Build Your Own Bling at the Gala

Last week was our annual Gala. For an activity for the after party we thought it would be fun to revisit creating digital bling like we did for our Opening Gala two years ago, but with a new twist.

Former Tinkerer in Residence, Jie Qi, introduced us to making paper circuits way back at the PFA and we've had a blast exploring the possiblities of creating circuits on paper ever since. Jie has continued to tinker with paper circuit technology and developed amazing circuit stickers! Her company, Chibitronics, has stickers that can add effects like blinking, fading, and twinkling to your creations.

For the Gala we decided to combine the technolgies of the Chibitroics ciruict stickers with wearables to make fun, fashionable, light-up accessories! We started by making some prototypes in the Learning Studio to try it out ourselves first. I wanted to start by making a paper flower headband that has lights that fade on and off. It took a couple tries to make the base layer of the flower, but eventually I found a shape that worked both aesthetically and as a platform for making the circuit. The velcro dot in the middle also made it easy to attach and detach the other layers to turn the lights on and off.

We thought hats and pins would be a good complement to the headbands and fascinators. Here's a pin we made with the heartbeat effects sticker and a paperclip switch to turn it on and off.

This hat uses the blink effects sticker. One thing I love about the effects is that you can create alternating blinks by placing the lights on different positive and negative pathways with the signal line.

With these prototypes and examples made, we were ready for the event. We set up our workshop in a corner of the after party area. Gala-goers began filling the space as soon as we opened.

This pair made an amazing Claire-Danes-a-la-Romeo-and-Juliet-era-inspired tiara and bolo tie (which became a headband of sorts).

Fascinators were definitely the most popular accessory of the night. Here a few examples of the variety of designs we saw that night.

This hat had a twinkle function, similar to Ryan's blinking tophat.

There were even some designs we didn't expect, like this statement piece necklace!

The gala was an amazing night, and it was great to try a new twist on electronic wearables with the Chibitronics lights and effects stickers. I can't wait to try this activity in the Tinkering Studio sometime soon!


Making Paper Flower Models for Nature Bots


A student tells others about the California poppy at their feet
and encourages them not to pick the flowers for their collections.

We started Nature Bots with a walk through the Visitacion Valley Greenway. This is a path that cuts through the middle of several city blocks, starting about 5 minutes from the clubhouse. Many of the kids know the community organizer who made the greenway possible and are familiar with the native plants that were planted there. In circle, before we left we asked the kids what kinds of things we should keep in mind when collecting plant from the greenway. They suggested things like picking only things that have fallen to the ground, not picking flowers if there are only a few on the plant, or just using our field microscopes to examine the plants without picking anything off of them. We then set off on our walk with the microscopes, science notebooks and paper lunch bags for collecting.


When we got back to the clubhouse with our paper bags, some of the kids began examining the flowers and plants and drawing them in their notebooks. The kids that have history with the greenway and it’s creation and upkeep were a little upset to see how many plants and flowers had been picked on our walk. Also we noticed that because the kids had very little context for the making of nature bots, they collected things that were fragile and would wilt before we began building.

Throughout the week we all thought about this and how to address it with the kids. Trisha decided that in circle we could open a few of their bags and ask them what they thought about how the collections had changed during the week and what meaning that might have. This would be an opportunity to reconnect to earlier discussion about the life cycle of plants.

Leading up to Nature Bots, we spent a few weeks doing Botany Explorations where we emphasized the development of drawing skills as observation and description when getting to know something new that we may not have words for yet.

I wondered if there was some way that we could build representations of the flowers we had picked in a similar take on observation. This could also help to address the issues of taking too much from the plants and from the impermanence of the things we take.

I decided to try and make tissue paper flowers.


Using this photo of some of the flowers that were collected, I cut layers of tissue paper in the shapes of the flower petals. I used pipe cleaners for stems and stamen and small dabs of hot glue to keep it all together. Here are my attempts at building representations of a clover, cosmo and lavender flower. Wilt-free and no picking required!




Circuit Board Prototyping

Out classic design for circuit boards has worked well for many years. Some of the features of the set that we value are the natural wood blocks that feel approachable, the nails that make for easy connections with alligator clips, and the transparency of the simple battery packs, light bulbs, and switches. But with our current facilitation schedule, the activity set has to do more duty as a 'self-serve' activity. We think that this works okay in terms of the experience of visitors who can get started on their own and have a good time messing around with circuits, but it makes us think deeper about how the design can best support this role on the floor.

