The Path Not Taken January 18th, 2011
When I was a senior in high school I had plans to be a fashion designer. I earned some college credit in fashion attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago one summer. I designed and made some of the clothes I wore. I applied and was accepted to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.
Then I, well, I think perhaps, sort of chickened-out. Or maybe I just decided to explore some other things I liked first; I’ve always struggled with juggling multiple interests. I ended up studying math at a university in the same state I grew up in and then worked as an actuary for 14 years. Then I quit and the last couple years I’ve been teaching myself various programming languages and tools with the goal of transforming myself into a web developer.
This past weekend I got to experience a little taste of what it would have been like if I had stuck with plan A, mixed it with a bit of plan C, and added some seafood sensation and secret sauce.
I attended a 2-day workshop titled “Where Electronics Meet Textiles”, put on by award winning textile artist Lynne Bruning and Italian eTextile Master Troy Nachtigall. About 17 attendees from various backgrounds learned about the latest innovations, the materials and disciplines involved, and at the end we were left to our own devices, so to speak, making something of our own choosing (actually and thankfully we had a lot of help from Troy and Lynne!).
At the heart of eTextiles, wearable computing, etc. is often a LilyPad, which is a smaller, more elegant-looking version of an Arduino. These devices are a combination of electronics hardware and programmable software that allow you to transform physical inputs into different physical outputs. Think things like light, motion, sound, contact, etc. Combine this with fabrics, conductive thread or other material, and various other electronics hardware and you can create clothes that light up in response to movement or sound, convert sound or proximity of other objects to vibration, monitor body processes like heart rate, sleep, etc.
Our instructors Lynne and Troy complemented each other well in their strengths and interests. We also had a special guest: Nwanua Elumeze, founder of Aniomagic, who is developing some really innovative ways of addressing human-machine interaction. For example: uploading information to your device by holding it up to your computer screen, where patterns of light, sound or movement are used to send the information, rather than messing about with cables and not-so-basic instructions.
As mentioned, the afternoon of the second day was spent on building our own projects. I don’t know whether to feel guilty about this or encouraged that my life choices of late are on the right track, but I didn’t actually make it to the integrating-with-the-fabric part. I was too captivated with programming my LilyPad. But my new friends made a variety of items, most of which involved some sort of blink and bling. You can see some of it here.
I’m glad my path has come round again and I’ve met up with with these other eTextiles pioneers; perhaps together we can explore the interstitial spaces where we will create magic and the impossible.
What’s an Arduino
Wit and Wonder’s story about the workshop
SoftCircuitSaturday’s story about the workshop
Good press lately for SparkFun
Boulder Hackerspace – we are starting a Wearable Technology project there
Insomnia January 11th, 2011
I haven’t slept well since early October. I know a lot of people experience insomnia at some point in their lives and it can take different forms. My brand of it goes something like this: when I get tired, I can usually fall asleep, but I wake up within just a few hours, and then I can’t fall back asleep. There have been times I’ve woken up feeling fresh and like I’ve had a decent night’s sleep; then I looked at the clock and discovered that only an hour had passed. Other times, I’m just not tired until 2 or 3 am; then I sleep, only to wake up around 6 am. If I go to sleep at a reasonable hour, I usually wake up around 3 or 4 am. Once or twice a week I find I need a 3-hour afternoon nap, and if I can indulge in it I usually wake up at nightfall feeling refreshed, inspired and creative.
In spite of all this, I’m not as tired as I’d expect to be, and in general I feel more alert than I’ve felt in a long time. I drove 14 1/2 hours in one day on my recent vacation and felt great through all of it in spite of having had only a few hours’ sleep the night before. Maybe I’m just at a point in my life when I don’t need as much sleep?
I did worry earlier on about the REM sleep I must be missing, and what that might be doing to me. At one point just after Thanksgiving I did a pair of crazy things that I thought might help me sleep again. It didn’t turn out well and I realize I probably shouldn’t have done them, but strangely I don’t really regret those decisions… although I don’t like to think about whether I’d do them all over again. In any event, I think I was looking in the wrong place to find my sleep again. But then maybe I didn’t know the right place to look.
How to cure insomnia? Is there a cure for my insomnia? Perhaps not, maybe it just has to run its course. I suppose I could try drugs or work on improving my sleep hygiene like my doctor suggested. Truthfully, I’ve grown to like sleeping odd hours and not sleeping a whole lot, as I’m not a real big fan of routine. My professional situation doesn’t stand in the way of this right now, either; I’m not working, but I’m working on eventually working, in my own time… and I’ve found I kind of like doing something productive well into the wee hours of the night.
I suppose this sporadic sleeping can’t go on forever, though (nothing does; but, that’s another blog post). Perhaps it will just gradually resolve itself. Probably as soon as I do start working or otherwise wanting to be more productive, I will suddenly need lots of sleep again. Or I suppose I could try what my doctor told me. Maybe I will someday.
The Call of the Wild West January 9th, 2011
This past holiday I drove from Colorado to California to spend time with cousins in Big Bear and friends west of L.A.
I’ve missed going on long drives. I used to do them a lot when I lived in the southeastern US, when I would spend most of my vacations returning to the midwest to visit friends and family. When I moved to California in 2001, I stopped doing that because it just seemed too far to get back. But now that I am in Colorado, both California and the midwest take a more manageable number of hours to drive to. And I really enjoyed this trip, with the varied scenery, interesting weather, music cranked just a bit louder that my speakers can handle, feeling of independence, time to think, etc.
One thing that’s changed though since I lived back east is that I feel a little guilty about the environment now with my 20 mpg pickup… but I’ll try to make up for it in summer by biking more. Would flying out there have been worse? I don’t know – but certainly more costly and probably not much quicker since I would have had to rent a car in Las Vegas or L.A. anyway to make it to Big Bear… where there was plenty of snow and my 4WD came in real handy.
Here are some photos from the drive – the best I could do with my iPhone and Canon PowerShot, hurtling at 70+ mph down the interstates and highways of the wild and wonderful western US (is that as bad as texting behind the wheel? shame on me).
More photos from my trip on Flickr:
Big Bear, L.A. and Big Bear again
Snowboarding at Powderhorn (Coloraaado) on the way back
Full set from the drive (the ones here plus a few more)