March 2010 Archives

I am in the process of figuring out how to do interesting things with this machine.  It's about the size of a desktop printer, and it can cut, perforate, and score paper, vinyl, and cardstock, based on digital vector graphics files created on your own computer.  If you can create it, you can probably cut it out.

They have one at the Exploratorium, and blogged about it here and here.

So I was intrigued.  I had a little money left in my budget, and could imagine lots of ways to use it at school... I ordered one, and brought it home with me so I can get it figured out and maybe play with it a bit while I'm on vacation.  Challenge #1: the documentation is skimpy.  Challenge #2: although all the materials say that the plug-in works with Adobe Illustrator on the Mac, every single example seems to be based on the assumption that you are using their proprietary software an a Windows machine. As of yesterday, I've succeeded in cutting out letters - the next step will be to create a shape and cut that out, and then on to vinyl stickers.  

Meanwhile, here are some links I've found helpful:

http://craftrobocutter.wetpaint.com/ - a Craft Robo wiki
http://craftrobocutter.wetpaint.com/page/Using+Illustrator+with+the+Craft+Robo - using Illustrator with Craft Robo
http://reviews.ebay.com/How-to-Make-a-Sign-with-a-Vinyl-Cutter-Plotter_W0QQugidZ10000000000050195 - how to make a sign with a vinyl cutter-plotter
http://robertsabuda.com/popmake/index.asp - how to make pop-up figures and cards
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This "making of" video is not to be missed if you are a knitter.  First watch the finished advertisement here, then see the crew putting it all together.

(via craftzine.com)
"When we were robots in Egypt" is a poem about a Passover seder for robots, set in the future, after robots have been liberated. via @BoingBoing
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I am experimenting with vector art files, and am having lots of fun applying the Live Trace function in Adobe Illustrator to old pen and ink sketches of mine. I love the woodcut/linocut feel to the new versions. The file size is tiny, too.
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Daily time lapse movies of the sky over San Francisco, an ongoing project created by artist Ken Murphy. You can read more about it on the incomparable Evil Mad Scientist blog, and view a project video here.

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Went to an open house for ChargeCar today. The group is going to create a community-based effort to convert vehicles to electric power, with a focus on converting cars for people to use for commuting.  I like the way the project draws on so many strengths of Pittsburgh: from geography (dense urban area, short commutes, hills which are great for recapturing energy when you go down them), to our industrial strengths (steel, engineering), to our population (experienced mechanics, machinists, technologists, designers, teachers). Great also to be at an event where I saw school colleagues, artist friends, our car mechanic, researchers, students, small children... many kinds of community represented.

The child's room is now lime green.  I mean electric lime green.  Intense lime green.  And she is very happy.  She chose the color, got to help paint, and then decided how to rearrange the furniture. Big, satisfying choices whether you are nine or much older.
When you feel stuck, take the smallest possible next step.
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Today my family gave me the present of time. The children looked after one another and the house, and I went off on my own.  Spent the morning in a cafe, writing notes and thinking about my work, ate a slow lunch in an Indian restaurant, then went to the library, where I renewed my card, read, wrote, and thought more. A vacation from daily responsibilities, even if I was not far from home.  I plan to spend another whole day next week - but in my studio/office space in our house, where I've let things pile up on surfaces and need to spend time de-junking.   
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March 24 is Ada Lovelace Day, where all over the internet people will be writing, tweeting, drawing, posting... about the contributions of women in science and technology.   Join in and tell us all a story.
Two weeks of time away from school.  We are not planning to travel - instead, we'll attend to projects and play at home.  We have rooms we plan to paint, art projects to explore, and new materials and tools to learn to use.  I'm sure we'll also sleep late, read, rest, watch movies, cook great meals, talk, play games, and relax. 
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"Practice, practice, practice."

The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You've Been Told About Genetics,Talent, and IQ Is Wrong, by David Shenk, was just reviewed in the New York Times.  I've been reading Shenk's blog for a while, and am looking forward to the book.

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Jane McGonigal says we should be playing games to solve the problems of the world rather than to escape our problems. Games celebrate the following qualities: Urgent optimism - believing the win is possible and that it's important to get started, Social fabric skills - building networks of people, Blissful productivity - hard meaningful work is pleasurable, Epic meaning - we need to work on things that are important.
"The ones that win are the ones that ship." - Mark Pilgrim, in How Did We Get Here, Dive Into HTML 5.

