Wearable Computing Showcase at Maker Faire

I will be attending Maker Faire in San Mateo, CA this month and am excited to be a part of the eTextile and Wearable Computing Lounge and Showcase organized by the Textile Enchantress Lynne Bruning! I plan to have 3 items at the Lounge and will need to pick one for the Showcase. Each of these items share a common theme:

  • the original garment was purchased at Goodwill
  • it is lit up by individual LEDs
  • telephone wire was used in the circuitry

Fiesta Flower Power
They say “beauty is the best defense against complexity”. Who needs brains when you have elegance and simplicity? Less can indeed be more! A coin cell battery powers 43 tiny 1.8mm white LEDs evenly dispersed on this blue floral print dress. No Arduino or LilyPad.

Rainbow Raincoat
This was my first project in wearable technology, completed in March 2011. Diffused 5mm RGB LEDs adorn each of the 10 buttons on this shiny black coat. Each LED is surrounded by crystal beads for accent and additional diffusing enjoyment. Controlled by an Arduino Duemilanove. A button lets you choose either color drift mode for the subtle approach, or switch to rainbow mode when you want to wow friends and complete strangers alike (and/or try out light painting…).


Inspired by a dream, a Facebook conversation and a look, hot and cold compete for attention on a little black dress. Diffused 5mm RGB LEDs are set simply to glow ember-orange, but with the timing and intensity cleverly crafted to mimic the look and feel (well, maybe just the look) of a campfire’s glowing coals. Controlled by a LilyPad, making gratuitous use of the Arduino language’s random() function. NOTE: I’m still working on this one but hope to have a photo up in a few days! 🙂

For the Showcase I will either exhibit the Rainbow Raincoat or the Smolder dress.

Smart Redundancy

Look up the word redundancy and you’ll find a bunch of negative-sounding synonyms like repetition, duplication, excessive, superfluous, no longer necessary… but also a few positive phrases like ‘alternatives in case of failure’, ‘circumvent transmission errors’, etc.

True to the definition, redundancy is often perceived as something negative and wasteful. And it can be. But sometimes it saves your ass! I like to call those instances where redundancy is helpful and necessary cases of “smart redundancy”.

Electronics is definitely one of those saving places. I’m finding this a lot lately as I grope my way around putting LEDs on clothes. I’m a relative noob at this, having made only 2 LEDs-on-clothes projects so far. One thing I’m realizing is that to really make this work I need repetition and back-up-plans, because failure is just too likely in a number of ways.

For one, what you use to connect the LEDs to each other and to your power source and microcontroller could stump you. For both of my first projects I’ve used phone wire – already insulated, light-weight, and free because I already had a bunch on hand. But another good thing about phone wire is there are multiple strands of copper wire. A friend of mine tried a project with only single-stranded wire and found it flaked out on her all too often, plus the LEDs were not as bright.

The circuit itself is something else where I have yet to figure out how to work in the right type of redundancy. One LED shorting out can sometimes bring the whole thing down. Finding the problem LED(s) can prove difficult too.

My biggest dilemma is finding solutions to these sorts of problems. What’s the point of putting lights on clothes if the lights don’t work?!

Backside of an RGB with phone wire

Backside of an RGB with phone wire

Of course redundancy can have its dark side – such as supporting duplicative databases at a large corporation anxious to please its shareholders. But even then you’d better have a backup plan and sometimes you find hidden misconceptions and learn things you wouldn’t have known if you weren’t consolidating. You also need to decide how much redundancy is enough based on your situation. Being locked out of my garage because my backup opener failed tells me either I didn’t have enough redundancy and/or I shouldn’t have blown off fixing the first one!

26 Pounds Lighter

I lost a bunch of weight in 2010.


My #1 reason was that I just didn’t like how the extra pounds made me feel and made me look. But I was also bumping up against the overweight threshold on the BMI scale, and my doctor had even cautioned me about it.

I started out in March 2010 somewhere between 145-150 pounds. I rather un-optimistically wondered if I could get back to what I weighed just after high school (about 120), more realistically hoped I could reach 130, but in actuality felt skeptical I could accomplish much of anything.

26 Pounds Lighter


My strategy was rather basic and traditional: reduce fat and sugar, be mindful of portions, exercise more.

