What I Do: Vision Statement #makered

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My friend Stephanie challenged me to write a marketing plan for my business (Watermountain Studios), in sonnets.  I don’t know that I can write a marketing plan in sonnets, but I can write two that qualify as a vision statement, I suppose.

The human hand used to shape all our needs
and make all our wants from creche to casket;
the old factory is now choked with weeds,
and we mock those who can make a basket.
Robots build cars, machines sew our raiment
and the sweat of slaves dapples our plastic toys…
our children sit idle, workshops vacant —
we test to exhaustion both girls and boys.
Yet numbers and letters can still be learned
through artisan’s arts of loom, forge, and press.
By hand and eye’s labor are truth discerned
and concrete order made from abstract mess.
Children learn best when their hands learn to make,
for artistry helps our minds to awake.

To start a MakerSpace right now is hard:
we sold off the shop tools and burned the scrap,
put abstract thought on every student’s card,
and put computers in each student’s lap.
We tested for phonics and random facts,
and jumped for joy at every new reform —
yet abstraction has been a kind of trap
to make a man who thinks instead of acts.
Ask me — I’ll guide you through these thickets,
to where your students thrive with tools in hand
making theater props, posters and tickets,
costumes, the stage — instruments for a band.
When children make, they become more adept
at fixing the world that broke while we slept.

 

Maker Mindset, then MakerSpaces

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Gary Stager and Will Richardson both have similar ideas about MakerSpaces. They’re worried they’ll add to inequality, and that they’ll continue to be used as hangars for equipment and technology, relegated to a few narrow functions, and ultimately not really put to use.

Gary says in one source (not quoted in Will’s article):

The greatest threat to realizing the potential of the maker movement in the schools is the coupling of the words “maker” and “space:’ It turns out that
it is comparatively easier to hang a sign on a room full of stuff than it is to change classroom practice.

The makerspace threatens to repeat the historical accident of the computer lab :The enthusiasm of an early adopter and presence of new technology created a specialized bunker that kids would
visit each fortnight for the next two generations — like a field trip to colonial Williamsburg . We need to avoid any chance that making, like computer integration , will remain a novelty and be left to a “specialist ” while other teachers remain disengaged .

Gary’s article

And then, Will says this…

Much in the way that schools have spent tons of money on iPads and Chromebooks that have changed little in terms of the culture of learning or in the agency and autonomy kids in classrooms have to learn in classrooms, the same danger exists for Makerspaces. As Gary says, making is a “stance.” It’s a way of thinking about learning and schooling, not something that suddenly happens because of new technologies.

Why it’s so difficult for schools to put vision and philosophy ahead of tools and tech escapes me.

Will Richardson’s Blog

Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 10.09.33 PMToday I listened to a new podcast on Thursday, Meaningful Making.  It’s good.  I like it.  They had a lot of good insights, including the recognition that the Maker community tends to skew white and geeky, and that we need to do more to promote greater diversity in the Maker community — shout out here to @Mr_Hutchinson_ who does remarkable things with very little… (but boy, do these podcast guys need Toastmasters… lots of uhs, and ummms. repeated words, filler statements… I recognize that a podcast is a different format than a radio show, but if you’re going to be a professional or semi-professional speaker, you owe it to your audience not to repeat yourself too much if you expect your audience to give you an hour of their time.)

Yet something one of the participants said gave me pause.  He said that there was a regular problem on the standardized tests that involved folding a net mentally, to see if it made a shape.  Could the students fold a given 2D net of triangles and squares into a 3D shape, and would the resulting net be complete? The teacher used a 3D printer to make a number of ‘manipulables’ — an ugly, not-really-elegant word — for  students to play with in order to see whether or not the given ‘flat nets’ folded into regular shapes.

Oh… you mean….

The people at Mathisfun.com have been producing these raw nets for at least a decade. They were one of the first things I turned to in the MakerSpace at my school in 2010 — because there were few things cheaper than paper for teaching Maker skills and Maker mindset to children, and when we started we had virtually no money for tools or materials other than what I could beg, borrow, or recycle.