A variation on "Real artists ship," to be sure, but worth remembering - in lots of contexts, not just software and web standards development.
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O.k., so when I finish reading Jesse Schell's The Art of Game Design, I think I'm going to read Mark Pilgrim's Dive Into HTML5 so I can see where web applications are headed. Good thing we're headed into spring break - time to read and putter.
I've kept my virtual desktop clear for nearly a week.  Now to begin on the actual desktops... I'll start with the one at work, since I'm headed toward vacation at the end of the week.
After a week of steadily warming weather, it's chilly again.  We've set the clocks forward, making me sleepier for a few days, while I adjust to the changing hours of  light.
I seem to be challenging myself this month to use my brush pen for each of my daily drawings.  This apparent project happened by accident.  A brush drawing on the first of the month led to a variation on the second, and then the third, and then I decided that making smaller bolder drawings with boxes around them was fun.  So I kept going. 

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Maybe the style will feel contrived after another week.  Maybe that's the point.

I find when I keep at something, eventually I push past the obvious and on into something new.

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I take pictures at flea markets, pictures of shop windows, pictures of counter displays. How a seller arranges objects to catch my attention fascinates me. Whether I get to see restrained still lifes or wild juxtapositions - all the combinations are inspiring: mini-stage sets hint at stories, patterns and colors suggest design ideas.

Going to bed early feels luxurious, and I wonder if I'm overlooking some obligation - but the internet will be there in the morning, I don't have to read everything now.
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When I'm stuck or feeling overwhelmed, I've found it makes a great deal of difference if I sweep all the random files from my computer desktop into a few folders and then change the desktop background photo. (I know it's a form of procrastination. I don't do this with my physical desk, though I imagine it would work the same way.) The right photo can reset my mood and renew my energy.  I particularly like images with windows or sky.
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Train whistle - one of my favorite night sounds. It connects me, in my stillness, to motion, power, distance.  I feel even more solitary, and then that passes, and I think of the ocean.
In less than two weeks' time, I'll have two weeks of spring vacation.  Have plans to complete some house projects - would also like to clear time for the kind of art project I can't carry out in a weekend or the edge of a day.
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I work with a tension between the temptation of new materials and the challenge of finding new ways to use what I already have.  New materials open new doors quickly: "Ah, I can do that?" Finding a fresh approach with what's on hand is slower - but maybe more sustaining. 

And I find this his tension, whether I'm thinking about art supplies or learning a new technical skill.  I love new stuff. And  I love reappropriating, reinventing the familiar.
Yesterday I heard Dina Dublon speak at Carnegie Mellon. Some of what she had to say was probably most helpful for people working in large organizations.  But some of her advice made sense in other contexts as well.  A favorite sentence from my notes:

"Change will come because you act - not because of what you know."

Something to remind myself...

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LiveBrush is a free painting program with brushes which respond to your gesture speed with different behaviors. A line is thicker or thinner, and sprouts different decorations at semi-random intervals. Hard to explain, but easy and intuitive to use. As with certain fonts (Cezanne's handwriting, for instance), I expect that some styles will be overused really quickly, but for now, it's great fun to play with.

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Asks a blog I contribute to - and the community responds.
Frank Zeier wrote a book on making books and boxes: Books, Boxes and Portfolios: Binding Construction and Design, Step by Step, translated from the German by Ingrid Li. That's about all I know about him - my mother owns the book and I've looked at it at my parents' house, which is where I ran across the quotation I have in the mix on my website's front page:

The more the work is approached as a unit, the better are its chances for turning out well. Sensational effects are all too often pursued, to the detriment of "just right" solutions. The extraordinary cannot be forced into existence, but might result unexpectedly and surprisingly from constant and earnest effort.

"The extraordinary... might result unexpectedly and surprisingly from constant and earnest effort." 

What an offer - what a promise.  I love the idea that if you turn up and work very very hard, every day, you could be surprised by something extraordinary. 
However tempting it is to save a great idea for later - use it now.  I've learned that the more I use my ideas, the more new ones come along.  The well refills from the bottom, and if I keep the ideas in motion, that flow doesn't stop.  Work leads to inspiration, rather than the other way around.
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Welcome, visitors. (Here's where I apologize for not cleaning the house ahead of time...)

For the past two months, this blog has been a set of notes to myself, just half a conversation.  I never intended it to be a permanently solitary space, but while I was just getting started, I wasn't ready to invite anyone to come read things.  I knew it would take a while for me to find a voice and range and rhythm for the project.

Now that it's March,  I've learned that I can write here every day about technology, or teaching, or making art, or balancing life and work in the world, and still keep my other work going, and still have something else to say a day later. And still sleep. The pace is sustainable for me. I'm happy to have company.

So that's my plan.  I'm glad to have you here, and I look forward to seeing where the conversations take us.

"Failure is the pillar of success" - Tibetan proverb

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