Category Archives: making


I Made Circuits with a pencil

Last weekend I had a really interesting Saturday morning.  A few days ago i found out about a workshop to be held at the Barbican as part of the hack the barbican  event.


The workshop was called Light an LED with a paper and Pencil, from the description it looked interesting as it would be using conductive inks and threads to make circuits.  I didn’t know much else but thought I would give it a go as would be really relevant to the wearables technology stuff I am working on.

After I signed up I realised that I had recently met Pollie the organiser a week or so ago at the Living Machines Conference that had been held at the Science Museum. She has developed a game called Firefly   which she was demonstrating at the conference.  I had a couple of plays and it was really fun and the ways that you had to interact with other people to play the game was really interesting.

So when I turned up a bit early on Saturday morning it was nice to talk to Pollie some more.  She is a PhD Researcher at Queen Mary University and the Workshop was really a practise for her to run similar ones aimed at introducing technology to the older generation.

We started off by colouring in with a normal pencil a rectangle on a piece of paper then using that to complete a simple battery and LED circuit.  The Graphite in the pencil Lead acts as a resistor so it was possible to vary the brightness of the LED by moving the LED along the coloured in Rectangle.

A couple of variations of this making a little torch and introducing a switch followed next.

The reminded me a lot of one of the projects in my RadioShack 200-in-1 electronics kit (Bit like this one ) that i had when i was little. So really understood the value in it.

Pollie then explained some of the basic electronics theory, Using the Water tank analogy to explain Charge,Voltage,current and resistance and using ohms law to explain how they were connected.  Already knowing this I understood what she was saying but if this was your first time trying to understand electronics I think it would need longer spent on it or be explained in stages.

Anyway on to some more making.  The next little project was to make a pop up card with a fish inside it that had a flashing light in it.


We made the pop up card and this time rather than using a pencil to create the circuit we used conductive paint made by Bare Conductive

The paint was really easy to use, a little bit thick and gloopy which helped to hold the components in.


While the paint dried we had a break.  During the break I had a bit more of a chat with Pollie and Emilie  who I was sat next to  and found out that she and Emilie also work with Codasign . It was really interesting to talk to them both and find out what they do and the technology they are interested in.


The almost finished fish card

After the break we finished off our cards and also using the conductive paints and batteries and LEDs made Codasign robot cards and badges.

Just before leaving I played around with some loose  Graphite powder to do similar things to what we had done at the start with a pencil.  The Graphite powder is more conductive than a pencil because it doesn’t have the clay in it to hold the graphite together.  The disadvantage is that it is a lot messier.



Until recently I have only ever used electronics in quite traditional ways and with quite traditional methods of building circuits and interacting with them but I’m starting to learn there is a lot more to electronics than circuits enclosed in black boxes with buttons and lights on them.

So to wrap up, it was a really interesting morning.  For me it wasn’t about the circuits or the  electronics, it was about meeting interesting people who are doing interesting things and learning about how technology can be used to help people and enrich their lives.




making Projects wearable

AdaFruit Flora Challenge - Early thoughts,Hearts and Tattoos

The other seven people who are taking part in  the AdaFruit Flora Challenge are probably writing their first blog posts and discussing bits,bytes,shift registers,resistance,current and lots of other technical stuff.  Don’t worry I will get on to that but for now I wanted to talk about the more creative side of my project.

The Challenge asked  for technology that helps people get that much closer. 

Looking at my proposal I wrote:

The device that i am proposing is a piece of wearable technology, that can display a response to a question or a poll. Or a recommendation of a exhibit or gallery.  

It will display the response in a abstract but recognisable way. Maybe a colour or a pattern that is  closely associated with the exhibit or gallery.

This would help people to select what they should visit within the museum.

It will bring people together by starting conversations and debates between people who they can see have similar or opposing views to their own.

Looking at both things like that, it looks quite a big ask.  That seems a lot to achieve with just a Arduino board and some LEDs.

So my basic thought is to have a piece of clothing that would have have LEDs sewn into it in an interesting ways. The LEDs would be grouped to show a abstract  representation of the gallery or exhibits.

There would be two transducers on this piece of clothing one would be a sensor to interact with the exhibit (I’m saying exhibit to stay general it could be an individual object,through to an entire gallery).

The other would be some form of communication to transmit your pattern of likes to both the internet and to other people.

I went down a couple of dead ends,before coming up with the idea that I am pursuing.

I thought of various devices that could be used. one of my favourite early ideas was to have some sort of plushy toy, that could interact with other ones. Themes would be possible the Natural History Museum could have Dippy the Dinosaurs that  could kiss to share, the Science Museum could have cogs that mesh to share and the V & A could have  vases to do something.  Really started to run out of ideas there at the end.