The Art of Tinkering Workshop – Day 1

The biggest thing that we've had to make adjustments for, is the possibility that the battery packs get left short circuited for a long time. We've learned that this can lead to batteries heating up, popping and creating a possibly hazardous experience. Once we started having the circuit boards out in the tinkering studio without constantly present facilitators (who can periodically check and unclip any short circuits) we needed to rethink and tweak the design.

IMG_6692 IMG_6690

So over the course of six months or so, we tried lots of different things. First we experimented was a new covered battery pack. We started to test out this black one, but didn't like how you couldn't see the batteries. Finding a transparent battery pack solved that problem, but the plastic used in this piece was brittle and more likely to break, so that was out for the museum floor as well. Also, both of these packs had to be unscrewed to change the batteries which meant that explainers who have limited time might be less likely to change out dead batteries.


Our next idea was to mount an acrylic cover to the board. This solved the transparency and sturdiness requirements, but made it much harder to change the batteries and we felt like having four screws to undo instead of one would make changing out dead batteries too onerous.

Battery heat from The Tinkering Studio on Vimeo.

We remembered about a year ago, we had been experimenting with resettable fuses in circuit boards. We ruled them out at the time because we didn't want to hide the piece, yet since it got really hot, having it exposed was also not a good option.


But after going back over the design options, we came back around to the PTC and wondered if a simple clear acrylic cover would do the trick to prevent visitors from touching the hot part, yet keep the component visible. We put together a board and short circuited it for a while to test out how it worked. The battery didn't rise in temperature and the acrylic cover just got a little bit warm to the touch. So this seemed like a good solution.


I built ten or twelve boards to make a test run on the floor to see how they held up (I also added a bit of a back stop to some of them to see if it would help with breakage). Everything seemed great, although it still felt a little odd to have a mysterious part on every battery pack. We're hoping that we can make a sign, maybe with an illustration from former artist-in-residence Iris Gottlieb, explaining how the component works and why it's there on the circuit board.


On a brilliant suggestion from Wendy, one of the Field Trip Explainers, we started trying out rechargable batteries with the new set up. We had ruled those out before because something about the recharging made them more likely to explode when short circuited. But with the new system in place we could try them again.


So by some amazing coincidence, today, on Earth Day, we started to test out what it would be like to have the rechargeable batteries in the Tinkering Studio with charging stations near by to switch out dead batteries as needed. We can't wait to see how this experiment works and are really excited to go green in the circuit workshop.

In addition to the battery pack refurb, we're starting to think of ways that the circuit boards set can be 'plussed' when faciliators are present in the space with interesting materials for homemade switches, more complex parts, and other ways of going deeper with the activity. We'll keep you posted on the next steps for evolving this venerable activity.


Chain Reaction Micro Innovations

One of the best things about trying Chain Reaction on a weekly basis in the Tinkering Studio is getting to see unique and unexpected ways that visitors solve problems during their process of constructing elements of the chain reaction. These little contraptions are not always something that's obviously innovative, but these little engineering moments may represent powerful shifts in thinking for each group working on the machine.

As an example, I wanted to share a couple seemingly simple but elegant mechanisms that I've noticed recently in our workshop space.

One girl building the chain reaction machine wanted to link up two slightly finicky objects that we have in the material set, a low-powered fan and a zip line. It was quite tricky to get the fan to be powerful enough to release the line and she tried a lot of things before finding this bendy straw placed at the exact right angle. Once the air knocked out the straw, the piece of foil traveled smoothly down the line and triggered the a switch for the next element of her machine.


In a different section of the machine two boys had to knock over a large domino to trigger the next section. Paul D has demonstrated this principle of increasing the size of dominoes to make a big effect, but the way that they used the pieces we had and taped together two, three, and six dominoes was a really beautiful solution that worked really well in the machine.

This activity allows for small moments like these all the time. People have an idea in their head of what they want to see happen and then have to creatively use slightly wonky materials to accomplish their tasks. From the outside, these moments may not look like much, but they represent a lot of deep thinking, iteration, and creative problem solving that occurs in the process of building the chain reaction machine.


Lock Picking on 99% Invisible

TSC Lock Picking

One of our favorite ever Tinkering Social Club events was learning how to pick locks with TOOOL this past October. Something about lock picking resonated with our group and I was super excited to see that the latest episode of one of my favorite podcasts, 99% Invisible, delved into the design of locks and the techniques of picking.

Here's a link to the episode - Perfect Security

Whether you participated in the TSC or just want to learn more about the tools, techniques and history of lock picking, I recommend you give it a listen.