Friday, December 28, 2012

With Growth Of 'Hacker Scouting,' More Kids Learn To Tinker

Kids build robots with Popsicle sticks at an Oakland meeting of Hacker Scouts, a group that encourages young people to create do-it-yourself crafts and electronics. 
Kids build robots with Popsicle sticks at an Oakland meeting of Hacker Scouts, a group that encourages young people to create do-it-yourself crafts and electronics.
Countless kids have grown up with the Girl Scouts, the Boy Scouts or Campfire Girls, but for some families, the uniforms and outdoor focus of traditional Scouting groups don't appeal.

In recent months, Scoutlike groups that concentrate on technology and do-it-yourself projects have been sprouting up around the country. They're coed and, like traditional Scouting organizations, award patches to kids who master skills.

Ace Monster Toys is a hacker space in Oakland, Calif., where members share high-tech tools. Normally, grown-ups congregate there, working on electronics or woodworking projects. But two Sundays a month, the place is overrun by 50 kids and their parents for the gatherings of a group called Hacker Scouts.

The kids in Hacker Scouts are not breaking into computer networks. They make things with their hands, and at this particular meeting they are learning to solder and are building "judobots," small robots made out of wooden Popsicle sticks.

On this warm fall day, Alicia Davis, 10, is wearing a wool hat she knit herself. As her dad stands nearby, she sews an LED bracelet with conductive thread.

"I've been sewing on little felt pieces with this," Davis explains. "The battery will power the LEDs and light up. It's pretty cool.", a hands-on site for kids, offers merit badges for more than 40 different skills areas., a hands-on site for kids, offers merit badges for more than 40 different skills areas.

Crafting, Computers And The Physical World
Chris Cook, one of the parents active in organizing the Hacker Scouts, serves as president of the hacker space where the Scouts meet. He says the group has expressly targeted kids between the ages of 8 to 14.

"It's old enough where they're ready to start developing skills, [but] they're not so old that they've already been set in their ways," Cook says, "and they're more interested in what their peer groups are doing."

"So, we felt it's the right kind of time to expose them to how to craft with their hands — how to take things from a computer and put them into the physical world," Cook says.

The Hacker Scouts don't wear uniforms, but soon they'll be able to earn something akin to merit badges, made by the kid-friendly DIY electronics company Adafruit Industries.

Badges range from "learn to solder," "aerial quadcopter" and "high-altitude balloon" badges to the "Dumpster-diving" badge — "for when you get dirty but get some free stuff," explains Adafruit founder Limor Fried.

The thought of a bunch of Hacker Scouts Dumpster-diving may be unsettling, but recycling and repurposing are big with hacker groups. Grace McFadden, 11, of Madison, Conn., recently repurposed juice cartons into the soles of a pair of felt slippers, earning her a "salvager badge" from, a new website for kids.

The site awards more than 40 badges for skills ranging from bike mechanic to "special effects wizard," and has started producing how-to videos for DIY projects, like a shoebox harp made from a box, a pencil and some rubber bands.
"Right now, I really like making paper airplanes and origami," McFadden says. "I have a whole fleet of paper airplanes." She learned to make them, she says, using an app on her iPod and by looking online.

A Scouting Handbook For Young Hackers
There are now 32,000 kids registered with, which plans to organize local clubs around the country. The website even has an animated anthem exhorting kids to "build, make, hack and grow."
The site's chief creative officer, Isaiah Saxon, says the group plans to create the digital equivalent of a Scouting handbook for mobile devices.

"We hope that people's smartphones are eventually the Swiss army knife of our movement," Saxon says. "And that you go out into the woods ... point your phone at a tree and peel it open [to] learn about the wood underneath."

Saxon also plans to offer visual guides and "amazing experiences on the fly through these powerful handheld computers," he says.

As these efforts take off online, the hacker Scout movement is also spreading around the country. Seattle now has a science-focused group called "Geek Scouts," and a couple of tribes — not troops — of "Maker Scouts" are being formed in Milwaukee and Charleston, S.C.

Jon Kalish is a Manhattan-based radio reporter and podcast producer. For links to radio docs, podcasts & DIY stories, visit

Adafruit to Teach Electronics Through Puppets in New Kids’ Show

By Mike Senese 12.27.12 2:02 PM

The Circuit Playground crew. Image: Adafruit

Adafruit, the kit-based electronics retailer and promoter of hobbyist engineering, is aiming to teach electronics to a younger demographic. So young that they’re enlisting the help of puppets.