It’s also a ready-made computer activity: “Use graphic design to make a net — a flat design — that when cut out and folded turns into a three-dimensional shape that can be measured.” It’s then less interesting to produce flat ‘manipulables’ that don’t fold into 3D shapes — and the kids who cut out and fold the real thing will find their skill improved when it comes to imagining the folding of 2d images, because their hands will have done it already. — Principle #4, what the Hands Do, the Mind Knows.

I produced one in five minutes in a word processing application and posted it as a screenshot here, but even a rough cut-out of the weird cross do-hickey on this page will produce a 3D cube.  This cube can be assembled inside out, too, creating six surfaces for decoration, or to make dice, or to assemble into structures, or to talk about crystalline structures… After all, that’s what ancient people noticed about crystals a long time ago: that they came in distinct shapes that appeared to be related to standard geometric forms like hexagonal prisms and cubes and octahedrons.

I’ve said elsewhere that Maker teachers need to be focused on the past (Principle #10, Past vs. Future Orientation) so that the students can be future-focused. The Maker teacher thus becomes a library of solutions, if you will, and can give a student guidance about how to put materials or technologies or techniques to use.

But it’s not always helpful if we turn to the flash and the heat and whiz-bang of the 3D printer when one of the key experiences we want students to gain is the knowledge of how to turn a 2D material (like paper) into a 3D object (like a cube or an icosahedron). I recognize that a) every person has their own entry point to Making; and b) people need to learn how the tech works before they can adopt the right mindset around teaching it to others.  That’s fine.

But we should be conscious of not over-investing in the technology for technology’s sake. Paper has the advantage of being scaleable in a way that 3D printing isn’t, yet, for schools.  Paper is a wonderfully diverse material: ephemeral in a way that 3D printer plastic isn’t, mark-able in a way that plastic isn’t, recyclable in ways that 3D printer plastic isn’t, and as dependent on how we mark it, as how we choose to shape it or design it to function.  It also folds, and it can be sewn, and it can serve as template for other projects; and it can teach complex concepts in short order which can then be programmed!

I do believe that this approach takes some of the “discovery” component out of student learning. After all, you’re using an adult’s graphic design skills and an adult’s mental library of past technologies to present students with ideas.  But you’re also putting ideas in student’s minds at the same time that you’re giving them tools and materials practice.  Just in this blog post, I’ve linked to the idea of using paper to:

  • build scientific instruments
  • teach core concepts of solid geometry
  • train the mind to recognize geometric 2D nets as 3D or not-3D objects
  • building books (which a 3D printer can’t really do)
  • fold origami patterns
  • build templates for sewing projects (including clothing)
  • building and coloring planetary globes
  • building cultural objects
  • teaching algorithms for cryptography (and introducing students to the ideas of secret-keeping).

So, guys — great podcast so far, really.  But you’ve spent two weeks talking about how awesome computers and 3D printing are.  Maybe you can remind people that cardboard and paper have important roles to play, too?

Holiday Making

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I’m in the middle of a dilemma.  I like to post an article a week these days, so that people know I’m still working on stuff.  Yet at the same time, some of my readers are also recipients of the things that I’m making. So, that’s no good.  I can’t very well show what I’m working on, and give away the surprises meant for later in the season… right?

So what I need to do is give an update on what I’m working on, without giving away what I’m working on.  And the best way to do that is to present areas of skills-development and talent-training.