What that made me realise was although I had come up with good individual ideas there wasn’t a strong theme to tie them together and make it suitable for use rather than just a couple of museums.

At some point the phrase “Wear your heart on your sleeve" popped into my head and stuck there and it was this that I decided to pursue.

When I think of Sleeves, its these beautiful tattoo sleeves I think of






When I think of images of the Heart I find the anatomical images much more interesting than the normal two round bumps and a pointy bit  images.




So these are the things I’ve had in my head. Tonight I started sketching some random ideas on paper which started to evolve into early prototypes and began to think of some of the practicalities of the wearable part of the project.

But that is enough for tonight I’ll post those images and my thoughts about that hopefully tomorrow.

making technical thoughts Uncategorized

Girl Skills,who needs them?

I realised tonight that part of my wearable computing challenge is going to involve some sewing.

This could cause a few problems,if you know me in real life you’ll probably know i’m not at all a ‘girly girl’ so have mostly avoided picking what are considered to be traditional women skills. I can sew a button on and have made a few small craft projects badly. This Duck an ‘Evil Tux’ bag at a womens technology craft day and a ipod case(Very badly).

The wearable computing challenge is going to involve some sewing.  There are some ideas in my head which might mean that I may need to do quite a lot. Hopefully the sewing won’t be too complicated but I want to do it as well as possible, I’m starting to regret not learning more sewing and craft skills when I was younger. Might have been more interested if I had known it would come in useful for things like this.

Anyway a few weeks ago someone in my twitter feed posted a link to a Huffington Post article all about encouraging girls into STEM careers using their interest in fashion to spark an interest in wearable technology.  I retweeted the link and thought thats great. It was only a week or so later when I went to the London Geek Girl Dinner and listened to a talk by Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino Her opinion is pretty much the polar opposite. That by using wearable technology as the link into tech careers limits girls to only look at careers that rely on the traditional ‘womens’ skills which is limiting rather than empowering.

This made me think quite a lot about both sides of the argument.  On one hand surely any initiative that gets girls interested in tech. is a good thing right? On the other hand if women are encouraged only into one particular field of tech. there is danger of turning that field into a ghetto  and it ending up being known as a woman’s job.

The paragraph that worried me in the in that Huff. post article was

“We wanted to shatter the myths that technology is a boring ‘boys’ club’. Girls see fashion as a creative fun industry. Conversely, they see the tech industry as a dull place to work for ‘pizza guzzling nerds’. By fusing fashion with technology we were out to demonstrate just how creative technology can be and empower the girls to believe in the endless possibilities of working in tech.”

That is a quote but its not really clear who by. It worried me because it implies that they are aiming to get girls to use technology while pursuing a career in the fashion industry rather than changing stereotypes about what working in technology is actually like.

There are jobs in tech that can be seen to be dull by others and there are pizza guzzling nerds working those jobs. There are areas of tech that I find dull (printers,windows servers,back up and storage) but I’m sure there are both men and women who are fascinated by them,just not me.

What should be shouted about is that there is so much technology around now that anyone who understands it,knows how it works and knows how to get it to do things will have a much better chance of being successful in their chosen career.

A better way to approach the problem is to demonstrate the technology and the many ways it can be used to do cool, interesting and useful things. So that might be wearable technology,or social and games or other useful gadgets and gizmos .

Everybody is different so there is no one size fits all solution. Working in technology isn’t for everybody but it would be a shame for those girls who could flourish in a tech job to miss out simply because they never found that ‘in’

The other thing to remember is that sewing isn’t just for girls




making Projects technical thoughts wearable

Woo Hooo flipping good news

A few weeks ago while idly scrolling through my Twitter feed, I noticed a promoted tweet that looked a lot more interesting than the usual fare,

Two things in it really caught my eye. The first was that it was from element14.  They are better known in the U.K for their Farnell and CPC brands of electronic component suppliers, the cool and interesting thing is that they are one of the main distributor of the Raspberry PI computer which if you don’t know is a Credit card sized computer which was originally aimed at bringing computer literacy back to U.K schools but has gone wild amongst all sort of technology interested people.

The other cool thing that it mentioned was the Adafruit name. This will be a lot less well known outside more Geeky circles. AdaFruit is the company run by Limor Fried aka Ladyada to quote from her website “… create the best place online for learning electronics and making the best designed products …”

That Promoted Tweet had good provenance so well  worth a click in my book.  Turns out it was promoting a Element14 road test challenge.   Basically eight lucky people would receive a free AdaFruit Flora kit.

The AdaFruit Flora is a Arduino compatible wearable electronics platform.  To get the chance to test out one of these kits I had to submit a idea on how I could use the Flora to build a project to bring people closer.

