Monday and Tuesday of this week I had the opportunity to attend the 2014 Code4LibDC Unconference, where I had been invited to lead an introduction to hardware hacking workshop. Thanks in large part to the generosity of SparkFun Electronics, whose Education arm let me borrow the hardware necessary to run the workshop (15 sets of the Sparkfun Redboard Arduino clone, breadboards, wiring, LEDs, and sensors).
I decided that I wanted to try and reverse the normal order of pretty much every “Learn Arduino” workshop that I’d seen, so rather than start with a blank slate and have the students build a circuit to blink an LED, I decided that I wanted them to start with a working circuit that was a bit more complicated and then deconstruct it. As a result, I spent most of a day late the week before building out a dozen or so circuits that would light a series of 4 LEDs dependent on the value of a potentiometer, and then packing them up and hoping the TSA didn’t find them “interesting”. The idea was that the participants would immediately have a working thing, and then could break it, alter it, change it, and they would have something that was immediately useful rather than struggle to make it work from the outset. Judging from the reactions I got, I think that was a good call…the participants seemed to have a grand time deconstructing why the circuit did what it did. It also provided an example of how something very simple could be useful in a library…you could, with very little change, basically replace the potentiometer with a thermistor and have a temperature gauge, or with a microphone and have a noise indicator for “too loud” rooms.
We weren’t without problems (no hardware session ever is) but overall I felt like it went well, and I can’t wait to work on making this particular workshop even better. I really want to teach more and more librarians how to hack on hardware to benefit their libraries. A few of the participants really had a field day, with one group altering the simple 4 LED series to instead be a 4-bit binary counter, and another working out an algorithm that allowed for soft fades instead of simple on/off of the lights.
If anyone is interested, below you will find my slides from the workshop. They need work before I try to give this again, but I think they are a good start.