Sewing/Tailoring

  • Sewing machine cleaning, triage and repair
  • Sewing straight seams
  • Sewing curved seams
  • Scaling patterns up and down
  • Designing patterns from scratch
  • Sewing multiple/thick layers of fabric together
  • Quilting

Bookbinding & Graphic Design

  • Panel Book Making
  • Book of Secrets Making
  • 11×17″ book layout & binding
  • Coptic stitch binding
  • Belgian secret binding
  • 11×17″ book layout & binding (long-edge binding

Metalworking

  • Brass soldering
    • (still can’t do it. But have the tools, and can experiment)
  • Wire sculpting
  • Jigs and templates for soldering

Knitting

  • Knit Stitch
  • Perl Stitch
  • Casting On (Long Tail)
  • Casting Off
  • Bamboo Stitch
  • How to knit a lazy-8 scarf

Programming

  • Progress on HTML/CSS
  • Progress on JAvaScript
  • Progress on Python
  • Writing my own program using arrays, variables and counting processes

All in all, I’m making pretty good advances on the skills that I have, and that I’d like to have going forward.  I still feel like electronics and robotics eludes me to a large extent.  But I have other abilities that most Maker Spaces and Maker Programs don’t have.

Bag repair

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I made this bag a few weeks ago to complement a coat that I made for an outdoor event in October in the Berkshires. The brown trim on the coat is the same as the body and strap of this bag. I didn’t know how much I would have to carry, but I knew that I had to carry some things over the weekend from place to place; this bag was going to provide a useful place to store things of unknown size but probably relatively light weight.

The barn-door stitch

I was right about both size and weight; the bag was hopelessly too big. It also had a problematic seam; one end of the shoulder strap came undone about an hour after I showed up at the event. The objects I eventually needed to carry? Tiny — like, I could have made a pouch the size of a deck of playing cards, and had room to spare. Oh, well. I still like the fact that this bag matches a coat I made, which will be suitable for other events. At the event, I made it work by creating a loop and tying a knot, but it wasn’t ideal. Today, I fixed it.

Top-stitching

The fix came in three forms. First, I top-stitched all the way around the mouth of the bag. This reinforced the attachment of the flap to the body of the bag, and the strap to the bag’s body. It also created a heavy attachment between the lining and the outer shell of the bag; the outer shell is wool, while the inner shell is cotton; this won’t be a great “foul-weather bag.

Second, I used a form I call the “barn door stitch”, which looks like a square with either one or two diagonals through it, to secure the shoulder strap to the body of the bag. These reinforced points mean that the bag just became much more suitable for carrying, say, my laptop or something similarly heavy and fragile.  I still don’t know that I would trust my laptop to this bag (what if it flips over? What if the flap comes undone or flies open in heavy weather? What if moisture seeps through the bag?) but at least I can say that it’s much stronger now as a result.  It makes me wish that I had used French seams, though, inside, which would have made the bag that much stronger yet…

Reinforced barn-door

Third, I backstitched over the beginnings and ends of all of my seams. I’m sure that this is what caused the strap to fail in the first place. It’s a pretty standard practice in machine sewing work to back your sewing machine’s stitching forward and back over itself in order to lock the thread in place.  By doing this at both the beginning and end of a stitch, the whole seam is locked together, and is much less likely to fail.

A bag has challenges — thinking inside and outside, choosing fabric, figuring out waterproofing as needed, sewing stitches, mashing together three or four or more layers of fabric, determining inside compartments as necessary, and more. There are a lot of things that can go wrong. But it’s a great student project — the finished bag serves as a useful tool for transporting notebooks and textbooks from class to locker and home and so on. Designing a bag for a school means that all the needful school supplies should be able to fit within it.  You can even pair it with a pencil case design for a more thorough experience in sewing (adding zippers, yay!), and thinking in three dimensions.

But I’d like to propose to you, readers, that sewing is a critical part of any Maker education. We wear far more clothes in our lifetimes than we install birdhouses; we carry more bags and wear more coats and scarves, than we build workbenches; and students carry far more books in far more book bags than they need vast collections of electronic gizmos that taught them how to wire one circuit.  The soldering lessons have their place, I admit — but knowing how to sew is a perpetual source of design power.

31DoM: Create a Sigil

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Today in the 31 Days of Magic project, I’m supposed to create a sigil.  This project was launched by someone in the Strategic Sorcery community around Jason Miller; if you’ve enjoyed it, and want more depth — you might consider signing up for his class before the end of January.

