Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Conversations with my Grandfather: A personal digital media lab story

This August will mark my grandfather's 90th birthday and I am fortunate to say that he is still in good health and sharp as a tack.  Now that I have a digital media lab at my fingertips, I decided it would be a good time to experiment with scanning his personal photographs and telling his story. Many friends this year have experienced personal loss and the one thing they all say is I wish I had more recordings of them: how they laughed or things they said (even with pets!). This has really stuck with me.  Not to mention,  I discovered that my mother lost my entire photograph album of growing up when I asked her for some "Throwback Thursday" Facebook photos. I should have scanned them long ago! How fragile a thing a photo album is! In the age before digital, especially the age of Polaroids that I grew up with, there aren't any back ups or iCloud servers.

I started going through every album my grandfather had trying to pick out key people and moments that I thought would be important. They were placed in a box with dividers: Pa's early life, Meme (my grandmother's) early life, their wedding, the 70s and 80s (lots of Polaroids), Me, My Dad, and later. I also had a stash of "People I don't know, should I?" which elicited a hilarious taped conversation between my dad, grandfather and myself for my blooper reel.

I spent 2 hours scanning all the photos with my divider system.  Everything was given a name followed by a numeric order based on chronology.  So my first set of photos were labeled paearlylife_001, 002, then memesearlylife_001,002, etc. I found using the home profile for the DFL scanner worked well with color restoration on especially with grayscale (black and white) photos because it really brought out the blacks that were faded with time.  Everything else I figured I could edit with in Adobe Photoshop if need be. There was one particular photo I loved of my grandfather in his 20s on his way home from work but it was full of creases. With a few swipes of the spot healing brush (the band-aid tool) in Photoshop, I fixed it in minutes. Technology is really awesome sometimes.

My next step was securing a video camera which I borrowed from a friend. Then I traveled down to my grandfather's house to put him on camera.  I thought he would be a bit put off by being on film so I told him I was just using it for his voice (I lied).  I took the order that I scanned the photos in and began presenting them to him one by one. At the end of every divider I would hold up the photo to the camera so I'd know the breaks when I started editing. This is the same trick behind director's movie slates during film takes. With a little prompting from my father and myself, he just started talking. Some memories were more detailed than others of course and between my father and I we were able to steer the conversation.  I wish I had written the questions down beforehand because I forgot a few key ones, so a return trip is in the future. What I ended up with was 55 minutes of film footage and 150 still images.

I had limited Adobe Premiere experience for movie editing but I figured this would be a good chance to learn. I began taking Lynda tutorials online at the library. Premiere Essentials Training was a great step by step introduction. The good(and bad) thing about Premiere is the endless possibilities! After watching a few hours of training,  I decided that iMovie might be a better choice for me. I have edited many movies in it before and I was very comfortable with the format. iMovie has some built in features like the Ken Burns effect for still photos that would have taken me hours to do in Premiere (although I could customize each photo individually in Premiere).  It is also a nice feature to be able to choose from varying text fonts and movement so they can fly anywhere on screen but iMovie has a lot of these styles built in. I just can't play with the fonts as much with busy backgrounds so my transitions were all standard black backgrounds.  I figured I wasn't winning any academy awards with this piece anyway so no need for all the bells and whistles.

I ended up separating my raw film footage's audio in iMovie from the actual video and putting it over the still images, changing the amount of time each picture stayed onscreen based on what he was talking about. Sometimes the same picture stayed up for 30 seconds, sometimes a whole minute.  When the raw footage showed him particularly animated, I left both the film and audio together so everyone would know what he looked like now and enjoy his mannerisms and character. I still have a few photo albums at home and I'm debating about going back to add some more photos to the stories or images he told more about (so not to bore the viewer with the one image of NH I scanned for instance).  I'm still working on my part of the full movie, which is 38 minutes long so far. I made the mistakes of skipping all of my childhood images with him so now I have to talk about my memories. For Facebook purposes (and this blog) I put up 4 short segments of what I finished to highlight my favorite parts. It also helped separate things into themes: work, the navy, the wedding to my grandmother, and traveling.

