Making Light – Made in USA is alive in The White House and in Ithaca


Earlier this month we traveled to The White House Office of Science and Technology to take part in a special kick-off event to National Maker Faire. We were thrilled by a panel focused on connecting makers with US Manufacturers. The panel was facilitated by JJ Raynor, Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and filled with ‘Made in USA’ trailblazers: Mo Mullen from West Elm Local, Bernie Lynch from Made Right Here, Matthew Burnett from Maker’s Row, and Althea Erickson from Etsy. All of these folks recognize the talent and creativity of our makers and inventors and are hard at work building bridges between makers and US suppliers and manufacturers. The discussion was inspiring!

As you may know, this summer Make Better Stuff is developing a product in the Southern Tier Hardware Accelerator in Ithaca, NY. We’re working on a light that aims to tune our bodies and minds to a slower, more natural sense of time. Above is an early prototype of a kit version. We are developing both a kit version for makers and hanging lamp version for public spaces. As far as the electronics go,  we’ve milled and populated some custom boards on the Othermill we have in the shop. We’ve tested them (they work!) and are ordering a few variations from OSH Park.

While we wait for the boards, we’re getting feedback from potential customers and we’re exploring a range of laser cut designs for the kit version of the light–which sits on a table–and the hanging version. We’re at the point where we need to start putting together a BOM (bill of materials) and that’s where organizations like Maker’s Row, West Elm, and Made Right Here can help us find US suppliers and manufacturers. It’s super exciting. Like a geeky dream come true!

If you’d like to read more about the Southern Tier Hardware Accelerator, then check out their blog right here:

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Last week a fellow IG member and I went to the Scratch Conference at MIT Media Lab. Scratch is a visual programming language developed by folks in the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT and the Graduate School of Education at Harvard. The goal of the project is to help kids (and adults) transform themselves from “consumers of stuff” to “makers of stuff.” (Sound familiar?)

What impressed us about the conference is that it wasn’t only focused on technology, but on the social aspects of engaging with technology. The Media Lab has four principles that guide their techno-social-creative process: PROJECTS, PEERS, PASSION, and PLAY.


Makers don’t just talk about ideas. They make stuff. So PROJECTS are the physical manifestations of making. We participated in two project-oriented workshops:


Both workshops were scaled well and effective. Something that stood out to us was how the participants, who are educators from around the globe, interacted with each other. We helped each other troubleshoot and explore. All of us seemed comfortable with rapid trial and error. Which leads to the second principle – Peers.


In the keynotes, there was a lot of emphasis put on the role of peers when we are learning to program or make things. In the keynote on Day 2, Elyse Eidman-Aadahl of the National Writing Project said something that hit home. Now, her project is to transform “readers” in to “readers who write” but you can see the connection to transforming consumers to makers. Elyse pointed out that hour-long workshops have their place because they introduce people to writing. But to become a writer, one needs to engage with a community over time. They need to share their work. They need to get and give feedback. They need to mentor and be mentored. Something to think about as we look at our programming at the makerspace. How do we nurture our community so that more Ithacans can go through this transformation?


One thing we think about at IG and in tech overall is how to foster more diversity and inclusion in our community. One way to help more kids and adults learn technology is to offer experiences that enable them to tie technology – which is new and foreign to them – to something that they are already passionate and knowledgable about. Then the technology becomes less of a scary thing that newbies can’t do and more of a new tool for expressing ourselves. This passion principle is held by Harvey Mudd College where they offer joint majors that allow people to integrate a field they are passionate about with CS. It seems to be pretty effective with women filling over ½ of their CS student slots.


There’s a lot of talk about PLAY in the creativity space. At MIT, they make an interesting distinction between PLAYGROUND play and PLAYPEN play. The playground is a social environment where we interact with people and explore our decision making processes. In the PLAYPEN, our activity is more constrained. We don’t have the freedom to reach outside of ourselves. So when we are designing playful environments, it’s important to keep this distinction in mind.

The last session we went to at the conference was a session hosted by women who created the FAMILY CREATIVE LEARNING guide and GUERILLA POPup MAKERSPACE Both projects integrate all 4 Ps of the Media Lab. Here’s a secret they shared that we really love, “The aesthetic of these things is that it should feel like a family gathering. We always start with food.”


We welcome your insights on the 4 Ps or other principles that have captured your imagination. Share them with us in the comments or on our facebook or twitter streams.

