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Skill Builder: Hello, Kitchen!



Jeff Potter’s book, Cooking for Geeks, is based on a simple premise: “We geeks are fascinated by how things work, and most of us eat, too.” Food month here on MAKE is built upon that same idea. We’re going to be excerpting from Jeff’s book over the next few weeks, and publishing some of his original content as well. Below is an excerpt from the first chapter of book, fittingly titled, “Hello, Kitchen!” In the next installment, we’ll cover some kitchen equipment basics. -Gareth

Tips for Newbies

Knowing how to overcome functional fixedness problems such as Duncker’s Candle Problem requires understanding how to read a recipe and break it down into the individual steps, so that you can control and vary the discrete stages. As with any protocol, understanding the structure is critical; you have to understand a system before you can hack it. Here are a few tips for getting yourself in the right state of mind to learn the kitchen equivalents of programming’s “open, read, close”:

Have fun! Learning is about curiosity, not work.

Know your type. Like to grill? Then grill. Rather bake? Then bake.

Read the whole recipe before starting, and make sure you understand each step.

Take time to taste things, both to adjust seasoning and to learn how the taste changes during cooking.

Don’t be afraid to burn dinner!

Have fun!

I was talking with a friend of mine, a fellow geek who was just starting to learn to cook, when he said:

I was never that curious about cooking, so I thought that buying The Joy of Cooking and going through it would be the right approach. That’s probably like sitting down with Donald Knuth’s The Art of Computer Programming in order to learn to program, when really all you should be doing at first is trying to make something you like.

He’s right: make something you like, give yourself enough time to enjoy the process, and have fun doing it. Slaving through the Joy or Knuth will work, but it’s not the way most people learn to cook or write code. It’d be like picking up a dictionary to learn how to write. The culinary equivalent of The Oxford English Dictionary or The Art of Computer Programming is Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking (Scribner). It’s a fantastic reference and a substantial contribution to our understanding of the everyday processes in food, and you should make space for a copy on your bookshelf. But it is not a book for learning how to cook.

If there’s one secret about learning how to cook, it’s this: have fun in the kitchen. Go experiment. Play. Take that hacker curiosity that you use in front of the keyboard and bring it with you into the kitchen, to the grocery store, and on your next meal out. Cook to please yourself. Doing someone else’s work is nowhere near as much fun as working on your own projects, and it’s no different in the kitchen: pick something you want to learn how to cook and try making it.

Caught between two different ways of cooking something? Do an A/B test: make it one way, then a second way, and see which works better.

Don’t cook a new dish for an important guest. If you’re nervous about how it’ll turn out, cook for just yourself, so you don’t have to worry about trying to impress someone (especially a potential romantic interest!). It’s entirely okay to screw up and toss it in the trash; it’s no different than a programmer refactoring code. Most people’s first drafts of software, food, or books need refinement before they’re ready to ship. Sure, it’ll hurt a little on the wallet, but it’s not wasted: you did learn something, yes? Success!

Finally, don’t expect your cooking to taste exactly like restaurant or packaged foods. For one, a lot of commercial cooking is designed to appeal to the palette via a salty, fatty, or sugary assault on the senses. Tasty? Yes. Healthy? Not exactly. Learning to cook is a great way to control what you eat and, by extension, your health.

Know your type

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide people into two kinds, and those who don’t. Or is it 10 types: those who know binary, and those who don’t? All joking aside, “binning” yourself into the right category will make the learning process a whole heck of a lot easier. And in case you’re the irreverent type who insists you don’t fit into any standard category, work with me here. Consider the following: vi or emacs? Windows or Mac? PHP or Python? Sure, you might not have strong preferences, but it’s still clear that divisions exist.


The culinary world has its divisions, too. The biggest one in the professional world is that of cooks versus bakers. Cooks have a reputation for an intuitive, “toss it into the pot” approach, adding a pinch of this or a dash of that to “course-correct” along the way. Bakers are stereo-typically described as precise, exact in their measurements, and methodically organized. Even culinary schools such as Le Cordon Bleu split their programs into cooking (“cuisine”) and baking (“patisserie”). But this is probably due to the differences in technique and execution. Cooking is split into two stages: prep work and then an on-demand, line-cook portion. Pastry and baking is almost always done production-style, completed in advance of when the order comes in.