Their new online show, titled Circuit Playground, will teach the essentials of electronics and circuitry to children through kid-friendly dolls with names like Cappy the Capacitor and Hans the 555 Timer Chip. Limor “Ladyada” Fried, Adafruit’s founder and chief engineer (and 2012 Entrepreneur of the Year), will host the episodes, with her team assisting with onscreen and puppeteering duties.
“We’ll have each component have a story, a song and something to do,” Fried says. “We’ll have live feeds in our factory on how things are made. It’s a little Elmo for engineering, a little Mr. Rogers for resistors and a little Sesame Street for Circuits.”

Adafruit is familiar with online broadcasts, hosting weekly “Show-and-Tell” and “Ask an Engineer” shows on Google+ and Ustream for over three years. Circuit Playground was a natural extension for them. “We saw the audience and the participants getting younger with more advanced projects, so we figured there was something there,” Fried says.

One of the first episodes will focus on robots. “ADABOT our robot muppet has a song about how robots can take pictures from mars, and be self-driving cars,” Fried explains. “We want to celebrate the fun and good parts of making things, and even tackle complex subjects like what’s ‘good’ to make — friendly robots for example.”

As a learning companion, Adafruit has also recently produced the coloring book E is for Electronics, and will carry plushie dolls of each character and an add-on for the eponymous Circuit Playground iPhone/iPad app.

Episodes will premiere this March on Google+ and Ustream. Fried holds hope for them to  inspire the upcoming crop of designers and builders.

“Will there be a generation of engineers 10 years or so from now saying, ‘Hey, I became an engineer because of that crazy electronics show Circuit Playground‘? I hope so.”

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Chemistry Construction Kits

Gifts That Keep Giving (if Not Exploding)

Gregory Tobias/Chemical Heritage Foundation Collections
A Chemcraft set from the mid-1950s. More Photos »

Ask scientists of a certain age about their childhood memories, and odds are they’ll start yarning about the stink bombs and gunpowder they concocted with their chemistry sets. Dangerous? Yes, but fun.

Podcast: Science Times

This week we take up a history of science toys. And if you’ve ever wondered what toys the reporters and editors at the Science Times adored as children, well, we got that too.
  A Science Toy Spectacular
Gregory Tobias/Chemical Heritage Foundation Collections

