Friday, August 19, 2011

At This Girls’ Camp, Crafts Take a Drill Press


Peter Wynn Thompson for The New York Times

Campers touring a materials testing lab watched as a rose dipped in liquid nitrogen was crushed.

Though the slim, 5-foot-5 teenager dreams of becoming a basketball star, Nautika now has a backup plan after her weeklong immersion course: a career in manufacturing.

Just over a quarter of the 11.7 million workers in manufacturing are women. But Gadget Camp, a workshop for girls in this suburb west of Chicago, is part of an effort to change that.

Although the economy is wobbling and nearly 14 million people are looking for work, some employers are still having a hard time finding skilled workers for certain positions. Manufacturers in particular complain that few applicants can operate computerized equipment, read blueprints and solve production problems. And with the baby boomers starting to retire, these and other employers worry there will be few young workers willing or able to replace them.

Gadget Camp, sponsored in part by a foundation affiliated with the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, which provided financing to nine other camps this summer, is intended to help over the long haul by exposing girls to an occupation they might previously have considered unappealing, if they considered it at all.

By the last day of camp, Nautika had told her parents that manufacturing was “cool.” Fashioning a lamp shade out of a thin piece of cardboard, she mused, “I have two good careers ahead of me.” Since the fragile recovery began, manufacturing is one of the few sectors that have added jobs. But the image of manufacturing as an occupation of the future has been tarnished by the exodus of factory jobs to foreign sites and the use of machinery to replace workers. Younger people, especially, see more alluring opportunities in digital technology, finance or health care.

“The perception is that there are no jobs in manufacturing,” said Susan H. Palisano, director of education and training at the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, a nonprofit group in East Hartford that promotes manufacturing employment and has run summer programs for middle-school students for the last three years. “It seems that everybody had an uncle or grandfather that got laid off.”

Across the country, a handful of companies, nonprofit groups, public educational agencies and even science museums are trying to make manufacturing seem, well, fun. Focusing mainly on children aged 10 to 17, organizations including the Da Vinci Science Center in Allentown, Pa.; and Stihl, a maker of chain saws and other outdoor power equipment in Virginia Beach, Va., run camps that let students operate basic machinery, meet workers and make things.

Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs, the foundation that helped sponsor the Gadget camp in River Grove, has awarded $2,500 grants to 112 manufacturing-themed camps — most of them for boys and girls — around the country since 2004. “It’s not easy getting people into the career field,” said Marcia Arndt, a board member of the foundation. “I think there’s a myth out there that manufacturing is dirty and undesirable, but it’s really highly technological.”

Impressions also persist that manufacturing is a man’s job. Technical fields in general, and those that require scientific or mathematical backgrounds, are indeed dominated by men. Yet a Commerce Department report released early this month showed that women in such fields earn 33 percent more, on average, than women working outside of scientific and technical fields, a higher premium than men enjoy in similar occupations.

Antigone Sharris, who came up with the idea for the all-girls Gadget camp, had worked extensively in manufacturing before becoming an instructor in electronics, welding and computer-aided machinery at Triton College, a two-year public school here that provided some funding for the camp.

Ms. Sharris is a mentor to high school robotics teams and wants to encourage young women to consider a range of technically oriented careers. “Girls don’t naturally gravitate toward engineering,” said Ms. Sharris, a jolly and patient instructor who interspersed practical tips on using a band saw or a drill press with casual explanations of fractions, the concept of leverage and Newton’s laws.

In a windowless classroom and shop on Triton’s scruffy campus, 16 girls aged 11 to 15 designed and constructed a cat feeder, a candy dispenser and various pieces of jewelry and music boxes, using foam board, wood, metal, fiberglass and PVC pipe.

“Not letting your children learn the hands-on component of the theory of science is killing us as a nation,” Ms. Sharris said. “You have to stop giving kids books and start giving them tools.”

To give the girls a concrete sense of what such skills could mean in the workplace, Ms. Sharris invited a human resources coordinator from a local manufacturer to tell them about salaries — starting in the $40,000 range and moving up to six digits, including overtime.

Several of the campers came from low-income and minority communities near the college. Only five of the 16 girls at the camp had paid the $99 fee; the rest were subsidized.