This isn’t to say that professional cooks hate baking, or that bakers don’t enjoy cooking. But if you find yourself dipping your finger into the cake batter and being tempted to add more of this or that, pay attention to what it means. If you’re the type who really likes to have an exact set of instructions to follow, taking the guesswork out of the process, learn to relax and develop your kitchen instincts when whipping up a dinner. Give yourself permission to dislike some parts of cooking. For most of us, it’s a hobby, not a profession, so it’s okay to skip the culinary equivalent of documenting your code.

Avoid PEBKAC-type errors: RTFR!

Avoid Problem Exists Between Knife And Chair–type errors by Reading The F’ing Recipe! Recipes are code, although they require some interpretation, so read the recipe, top to bottom, before starting. One interviewee, Lydia Walshin, explains:

The biggest, biggest piece of advice that I can give any cook starting out, and even a lot of experienced cooks, is to take a minute, breathe deeply, read the recipe first, and know from the beginning where you think you want to end up. Don’t start out thinking you’re making a soup and halfway through you find out you’re making a stew, because it’s a recipe for disaster.

Every. Word. Matters. I’ve watched geeks with PhDs in chemistry skip right over steps that say “turn off heat” in the middle of a recipe that involves melting chocolate in simmering port. Turn off heat? But melting things requires heat! In fact, the residual heat from the port will melt the chocolate, and this way you don’t accidentally burn it.

It’s okay to go “off recipe.” In fact, it’s a great way to learn; just do it intentionally. Maybe you don’t have all the ingredients and want to substitute something else. Perhaps the recipe is poorly written or has errors. Or, as in programming, you can see there’s more than one way to do it and you want to do it differently. A recipe isn’t a strict protocol, but do understand the suggested protocol before deviating.

There’s a lot of room for personal preference in cooking. Just because a recipe for hot chocolate might say “½ cup heavy cream, 1 cup milk,” that doesn’t mean you must use those quantities. As another interviewee put it, “Please, let’s get off the recipes!” I couldn’t agree more. If you’re following a recipe and think it needs more or less of something, or could benefit from an extra spice, go for it. I usually stick to the recipe the first time I make something, but after that, all bets are off. I’ll pull out a pencil, make notes, change quantities, drop and add ingredients. I encourage you to do that to this book! After making something, take a pencil and make notes as to what you’d do differently next time. That way, when you next pick up the book, you’ll remember how to tweak the recipe to your taste. (And if there are any errors in the text, you won’t repeat them.)

If a brownie recipe calls for walnuts, but you really like almonds, yes, it’ll still work! Out of vanilla extract? Those chocolate chip cookies will be fine. Your timer says the chicken has been in for the prescribed time, but it’s still got that gross, raw chicken look? Pop it back in the oven. (Better yet, use a probe thermometer.)

In most modern cookbooks, recipes are laid out in two sections: ingredients and methods. The ingredients section lists the quantities and prep steps for each of the ingredients, and the methods section describes how to combine them. Recipes in this book are laid out in a more conversational format that walks you through the recipes with ingredients listed as they come up. Pay attention to the notes, as they show where you can do things differently.

To get started, consider the recipe for hot chocolate on the following page.

The recipes in this book give both weight in grams and standard U.S. volume-based quantities. Sometimes, the weights are rounded up or down a bit. 1 cup milk, for example, actually weighs 256 grams (1 cup = 237 ml).

What kind of milk? Whole milk? Skim? If a recipe doesn’t specify, it shouldn’t matter too much, although as a general rule I tend to split the difference and grab lowfat/semi-skimmed milk. Sometimes the choice is governed by taste preference, so if you’re used to that watery stuff or are the stick-of-butter type, go for it. Some cookbooks will specify defaults in their introductions, perhaps defining milk as whole milk. The most common generic term is flour. When it’s called for, you can assume that what you need is AP (all-purpose) flour. AP flour really isn’t all-purpose; it just has a moderate amount of gluten (10–12%) as compared to cake flour (6–8%) or bread flour (12–14%).

