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.

Convenience and Beauty


Today is a cold windy Sunday and I’m thinking back to things I made last winter. On the left is a cozy for my french press that I cut from a sweater sleeve. Easy to make, pretty to look at, and rather effective. However, most mornings I just wrap my press in the dish towel that is closest to me at the time.

On the right are some salt dough ornaments. This morning I was thinking of laser cutting something similar but now that I look at this photo, I’m torn. I love the imperfect shape the salt dough has. But the dough is fragile and a pain to send in the mail. Oh the tension between convenience and beauty.

Stuff I Make


I get reflective in the fall. As the year comes to an end I like to look back and think about what I’ve been doing. Photos help me do that. I take a lot of pictures and they help to jog my memory.

Upon looking at photos from the past 12 months I realized that I’ve been making much more stuff than I did from 2007-2012 when I was spending most of my creative energy helping students make stuff. I’ve learned to make new stuff and a range of stuff from cheese to fruit-vodkas to simple circuits and electronics.

On the left is some pear vinegar that I made in a vinegar-making workshop hosted by Ithaca FreeSkool. One the right is some goats milk mozzarella. It was fun to learn and the learning has given me a deeper appreciation for the artisan cheese-makers here in the Finger Lakes. Is it possible that learning makes cheese taste even better? I think so!

Testing Generosity


Yesterday I tested a game exercise I developed called Generosity with students in Tom Seager’s Sustainability Ethics class at ASU. Generosity is a card game in which characters help fulfill each other’s needs with value that they have so that the players are free to do amazing things.

This is about the fifth time I’ve tested the game. Some consistent insights have emerged from the tests:

1. At the beginning of the game, some players struggle to fill out their “need” cards while others have a hard time filling out their “value” cards.

2. Throughout the game, players realize value that they didn’t know they had. (This is my favorite insight)

3. Players gain empathy for each other as they play the game and they reframe their value or create new value to align with other player’s needs.

4. Some players take on a “connector” role and help other players identify need-value matches that are hard to see.

5. Players shift their definitions of “generosity” from an act that is altruistic to one that has mutual benefits.

6. After the game, players incorporate the “matching needs with values” mechanic into their conversations.

A unique insight that came out yesterday was that brain chemistry plays an important role in being generous. Humans have a need for dopamine and oxytocin that can drive us to provide value to others. An interesting question that emerged from this insight was “Is the need for dopamine or oxytocin enough of a value exchange or can/should we evolve to create even richer value by being aware of  brain chemistry rewards?”

I don’t know the answer to that one, but it’s fun to think about. I truly enjoy listening to the conversations that this game inspires people to engage in. Thank you Sustainability Ethics students. The value of your engagement fulfills my need to understand how we can be more generous with each other.