While Ms. Sharris focused mostly on basic technical skills, factory tours aimed at introducing the girls to modern manufacturing work brought out talk that might have fit at a nationalist rally.

During a tour of Tru-Way, which produces precision metal parts, Stan Mastalerz, the company’s president, showed the girls a tiny component used in electronic circuit boards.

Ms. Sharris jumped in. “See that?” she asked. “This is something that might be in your Game Boy that you don’t even know about. The game may be made in China, but there are pieces that are made right here in your backyard.”

The reality of factory life gave a few girls pause. Visiting Tru-Way on a scorching summer afternoon, they noted the extreme heat and noise of the shop floor.

Brittany Orr, 15, who asked questions and jotted notes, said she liked the tasks that involved some thought and analysis. But “I would not want to do a job where you just do the same thing again,” she said. “It seems tedious.”

A tour of MSi Testing & Engineering, a small company in Melrose Park, Ill., that evaluates the strength and quality of metal materials used by manufacturers, showed that it offered more of the work she preferred.

In the end, the campers learned lessons in persistence and problem-solving as well as technical skills. When Nautika began building the lamp she had designed, she wanted to install a rotating shade.

Ms. Sharris brought out a tiny motor. “What you are trying to figure out is what to use to make your lampshade so that it will spin,” she said.

Ms. Sharris rejected Nautika’s first suggestion of foam board: too heavy. Ms. Sharris recommended a simple piece of copier paper, then spied a paper plate on a table. “Humor me,” she said, showing Nautika how to affix the motor to the plate with generous daubs from a glue gun.

Next came wiring a battery. To tutor Nautika in basic electronics, Ms. Sharris recruited Ariana Vargas, a 17-year-old counselor who has competed on her robotics team. Ariana demonstrated how to strip the green coating from the electrical wires with pliers. On Nautika’s first try, the whole tip broke off.

A few fumbles later, Nautika was frustrated. “I don’t know how you did it!” she said.

Ariana replied, “Practice, practice and more practice.”

Finally, the coating came off, exposing bare wire. Her confidence building, Nautika stripped another wire and slid both ends through a PVC pipe and connected them to the battery.

The plate began to spin.

“Yea!” Nautika exclaimed. “I did it.”

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Lights out: Ump halts game, instructs fans to dim their clothing

It may stand as the oddest request ever made by a major league umpire:
Hey fellas, could you please turn off your jackets?
Yet that's exactly what the crew working the Oakland Athletics-Baltimore Orioles game on Tuesday night had to ask as two men wearing LED-laced clothing sat behind the plate at the Coliseum. With one wearing the green glow of the A's logo on his chest and the other sporting Orioles orange, the pair were very visible from the playing field.

Watch blue flip the switch as Oakland's pro-neon crowd boos:

Had these two men not been sitting in Tony Randazzo's line of sight as he worked second base, I'm guessing they would have been fine and Fashion Ump would not have ruled it a faux pas.  Then again, given Oakland's small crowd, it's kind of hard to attend a game in such a flashy coat and not be noticed.

I'm not going to lie, either: After seeing this clip, I kind of want one now. If these jackets were actually made by these two guys, they could have quite a fashion hit on their hands.

By 'Duk

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Idle Pastime: In Off Hours, Truckers Pick Up Stitching

WALCOTT, Iowa—Semi driver Dave White happily sequestered himself in his rig at a truck stop on a rural stretch of Interstate 80, waiting to pick up his next haul: 45,000 pounds of Spam. He used to loathe the downtime in his job.

Then, he bought a sewing machine.

For long-haul trucker Dave White, there's more to life on the road than finding a good rest stop. There's quilting. WSJ's Jennifer Levitz reports.

Since last year, when the economy left drivers with fewer hauls, Mr. White, a 6-foot-2, 240-pound ex-Air Force mechanic with a bushy mustache, has hunkered down inside his truck in his many off hours, making quilts from patterns with names like "Meet Me In Paris." When he's not sewing, he's daydreaming about it, he said as he ran a square of yellow cotton with little violets through his machine. "Oh, there's many a time you're just going down the road at O-dark-thirty in the morning and you just start thinking about a particular pattern."

