Workshop at I/O Youth

Last week Google held its annual I/O conference for app developers and as part of the celebration, they invited school groups from around the bay area to try out hands-on activities and get excited about science, technology and programming.

We joined our friends at Science Journal, Little Bits, MIT Media Lab, and Toontastic to set up a wide variety of experiences around the room for the kids to test out. We brought a bunch of mechanical parts from dissected singing and dancing toys as tools that learners could use to experiment with simple circuits.

Drawing Automata Ideas

During our tinkering residency at Chabot, we've started testing out different ways to make art machines that trace a path as they move across the table. Previously we've built scribblers that use an offset weight (hot melt glue stick) to vibrate and create motion. As well, last summer we worked with the tinkering studio team and LEGO foundation to prototype LEGO technic art machines with more complex movements. These initial experiments have inspired us to expand on the ideas and create some key parts to allow for deep explorations while maintaining the frugal materials and recycled aesthetic of the scribbling machines activity. 

Circuit Bending Workshop

There are a lot of ways to reuse parts from dissected singing and dancing toys. We’ve mounted the mechanisms to use in electricity explorations or chain reactions, we’ve sewn the fur and stuffing to create mash-up toys and recently we’ve been investigating possibilities for hacking the circuit boards inside.

One of the ideas that we’ve been interested in exploring more is ‘circuit bending’ or the act of making creative short circuits to produce unexpected tones, sounds and music.We’ve done a few experiments, but to really dig into this topic, we invited over a couple guest tinkerers with some experience in the area

Old Toys, New Circuit Boards

Over the last few weeks, we've been searching high and low for used toys all over the Bay Area and harvesting them for parts to create circuit board sets, chain reaction elements, and dissection/remixing examples. I recently came away with a great haul from (the sadly recently closed) Thrift Town in San Francisco. As usual, once we stated dissecting these toys, we discovered some new mechanisms and unusual paths for investigation.  

Ryan Jenkins
Benicia Mini Maker Faire

On Sunday, we set up a pop-up tinkering workshop at Benicia Mini Maker Faire. We brought an arduino powered bubble blowing machine, a new version of our toy dissection tool kit and a bunch of toy parts mounted on circuit blocks to explore with participants.

Ryan Jenkins
Art Machines at Junior Center

On Monday we led a professional development workshop for the education staff of the Junior Center for Art and Science, a community museum on the edge of Lake Merritt. It was a great chance to try out an activity with the team and have a reflective conversation.

WorkshopRyan Jenkins
a kaleidoscopic business card

Once we figured out our name, we were ready to put it on a business card. But we needed an image, and I immediately thought of the Shadow Kaleidoscope.

There is an exhibit at the Exploratorium that Frank Oppenheimer made, and it is lovely. It's called the Shadow Kaleidoscope, and it is a super simple way to create beautiful symmetries out of shadows.

To make a Shadow Kaleidoscope, you just need a bright point source light pointing down at two hinged mirrors, and your hands. When you move your hands above the mirrors, the shadows are reflected in the mirrors below, and they make beautiful kaleidoscopic images.

Using your hands is lovely, but it is also fun use familiar tools and materials to make shadows. Some of my favorite things to play with are string, plastic bags, colored glass and lenses. The beauty of a kaleidoscope is it turns a mess into symmetry. To make a beautiful mess, it helps to have a clear piece of glass above your mirrors, where you can arrange your shadow-making objects. You can also paint on the glass with ink and water to create some really beautiful effects.

To create the images for our new business cards, I put together a shadow kaleidoscope rig with stuff I had around the house. I'm especially proud of the fancy camera rig, I made it with a selfie-stick and a jar of beans.


crafting a logo

It's really fun to make different versions, whether they're on the tortilla printing press or on a computer, and they all seem to have their own personalities. I've been using lots of different tools and materials to tinker with the logo, and each tool gives it a different character. So far I have tried the tortilla press, photoshop, and I am planning to try airbrushing and see if I can try out the CNC embroidery machine at Techshop. A friend suggested making a color-changing LED gif. What else should we try with the logo? This is going to be fun!

Nicole Catrett