That said.  I think that the purpose of today’s activity was to make a sigil.  Now: a sigil is usually an interesting squiggle, a non-random arrangement of lines and angles and emblems that forms a piece of information.  Gordon has written about sigils extensively, and I’ve done some work with them myself. So has my mother, though she’d deny it, perhaps.  They’re powerful bits of work, if you have the patience for them, and can shift your thinking enough for them to work. I recommend the robofish and shoaling as part of the complete package.

Enough with the link spam.  If you wanted to read about sigils, there’s plenty out there.  I have a magical project underway; I launched a servitor to do my bidding earlier this month.  But if it’s going to be successful, it needs some more characters besides the one magician who’s been introduced already.

Back to squiggles.  The notion is that each line or element in a sigil has some deep meaning, some verbal or imaginal component that can be reflected outward at the world.  Some people use the Spare method, developed by Austin Osman Spare, which converts sentences into glyphs. Some use runes.  The group of which I’m a member, the DOGD, uses the Coelbren alphabet and the figures of geomancy.

Squiggles.  The term suggests an un-disciplined approach to making marks on a page. But there’s nothing undisciplined about drawing.  In fact, the only people who consistently say that drawing is easy are the ones who say it should be free.  I know that after six years, I have not developed my skills enough that I can draw realistically.

But comic stories, visual storytelling, graphic novels, don’t require realistic drawings. They require drawings that tell stories, that communicate meaning by line placement. And it’s no wonder, really, that Mr. Charles Shultz, of Peanuts fame, could draw any of his characters, from memory, at almost any scale.  So could Bill Watterson, of Calvin and Hobbes.  It’s a critical skill, those repetitive squiggle drawings that mean something and that carry an entire personality or identity within them.  The magician, or perhaps I should say the comic book writer, Grant Morrison, knows this well.  His characters are distinctive, realistic, powerful, personal, magical, recognizable.

So I spent some time working on characters for Dabbling this evening.  I’ve completed a number of strips for the comic, but I’m not happy with all of them.  Some of them fall flat, and some require too much detail for the story I’m trying to create, and the practice work I’m trying to do.  But many great stories aren’t driven by the lone narrator alone in his (graphic novel) cell. Rather, they’re driven by the interaction of characters.

31 DoM: sigilsHere’s the magician himself, Roger, looking a bit more dapper, and a little older, and perhaps a little meaner, than I intended. He’s got a man-bun, just like me. Maybe a little sensitive about that growing bald spot, hmm?  Sometimes wears a tie, sometimes doesn’t. Touchy clothes, off-kilter glasses. DOesn’t seem like the sort of person who could summon an archangel, perhaps.  But he knows his stuff when he puts his mind to it.  I’d like to think he’s a magician’s magician. But it occurs to me that maybe he knows his magic, but maybe not other humans. He could get a lot accomplished, though.  Or lose everything.

31 DoM: sigilsHere’s Jim, the carpenter. Jim is a bit heavier-built, a bit more thick in the arms, a bit more thick in the head, perhaps. Or maybe not?  The eyes in the full-body image convey a weariness, a slowness.  But maybe that’s just because he can carry a 4×4 beam one-handed.  He’s sort of a circle on top of a box — heaven surmounting earth, perhaps?  It’s important to remember that figures are just geometry.  His eyes in the facial portrait look a little brighter, a little more intelligent, a little more frat-boy and a little less heavy-lifting blue-collar guy.

31 DoM: sigilsLaura, the Librarian. A long narrow body, a tendency to skirts that are somewhere between the knee and the floor.  Long hair, a weird set of teeth in her hairline — I’m not sure why those came about, but they did.  Cardigans and shawl collars, button-down shirt underneath.  Not sure about the coloration of this character yet — does she favor bright or muted hues? Could go either way.  Do you have an opinion about this?  What do you think of her?  Of the other characters so far?

31 DoM: sigils And finally, Miss Wanda. She is still changing shape, I see. She’s not clear yet about whether she wants short, efficient hair or big 1980s hair. I’m sure she’ll let me know.  One of her side-faces is rather sweet and positive.  Her full-on face makes her look like the wife of a Televangelist.  And her last image makes her look like a furious opera singer.