Some truckers are finding themselves with more spare time on the road. Loads of goods delivered by truckers fell 15% in 2009, to 170 million loads, the largest drop in modern history, said Bob Costello, chief economist for the American Trucking Associations. That came on top of a slow downswing in hauls because of what the industry laments as "miniaturization" of goods: It takes less space to move flat-screen TVs and iPods than their clunkier predecessors.

With declining freight, truckers who drive hundreds of miles to make a delivery may not immediately have a load lined up for the return trip. So they bide time at truck stops, where they can shower, dine and sleep in their rigs. A couple of years ago, a driver might drop off a load and pick up a new one in two hours; now the wait can be two days, said Mr. Costello.

Though evidence is anecdotal, industry groups and trucking-company owners say the increase in spare time has spawned more hobbies. "We've got guys who are into opera, photography, skydiving," said Norita Taylor, spokeswoman for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers' Association, a truckers' group.

Mr. White's employer, Iowa-based Don Hummer Trucking Corp., last year started a loosely organized "sewing club," and encourages drivers who are nimble with a needle to show off their handiwork at headquarters. "We want them to pass the time to make themselves happy, rather than get frustrated waiting," said Dena Boelter, Hummer's human-resources manager, an avid sewer who calls the hobby a great stress reliever that can be done almost anywhere.

Kevin Abraham-Banks, a 37-year-old trucker with a shaved head and dragon tattoos, passes time at truck stops with his cocoa and knitting.

Gretchen Abraham-Banks

Kevin Abraham-Banks, a Sioux Falls, S.D., trucker, likes to knit while passing the time on the road. Here he makes a sweater for his wife.

Mr. Banks, who lives in Sioux Falls, S.D., and hauls romaine lettuce between California and the Midwest, learned to knit last year after load-volumes slowed. Creating something tangible beats sitting around the truck stop "talking about who has a bigger radio," he said. He's finished a scarf and socks, and is working on a sweater for his wife.

"The fact that you can take strands of thread and basically make something out of it, that's awesome I think," he said. "It's pretty cool stuff, man."

Still, trucking can be a macho world that doesn't feel conducive to knitting or sewing. Some 95% of truckers are men, said the ATA. At the Iowa-80 Truck Stop, whose signs bill it as the "World's Largest Truckstop," a top request at the theater is for "Smokey and the Bandit" and the on-site dentist, Thomas Roemer, often sees drivers only after they've tried to yank their teeth out themselves. Crafting with fabric and yarn is "nothing I would do—my mom does that," said Mark Sanchez, 47, a long-haul trucker.

Thomas McConnaughy, a married grandfather from Hemet, Calif., hauls cereal, reads his Bible, plays Sudoku, and talks trout fishing at truck stops. He doesn't let on to other drivers that he keeps 15 coils of yarn in his cab and makes what he describes as "really cute slippers."

"In the truck stops, it's usually a bunch of guys watching football," he said. "If I sat down with my knitting, I think there would be some funny remarks."

Mr. White, the quilter, who is 53, came to his new passion last summer after feeling he was wasting time "waiting on freight."

He drove 2,600 miles a week on average in 2009, versus 3,200 in 2008, even though he spent the same amount of time—about three weeks at a stretch—on the road.


He struggled to find a hobby, having burned out on reading. He tried carting along a remote-controlled helicopter, but it kept falling on him from a shelf in the truck. His wife, Dee, an accountant at their home in Colorado Springs, Colo., is a quilter and suggested he try it. By August, they had outfitted his truck's sleeper cabin with a $179 sewing machine, supplies, and a starter's pattern. "Boy, let me tell you, I created a monster," she said.

Since then, Mr. White has made seven quilt tops, which are finished with a filling and backing between trips. He spends three hours a day on his hobby, sitting on his bed, with his sewing machine next to his mini-fridge. Flowered "project boxes" sit next to neat stacks of blue jeans and baseball caps. Quilting, he said, "gives you a little bit of ownership. You've actually accomplished something with your time off."

He pulled over once to visit the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Ky., and if time allows, visits fabric stores in towns he rolls through.

In his truck, he showed a quilt with illustrations of fruit, and emphasized the importance of strategically placing quilt blocks so that "you don't get three lemons in a row or two plums in a row."

His blue eyes widened behind his glasses as he moved to the topic of thread. "There is a variegated thread that goes purple to white then back to purple," he said. "Oh! Just beautiful."