When a recipe calls for something “to taste,” add a pinch, taste it, and continue adding until you think it is balanced. What constitutes balanced is a matter of cultural background and personal preference for some ingredients, especially seasoning ingredients such as salt, lemon juice, vinegar, and hot sauce. There’s some evidence that some of these preferences are actually a matter of biological differences between the way different people taste.

f(g(x)) != g(f(x)) Translation? Order of operations is important! “3 tablespoons bittersweet chocolate, chopped” is not the same thing as “3 tablespoons chopped bittersweet chocolate.” The former calls for 3 tablespoons of chocolate that are then chopped up (taking up more than 3 tablespoons), whereas the latter refers to a measure of chocolate that has already been chopped. When you see recipes calling for “1 cup nuts, chopped,” measure the nuts, then chop; likewise, if the recipe calls for “1 cup chopped nuts,” chop the nuts and then measure out 1 cup.

Taste == Feedback

Learn to really taste things. The mechanical aspects of cooking—combining ingredients, applying heat—come down to smell and taste. Pay attention to your sense of smell and see if you can notice a change in the odors just as the food finishes cooking. Take time to taste a dish and ask yourself what would make it better. And taste things throughout the process of cooking to see how the flavors evolve over time.

One of the first things I was taught in painting class was to be comfortable scraping the still-wet oil paint off the canvas. We were told to paint a still life; a few hours later, our instructor said, “Great, now take the palette knife and scrape the paint off. All of it.” Talk about frustration! But it’s a good lesson: becoming attached to the current state of something prevents you from being able to see better ways of doing it. In writing, it’s called “killing your babies”: deleting favorite bits of the text that no longer serve their original purpose. (These are usually pieces of text that are older and have survived rewrites due to emotional attachment.) “Killing your babies” is about getting beyond the current version, about getting from point A to a better point: B.

How does all this relate to cooking? Given a sauce, stew, cookie dough, whatever food you’re working with, its “current state” is A. If you taste it and think it’s not quite right, how do you get to B? Start with A, taste it, take a guess at what might make it better, and try version B. Turning out great food isn’t about following a recipe exactly and getting it right on the first pass; it’s about making many small guesses and picking the better choice with each guess.

Try making a guess with a small side portion if you’re unsure. Making stew? Put a few spoonfuls in a bowl and season that. Making cookies? Bake just one cookie, see how it comes out, and tweak the dough before making the next one.

Sure, to be proficient at something you do need the technical skill to be able to see where you want to go and to understand how to get there. And happy accidents do happen. However, the methodical approach is to look at A, wonder if maybe B would be better, and rework it until you have B. (“Hmm, seems a bit dull, needs a bit more zing, how about some lemon juice?”) The real skill isn’t in getting to B, though: it’s in holding the memory of A in your head and judging whether B is actually an improvement. It’s an iterative process—taste, adjust, taste, adjust—with each loop either improving the dish or educating you about what guesses didn’t work out. Even the bad guesses are useful because they’ll help you build up a body of knowledge.

Taste the dish. It’s your feedback mechanism both for checking if A is “good enough” and for determining if B is better than A.

Don’t be afraid to burn dinner!

Talking with other geeks, I realized how lucky I was as a kid to have parents who both liked to cook and made time to sit down with us every day over a good home-cooked meal. Because of this background, approaching the kitchen has never been a big deal for me. But for some, the simple idea of stepping into the kitchen sets off panic attacks as the primitive parts of the brain take over (you can blame your brain’s locus coeruleus; it’s not your fault).

Here’s the thing. Failure in the kitchen—burning something, “wasting” money, and having to order pizza—is actually success. Think of it this way: there’s not much to learn when things work. When they fail, you have a chance to understand where the boundary conditions are and an opportunity to learn how to save something in the future when things go awry. Made mac ’n cheese from scratch but the sauce turned out gritty? Spend some time searching online and you’ll discover that gritty cheese sauce = “broken” sauce, which is caused by too much heat and stirring, or using nonfat cheese. The key to learning how to cook is to define success as a chance to learn rather than as a perfect meal. Even if dinner does end up in the trash, if you learned something about what went wrong, that’s success. Failure in the kitchen is a better instructor than success.

