago. Boys in her youth group know it, she said. She wanted to, too.

Say no more.

I’ve introduced my daughters to a variety of friendly programming platforms, including Kids Ruby, Hopscotch, Codea and Lua in Minecraft. They’ve sweetly tolerated my programatic prodding. This was the first direct request.

I quickly ordered two paper copies of “Learn Python the Hard Way,” by Zed A Shaw, and we’ve been walking through each lesson together — one every week.

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/916076 2015-10-13T03:52:30Z 2015-11-14T19:37:23Z Make Every Week: Distance Sensor Demo

I stumbled on a fun, visceral way to show how Arduinos can sense and respond.

In preparation for a presentation at the Online News Association Conference in Los Angeles, I grabbed a Ping distance sensor I had in a bin. The Ping works like a bat — it emits an inaudible, high-frequency sound, and listens for the sound to bounce off an object. The round-trip time between ping and reflection reveals the distance.

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/913886 2015-10-07T03:55:51Z 2016-07-06T14:56:14Z Monitoring the Monongahela

Yesterday the Streamlab class put do-it-yourself water monitors into Gatorade bottles and anchored them in the Monongahela River near Morgantown, West Virginia. They’re now texting their data readings live.

The link to the live chart is here, and the raw data is here.

We’re sensing conductivity, which is a good indicator of dissolved solids in the water, and temperature. The locations are: upstream of an industrial site, downstream of the same site and further downstream below the Morgantown lock and dam. 

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/908924 2015-09-24T03:44:55Z 2015-11-11T20:31:48Z Make Every Week: Message From a Bottle

A summer of tinkering has culminated with a conductivity and temperature sensor that texts its data from inside a Gatorade bottle.

The contraption consists of a Riffle, which is an Arduino-like board designed to fit through the mouth of a water bottle and a Fona cell-phone board. And a bottle.

The plan is to submerge several of these along a stretch of the Monongahela River as part of a sensor-journalism class at West Virginia University. It’s a work in progress, but you can [see how things are going]. My job was to build a working conductivity sensor that would report its findings live. Here are the components and how I made it go.

Update: We actually deployed some of these sensors in a river!

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/901929 2015-09-06T21:42:57Z 2015-09-06T21:49:38Z Whoa: Low-Power Texter Still Texting

About a month ago I built a texting temperature sensor, which had some energy-saving code I learned about. I wanted to see how many days it would last on one charge.

It's still running.

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/901568 2015-09-05T19:15:57Z 2015-09-05T19:16:37Z Make Every Week: Sensing Human Touch

Capacitive sensing is how your phone’s touch screen works — basically detecting the natural charge in a person’s body on the screen.

I’ve seen Team Blinky friend Liza Stark play and build simple touch sensors using the same technique with Arduino, so this week I gave it a try.

My goal: Use a touch sensor instead of a button on the Monthly Mood Cube.

It turns out to be pretty easy.

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/892950 2015-08-12T12:23:28Z 2015-08-12T18:13:56Z Make Every Week: Temp -> Text -> Table

Texting temperature data to Twitter is fun, but more useful is sending that information to a table.

That’s what I did this week, as my wanderings into wireless data collection continue: Post the temperature and humidity from my little experiment to a table at data.sparkfun.com.

Here are the steps as things stand now:

  1. The sensor reads the data (as in my original post).
  2. The Ardunio formats a message and texts it with a Fona (wiring details here, updated code here).
  3. Instead of texting to Twitter, it now texts to a phone number I bought at Twilio for $1/month.
  4. Twilio then relays that data to my project server in the Amazon cloud as an http “POST” (deets on setting up a cloud server here).
  5. My project server parses the text message, composes a URL with the data, and hits the Sparkfun open data system with that URL (code for that is here).

This all happens in just a few seconds, every 20 minutes.

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/891461 2015-08-08T04:18:14Z 2015-08-12T03:48:32Z Make Every Week: JavaScript + Arduino

JavaScript is the code that drives bells and whistles you see on almost any web page.

This week I used it to drive lights and motors on a table. And it was surprisingly easy.

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/890755 2015-08-06T02:47:27Z 2016-09-22T20:00:33Z Make Every Week: Audible Water Sensor

In just a few weeks, a class of journalism students will be wading into West Virginia streams to deploy water sensors.

They’ll be sensing water conductivity over several weeks using a cool, Arduino-like board called Riffle.

But the crux of the system is a simple circuit I tried for the first time tonight.

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/890255 2015-08-05T01:21:14Z 2015-08-05T01:26:45Z Make Every Week: Low-Power Temperature Texter

I got the temperature sensor working and I got the Arduino texter working, but I had trouble getting them to work together.

Until this week.

After jumping several hurdles, I now have a portable temperature-texter, which has been sensing and texting to Twitter for two days now.

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/878130 2015-07-08T13:00:02Z 2015-07-08T13:00:02Z Make Every Week: Arduino Texting

Texting is something I love playing with, and I’ve always wanted to make a sensor-bot that skipped the hassle of wifi by texting me its data.

So this week, I tried to make some progress on that by making a texting bot.