Article from WSJ

Thanks to Kristin Searle for the pointer to this article

Friday, August 12, 2011

Barbie Girl Video

Find out more at

Not sure what to make of this but had to post ...

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Deja Vu Intelligent Purse: A purse that remembers when you can't

Deja Vu front with pressure switch
First there was the Know-It-All Knitting Bag, created by Kalani Craig using the LilyPad Arduino..."It knows your row number, the chart for your stitch pattern, and where you are in that stitch pattern."  For those of us who are constantly searching for our keys in a big seemingly bottomless purse wondering  "Did I even put my keys in my purse?"  comes the aptly named Deja Vu intelligent purse which can scan up to 5 tagged items in your bag to answer that mind boggling question. Designers Heidi Chen and Nicole Tariverdian, use a slight squeeze to a pressure switch to respond on the five LED display to signal which items are in the bag.
Inside showing the LilyPad Arduino

For a video demo of the bag, details on how to make the bag, including the Arduino code visit:

Made of Paper, Microsoft’s “Printing Dress” Displays Tweets as Public Art

You’re probably familiar with the saying “you are what you eat,” but you are what you tweet? That’s the idea behind the “Printing Dress,” a high-tech frock designed to explore the impact of wearable text on fashion and social identity. Built almost entirely of paper (irony alert!) by Asta Roseway, a senior designer at Microsoft Research, and Sheridan Martin Small from Xbox, the dress allows you to type out the pithiest of thoughts and wear them as public art.

New ProtoSnap - LilyPad E-Sewing Kits!

New product line aims to enable beginners in programming, prototyping and designing with electronics
PR Newswire
BOULDER, Colo., Aug. 2, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- SparkFun Electronics (, a provider of parts, knowledge and passion for electronics creation, today announced a new line of products designed to help the novice electronics enthusiast ease into the world of programming, prototyping and design.
Each product in the new ProtoSnap line features various input and output boards that are linked together, complete with traces, to form a multi-use prototyping platform. This allows users to experiment with embedded electronics without the burden of soldering, wires or other typical prototyping limitations.
There currently are three different products in the ProtoSnap line - the ProtoSnap Pro Mini, the ProtoSnap LilyPad Development Board and the ProtoSnap LilyPad E-sewing kit.
The Pro Mini combines an Arduino Pro Mini with a host of inputs and outputs to allow users to experiment with the Arduino language. When they have mastered programming the ProtoSnap Pro Mini, it can be broken apart so the individual components can be used separately. Both the ProtoSnap LilyPad Development Board and the ProtoSnap LilyPad E-sewing kits are designed to help users ease into e-textiles. They, too, can be broken apart into individual components and used in any number of different projects and applications.
"The ProtoSnap line is really designed with the beginner in mind," said SparkFun Engineer Ryan Owens. "We really think it will help introduce people to prototyping in an easy-to-understand and user-friendly way."
While the ProtoSnap line currently has three products, the range of possibilities for expansion is endless. SparkFun is excited to see the implications this new product holds for beginner electronics enthusiasts and hopes the ProtoSnap line will introduce a new group of people to the wonders of embedded electronics.
For more information, visit (

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Back to the Simple Life, With Needle and Thread

Daniel Barry for The New York Times

Sarah Kate Beaumont practicing her craft.

WALK into the modest railroad-style brownstone apartment and it feels less like Brooklyn and more like stepping off the steam train into “Little House on the Park Slope Prairie.”

Daniel Barry for The New York Times

Part of Ms. Beaumont's space at Very Sweet Life Studio in Brooklyn.

Daniel Barry for The New York Times

Elizabeth Cline studying Ms. Beaumont's work on a pillow pattern.

Floppy felt hats with broad rims gather like old friends on an antique green rack, greeting visitors at the door. Simple striped yellow, white and gray curtains adorn the front windows.

In the middle room, linen and raw-silk blankets sit with seersucker pillowcases atop cotton sheets. A white linen pinafore dress with a ruffled chiffon hem hangs in the sparse closet next to a flamenco flannel skirt and dozens of other colorful creations. T-shirts, tank tops and lingerie are folded into neat squares on small shelves, and wooden hooks hold just-worn items.

A wicker basket on the floor fills with laundry that never felt so satisfying.