Fear of failure is another thoroughly modern American phenomenon. We’re bombarded with images of the perfect Thanksgiving turkey (they probably used a plastic one during the photo shoot), photos of models sporting impossible physiques (thanks, Photoshop), and stories of triumph and success (where they don’t disclose the sad parts and trade-offs). Then when we go to try something, we often find it doesn’t work for us the way it seems to for others. Setbacks. Negative feedback. No wonder there’s so much fear of failure: we’ve set ourselves a bar so high that it simply doesn’t exist.

There’s a generation of Americans hung up on being perfect. The perfect white teeth, the perfect clothing, the perfect “carefree” tossed-together wardrobe. Helicopter parents. Overly critical Yelp.com reviews that rag on everything, down to who cuts our hair and the food we eat. Insane expectations in reviews on Amazon.com about the books we read. (A good book is one that gives you more value than the cost of the book and your time. Be kind. ;-) ) No wonder why some parts of American society seem to match the DSM-V criteria for schizophrenia: we’re literally going insane trying to be perfect when it just isn’t possible. It’s much easier to love yourself for who you are than to try to be perfect (the latter will never bring true happiness), and it’s much easier in the kitchen to aspire to “fun and tasty” than the perfect 16-course gourmet meal (although attempting it can be fun on occasion).

Be okay with being “just” good enough. Part of the appeal of Julia Child was her almost-average abilities and her “nothing special” aura. The reason some people fear Martha Stewart is because her cooking looks perfect and always comes out perfectly on the first try. (I have the world of respect for Ms. Stewart.) Given her background—starting a catering business out of her basement—she had to be perfect to succeed. (Wedding days have to be perfect, no?) This quest for perfection comes at a real cost, though; even if it’s achievable for a day, it isn’t practical day-in, day-out.

Set reasonable goals, and expect to get frustrated on occasion. Cooking well takes practice. Play around with various ingredients and techniques, and come up with projects you want to try. (Mmm, bacon and egg breakfast pizza.) It’s like learning to play the guitar: at first you strive just to hit the notes and play the chords, and it takes time to gain command of the basic techniques and to move on to the level where subtle improvisation and nuanced expression can occur. If your dream is to play in a band, don’t expect to get up on stage after a day or even a month; start by picking up a basic book on learning to play the guitar and practicing somewhere you’re comfortable.

A beta tester for this book commented:

While there are chefs with natural-born abilities, people have to be aware that learning to cook is an iterative process. They have to learn to expect not to get it right the first time, and proceed from there, doing it again and again.

What about when you fubar (foobar?) a meal and can’t figure out why? Think of it like not solving a puzzle on the first try. When starting to cook, make sure you don’t pick puzzles that are too difficult. Start with simpler puzzles (recipes) that will allow you to gain the insights needed to solve the harder ones. And give it time. You might have days when you feel like you’ve learned nothing, but the cumulative result will lead to insights.

If a recipe doesn’t work as well as you’d have liked, try to figure out why and then try it again. It might also be the fault of the recipe, or that the recipe is simply too advanced. I know some newbies who have gotten stuck trying to perfect one dish. They usually burn out in frustration. If you’re not happy with the results of your early attempts, try a different source of recipes. Some books, especially those from top-tier restaurateurs such as Chefs Thomas Keller or Grant Achatz, are highly technical and complicated. Don’t begin with these recipes; instead, pick recipes that limit the number of variables to just a handful that you can manage.

More:


In the Maker Shed:
Makershedsmall
Cooking for Geeks
Jeff Potter, O’Reilly, 2010
Are you the innovative type, the cook who marches to a different drummer, used to expressing your creativity instead of just following recipes? Are you interested in the science behind what happens to food while it’s cooking? Do you want to learn what makes a recipe work so you can improvise and create your own unique dish? Author Jeff Potter has done the cubicle thing, the startup thing, and the entrepreneur thing, and through it all maintained his sanity by cooking for his friends.