After a think, I decided the kit would be ideal for a museum based project to prototype ideas around theme of liking exhibits,showing that you have liked them so others can see your thoughts. My thoughts are that this will bring people closer by starting conversations and debates between people who have similar or opposing views.

I’ve already started having a think about some ideas, some good and some really stupid (Lick to like - show your appreciation by licking a sensor, euugh! no thanks)

I receive my kit soon and will be blogging about the project on the element14 website. No doubt it will get a good few mentions here as well and i probably won’t shut up about it on Twitter 


making technical thoughts

Not just 3D Printers

So first thing Yesterday morning I went  to Hair by Fairy  and took part in a one on one, interactive, subtractive manufacturing bio-hacking workshop. Ok I had my hair cut, i mean really cut.  But after that and a coffee I headed over to the mini Maker Faire at the London School of communication at Elephant and castle.

Picking up a guide i saw a talk about Berg Cloud was about to start. I’d heard of Berg but not sure what Berg Cloud was so went in. Nick Ludlam  CTO of Berg was talking about the development of the Little Printer ,the change of direction going from a company only doing client work to having a product to sell and how the Little Printer is planned to lead on to other things . Was interested to hear Matt saying he didn’t think that the term ‘internet of things’ really describes well what is happening with technology but he prefers the term ‘connected devices’ to explain that physical objects will be useful to us. Would loved to have heard more about this and it was a shame the talk was only 20 mins.

Next up was the  learn Surface mount Device soldering. I hadn’t registered for any of the workshops,but this was running as drop in all day.  I understand what surface mount soldering is but have only come across it professionally working at companies that have pcbs fabricated in large volume using robots and fully automated processes, so was keen to find out how it could be done.

The process is really simple:

Take your pcb and position a metal stencil that has cut outs for all the solder pads on it.

Using a metal scraper, wipe solder paste over the top of the stencil, ‘a bit like grouting tiles’, making sure that all the pads are fully covered.

remove the metal stencil and check pads are covered and the solder isn’t touching between the pads. Two of the really tiny transistor pads had the solder paste bridging across on mine, i tried to clear it up but it just made it worse. So had to clean off the paste and start again. Everything worked well second time around.

Very carefully with tweezers, place the components on to the solder pads.Managed to get this done ok.

Thats all the tricky bits. Next stage is to put the pcb into a toaster oven connected to an electronic controller that can step up the temperature in stages. That would take about 20 minutes so time for a look around.

I wasn’t sure exactly what I would see.I knew from Twitter that a few of the interesting companies that are selling Arduino and raspberry pi stuff would be there, but it was all the other projects that i came across which i found most interesting

So in no particular order, and I wasn’t taking photos to start with so don’t have photos of everything i saw.

The 1st area I went into was 3D printing,wasn’t surprised to see those. Good to see small companies popping up to support the ecosystem and looked at a few interesting projects. But not actually having my own 3D printer yet, and i’m not currently shopping for one or needing the consumables this was nice but not a must see for me.


Going upstairs to see the majority of the exhibits was where it really came alive.

The Sugru stand was good, never thought of using it to repair jeans.


Seeing some really cool projects image

Some Weird Stuff


Some Stuff for Dummies


Well not actually Dummies, good that this stuff is been opened up to a Wider audience and not trying to keep it exclusive.

Then Down to the Well to look at Art projects. My favourite was this projector pointing at a reflective sheet being filmed by a digital camera which then fed back into the projector


Then projects interesting patterns onto the adjacent wall


Completing a Circuit to start some guitars in the cloud playing



Time to pop back to the Workshop to pick up my completed SMD Robot.


Just needed the battery clipping in and its all working

So chance for another look around. Some projects encouraged touch

Others didn’t



So it wasn’t just the projects that were cool and interesting.  Danny from Orion Robots was there demonstrating his explorer robot.  I met Danny a few weeks ago at London Arduino Group. The robot I built that night is still going Strong and is now Danny’s demonstrator.

Bio Hacker Raphael Kim was demonstrating building things with agar that will then be used to grow Bacteria.

I didn’t have chance to talk to Kate Sicchio but remember her from a Yorkshire geek Girl Dinner when she did a dance piece using a Kinect camera.  Was interesting seeing her hacking the body project .

Good to see the air pi  project. Have been thinking about something like this as a way of developing my weather app into something more physical. Was tempted to buy one but decided to leave it a while as pretty busy with other stuff at the moment.

And finally bumped in to suzy one of our Antenna team who was also there checking out the interesting projects.

Hope there is another one next year,already looking forward to it and thinking of the possibility of having something  to show off.

EDIT: Correct the Speaker from Berg. It was Nick Ludlam not Matt Webb