I'm so glad that I had the chance to do this and it has prompted me to start thinking about interviewing other family members. It has created a lasting and easily sharable memory with my family and friends. My father was able to see my post on Facebook and share it in real time at a family party. I'd say grand total was 10 hours on the project start to finish but it's meaning will last a lifetime.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Electronic Holiday Cards Take 2

blue is negative, black is positive
I was really excited to order my chibitronics set of LED stickers and effects.  Unfortunately it is not as cost effective as I had hoped ($50 for 10 kids to use 3 lights each plus 8 extra 3V batteries) but the stickers are much easier to use than actual LEDs alone and the diagram book is extremely helpful in mapping out your circuits. I've actually used their methods on other sewing projects I have previously posted.

For our one hour holiday card decorating program, I gave each student 3 LEDs. I had extra binder clips, batteries, (you only get 2 of each in the kit) and copper tape on hand. Unfortunately the effects stickers, which allowed the lights to blink, I ordered only came with 4 stickers for $19.99 so I kept them for a later time.

Like sewing, the circuit design is crucial. If I could go back and do this project over I wouldn't have put so much space between the positive LED branches and negative tape connecting to the slide. I also found that my positioning of the battery was all wrong. It would have been better on the top left so I could attach it to the corner of blue paper. I also tried overlaying another piece of paper between the tree and the lights but it was harder to get the lights to turn on. My first attempt is not the prettiest, but it does light up! (much more successful than the Mother's Day card hooray!).

With a stand alone program like this, you never know the level of the kids coming into the workshop. The 4th and 5th graders  had difficulty with circuit design so I started by getting them to artistically design their card first, then circuitry but when it came to the circuitry they didn't want to follow along with the templates I had printed for them. Everyone wanted to design their own unique circuit which poses a bigger challenge to the instructor to figure out individual designs. It's also hard to tell students go ahead test away when you know how much the supplies cost.

That's the trouble with tinkering. Sometimes kids do need more one to one help and they don't like experimenting with failed outcomes. Next time everyone just does one simple LED circuit together to understand the concepts and then design their own later (which sounds like it would need an extra half an hour to the program).  I should have used the tutorial videos from the chibi website with iPads on hand to supplement questions.

One crucial thing in card making is that the tape needs to be free of creases so pressing your finger down over the entire circuit will help conduct the electricity. I fixed 2 students who were ready to give up their cards that way.

At the end of the program the parents ask, what did you learn today? I always wonder did they learn anything?  Did I help them too much? I try to make it a point with every student (we ended up with 5) to reinforce how their individual circuit worked at the end of the program and always vocalize my thought process when troubleshooting the circuit design but how do you get science concepts to sink in? Are kids after a really long day of school even up for an extra educational lesson?  Food for thought.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Creative Graphics Challenge we hope will spur use of Digital Media Lab

Sometimes people need an incentive to try something new or dig deeper into a familiar creative tool.

That's what we hope will happen when we announce the 2015 Creative Graphics Challenge this winter. We challenge our teen and adult patrons to come up with a marketing package for the Duxbury Free Library's event during April, National Poetry Month.

We are looking for original graphics: a brochure, a flyer, a web page mock up, some art that we can use on bookmarks, signs, etc.

Use our Adobe Creative Cloud Suite in our new Digital Media Lab and let your imagination go wild!

The deadline is February 28, 2015 so we can judge and start using the resulting winning graphics for our Poetry Campaign this winter!  What do you get?  You get the opportunity to put this competitive contest on your college brag sheet or work-related resumé.

So start your creative juices flowing!

Sign up at the Reference Desk of the Duxbury Free Library.
You can download the information flyer from here.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Engineering and Girls

I recently received a hot tip at a workshop about GoldieBlox (thanks Sudbury!) for ages 4-9.  GoldieBlox sets include a story about Goldieblox and pieces to build your own themed project. You can follow along and build with the story or make something of your own. The pieces of each kit are interchangeable with other kits. The kits are $19.99 each and are sold online or at Toys'R'us.  They even had their own float this year in the Macy's Day Parade and a commercial spot at last year's Super Bowl. These could easily be circulated as kits and considered a library material! Plus the first page of the book (which includes the amount of materials with pictures and number of items in the kit) could be photocopied so the circulation staff knows what goes in it.