At first it felt like the extra exercise was only in frustration: lots of sacrifice with not many pounds coming off. But at some point eating better just sort of became habit, and it helped that I realized many ‘bad’ foods actually made me feel lousy. Exercise was key as well – I got a road bike in late May of last year, and then proceeded to literally bike my ass off over the summer, culminating in a 110-mile ride in one day in October.

My rate of weight loss seemed to go in phases:
March – August 2010 (6 months): dragging along at 1.3 pounds / month
September – October: jumps to 5.5 pounds / month
November – December: moderates to 3.5 pounds / month
January – March 2011: GAINED 1.7 pounds / month

I blame most of my recent gain on winter cabin fever and a cold I got in early March. I think I will lose it somewhat naturally with the good weather boost that spring provides, getting me on my bike or out hiking more often.

I’ve heard it said that losing over about a pound per week is too rapid. I suppose it depends on your initial weight, but for me, I think it was good advice. But again, maybe the trick isn’t so much the speed as making it a habit so that you’re less likely to revert back to old patterns.

Some specific eating strategies I used or continued:

  • Reduce or eliminate chocolate. This was probably my biggest weakness – I used to indulge myself with it at least once a day. I found I could still have it once in a while but I would take a really small piece of super-dark chocolate and suck on it instead of chew it.
  • Avoid most dairy. It helped that I’m a bit lactose intolerant. (I’m a cheesehead who doesn’t eat much cheese.) Be sure to get your calcium some other way though.
  • Switch to no-fat where you can. Smoothies are a great breakfast: 1 banana, 1 orange, about half-dozen frozen strawberries and 1/2 cup non-fat yogurt and blend. (One of few exceptions on my no-dairy rule.)
  • Lighten sugar. After abstaining for a while, I realized sugar has an unpleasant aftertaste and I really didn’t want it so much anymore. I still have some in coffee but I don’t drink a lot of coffee.
  • Avoid soda*. Get used to water or tea (plain or fruity – with no sweetener). Juice in moderation.
  • Avoid chips and similar snacks*.
  • Make more food at home.
  • ¿Quieres Taco Bell? Go Fresco.
  • Hungry and know you shouldn’t eat more? Drink a bunch of water.

* I was already doing these things.

My take on a few debatable recommendations:

  • Don’t skip breakfast or you’ll eat more the rest of the day? After a smoothie I’m hungry in an hour or so. Cereal or bread makes me feel hypoglycemic a few hours later so I tend to avoid those. Protein is more filling but then you have to be careful not to have fat along with it. I end up making some sort of unpredictable choice here.
  • Drink or don’t drink alcohol? I didn’t cut it out, though I debated it for a while. I read about a study saying those who drink have an easier time losing weight, not harder.
  • Are diet drinks ok? On the one hand the sweetener could make you crave food, on the other my cousin Mark seems to live off the stuff and he’s pretty skinny. Unnatural sweet drinks make me feel a bit weird so I just tend to avoid them and can’t really provide too much first-hand experience on this one.


Somehow I did it! A few things I found after losing the weight: I really did feel a lot better. I’m sure I must look a lot better too. I suddenly could jog for several miles at a time instead of feeling agony after a half mile. I got a clean bill of health from my doctor and she was pretty impressed that I weighed 26 pounds less than I did on my previous visit a year prior.

No regrets!

Japan’s Devastation

Some headlines, facts, estimates and other phrases found online 4 days after the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Sad times. Help if you can. Be grateful for what you have.

Sendai Devastation. Photo by Beacon Radio.

Sendai Devastation

  • An 8.9-magnitude earthquake and tsunami have crippled Japan
  • USGS upgraded to 9.0-magnitude, occurred on Friday, March 11, 2011 at 2:46 PM at epicenter, 130 km (80 miles) E of Sendai, Honshu, Japan
  • In pictures: Mounting shock
  • The landscape of parts of Japan looks like the aftermath of World War Two


  • at least 10,000 people are believed to have died
  • “There was 30 minutes’ warning”
  • the wave sheared house after house off at the foundation, leaving only concrete bases and wood floors scoured eerily spotless by the rushing water
  • Japan Begins To Dig For Dead Amid Nuclear Crisis
  • 2,000 Bodies Found On Miyagi Coast
  • No one to rescue in Natori
  • Japanese finding more tsunami victims; survivors face deprivation
  • In Sendai, long lines of quiet desperation
  • “I don’t know if it’s good that I survived”
  • Body bags run short in ‘overwhelmed’ nation
  • 300,000 homeless bed down without electricity
  • Millions face a fourth night of fear following Friday’s quake, tsunami and resulting nuclear emergency
  • Freezing temperatures are expected to exacerbate the hardships for Japan’s quake survivors