Sarah Kate Beaumont sewed all of these items one by one over the past three years in what began as an experiment of self-reliance and artistic whimsy and has now blossomed into a way of life.

That life may hark back to pioneer days, but Ms. Beaumont is not homesteading alone.

Brooklyn, fiercely proud of its independence from Manhattan, is an expanding frontier for the Do It Yourself movement — resourceful residents are baking bread, raising chickens for eggs, keeping bees for honey or simply renovating brownstones themselves. Ms. Beaumont, a shy woman in her early 40s with auburn curls, settles as comfortably into that ethos as she does into her flowing dresses.

“I never intended to do it this long,” she said softly on a recent afternoon. “I think it speaks to how good it feels. Self-reliance is really empowering.”

Ms. Beaumont began sewing to live in the summer of 2008, when after eight years of teaching art in the city’s public and private schools, she decided to become a full-time artist. Her dream was to share her craft by teaching adult sewing classes. Because the timing coincided with the financial collapse, she altered the dream with common sense.

“I decided,” she said, “that I would make anything I needed.”

She started with the lingerie. A flowing skirt led to a pair of pajamas. Aprons, stuffed animals, raincoats, sheets, terry cloth towels and curtains followed. She makes everything she wears save the odd pair of jeans, socks and shoes.

Ms. Beaumont likes to call her project “Slow Clothes,” after the Slow Food movement promoting the homegrown.

Ms. Beaumont recycles material from old items or buys fabric relatively inexpensively in Manhattan in the garment district. It usually takes her two to three weeks to finish a dress, a few hours for underwear.

Two years ago, she decided to put a label on her items, “verysweetlife,” with the inscription, “Handmade in Brooklyn.” She has yet to market that label, though she says she is ready to start. There is one nagging issue: pricing.

“How do you take something that you’ve spent a tremendous amount of time and effort on and put a price on it?” she said. “Each piece is unique. That’s one thing about making everything you wear — nobody will ever be wearing what you are wearing.”

In the meantime, Ms. Beaumont supports herself with sewing classes, for which she charges $65 to $500, depending on the length of the course, and offers private lessons as well.

Tamara Mose Brown, an assistant professor of sociology at Brooklyn College, who lives in Kensington, says Ms. Beaumont exemplifies the economic growth occurring in Brooklyn, driven by small businesses, restaurants and clothing shops. “Brooklynites are feeling that they want to have this identity away from Manhattan and the air of consumerism,” Professor Brown said. “There’s this element of self-preservation and economic sustainability.”

In her intimate second-floor sewing studio in Boerum Hill, outfitted with five Kenmore sewing machines and filled with rulers, patterns and dress forms, Ms. Beaumont teaches adults — lawyers, writers, grandmothers and others — fractions, geometry and remedial cutting in order to master patternmaking.

“It is not a sign of intelligence how hard it is to cut or measure,” she assured three students working on a pillow pattern last month in her studio.

Harriet Clemons, 54, of Crown Heights, was taking the three-week course so she could make clothes for her grandchildren. Kate Clifford, 28, works at a SoHo knitting shop and wanted to expand her repertoire. One of her roommates in Kensington sells homemadevegan muffins.

Elizabeth Cline, 30, of Bedford-Stuyvesant, is writing a book about budget fashion and the declining price of clothing, and hoped to supplement her own wardrobe.

“It’s encouraging that you can actually make things that are better or at least the level of what stores are selling,” Ms. Cline said.

Ms. Beaumont never followed the crowd, growing up in Pittsburgh embroidering, and enjoying the meals made by her mother, a chef and a baker. She majored in English literature at Bryn Mawr College, where she rode a unicycle in leggings and a skirt.

Every day she kisses her sleek white high-tech Bernina sewing machine, next to which she has meticulously organized bobbins by color, and spools of thread. Although hers is an intense, solitary passion, it is also meditative, in sync with much of the D.I.Y. culture.

“It’s hands on, getting back to the basics,” Ms. Brown said, “and it makes people feel that they are not falling victim to the machine.”

Unless, of course, it’s a white Kenmore.

“These are adults who hold their pillows and beam, they are so proud of themselves,” Ms. Beaumont said with a twinkle. “That’s how I feel a lot of the time. It’s not ego-driven pride, but I look in the mirror and say, ‘I can do this.’ ”

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