At first my hackles were up, these are just like "pink" Lego Friends for girls all over again! Why do girls need their own separate Legos? But think of the marketing, Goldieblox has her own doll and many of her little animal figures are reminiscent of the popular Lego Friends pets that graced every single one of the girl's Lego contest entries here at the library this year.  Aren't these better than the old popular Bratz doll phase? What if Goldieblox was as recognizable as Anna from Frozen? Plus, there was a huge increase in girl participation this year in our Lego contest due to having Legos specifically marketed for girls, so why not? Especially when you see graphs like this...

I just received my first kit in the mail. It would take good fine motor skills to get some of the pieces in (so 5 and up would be my recommendation). I wish the directions were spelled out a bit more but the possibilities are endless by mixing more than one kit. Pair this with my new favorite book, Rosie Revere Engineer by Andrea Beaty and I think we're on to something!
Here is a great page by page demonstration of the book.

Monday, December 15, 2014

More Fun with Conductive Thread

We recently finished a 3 day workshop on sewing with conductive thread for 5-8th graders.  The students made felt ornaments for the holiday season.  We used the adafruit electronic sewing kit for our supply list. One of our biggest hurdles was getting the kids to learn to sew (and having the patience for it!). Also, thinking about the stages of design before actually committing to sewing. How can the lights be arranged and still make the circuit work? (since the positive and negative sides can't cross).  What's the easiest place to put the battery holder? How does using a snap or button affect the circuit?

1. Begin by practicing threading a needle and perhaps work on different stitches (without conductive thread).  Ellen has this great stitch book that she made with another group a while back.
2. When you are setting up LEDs label positive and negative sides on felt or with tape
3. Might want to skip adding a switch for the first ornament
4. Make sure the needle fits through the 3V battery holder (if you are using something you had around the house it might be too big)
5.  Multiple felt layers make it tough to hand sew
6. Your first circuit might want to be sewn onto a separate piece of felt, then shape it to fit in the final design and lay over another piece of felt as shown with the dino candy cane on the left
7. Have wire cutters handy to shorten LED leads after curling the ends
8. Make sure to have normal thread that matches Christmas colors 
9. If everyone is a beginning sewer, it might be nice to have volunteers on hand for a one to one ratio for the first class
10. Talk about troubleshooting thread before...what to do if the thread gets stuck, comes lose, etc.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

DIY Electronic Ugly Sweater Part 2

So you want to add more pizazz than just LED lights? See Part 1 for conductive thread tutorial. This is where littleBits, my favorite magnetic circuit toy, comes in handy.

Bits used: Button, bargraph, wire (2), power, servo motor, battery, plastic shoes and Velcro shoes.

Originally my idea was to make a felt waving snowman but when I actually tried to put it on the sweater, the arm waving failed miserably. The servo ended up on my shoulder (an easier place to hold the motor anyway).  The bargraph and button ended up underneath the 2nd circle on the snowman with a Velcro shoe to affix it to the sweater. I hand stitched the snowman around the major outline to keep all the bits from moving with regular thread.  No conductive thread is necessary for this part.

I bought the sweater at a thrift shop so I had no problem cutting holes into it to fish the servo motor underneath the sweater. The servo bit had a Velcro shoe attached with more Velcro sewed on the underside of the sweater to keep it secure. The battery and power bit are going in my pants pocket.

The best part of it being an ugly sweater is it doesn't matter how bad your sewing skills are! It actually makes it look quite charming. A quick trip the dollar store brought some christmas balls, garland, and a hat.

Check out our quick vimeo video for the final product.

Ugly Sweater from Duxbury Free Library on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

DIY Electronic Ugly Sweater Part 1

The holiday season is upon us and that means it is time for Ugly Sweater Day on December 12th. If you're invited to a party or trying to outdo your co-workers to see who can come up with the best, why not try to electrify your masterpiece?