 

News from the Future – Tiny Turbines Spin Up In Human Arteries

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Swiss Scientists Design a Turbine to Fit in Human Arteries @ IEEE Spectrum via jwz.

Coaches admire athletes for showing a lot of heart, and poets praise the organ’s passions, but engineers see the human cardiovascular system otherwise. The heart is a pump in a prime location, brimming with energy for the taking, says mechanical engineer Alois Pfenniger. So together with colleagues at the University of Bern and the Bern University of Applied Sciences, in Switzerland, Pfenniger has tested small turbines designed to fit inside a human artery, like an implantable hydroelectric generator.

“The heart produces around 1 or 1.5 watts of hydraulic power, and we want to take maybe one milliwatt,” Pfenniger explains. “A pacemaker only needs around 10 microwatts.” At the Microtechnologies in Medicine and Biology conference in Lucerne, Switzerland, earlier this month, Pfenniger presented results from a trial in which a tube is designed to mimic the internal thoracic artery, a millimeters-wide vessel that doctors sometimes cannibalize for surgery because it is redundant. The most efficient of the three off-the-shelf turbines he tested produced around 800 microwatts, which could run devices much more power hungry than today’s pacemakers.

Blood-pressure sensors, drug-delivery pumps, or neurostimulators could all benefit from an independent power supply. These devices are already implanted in many people, but each requires a replaceable battery or a cable to keep the power flowing. Miniaturizing such devices and eliminating cables could allow surgeons to implant them in ways that improve blood flow, reduce side effects, and add new functions. Self-contained devices could also monitor vital signs with unprecedented continuity, Pfenniger suggests.

 


GGHC Finalist Profile — Build Brighton


 


Our coverage of element14′s Great Global Hackerspace Challenge continues with a profile of BuildBrighton and their fabulous Phonicubes project.

Phonicubes is a super nerdy way of teaching kids to read using the Phonics system. It uses an Arduino Duemilanove, a protoshield, a custom wave shield, and an ID-2 RFID module for a total cost of £81, well under the team’s US$900 budget.

It consists of a laser-cut wooden enclosure able to accommodate four cubes, each of which is equipped with magnets (to keep it in the enclosure) as well as a PIC microcontroller so that the reader knows which of each cube’s six faces is pointing outward. I loved this aspect of the project because it seems so simple, yet they were incredibly challenging to create. Another impressive aspects was building their own custom Wave Shield with an on-board ATMega 328 running Arduino, replacing a full-sized Arduino and shield.

The goal of the project is to get kids to spell words, coached by Arduino, which can tell whether the cubes are present and in the right order. The child listens to the Phonicube and places the right blocks in the reader, earning either encouragement or praise from the reader, depending on how well he or she does.

I interviewed BuildBrighton’s Toby Cole about their project:

What was it like working on the GGHC Challenge?

The GGHC was a great experience for us all, it really brought a lot of us together and gave us a common goal. It did however get a bit stressful near the end as four weeks isn’t a lot of time, and a couple of our members had to drop out of the challenge team to start work on Brighton Mini Maker Faire, which is coming up at the end of August.

How did you split up roles with your teammates?

We had a kickoff meeting (in a pub, obviously) to decide what direction our project was going in, and settled on the Phonics idea. However, we couldn’t decide on the specifics of the input and output devices so we split up and prototyped these separately. There’s a big chunk of our first post on element14 describing how we divvied up the work.

The great thing about taking a modular approach to our project was that we managed to include so many people. The final device ended up being pretty simple, but that was mainly because so many people put in hours of effort trying to figure out the simplest solutions to our problems.

In coming up with a project, did the educational requirement of the contest pose a special challenge for you?

BuildBrighton as a group have worked on quite a few educational projects, and we regularly run electronics, soldering and circuit design workshops so the educational aspect of the challenge wasn’t too daunting.

How did you come up with your idea?