Beginner’s Mind and Clarity


There’s a concept in Buddhism that’s often borrowed by folks who teach creativity. It’s called “The Beginner’s Mind.” Adopting a beginner’s mind about a subject or project is supposed to allow us to be open to many more possibilities than if we approach the project as an expert.

This past week I found another great use for beginner’s mind. I was at Ed Tech Day at Ithaca College sharing the work I am doing with my students in the Department of Environmental Science there. The exhibit was titled “Arduino in the Classroom” and folks really enjoyed talking with me about it.

Part of what made the conversation so engaging, I realized, is that when it comes to Arduino, I am a beginner. Thus, when talking about Arduino I was much more clear about it than I am with what I have expertise in, such as design.

I found it easy to talk about the Arduino and what it means in the world. Most people think it’s something for kids, but I was there in part to correct that assumption. Arduino is the stuff that’s hidden inside of most of the products we use every day, but because it’s hidden inside folks don’t relate.

Which is why people are so easily excited about 3D printers. The stuff that comes off a 3D printer looks like something they might own or see in a store because 3D printing provides the skin of a product. Arduino is the guts. And it’s much easier for average folks to identify a person by their skin than by their guts, right?

Once I got them looking at the guts, I explained with a very simple example (servo sweep), how hardware and software work together to make our stuff do stuff. And then I explained how what we prototype on an Arduino can be made into a circuit board diagram and manufactured in USA, in a batch as small as three boards! And that was it. People got it. And they were amazed. As they should be. The democratization of this type of technology is amazing.

Thank you, beginner’s mind, for helping me tell that story.

Who Is Best at Predicting the Future?

I’ve come across an interesting study about a correlation between cognitive styles and accuracy in predicting the future. The study is from Philip Tetlock, Professor of Leadership at UC Berkeley who built on Isaiah Berlin’s theory about foxes and hedgehogs. Put simply, foxes are lateral thinkers,  hedgehogs are linear thinkers, and it is foxes who are better at predicting the future.

Tetlock contends that the fox–the thinker who knows many little things, draws from an eclectic array of traditions, and is better able to improvise in response to changing events–is more successful in predicting the future than the hedgehog, who knows one big thing, toils devotedly within one tradition, and imposes formulaic solutions on ill-defined problems.

This insight makes sense, that foxes with their ability to hold multiple points of view are better positioned to see the future. But there’s a twist. Hedgehogs, with their certainty, tend to be more confident and thus convincing to a crowd. And foxes, with all of their “It could be this way or it could be that way” internal debate, tend to express less confidence and are less convincing to a crowd. Stewart Brand sums this up nicely here:

Bottom line… The political expert who bores you with a cloud of “howevers” is probably right about what’s going to happen. The charismatic expert who exudes confidence and has a great story to tell is probably wrong.

As you may know, I’m interested in “unlikely leaders” and foxes  fall into that slot. They express doubt while the hedgehogs express confidence. So my question for all of us is this: How might we train ourselves to listen to foxes, to embrace their expressions of doubt so that we can better understand where we’re going.

read more here:

The Internet of Things Should Connect People


For those readers who aren’t techies, the “Internet of Things” is  a phenomenon I first read about in Bruce Sterling’s book Shaping Things. The Internet of Things (IoT) refers, in it’s simplest definition, to physical products connected to the internet. You’ve already heard of some of them, like the refrigerator that sends a text message to my phone telling me I’m out of milk.

A smart fridge may be a decent start, but I think  the IoT can be so much more. Some say that the IoT should be set up so that things talk to each other to coordinate their activities. My alarm clock talks to my hot water heater and my coffee pot so that things are ready for me in the morning. This communication between things may make my life easier and could help me optimize my home energy usage. And the data from my things could be delivered to product firms so they can use it to…I don’t know…make my life easier, and maybe sell me more stuff.

Wait, do I need more stuff that merely makes the small tasks of my life easier? Is that what this manufacturing revolution is mainly going to be used for? I hope not. We have an opportunity: I’m convinced that small batch manufacturing and customization that today’s desktop manufacturing affords can be used to improve our lives in ways that we may not anticipate. But how? I propose that we use IoT to make things that connect people. If the promise of the internet was to connect small groups of people to create or exchange value (etsy is a great example), then the IoT can follow suit, and I think it should. What if our things helped us find other people we share goals with? What if our things had these sharing mechanisms built right into them?

How might you use this technology to connect people?

Image: Chris Ware’s cover for The New Yorker, January 2014

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