There are a few ways you could go:
  For my tree decoration, I decided to use conductive thread, felt, snaps, a 3V watch battery with holder and LEDs. We found all of these items in the Adafruit Candle LED bow kit that we recycled from a previous program. This is a project to directly sew onto any plain sweater (since the ugly sweaters have probably all been scooped up from the thrift stores by now) or make it a pin and not do any permanent damage to your sweater.  One downside to using a 3v battery holder, there is no on/off switch so I used a dark green felt piece for a snap to connect/disconnect the circuit.    
I highly advise to plan out your conductive path and LED placement on paper beforehand. It's a bummer to hand sew an entire pathway only to find that nothing lines up right and you have to take it all out and start over.  For this project, there were 3 threads. One is the negative thread that goes from the top of the tree straight down through all the negative leads of the LED to the negative side of the battery holder. Second thread on the dark green fabric piece from the positive side of the battery holder to the male snap and lastly, the third thread from the top of the tree straight down through all the positive leads of the LED to end with a female snap on the light green fabric.

Tip: Be careful of your needle size, they don't always fit through the tiny side holes of the 3V battery holder so it's good to use the ones with the adafruit kit. 

After making a few of these: Christmas ball, gingerbread man, Santa head, etc. you could haphazardly pin them all onto your sweater (eyes closed) and TAD-AH! You just learned circuitry while crafting and sure to win a prize in the ugly sweater contest. Next blog post will be building electric pieces on your ugly sweater using littleBits, magnetic snap together circuits that I love, inspired by their Ugly Sweater Hack Project.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Digital Media Lab: finally the grownups get to play!

Building a Maker-style library requires that librarians educate the public about what can be done in libraries. As Bill Derry says in his speech, "Retinkering Libraries," people need to see the library as a place for creation, not just for consumption.

We are trying to do just that at the Duxbury Free Library - first by providing experiences for teens and children in STEAM activities and now for adults by creating a Digital Media Lab in the Reference Area.

It will be a place where the public can convert their family VHS tapes to digital files and DVDs.

Recording conversations, radio plays, poetry, prose, and publishing them as podcasts and on RSS feeds will be possible.  We will give people the tools and space to learn new software and the latest applications through multiple subscriptions to Adobe Creative Cloud and training videos.

We have to see Makerspace programming as highly individualistic if we want people to dig deeply into the new technology and platforms we are increasingly providing.

Large group programs are not conducive to the hands on exploration we are trying to encourage.
At the same time, we can't justify spending hours at a time with just a few patrons. As libraries, we need to help people find the tools and confidence to build their skills in a warm, encouraging environment without taking the initiative away from them.

I am going to be spending some time in well-established Library Makerspaces to educate myself on how to strike the perfect balance between "giving a person a fish" and "showing them how to fish for a lifetime..."  People want a warm social environment, but they need quiet and long stretches of time to dig into a new format and become creative....

Monday, December 1, 2014

Extending Hour of Code to Ipads

Hour of Code, an international collaboration to promote computer science to kids and families of all ages begins on Monday December 8th and continues throughout the week. Using, companies around the world offer tutorials for students to experiment with many coding programs and languages such as Scratch, Python, and more. Learn how to code JAVA, make an app video game, or an interactive Christmas card quickly and easily. Students who complete one hour of coding that week will receive a certificate (and in our library get a chance to enter a raffle for a free Game Stop gift card).  Kids can sign up for a free hour of code account to keep track of their time from year to year but it's not mandatory.  This week is a great opportunity for libraries to provide a drop-in exploratory program without the stress of learning or prepping all these platforms. There are multiple video tutorials on the site.  It is also a great collaboration between local schools and the library.

Besides changing the homepage on our public computer to the website, we also like to provide a few options on our stationary children's room iPads. Here are the free ones we like to highlight:

Daisy the Dinosaur (Ages 6 +)   provide word commands to make the dinosaur move, jump, etc. Learn about sequencing with visual programming in a fun environment. You can play in free creative mode or challenge mode.

Kodable (Ages 4 +)  guide a cute little monster through a maze to collect coins using very simple directional commands; a good introduction to robotics. I've even seen preschoolers use this app with some parental help.  (includes in app purchases)

Hopscotch (ages 6-12)  Very similar to MIT's Scratch program.  A step up from Daisy the Dinosaur where you can give more commands and have control over your character in an appeal "stacking" command format. 

Scratch Jr (Ages 6+)  an younger App version of the popular web based MIT software. Makes games, interactive cards, and more!