I created six more sigils this evening. That’s a total of ten. Ten characters, ten signs, ten quick-sketch images for the figures of power and transformation that I want to introduce into my story arcs for Dabbling.  Each of them is recognizable, easily created, distinguishable one from another, and with relationships one to another that are already becoming clearer before I’ve even created stories for them, completely.

And maybe they’ll bring me what I want, which is a way of teaching my students how to create characters of their own. Maybe they’ll show you that your drawing talents are something to cultivate, as well.

But it wouldn’t be magic, of course, if there weren’t some hidden meanings.  So after I post this, I’m going back to my notes, and writing some ideas about how each of these characters carry my magical energy into the world.  And when these characters appear in my stories, they’ll be asking the world for something, even when that message is hidden.  And they will do so with their own personalities, their own way of appealing to the universe, and their own kind of thankfulness about their work in the world.

31DoM: Use Tarot Cards

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Today’s assignment in the 31 Days of Magic project from the Strategic Sorcery community around Jason Miller is to “Use Tarot/playing cards” in some sort of working.

Yeah.  I can do that.  But as I remarked to Stacey a day or two ago, part of my goal in this series is to get magicians to think differently about magic, and to get teachers to think differently about creativity, and to get us all thinking differently about Making. And so it is that I’m revealing Something Really Important about the magical tradition.

31 DoM: use a card

I. Begin with a pencil drawing…

You see, I don’t think that the teachings in the grimoires about the appearances of angels and demons, or the images of the Planets that one finds in Picatrix, or the images associated with the Mansions of the Moon and the Decans of the Zodiac, are there accidentally.  I think they’re present in these texts not just as visualization tools for calling up spirits.

I think they’re there as a curriculum in drawing and visual representation.  Consider the following description, taken from the Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy allegedly but probably not by H.C. Agrippa:

The Spirits of Jupiter appear with a sanguine and choleric body; they are of middle stature; their motion is “horrible and fearful,” but they are mild of countenance and gentle in speech. They are of iron colour, which ought to have connected them with Mars; their motion is that of flashing lightnings, and withal thunderous; their sign is the apparition of men about the circle who seem to be devoured by lions. Their particular forms are a king with drawn sword riding on a lion; 2 a mitred personage in a long vestment; a maid crowned with laurel and adorned by flowers; a bull; a stag; a peacock; an azure garment; a sword; a box-tree.

This is a description, or more accurately a set of descriptions, that can be followed:  red and yellow, middle height, weirdly-angled body parts, human looking faces.  Reddish skin, lions, a man with a sword riding on a lion, a bishop, a woman with a laurel crown and flowers, a bull, a male deer with a suite of antlers, a peacock, a sword, a box-tree or topiary.  In other words, says the author of the Fourth Book, “don’t just look for these spirits… try drawing them, too.”

Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe there’s no intention on the part of these late Medieval and early Renaissance artists to provide their students with a drawing curriculum.

But it feels right.  Consider the engravings of the 1600s and 1700s associated with alchemy.  The artists and artisans who produced those elaborate illustrations for the Rosicrucian pamphlets knew how to draw — wheeled fortresses and flying beakers, angels and angles and geometric figures of stunning complexity.  The creators of the illustrations were working within a tradition, and no one among them really appeared to fear Church arrest and persecution — they were the makers of the Church’s books and altarpieces, at first.  The Church could not have done without their illustrative powers.  And those powers of illustration, of illumination, of communication-in-pictures, had been passed down in some form since well before the Fall of Rome.

So maybe the Tarot isn’t just a divination system. Maybe it’s the end product of a complex course in drawing, designed to teach its users how to communicate in pictures.  It’s a simple way to learn how to paint miniatures for the medieval book trade.  It’s a simple way to learn to handle the tools of the medieval artist: the pen, the brush, the paint pots.  It’s a simple way to work with line are and a limited palette of colors.

