Make Better Stuff for the Holidaze


When Black Friday comes I’m gonna dig myself a hole/ Gonna lay down in it ’til I satisfy my  soul

Well, close. It’s Black Friday. And rather than shop, I’m going down to my makerspace and I’m gonna make stuff to sell at two upcoming craft shows: 1 and 2. This is my tiny part in promoting a power-balance shift from mass manufacture and consumption to small batch production.

Sure there’s “Buy Nothing Friday” and AMEX’s “Small Biz Saturday.” But as a maker, I’m faced with a make-or-buy decision for the holidays. And I’m deciding to make. Make stuff that’s better, more unique, more locally sourced than the stuff you can buy at the mall. Luckily we have tech manufacturers in our makerspace, so what we make isn’t limited to knits and candies (not to knock knits and candies!)

Make something this weekend. And feel free to send me a picture!

image: Laurence Clarkberg

products: IG memebers



Goal: to make a piano hammer strike with just the right amount of attack. Four iterations here. The last one posted first and the first one posted last.

v4 Just right? (shorter ramp)

v3 Nice attack achieved by speeding up the servo in one direction. (tall ramp)

v2 Here I made the ramp taller. But no change in attack.

v1 To be honest, this isn’t really version one. It took me a few tries just to make a ramp that the hammer would not get stuck on.

After the Brainstorm

Brainstorms can be a lot of fun. But how often have you had a great brainstorm, spent all of this creative energy coming up with great ideas, and then did nothing with them? Too many times, right?

Here’s a worksheet that can help you capture the brainstorm and move forward.

1. THE PROBLEM IS _______.

Hopefully you were brainstorming on some type of problem. Restate it in an 8-10 word sentence. This is actually quite hard to do, just take it from A.E. who said:

If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask.

2. WE GENERATED [insert number] IDEAS.

The more the better, right? When a photographer gets assigned the front page of the NYTs, she doesn’t  go out and shoot one picture. She shoots dozens or hundreds, each one increasing the chances of finding that killer shot.


1. _____ and _____

2. _____ and _____

Criteria sets can be stuff like “Safe ideas & Wild ideas,” “Expensive ideas & Inexpensive ideas,” “High tech ideas & Low tech ideas.”

NOTE – “This will work & This won’t work” is not an objective criteria set. And if you already know what’s gonna work, you don’t need to brainstorm.


1. _____

2. _____

Chose two ideas because if you chose only one, you’ll go with the safe one. And if you’re gonna go with the safe one, then again, why are you brainstorming??

On prototyping: You can and should prototype ideas in a simple way at first. If you have an idea for a phone app, draw a few screen shots with pencil and paper. This is a prop that you can use for gathering valuable feedback when you test it. (Designers like myself love props).


1. If _____, then _____.

2. If _____, then _____.

A hypothesis is an “if, then” statement. For example, “If we introduce prototype A, then X won’t be a problem.” It’s very important that you refer back to the problem statement in your hypothesis. If your hypothesis and problem statement don’t match up, then you have some revising to do.



About a Year Ago


About a year ago, Erik, Lora, and Claire let me sit in on a STEM workshop for kids at the public library in Ovid, NY. In the workshop they showed the kids how to wire up a hobby motor to a battery. The next morning I made this whirligig on my dining room table. It took me a while to figure out how to get the streamer far away enough from the motor shaft so that it didn’t get tangled. The table has been covered in projects ever since.