In our lunchtime-pub-kickoff-drinking-discussion session, we tossed around quite a few ideas ranging from musical instruments to mathematics teaching aids, but we kept coming back to the idea of cubes as a nice, tactile way of inputting data. Jason then mentioned Phonics, and how his kid’s school uses it as a way of teaching English. After a bit of googling, we decided that there was definitely space for a Phonics-based toy.

Tell me about the sort of student who you think would learn a lot from the Phonicubes project.

Phonicubes is primarily aimed at teaching English to children of around 2 – 4 years of age, however, you can change the words that the child has to spell, increasing their difficulty, to expand the age range upwards.

What was it like working with RFID tags and readers?

Quite stupidly I volunteered to do the RFID research for the project. Turns out RFID is very complicated if you want to implement anything from scratch. Luckily there are quite a few good RFID modules available, so in the last week, we altered our design to use the ID-2 RFID module from ID Innovations. This allowed us to concentrate on our control code rather than the analog electronics of the RFID circuitry. I wrote up a lot of my trials and tribulations with RFID on our challenge blog. We are planning on using our newly found RFID expertise to create a door-entry system for our ‘space, and possibly use RFID to track members’ use of our newly purchased laser cutter.

Looking over the other entries, tell me about any favorites among the ones that won or didn’t win.

I think the entry that impressed us most was the Hack Factory’s giant breadboard and components. It’s got a really nice balance between electronics and craftiness. It’s hard to pick a favorite out of the other two finalists, they’re both really cool ideas, and both really different!

One requirement of the contest is that the project be easily reproducible, what sort of skill level is needed to build Phonicubes?

It should be possible to make a Phonicubes set with very little technical knowledge. You can use a couple of off the shelf Arduinos, a Wave Shield, one RFID module, and a handful of resistors. The physical enclosure can be assembled in a variety of ways, we used our laser cutter to speed things up, but there’s no reason why you couldn’t print the designs on paper and cut the shapes out by hand. All the parts of the enclosure are hot-glued together. If I can assemble it, then almost anyone could!


Congrats to BuildBrighton and their team!

For more information on the project, check out the team’s element14 blog, their project blog and their Github repository.

Also see our coverage of Pumping Station:One’s entry in the challenge. On Thursday we’ll be profiling the third finalist project, Hackerspace Charlotte’s Feltronics, and we’ll be announcing the winner at Maker Faire Bay Area on Sunday, May 22.


This post was sponsored by element14. Besides the requirement that we cover the three finalists in the Great Global Hackerspace Challenge, they had no control over editorial content.

 

Gigantic DIY Ultra-large Format Film Camera

Searching for a way to enlarge some 8″x10″ prints without going digital, photographer (and close friend) Darren Samuelson decided to forego using an enlarger and instead built a gigantic ultra-large format camera capable of taking pictures on 14″x36″ X-Ray film. Taking over six months to complete, when fully extended the enormous hand-made bellows camera is close to six feet long. In this short by videographer Matthew Sultan, Samuelson talks about his process while on a photo shoot at Lands End in San Francisco.

Next week Samuelson will be embarking on a road trip, taking his camera along a route from New Orleans to New York, stopping off at points between. You can follow his progress on his blog and view images taken with the camera here.

 

Streaming Demos Live from Maker Faire Bay Area 2011

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The demo stages in the MAKE and CRAFT booths in the center of Expo Hall at Maker Faire this weekend are packed with back-to-back demos all weekend long. We’ll be streaming a selection of these demos live on the Maker Faire Ustream channel for those of you unable to join in the festivities in-person. Times listed are in Pacific time (GMT -7).

