tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:/posts johnkeefe.net 2015-06-26T01:37:06Z 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 2015-05-18T00:44:35Z 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
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/834860 2015-04-02T17:07:43Z 2015-04-02T17:08:53Z Hi, Weatherbot

(This post originally appeared on the Opennews Source blog.)

The students’ eyes opened wide in a mix elation and evil-mad-scientist.

Lines of code projected at the front of the class had just done something in the real world: They sent a tweet. And you could see it, right there on the internet.

The power of this little exercise was crystal clear to the undergraduates. And they couldn’t hide their giddiness.

“Use this only for good,” I admonished.

They had followed along as I built basic Twitter bot. You can do it, too.

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/833915 2015-04-01T03:35:02Z 2015-04-03T04:11:58Z Email Encryption & My PGP Info

My PGP Info

If you’re ready to start encrypting your email, scroll down just a bit to read about how I got started. If you already use PGP (or GPG), here’s the info you may be looking for about me:

I’m currently using a key with the ID of A984EFF1. Its fingerprint is:

444B A830 BD5B 0DB0 56BD E11C 68F2 D169 A984 EFF1

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/832783 2015-03-30T00:45:56Z 2015-03-30T00:59:05Z Make Every Week: Fish Tank Carbon Dioxide Generator

We have a moderately successful family fish tank: The fish seem to survive, the plants do not.

(Also we’re really good at growing algae, and may start feeding it to the children.)

With a coding problem, you Google it and get several excellent solutions. With a fish tank problem, you Google it and get several excellent solutions that contradict each other.

So the excellent solution we’ve chosen to make the plants happy is to add carbon dioxide to the tank. Plants need it, and one of my favorite in-store tanks uses it. So it's settled.

I thought I’d need to pick up a heavy tank of CO2, like when I rented a tank of helium.

Turns out you can coax yeast to make it for you. This Instructable describes how, and is what I used to make ours.

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/828598 2015-03-23T14:28:01Z 2015-03-23T14:32:39Z Make Every Week: Fitness Wristband

The same week we got details about the new Apple Watch, my Nike Fuelband died.

That got me thinking about what I really want — and don't want — on my wrist, and whether I could build something that fit my needs exactly.

So expect a few #MakeEveryWeek weeks devoted to iterations of a fitness watch. This is one of them.

My Fuelband had a clock, which I used for timing my midweek runs of about 20 minutes (don't judge). But I had to keep checking my wrist, and pressing a button in the band, to see if time was up.

I really wanted something to simply tell me when 20 minutes was up. So that's what I made.

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/823909 2015-03-13T15:31:02Z 2015-04-01T20:36:17Z Make Every Week: Selfies from Space

This is a snapshot of my town — taken yesterday.

It is crazy-amazing that I can get an image from space on my computer in damn-near real time.

The camera is Landsat 8, a U.S. Geological Survey satellite with a dozen sensors on it. I got an introduction to using satellite imagery at the NICAR 2015 Conference in Atlanta last week, so I thought I’d give it a whirl for this week’s #MakeEveryWeek.

I wondered if I could see from space the lovely thaw we had the past couple of days, with highs hitting near 60.

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/820631 2015-03-09T02:28:49Z 2015-03-09T03:05:22Z Make Every Week: Arduino Wifi

I wanted my Arduino on the internet.

There are lots of new internet-friendly, Arduino-esque objects, such as the Spark Core. And those are cool.

But getting a plain ol’ Arduino Uno onto the web has been hard. I’ve tried repeatedly. And I have failed. Repeatedly.

This week, I gave it one last try. And I won.

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/817129 2015-03-01T23:03:12Z 2015-03-06T14:52:28Z Make Every Week: Texted Picture Catcher “Let’s have people send pictures!”

This idea comes up a lot where I work. And we’ve done some great photo-crowdsourcing projects.

But how best to get pictures from an audience? Telling people tag us on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook can work, as in WNYC’s Bodega Cats project. But people have to be using those services.

Most folks can email a picture, especially when the email address is easy to remember. That’s what we did for WNYC’s Abandoned Bikes project.

What about texting pictures?

The phone/texting service I like to play with, Twilio, recently added MMS, or Multimedia Messaging Service. MMS is what you’re using when you text a picture or video.

So for this week’s #MakeEveryWeek, I wanted to figure out how to text a picture to my server, via Twilio, and then upload it to Flickr:

Phone -> Phone number -> Twilio -> My Server -> Flickr

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/813554 2015-02-20T02:08:28Z 2015-02-20T02:23:35Z Make Every Week: People Sniffer I can sniff the air and know if you are near.

Your phone’s wifi system transmits periodic “pings” in search of connection points. Those pings contain a set of numbers unique to your phone — its MAC address, or media access control address.

And I can see them.

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/812051 2015-02-15T18:12:02Z 2015-02-15T19:22:59Z Make Every Week: Robot Tapping Solenoids turn code into action.

They’re little pistons triggered by an electrical charge. I’ve seen them play drums and unlock drawers, and I’ve wanted to tinker with them for some time.

Turns out using solenoids means using electrical parts I hadn’t used before.

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/808614 2015-02-08T03:54:22Z 2015-02-08T04:06:41Z 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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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/806701 2015-02-04T05:06:00Z 2015-02-04T05:24:13Z Make Every Week: Entryway Weatherbot As the kids hustle to get out the door, the question always pops up: What’s the weather going to be?

So this week’s #MakeEveryWeek project is an internet-driven forecast bot for our entryway.

It combines kid drawings, cool LEDs, a wifi-connected chip and an online weather service to display the forecast.

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/800739 2015-01-23T04:32:05Z 2015-01-28T16:06:07Z 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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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/796074 2015-01-16T02:58:04Z 2015-02-03T02:56:15Z 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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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/792979 2015-01-08T14:45:00Z 2015-01-16T03:15:22Z 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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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/781957 2014-12-11T19:23:52Z 2015-01-03T21:18:40Z 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.)

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/735762 2014-09-03T04:16:29Z 2014-09-03T04:16:29Z 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.

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/717076 2014-07-30T23:22:22Z 2014-07-30T23:22:23Z "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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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/681910 2014-04-25T02:22:04Z 2014-04-25T02:23:09Z 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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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/673139 2014-04-04T21:13:51Z 2014-04-04T21:13:51Z A Child's Guide to Object-Oriented Programming Someone recently reminded me about this Ignite talk about how my daughter taught me to understand object-oriented programming. I never posted it myself ... until now!

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/660387 2014-03-04T05:19:08Z 2014-03-04T05:22:43Z Cooking with Hardware

The amazing Liza Stark and I had the honor of showing data journalists some of our hardware hackery at the NICAR conference in Baltimore last week.

For a rundown of the things we presented, and our ongoing creations, visit the Team Blinky Tumblr!

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John Keefe
tag:johnkeefe.net,2013:Post/658611 2014-02-27T19:51:57Z 2014-03-01T16:56:42Z The Chartbeat LED Bar

We're always interested in how many folks are viewing our WNYC Data News projects at a given moment, and Chartbeat answers that question. But we don't always want to watch Chartbeat's dashboard for the latest info.

Enter the blinkies.

Using a string of colored LEDs, an Arduino and a little bit of code, we now have an ambient indicator that generally reflects our traffic and alerts us when thing get intense. A program running on my desktop computer checks Chartbeat for the latest number of simultaneous and passes that information across the room using Bluetooth, something I've wanted to play with for a while. 

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John Keefe