Digital Fabrication & other making: FabAcademy 2015

FabAcademy15 graduate!

In 2015 I graduated from the 5 month FabAcademy program at Fablab Amsterdam at de Waag. A large part of the course is about programming and electronics (PCB production from scratch!) which I absolutely love and am so happy to advance my understanding of. Especially learning about the infrastructures of open source software and hardware. Other things on the program were: Computer Controlled Cutting, Machining, 3D printing, 2D and 3D milling, molding & casting, composites, machine building. It’s been an intense learning journey that I have documented here. Fabacademy doesn’t really facilitate any conceptual development during the course. It’s very high-speed, high-learning curve of technical & modelling skills requiring a get-shit-done-before-the-week-is-over-and-we-move-on attitude. I think this is a big miss but I accepted it for the duration of the course as I also had work to do next to the this course.

Tinkering vs. Prototyping workshop

Where tinkering meets prototyping

My HvA colleague Tamara Pinos and I tried out a different format to get the students to think about tinkering and prototyping. Usually we would run tinkering and prototyping workshops separately, but now we decided to put them in the same room and timeframe so that the processes could talk to one another. In prototyping you basically work from an idea that you’ve defined, and give it shape, make it work, so you can test it out to confirm it. Tinkering comes before that somehow, it is what you do before you have an idea, in order to come up with the ideas.

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The red button connected to the internet is always an answer to your problem

It’s really a matter of where you start: do you start from the material and let the material inform your ideas. Or do you start with a blank page and wreck your brain to pour out some thoughts onto your white canvas. Both are perfectly fine and viable but it’s good to know that there’s always at least two options to get from nothing to a tangible thing that you can then talk about and reflect on. It sure isn’t always easy to ideate for the big problem statements and wicked problems we work on at MediaLAB. There’s a great risk of generating ‘solutions’ that are as vague and abstract as the problem at that early stage. However, if you just start with whatever you’re given, and try to forge connections between your design problem and whatever it is you have in front of you, ideas start flowing as you work onto the material with your hands and brain in tandem. What we find in this workshop that the best prompt is to give people a big red button that is connected to the internet, and to ask students to make the thing work, understand it and then ask them: how can this connected button solve your problem?

Finding 100 ways that don’t work

Both have in common that they celebrate early failure as a way to learn quickly and deeply about your ideas and prototypes. We asked the students to create paper prototypes – always a big hit and a huge surprise – and to tinker for an hour with a prototyping tool they were unfamiliar with and report back what they learned and how this tool could be an answer to their design problem. The tools we use are for example (IFTT, BTTN, LittleBits, MakeyMakey and Vine kits (Internet of Things sensors). We wrap this workshop by discussing how the processes of tinkering and prototyping might relate to one another and what the similarities and differences are.

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Visual communication workshop

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Visual communication: listen, summarize, visualize

Every semester I facilitate a short workshop in the basics of visual communication. The goal of the workshop is to get some practice in visualizing ideas and discussions in real-time. This has proven to be a very useful skill in interdisciplinary team work because it forces at least one person in the team to listen, synthesize and visualize the research and design process in a meaningful way.

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Visualizing as embodied understanding: a making practice

This post is under making because I consider visual facilitating a form of understanding that is not merely text-based, it’s the kind of shared understanding that emerges through the making of artefacts that are visible, tangible. What happens in these workshops is that understanding of concepts and interpretations of ideas are ‘kneaded’ through by transforming them into drawings, rather than developing them through -only- verbal expression or text.

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What this workshop is all about

What I cover in this workshop is which basic elements can help you organize the information visually, and to get in some practice on how to translate concepts to images quickly, to build a personal visual vocabulary. From there the participants can pick it up in their day to day work, and refine their drawing skills as well as their speed in visualizing ideas and concepts in real-time, but also as reflection afterwards. I often have only 2 hours to do this, barely enough to scratch the surface, but the bit of extra confidence it generates in the participants’ is enough to explore and practice it further on their own account. I am recently also developed a workbook and workshop format to extend the reach of the workshop beyond the 2 hours, to 4, 8 or 16 hours.

Sources and resources

The work of Bigger Picture has been really helpful. Their video describing the 7 elements of graphic facilitation has helped to structure the topics covered in the workshop. I followed a masterclass with Martine Vanremoortele from Visual Harvesting and what I try to bring to the workshops I teach is her philosophy of listening, and being ‘neutral’ and aware of interpretations. And secondly her exercises in building visual vocabularies have been a great influence.

Perl exercise: Recoding Word Frequency Counter

We made the wordfrequency counter look at word combinations and how often they occur. Obviously in this text all combinations only occurred once but thats fine. We did this by adding another hash to the read_text subroutine that was already in the script

$prevseen{$prevword . “-” . $word}++;
print $prevword;
$prevword = $word;

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Defamiliarization III: Aimless Walk

*This text is written collaboration with the entire group*

After seeing the first Oyster travel log, we decided that using the travel log to create something ‘aimless’ was too limited. We then came up with the idea of using people’s missed connections as a starting point. We found a website called Love on the Line in which people could post these missed connections. In this way at least the data used to create our ’structured aimless walk’ is more random and varied then the data in the Oyster travel log. From there we came up with a plan:

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Defamiliarization II: Perl

This week’s assignment was either to make the ‘Hello World’ command to work in Perl and document the relevance of this exercise, which is used in most handbooks on programming languages. The second option was to ‘translate’ last week’s product (the command line in Unix) to a script in Perl. The first exercise proved to be easy with a bit of exercise and a perl crashcourse. I learned from this that by working in Perl you can write chunks of code and save them as packages that you can refer to later. In other words, you don’t write directly to terminal but create a separate raw .txt file where you put the script (always beginning with the line #!/user/bin/perl. From terminal you can execute it with the command “perl filename.txt”. I know how to directly create these .txt files in VIM (a very simple texteditor) and then run them in terminal.

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Defamiliarization I: Unix

In doing this exercise I wanted to play with concepts of online identities, privacy and self-disclosure. Many people will have googled their own names at some point and may have found that a lot of their personal information, contact details and maybe photos or online contributions have crept into the online realm over time. Often there is information about ourselves floating around without us being explicitly aware of it. Personal data protection laws and customer profiling are hot topics which an individual might bery well be concerned about. However, in our everyday lives, most people aren’t likely to be explicitly aware of the ‘risk’ they’re taking every time one fills out a registration form or survey.

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