Saturday, May 21:

  • 10:00 AM – 10:45 AM No-Sew Projects Using a T-Shirt – Lee Meredith
  • 11:00 AM – 11:20 AM Introduction to Arduino: Make and Use a Breadboard Arduino – Dale Wheat
  • 11:30 AM – 11:50 AM Inside MAKE Labs: MAKE magazine interns tell all! – Make Engineering Interns
  • 12:00 PM – 12:20 PM DIY Scanning Electron Microscope – Ben Krasnow
  • 12:30 PM – 12:50 PM Tonka Hacking – Todd Lappin
  • 1:00 PM – 1:45 PM Star Wars Crafts: Washcloth Wampa – Bonnie Burton
  • 2:00 PM – 1:20 PM World’s Simplest Longboard – Mark Frauenfelder
  • 2:30 PM – 2:50 PM Tinkering With Light – Nicole Catrett
  • 3:00 PM – 3:45 PM Crafty Ladies of the 60s & 70s – Cathy Callahan
  • 4:00 PM – 4:45 PM Needle Felting 101 – Moxie
  • 5:00 PM – 5:45 PM Kanzashi: Learn the Art of Japanese Fabric Flower – Diane Gilleland
  • 6:00 PM – 6:20 PM From Guitar Zeros to EA’s Music Construction Set – Owen Grace
  • 6:30 PM – 6:50 PM DIY Long Duration Time-Lapse – Ken Murphy
  • 7:00 PM – 6:20 PM Blinky Bugs: Make Your Own Electric Insects – Ken Murphy
  • 7:30 PM – 7:50 PM VJacket, A Wearable Controller for Live Video Performance – odbol

Sunday, May 22:

  • 11:00 AM – 11:20 AM Make a Pop-Up Creature – Paper Engineering – Shelby Arnold
  • 11:30 AM – 11:50 AM StarBoards – Meredith Scheff-King
  • 12:00 PM – 12:20 PM Hacking Toys for Robotic Control using EZ-Robot – DJ Suresw
  • 12:30 PM – 12:50 PM MapBag: A Proprioceptive Augmentation Device – Josh Billions
  • 1:00 PM – 1:20 PM Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse: The Ghetto Ghillie – Marque Cornblatt
  • 1:30 PM – 1:50 PM Automated Camera Rigs for DJ/VJ performance – Josh Cardenas
  • 2:00 PM – 2:45 PM Getting Started with Soft Circuits – Angela Sheehan
  • 3:00 PM – 3:20 PM Blendophone: iPhone + Arduino + Blenders (a “musical” instrument) – John Park
  • 3:30 PM – 3:50 PM Super Awesome Sylvia’s Live Mini Maker Show – Super Awesome Sylvia and her dad, James Todd
  • 4:00 PM – 4:20 PM The Talking Breathalyzer – Al Linke
  • 4:30 PM – 4:50 PM Tiny Wanderer – Table Edge-Detecting Robot – Dale Wheat
  • 5:00 PM – 5:45 PM Shoemaking – Thomas Maiorana

Check out the full demo stage schedules for MAKE and CRAFT at Maker Faire for more details. Above photo by Matt Mets.

 

Jell-O Mold Competition 2011 – Call To Entry

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It’s time again to enter the Gowanus Studio Space Jell-O Mold Competition in NYC!

The Jell-O Mold Competition has taken Jell-O out of the cafeteria, but the time has come to take it out of the kitchen altogether and into the world at large! This year, Jell-O takes New York.

To get things wobbling, we took Jell-O out to the city and into the classroom for a Jell-O Mold Workshop for NYC high school students run in partnership with Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum and Eyebeam Art + Technology Center, with additional support from Smart Design–now it’s your turn to get in on the adventure.

This year’s competition asks designers to explore the everyday uses of this wobbly, delicious, shape shifting medium.

Designers will compete for cash prizes, a year membership to the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, gifts from Papabubble, Holstee, and more!

A crack panel of respected judges including Allan Chochinov of Core77, Emily Elsen of Four & Twenty Blackbirds pie shop, and Josee Lepage of creative agency Bondtoo will announce the winners at 8pm on Saturday, June 25, 2011. The judging and awards ceremony will be held at the Gowanus Studio Space in Brooklyn.

More:

Aspic Ascension: 2010 Jell-O Mold Winners

 

In the MakerShed: BrushBots

BrushBots
Build your own scuttling vibrating robot with our BrushBot kit from the Maker Shed. BrushBots are easy to make, fun to build, and easy to personalize. You will find all the parts needed to build 4 BrushBots in each kit.

