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week one

Monday 5/25 - Thursday 5/28: electronic wallpaper

Flew from sunny Florida to freezing Cambridge, MA on Saturday. My flight landed through a thunderstorm, which has unfortunately infected me with a fear of flying! I spent my first few nights with friends across the river in Boston before moving into my lovely summer sublet in MIT's Ashdown dorm.

This week was spent mostly in preparation for Maker Faire 2009, which is a huge festival that showcases arts, crafts, technology and science from the DIY crowd. I will be attending with Dr. Buechley along with several other "makers" from the Media Lab.

One of the projects Dr. Buechley will be showing is electronic wallpaper.

The wallpaper has circuitry and sensors embedded within the walls and conductive surfaces where electronic components can be attached using magnets. The user can plop the magnetized components (LEDs, motors, Arduinos, etc.) onto the conductive surfaces and interact with the wall. For example when you touch the pink flowers, which are capacitive sensors, the LEDs light up. I helped finish a portable version of this project, which involved using conductive thread (very thin stainless steel fibers twisted into thread) to connect the conductive surfaces on the front of the wallpaper to circuits on the back and painting the front of the canvas with a flower design. Having worked in a tissue engineering lab and a microfluidics lab (both of which are great, just not for me), I must say I feel like I'm having way too much fun!

maker faire

Friday, 5/29: arrival and setup

Woke up at 3:30 am to catch a 6:30 am flight to San Francisco. I arrived safely, and extremely drowsy, after a six-hour flight. The Bay Area blue skies are a very welcome change to the cold and dreary weather back in Cambridge!

Even though I'm traveling with the Media Lab group, I'm attending the faire as a maker for littleBits which is a modular electronics project that I worked on back in New York. littleBits, started by Ayah Bdeir, are tiny circuit boards that connect to each other using magnets (which snap together and enforce polarity). Kind of like Legos but for circuitry. Ayah and I spent a good portion of the afternoon shopping for supplies, setting up our exhibit and doing last minute(!) debugging of the littleBits.

Saturday, 5/30: day one of the Faire!

Today was extremely exciting, though extremely exhausting. I spent most of the day behind the littleBits table demoing littleBits to tech enthusiasts and precocious kids. It was a lot of fun watching four-year-olds come to our table and start snapping LEDs and buzzers to sensors and power, and then refuse to leave as their parents tried to divert their attention to the adjacent robots. Blinking colored lights and vibration motors never seem to fail to entertain!

Next to our table was a giant gear, about ten feet in diameter, which is part of the 10,000 Year Clock. The giant clock will be built into the base of a mountain and is designed to be accurate for at least 10,000 years. The whole structure is so huge that the giant gear system controls only one of the clock's chimes. Across from us was a giant Van de Graaff generator that gave off fifteen-foot arcs and cooked a row of hot dogs every hour. While extremely entertaining, it was also extremely loud! Speaking of loud, there was also an enormous installation of Christmas lights diagonal from the littleBits table. I couldn't figure out what it was all Friday during setup. Then, I heard a familiar song and instantly recognized it as a live performance of the viral Christmas lights video. Hilarious (and amazing, after looking at the wiring)!

I ended up losing my voice several times both from trying to talk over the zapping noises of the generator and simply from speaking to excited fair goers for eight hours. By the end of the day, everybody was pretty drained and, according to Media Lab maker Elly, speaking an octave lower.

Sunday, 5/31: exploring

Today Ayah and I alternated at the littleBits table so I got to explore a bit further and took many photos along the way. There was everything from tech demos, to fire sculptures, to knitting circles, to steampunks, to miniature Battlebots. I especially liked the "fountain show" from the diet coke and mentos guys. I also stopped by the Media Lab area and took some snapshots of the electronic wallpaper and Dr. Buechley in her solar-powered bike jacket.

In the afternoon I accompanied Ayah in her talk on using electronics as materials. While Ayah spoke I gave a demo of littleBits and helped her with the Q&A portion of the talk. It wasn't huge, but I was excited since it was my first time speaking to a crowd outside an academic setting. After the talk I grabbed some food and finally wandered around a bit. When I returned Ayah told me that littleBits was chosen by the Make editors as #8 in the top ten projects at Maker Faire 2009!

After Maker Faire concluded, I hopped on the train and spent my remaining hours wandering around San Francisco.

week two

Monday 6/1 - Wednesday 6/3: musical jumpsuit

I'm back in chilly Cambridge and happy to report that after spending 14 hours in three days on an airplane, I've conquered my fear of flying! Dr. Buechley flew straight from San Francisco to New Zealand, where she will be for the next weeks.

Back in the lab, I've been working on a musical jumpsuit. Dr. Buchley gave my lab mates Brianna and Shoshana and I the assignment of creating sensorized jumpsuits such that when the wearer touches the sleeve to various parts of the body, the suit emits sound. There will be sensor patches on the ankles, knees, waist, elbows, shoulders and hands. For us, this means sewing resistors and conductive fabric patches onto white laboratory suits, connecting these to a speaker and a LilyPad Arduino, programming the suit to recognize which patch is being touched and by which hand, and finally playing the correct tone. Dr. Buechley would eventually like these suits to be able to communicate.

I've finished constructing my rather large and baggy suit. Right now, the user can play two octaves by touching the patches along the body. As the user travels up the body, the notes become higher.

Thursday 6/4 - Friday 6/5: paper flower

I began work on a paper flower attachment for the wallpaper. The goal is to create a flower that opens and closes and can be controlled using input from the wall. So far I've gotten the opening and closing mechanism to work using shape memory wire, elastic, and a very strong battery. Memory wire can be bent and molded but high temperatures (achieved by running current through) will return it to its original shape. The flower is normally open and closes when current runs through the memory wire. Unfortunately the digital input doesn't cause the flower to close, yet, so it only works when I connect the battery leads directly to the memory wire.

In unrelated news, I spent the majority of Thursday running around MIT's campus finishing up the paperwork to become and "official" a visiting student. I'm now a happy owner of an MIT student ID, which is pretty useful (as is the case with student ID's on most campuses). For one I'll no longer have to be buzzed into my dorm!

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