 

More than that, though, whenever I create a card like this, I discover what a powerful artist Pamela Colman Smith really was. The card I did tonight, the Eight of Cups, is usually understood to be the acceptance of the spiritual against the love of the material.  But what I see is that the cups are stacked on the wrong side of a dive filled with water: our side.  The figure is renouncing the cups, perhaps, and seeking the mountains in the distance — but then, he or she was facing a long-way-around journey to come to the cups in the first place.  We the viewers have the cups, not the renunciate.

Is that significant? Maybe.  But I wouldn’t have noticed it, one way or the other, without drawing ehe card first.  And maybe that’s it — that it’s not just about drawing the card from the deck, but drawing-in-the-sense-of-duplicating the card that is equally important.  You don’t know what you’re looking at if you haven’t studied it, and if you draw it yourself, then you’ve studied it far more effectively than if you just looked at it.

The Visual Curriculum

Every card has an entire curriculum within it:  how to draw figures, for example.  How to duplicate proportions.  How to color.  How to portray light, and show angles.  How to express distance through size and through height above the baseline of the card.  How to demonstrate depth.  How to curve and straighten lines so that vertical and horizontal surfaces are seen. How to compress three dimensions of information into two.

How to learn how to draw.

Then as now, in Smith’s time as in Agrippa’s time as in the days of Hermes Trismegistus, drawing was hard.  Distance, proportion, color, angle of shadow, angle of light source, shade, hue, line — none of these things come naturally to anyone.  They have to be practiced just like writing or arithmetic. There was no place for drawing in the traditional medieval curriculum.  It is literally hidden in plain sight — in the lavish illustrations that adorn illuminated manuscripts, right alongside the texts describing the seven liberal arts.

 

Maybe, more importantly, drawing and the copying of drawings is a way to show students the practice effect at work. Here is the first copy of a Tarot card I ever did for myself. It’s a terrible rendition of the Eight of Pentacles. You can see that I’m starting to experiment with the idea of depth, with the idea of angles.   But if you want to get better, you have to do the work more frequently.

Because that’s part of this story too.  When I went to darken the green of the hills, and to paint in the boots and cloak of my human figure — I found that my ink pens had dried up.  I’ve been so busy with other things, like carpentry and string theory and design process, that I let this project to produce my own Tarot deck fall by the wayside for a while, and my kit was partially dried up.  Although I did a number of cards, including the Chariot, and used them to dispense some magical advice once upon a time… I’ve fallen out of practice.  I’m mostly picking up where I left off — but I’ve let some of my tools reach their expiration dates.

And it’s a useful reminder that all things face Saturn — death and endings — sooner or later.  Is drawing a part of the magical curriculum for you? If so, it’s time to get started.

 

31D0M: Use something combustible

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Yesterday’s project in 31 Days of Magic from Jason Miller‘s strategic sorcery community was to use something combustible.

To me, the word combustible generally and generically implies five things in magical work: candles, incense, paper(s), wood, and firespinning.  My firespinning gear (staff and fire-breathing torch) are both in another state; and fire-spinning is not a lot of fun when it’s cold enough to freeze your hands to the metal bar of the spinning staff.  Admittedly, it’s not cold enough to freeze my hands to the bar — but my stuff is in storage elsewhere, anyway.

I’m also in someone else’s house at the moment. And I’m welcome here, and I’m welcome to use their house altar for my work.  So I light some frankincense-myrrh incense (there’s something combustible!) and I set to work.

31 DoM: use something combustible First off, I’ve been meaning to learn how to work with electricity for a while now. And I have this CircuitScribe pen in my bag, waiting for the right time to put it into practice.

The idea is that the CircuitScribe pen from Electroninks is a basic ballpoint pen, but the ink is impregnated with quite a lot of silver.  Silver conducts electricity rather well, so drawing lines on paper with this pen results in drawing circuits.  Hence, CircuitScribe.  These pens aren’t cheap; they’re around twenty dollars here in the U.S., or $50 for a kit with additional tech elements other than a red/blue LED light element.