  • The fuel rods in all three of the most troubled Japanese nuclear reactors appear to be melting
  • A third explosion in four days rocked the earthquake-damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant
  • Engineer: Nuclear Plant Not Designed To Withstand Quakes/Tsunamis
  • 17 U.S. Military Personnel Test Positive For Radiation
  • German Airline Screening Japanese Flights For Radiation
  • Germany, Switzerland Suspend Nuclear Plant Approvals
  • Japan accident dims odds of U.S. nuclear revival
  • Ultimate impact of damage to Japan nuclear reactors still unknown
  • Chernobyl Outcome Unlikely
  • Risk of radiation reaching U.S. said to be remote
  • According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), there are no signs of fuel melting at Japan’s nuclear plant
  • Fearmongers go into their own meltdown: ..the Western media’s obsession with what is happening there is seriously overblown and reveals more about us and our fears than it does about the reality on the ground in Japan.


  • the most powerful measured seismic event in Japan’s history
  • the fifth most powerful to hit the world in the past century
  • more than 160 aftershocks in the first 24 hours — 141 measuring 5.0-magnitude or more
  • preceded by a series of large foreshocks over the previous two days, 4 earthquakes greater than magnitude 6
  • the quake caused a rift 19 miles below the sea floor that stretched about 250 miles long and 100 miles wide
    tectonic plates slipped 59 feet (18 meters)
  • coastlines moved up to 8 feet
  • the quake also shifted the earth’s axis by 4 inches, shortened the day by 1.6 microseconds, and sank Japan downward (by about two feet?)
  • some waves reached six miles (10 kilometers) inland
  • 30-foot walls of water
  • the tsunami’s waves necessitated life-saving evacuations as far away as Chile

USGS | CNN | Huffington Post | BBC | MSNBC | LA Times | New York Times | Washington Post | Yahoo | The Australian | Fox News | Seattle Times | CNET

Weird Is Awesome: Super Bowl Halftime LED Show

I’m not much of a football fan, but being that my home state made it to the Super Bowl this year I decided to tune in while I went about my business that day. Maybe I’d see some neat commercials, I thought. At halftime a friend chatted me to ask if I was watching it because there was quite an LED show going on.

If you haven’t seen it:

Here is a summary of what I could dig up on the technology and some of my personal opinions about the visual aspects of the show.

How they did it

  • almost 400 of the backup dancers wore LED-equipped costumes
  • the costumes were made of durable silver tricot foil by a dance/costume company called Just for Kix in Baxter, MN
  • each dancer’s costume was outfitted with 300 LED RGB strip lights supplied by Creative Lighting Solutions, LLC in Cleveland, OH… so, over 100,000 LEDs just in the dancers’ costumes
  • velcro was used to affix the LED strips
  • the LEDs on the dancers were set up to produce 3 colors only: red, green or white
  • power was from a 12 volt battery pack with belt controller
  • the dancers manually controlled their lights
  • the cube-heads and the Black Eyed Peas costumes’ electronics were made by Engineering Solutions, Inc in Lehi, UT, under some direction by Creative Lighting Solutions

My opinions

  • Likes:
    • how the combination of the LED strips and the type of fabric in the costumes made the dancers’ entire bodies glow
    • the surrealistic feel when the dancers formed moving arrows
    • the cube-head dancers looked really funky – I think the combination of costumes, dancing and music were more than the sum of the parts there
  • I suppose one could argue that the lights shouldn’t eclipse the singers, but in general I thought the Black Eyed Peas’ costumes could have had some more imagination as far as the LED enhancement goes – color, patterns, patterns in motion, etc. I think there is great opportunity to use all 4 dimensions and color with this fashion / lights / technology mixture.
  • Choreography of the dancers forming hearts and arrows: why not combine these and have the red hearts only at first, then have one-person wide white arrows pierce the hearts… or, make the hearts appear to beat in time to the music (maybe they were supposed to look like they were beating but it looked more like swaying to me).

All in all I thought it was great to see so much wearable tech in the Super Bowl.

More info

The Path Not Taken

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!).

Lynne lending her expertise for our projects

Lynne lending her expertise for our projects

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.

The event was sponsored by SparkFun Electronics and PlugandWear and held at SparkFun’s offices in Boulder.

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.