 

Project Aura: A Bicycle Safety Lighting System

Riding at night can be a daunting and dangerous task; many biking commuters are faced with the issue of being obscured when riding on the streets. Visibility at night is a vital component of biker safety, hence the need for reflectors and attachable lights. However, some of these devices are not always effective especially from the side.

We created a system that requires very little rider input and maintenance, while increasing the visual footprint of bikers from all directions especially from the side. We accomplished this by expanding the surface area of light emitted through the use of RGB LEDs inside the rims of the wheels that change from red when slowing down to white when at cruising speed.

 

Blendophone Project Build Part 2

Here’s the next step in the Blendophone project I’m building for Maker Faire: making it wireless. (Note: I’ll be doing a talk about the Blendophone with my co-conspirator, Usman Muzaffar, at next weekend’s Maker Faire Bay Area 2011 each day at 3pm on the Make: Live stage in Expo Hall).

So far, I can control up to eight AC powered devices from my Arduino. I wrote a sketch (program) that turns each of those switches on and off using simple serial commands. If an “A” comes over the serial port, the first AC switch turns on. “B” turns on the second switch, and so on. Lower case letters, such as “a” and “b” turn off the corresponding switches. I can type these into a serial terminal program, such as CoolTerm on OSX or HyperTerminal on Windows, and watch lights and blenders turn on and off.

By adding XBee wireless radios, I can now send those commands over the air. No wired connection required between computer and Arduino. I got a pair of XBee radios and adapter kits, plus an Adafruit FTDI Friend that lets me plug one into a USB port on the computer. The other I inserted into some header pins I soldered onto my ProtoScrewShield. For durability, I fit the compute-side XBee setup into a plastic terminal box I bought at the hardware store. I drilled three holes in the lid so I could see the status LEDs and poke the antenna out.

Now, when I hook up a PowerSwitch Tail to my Arduino and type “A” into a serial terminal on my computer, the serial command travels rapidly over the airwaves and turns on the AC switch!

In the Maker Shed:

Makershedsmall

XBee

XBee

 

Tool Review: Video Experimenter Shield

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Video Experimenter Shield
With high-definition television becoming increasingly widespread, many people are tossing their old NTSC or PAL video equipment to the curb. But as makers, we can reclaim this old equipment for our own projects. Enter The Video Experimenter. This Arduino shield by Nootropic Design lets you program your Arduino microcontroller to manipulate and analyze NTSC or PAL video signals from a composite video source. You can also decode closed caption text, which is transmitted within the video image.

Assembling The Video Experimenter Shield

The Video Experimenter shield can be purchased fully assembled ($32.95) or as a kit ($24.95). The clearly written and photographed assembly instructions that are available online offer a detailed walkthrough so that even someone just learning to solder will be able to assemble it themselves. The assembly guide covers only how to solder it together, and unfortunately doesn’t offer any explanation for the purpose of each component on the circuit board. This is something I like to learn about when I’m assembling a board.

The shield has a composite video input and output. You can overlay simple graphics and text over the video signal that comes into the board, or you can switch off the overlay function entirely. The Video Experimenter shield uses the Arduino’s digital pins 2, 6, 7, 8, and optionally 9 in addition to analog pin 2, so you’ll have to keep that in mind if you plan on stacking this shield with any others. The shield’s hardware and software libraries are open source, so if you want to make your own variant on Nootropic’s design, you can as long as you keep the design open source.

Nootropic posted five example Arduino sketches, which show off the different features of the shield. After downloading and installing their enhanced TVout library, I had no problem loading the sketches onto my Arduino Duemilanove and playing around with them. The examples can look intimidating at first, but with my basic Arduino skills, I managed to make my own simple text overlay rather easily. Below you can see the project I whipped up in a few minutes.

If you’re looking to incorporate video into your next Arduino project, I strongly encourage you to try out the Video Experimenter shield. Even if you don’t have a specific purpose for it in mind, it’s sure to inspire creativity while you tinker around with it.

To test The Video Experimenter, I quickly created my own sketch based on some of the example code. There are some sync issues that need to be fixed, and I suspect it has to do with my camera’s very slight delay while processing video on the fly.

 


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