Tinkering Social Club: Human Powered Press

Tinkering Social Club is coming back next month with a fantastic activity by Tinkering Studio aficionado Michael Swaine: a human-powered letterpress that we will use to send “slow texts” to people in our lives. Michael was inspired by the way the meaning of the word text changed in the last few centuries:

Tinkering Social Club: Human Powered Press

text (n.) late 14c., "wording of anything written”
text (v.) "to send a text message by mobile system,” 2005
—Online Etymology Dictionary

Texting, in the modern usage, absorbs our minds, fingers, and attention with fast-paced interactions. In this workshop, Michael invites us to take back our sense of time with deliberate, face-to-face connections. Join the slow text movement and create letterpress messages using ink, wooden blocks, paper, and the combined weight of workshop participants.

Tinkering Social Club: Human Powered Press
We will design a “text” using moveable type to be physically delivered to someone in your life. Once your message is set, you will join your fellow luddites on the printing platform to squeeze paper and type together—forming connections from the soles of your feet to the souls of those who’ll receive the prints.

Tinkering Social Club: Human Powered Press
We have been prototyping the event in the Learning Studio with Michael, and the whole process is incredibly fun! Michael came up with a circular form to set the type in, which make the whole process a lot more forgiving and quick, and a belt system to keep the letters tight during the printing process.

Tinkering Social Club: Human Powered Press Tinkering Social Club: Human Powered Press

Of course, since the whole process is about sending “texts,” we couldn't resist creating our very own laser-cut emoji characters (and the hashtag symbol, sometimes known as the octothorpe…) to give participants the opportunity to insert their favorite smiley faces into the message!

Tinkering Social Club: Human Powered Press Tinkering Social Club: Human Powered Press

The wood type needs to be carefully inked

Tinkering Social Club: Human Powered Press Tinkering Social Club: Human Powered Press
Then a wet piece of heavy paper is placed on top, and a wooden platform sits on top of it all. This is where everybody needs to join in to make the whole thing work! It takes quite a lot of weight to fully emboss the paper; we had to run around the museum, and literally grab anyone we could find to join us to stand on top of the platform. Michael's intention is for this to be a little bit awkward, like being pressed in a elevator that has one extra person in it. It also requires a balancing act and coordination among the participants so that the board doesn't tip over one side…

Tinkering Social Club: Human Powered Press
At the end of the process, though, we got a beautifully embossed piece of paper…

Tinkering Social Club: Human Powered Press
And a perfect print! We can't wait to see what you will do with this, and don't forget, Tinkering Social Club is happening Thursday, February 12, 7–9 pm.

Tinkering Social Club is possible through the generous support of Autodesk.

Adult-only evening hours are for 18+ only from 6-10pm on Thursday evenings; admission is $15 ($10 for members). Admission to Tinkering Social Club is at no additional cost.


Wind Tube Mods

One of our favorite activities for both the tinkering studio floor and workshop is wind tubes, where people create objects out of everyday materials that float in interesting ways on a column of air.


We have instructions of how to create the tubes online, but unfortunately they are a bit outdated and use a model of fan that has been discontinued. As well, we are still looking for the best way to build the exhibit cheaply, simply, and sturdily (not always an easy task).

Luckily for us many people around the world are experimenting with windtube designs and we get to learn from their prototyping. This week I received some pictures from Casey Shea, a local teacher who works to integrate many making and tinkering activities into bay area classrooms, about some modifications his group has made to our original wind tubes.

Windtube Construction Ideas

His group used 1/32" thick polycarbonate for the tubes instead of the acetate which he says may be easier to source in the wild. As well they decided to use a wire cage fan as a replacement for the discontinued honeywell model.

Windtube Construction Ideas

They built this snazzy clip system to attaching the tubes to the fans so that the pieces would be removable but also sturdy enough when the wind tubes were in use.

Windtube Construction Ideas

I like this laser cut engraving on the side of the tube, but Casey also wanted to share that besides that decorative element, this version of the activity could also be built using traditional tools.

If you've made windtubes for your classroom, after-school program, museum, or garage send us pictures so we can share more iterations of this delightful tinkering activity.


Prototyping Light Up Coasters

This Friday will be the annual Science of Cocktails event here at the Exploratorium. In past years the Tinkering Studio has hosted the Bling Bar, where visitors can make festive light up accessories. It's a take on the Digital Bling activity we've done in the past, but with some added flair to fit the theme of the night.

Science of Cocktail Science of Cocktail Science of Cocktail

We were interested in trying something new this year, but weren't quite sure what to do. When brainstorming with Yuki from AgIC on making paper circuit cards for AfterDark: Glow, he mentioned they've made light up paper coasters in the past. We realized that making coasters would be the perfect melding of a tinkering activity we love with a fun twist for this event!

We borrowed some petri dishes from our bio lab to use as a protective casing for the paper, then set out on trying different materials for making our coasters. We thought it would be fun to incorporate some familiar materials inside the coasters like bottle caps, paper umbrellas, and drink swords.

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We also experiemnted with creating lots of different examples.

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One of our favorite discoveries are these coin cell batteries that have little tabs that can sit flat on the paper circuit.


One of the trickiest elements we've been prototyping are finding ways to make sensors. The idea of a pressure switch that activates the circuit when a drink is placed on the coaster is the one most of us got into trying. There are a few different ways we tried it out, but we haven't found any that are super consistent. Here's a video of one made with springs and copper tape.

We'll keep prototyping this and share more about what we discover!


Kettenreaktion Videos in Vienna

Last year, we tried a large scale chain reaction experiment in the maker space at the ECSITE conference in The Hague. One of the participants in the workshop, Kathrin from the ScienceCenter-Network in Austria, got inspired by the activity and brought the idea back to Vienna to share with her team. Recently she sent me a few videos made by explainers in the "knowledge room" that show some really excellent chain reactions!

Kettenreaktion 1 from The Tinkering Studio on Vimeo.

Kettenreaktion 2 from The Tinkering Studio on Vimeo.

I love the way these machines use the entire rooms and how the chain reaction elements move across different levels in the space. We're inspired by some of the possibilities in these prototypes for our chain reaction on the floor and its great to see people tinkering with these ideas all over the world. Keep up the awesome work!


Family Creative Learning Online Course

In my last post, I wrote a little bit about some the experiments we tried with Ricarose while she was here for a two week residence in the Learning Studio. I wanted to follow up and share an exciting opportunity for all of us to learn more about her Family Creative Learning workshops, a project that has deeply inspired our tinkering studio group.

Ricarose and the Lifelong Kindergaten team at MIT are currently offering online workshops designed for "facilitators, educators, and community center staff who are interested in engaging their communities in creative learning". There will be four free and open sessions and although the first one went live last week, I think we'll still be able to join in the series mid-stream and get caught up on the google group.

Here's a video of the workshops in action and a description of the program from her website:

"Family Creative Learning is a workshop series that engages children and their parents to learn together — as designers and inventors — through the use of creative technologies. We designed the workshops to strengthen the social support and expertise of families with limited access to resources and experiences around computing."

I definitely recommend joining the community and spending a few hours learning more about this amazing program - Family Creative Learning Online Workshops