31 DoM: use something combustibleIt’s a pretty simple bit of technology to use. Draw a big circle on a sheet of paper with a special silver-gel pen, and stack some batteries upon it. Fold the piece of paper over the battery stack, and draw a new circle, with a line connecting it to the lighting element.  Both the batteries and the lighting element come with the pen in a single kit.

And that’s it.  That’s the whole technical apparatus.  It’s not hard to make the light glow either red (if the batteries or LED system are oriented one way) or blue (if the LED system is oriented the other way. No mess, no fuss, no fooling around with lead-based solder, or non-lead-based solder. Pretty easy to make circuits, pretty easy to make designs or patterns, and charge them with energy — literally — since there’s electricity flowing through them. Amazing, right.

31 DoM: use something combustibleExcept I had to draw four separate circuits that didn’t work before I got one that did work.  Lo and behold, here it is:  a little red LED lights up.  Isn’t that amazing? A special pen with ultra-special ink, two batteries and an LED component, and I can work with electricity! Woot!

I love this kind of science.

Now, if you flip the batteries upside down (- to + instead of + to -), or if you turn the LED system unit around so it’s attached to the batteries in the opposite direction, you get a different flow:  Now the light will turn blue:

31 DoM: use something combustibleMy girlfriend sees the light go on, and goes “ooh!” in a way that’s totally genuine and not sarcastic at all.  Then I turn the LED system around, and show her how the other light, the red light works, and she says, “Oooh!” in a tone of somewhat less wonderment and amazement.  The excitement is wearing off.

A few more times flipping the batteries, making the light come on and off, and she’s lost interest. So have I. The last of the incense has burned away, and we’re hanging out in a house with little to do in the dark of winter.  Someone (probably me) paid $20 for this CircuitScribe pen, so that it will turn on a little light, red or blue, and perform a one-time magic trick.

And, OK.  I get that I can buy a lot of small modules that let me do more than just draw wires for a light.  But in essence, it’s hard to see what I’ve done here.  I mean, I sort of knew how to build a circuit before, without CircuitScribe pens.  I’ve soldered before, too, and I’ve built things out of LittleBits.

But right now, I can’t help but feel that I’ve been played for a fool.  The real magic of this CircuitScribe pen lies in the modules that attach to the lines you draw, not in the pen itself.  I can send electricity through silver wires that are drawn on paper — but I can’t make the circuit do anything without a module.

I would have been better off buying a roll of wire, and some cheap motors, LEDs and other bits and bobs from RadioShack or Adafruit. It’s likely that buying all that ‘stuff’ will cost me a hundred bucks or more.  But buying five of these pens is an insufficient replacement for having an supply of parts and wires for most of the work I need to be doing with electronics.

And that’s kind of the point that I want to make here, today.  It will take me two to five years of dedicated study before I have the knowledge base to make electronics a part of my magical arsenal.  It would take me a similar amount of time to make music, or mechanical automata, or any other intense, knowledge-heavy subject a regular part of my magical practice.  I can’t simply whip out a wand — I mean, a pen — burn some incense, draw a few lines and make a few connections, and suddenly know how to make electronic devices.  There’s a process of learning here that cannot be … ahem… short-circuited.

And so the thing which I burn to ashes today are my illusions about learning and teaching electronics to my students. If I want to teach it, I have to learn it. If I’m going to learn it, I’m going to have to invest the time and the money to learn the relevant skills properly, and thoroughly.  And all the funky silver-gel pens (silver, the metal of the Moon which is the realm of illusion!) and red and blue reversible LED modules in the world are not going to teach me or my students to be successful electronics or electrical experts.

That said, the pen is a pretty cool toy.  It got me started. It will help my students get started.  But it will not replace sometimes-enjoyable/sometimes-difficult learning.   How appropriate that the LED which lights up burns red and blue — blue for the expansive realm of Jupiter, the powerful imaginal realm where we learn to expand our horizons; and red for the realm of Mars, that equally powerful imaginal realm where we learn to cut away whatever does not work.

Illusions dispelled about the ease with which I will achieve my aims, I can now truly begin.

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