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/878121 2015-07-07T02:16:34Z 2015-12-03T12:13:00Z Make Every Week: Taking Temperature

Taking temperature readings with an Arduino seems pretty straightforward — generic thermistors are easy to wire up. But I wanted something a more precise, with actual temperature readings. 

So I got this air temperature and humidity sensor, and this week I gave it a whirl.

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/874007 2015-06-26T01:05:06Z 2015-06-26T01:37:06Z Make Every Week: Circuit Boards, For Reals

I always considered circuit boards like this something you bought, not something you made.

Not any more.

I actually helped to make the board in the picture above. And it was awesome fun.

The board is designed to monitor the conductivity (and, possibly, contamination) of water in lakes and streams, with the wonderful feature that it fits through the mouth of a regular water bottle. It’s called Riffle and it is the brainchild of Don Blair, who’s working with Public Lab and the MIT Center for Civic Media. This week I had the honor of working with Don at MIT.

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/869652 2015-06-15T14:22:59Z 2015-06-17T01:37:31Z Make Every Week: Heartbeat LEDs

Visualizing one’s heartbeat is just cool. I’ve been into the idea since I learned that signals sent by the Polar heart monitor straps joggers use can be detected with a cheap device.

I’ve made a heartbeat hoodie, which was a lot of fun. But in the end, a bright, flashing sweatshirt starts to annoy the people around you. Now I’m working toward a more wearable wearable, one that changes subtly as my heart beats faster or slower.

This week I took a step on the way to that wearable by getting three LEDs — blue, green and yellow — to light up according to my heart rate. A calm heartbeat and blue glows, a little faster and you get green and really fast lights the yellow one.

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/860879 2015-05-25T21:58:34Z 2015-06-12T22:29:46Z Make Every Week: Sewing-Machine Circuits

Sewing by hand can be tedious. Sewing by hand with conductive thread is frustrating.

The thread I use is almost woolly, so if you use too much at once, it twists and tangles in itself. Ugh.

For a project I have in mind, there would be much sewing with conductive thread. But we recently got a sewing machine, and this weekend I thought … heeeeey! The thread actually comes in little bobbins. Maybe I could load one in the machine?

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/858510 2015-05-20T01:14:43Z 2015-05-20T14:50:26Z Make Every Week: DIY Accent Lighting

For years, we’ve talked about adding accent lighting to our living room — particularly under the TV on the wall, to light up a small shelf underneath.

I’ve put it off. I just didn’t want to deal with the wiring, the mounting, the falling down, the mounting again. Even finding a fixture was daunting.

But then I spotted these adhesive-backed LED strips! Which can be powered by a 9-volt battery. Excellent.

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/857271 2015-05-18T00:26:33Z 2016-11-29T11:52:54Z Make Every Week: Bluetooth Device Sniffer

This week became “Tinker Every Week” more than “Make Every Week,” as I tried to make a new device-sniffing device.

Previously, I managed to detect wifi signals around me, and I wanted to do the same for Bluetooth devices, including gadgets using new “Bluetooth Low Energy,” or BLE, signals. These include iBeacons and other tracking systems being deployed more and more around us.

I got myself a Bluefruit LE Sniffer from Adafruit ...

... and rigged it up to my Raspberry Pi.

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/853872 2015-05-09T22:41:51Z 2015-05-10T04:39:27Z Make Every Week: Question Bot

Texting is a quick way to exchange information with another person:


But what about with a robot?


In that little exchange, there are a couple of hitches to solve, which I took on for this week’s #MakeEveryWeek.

(To skip ahead to the results of my experiment, text the word hello to 646-887-6253.)
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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/843264 2015-04-20T00:19:37Z 2015-04-20T00:30:16Z Make Every Week: Seal Watch

The buzz in our corner of Manhattan is all about the Inwood Seal.

Not only did the seal appear on a dock in Spuyten Duyvil Creek just off the Hudson River, but he came back. So naturally, we keep an eye out for the cute critter when we visit Inwood Hill Park.

But what about when we’re not there? How will we know if he’s returned?

Now, there’s a bot for that.

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/840877 2015-04-15T04:11:53Z 2015-04-15T04:11:53Z Make (Almost) Every Week

I learned a lot this week:

I also used some that new knowledge to write a little program that pulls the title, lead image and date from pages like the one you’re reading right now.

But I didn’t make anything, really. Except a base to build upon.

So while I don’t have a cool thing to post just now, I’m glad for what I’ve learned.

Including the fact that this year has 53 weeks.



#MakeEveryWeek is a challenge to myself to do just that for all of 2015. The original post on the idea is here, and the running list of projects so far is here.

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/835393 2015-04-03T18:11:23Z 2015-04-03T18:23:47Z Make Every Week: Remote-Controlled Egg

In a nod to the egg-dying we’ll be doing this weekend, I made an egg I can color from my phone.

In truth, it was the perfect excuse to play with a Metawear board I picked up a while ago. Hatched from a Kickstarter campaign, it’s a bunch of sensors and an LED packed onto a board the size of a postage stamp. You talk to it over Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE).

The idea is that Metaware can help quickly build smart wearables and fitness trackers. To dip my toes into the process, I made an egg.

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John Keefe