Readers’ Comments

What science toys did you adore as a child? Share your favorites in the comments box below.
“Admittedly, I have blown some things up in my time,” said William L. Whittaker, 64, a robotics professor at Carnegie Mellon University who unearthed his first chemistry set, an A. C. Gilbert, in a junkyard around age 8. By 16, he was dabbling in advanced explosives. “There’s no question that I burned some skin off my face,” he recalled.
Under today’s Christmas tree, girls and boys will unwrap science toys of a very different ilk: slime-making kits and perfume labs, vials of a fluff-making polymer called Insta-Snow, “no-chem” chemistry sets (chemical free!), plus a dazzling array of modern telescopes, microscopes and D.I.Y. volcanoes. Nothing in these gifts will set the curtains on fire.
“Basically, you have to be able to eat everything in the science kit,” said Jim Becker, president of SmartLab Toys, who recalled learning the names of chemicals from his childhood chemistry set, which contained substances that have long since been banned from toys.
Some scientists lament the passing of the trial-and-error days that inspired so many careers. “Science kits are a lot less open-ended these days,” said Kimberly Gerson, a science blogger who lives outside Toronto. “Everything is packaged. It’s either ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ If you don’t get the right result, you’ve done it wrong and you’re out of chemicals.”
Others, though, say the new crop of science toys — even with their cartoonish packaging and heavy emphasis on neon goo — actually represent progress. More entertaining, educational and accessible than earlier products, which relied heavily on a child’s inner motivation, these toys may actually help democratize the learning of science and introduce children to scientific methods and concepts at an earlier age.
“I grew up in the 1960s, and a lot of the chemistry sets were kind of boring,” said William Gurstelle, a science and technology writer. “You’d go through the book, and at the end of the experiment you’d get some light precipitate at the bottom of the beaker. Maybe at most it changes color or something.”
Mr. Gurstelle’s books, which include “Whoosh Boom Splat” and “Backyard Ballistics,” teach people how to make dangerous projectiles, like a potato cannon that uses hair spray as launching fluid. But he had high praise for commercial science kits, which show children (among other things) how to make slime.
William L. Whittaker at the Planetary Robotics Lab at Carnegie Mellon University surrounded by the robots he has created.
Jeff Swensen for The New York Times
William L. Whittaker at the Planetary Robotics Lab at Carnegie Mellon University surrounded by the robots he has created.
“Well, that’s a pretty cool thing to have when you’re done,” Mr. Gurstelle said. “You’re not going to really learn to be a chemist from a chemistry set when you’re in seventh grade; you’re just going to be inspired. The point is that new chemistry sets and new toys are just better, because the manufacturers have figured out how to make them more fun.”
Some toy makers, like SmartLab, Mr. Becker’s company, have used this philosophy to give classic toys a makeover. One of SmartLab’s takes on a chemistry set, for instance, is the Extreme Secret Formula Lab, which comes with “squishy-lidded bubble test tubes” and “an abundance of glow-in-the-dark powder.” The game of Mousetrap has been re-envisioned as the Weird and Wacky Contraption Lab, meant to bring out children’s Rube Goldberg talents. And the slot car tracks that Mr. Becker recalls snapping together in his youth have been translated into a robot called ReCon 6.0, which children can program to roam around.
Jim Becker of SmartLab Toys.
Mike Kane for The New York Times
Jim Becker of SmartLab Toys.
“What we do is give kids the opportunity to learn through problem solving,” Mr. Becker said.
Of course, technology has also remade the experience of learning science. Children may be more likely to click on a science app than to go play outside.
Critics of the new toys say that’s all the more reason to promote playthings that are more suggestive than prescriptive, items that evoke creative thinking. Will the Beautiful Blob Slime Lab release your child’s inner chemist?
“I think back to when you had a bucket of Legos dumped in front of you, and you could do what you wanted with them,” said Ms. Gerson, the science blogger.
Certainly, science toys have evolved. In the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s, Erector Sets and chemistry sets with real glassware, chemicals and spirit lamps were “meant to breed a scientific culture in America,” said Art Molella, a science historian who directs the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. The atomic era of the 1950s and the launching of Sputnik ushered in science kits that pointed out the possibilities in energy and space, including some with samples of real radioactive ore. For better or worse, Mr. Molella said, “there was a lot of hands-on aspects to it, not like our video games today.”
Those toys did indeed breed a generation of scientists. Roald Hoffmann, who won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1981, remembered playing with an A. C. Gilbert chemistry set from age 11, making gunpowder from sulfur, charcoal and nitrate. “I would paint the solution in parallel lines on a piece of paper, let it dry and then ignite it,” said Dr. Hoffmann, 75, a professor at Cornell. “It didn’t explode; it just burned along the path of the solution.”
Roald Hoffmann.
Heather Ainsworth for The New York Times
Roald Hoffmann.
The thrill of such early experimentation is described in memoirs like Primo Levi’s “The Periodic Table” and Oliver Sacks’s “Uncle Tungsten.” Dr. Hoffmann describes the latter book (which is dedicated to him) as “a wonderful account of how the sort of smell, stinks and color and explosions of chemistry attracted a young boy.”
Today, Dr. Hoffmann added, “we over-romanticize the experience, but I think something is lost, something in the excitement. I think parents worry.”
Yet the classic science toys have not completely disappeared. Many old favorites exist in modern forms. The Visible Man and Visible Woman anatomy kits have yielded shelf space to the Squishy Human Body Kit, which has rubbery internal organs and an instruction book that explains what happens when a bite of pizza is digested. “Having kids take those pieces, hold them and put them in there, they get such a deeper understanding of what’s going on than they ever could looking at a screen,” said Mr. Becker of SmartLab, the manufacturer.
A view of the Squishy Human Body Kit.
Mike Kane for The New York Times
A view of the Squishy Human Body Kit.
Another iconic toy, the Ant Farm, introduced in 1956, still exists — including in a high-end version that “projects the shadows of the ants up on your ceiling,” said Frank Adler, president of Uncle Milton, the company that makes it.
And classic chemistry sets, complete with mildly dangerous chemicals, are still available, largely as a boutique product. An 11-year-old company called Thames & Kosmos imports its kits from Germany, selling what are considered to be the only high-end chemistry sets in wide distribution in the United States.
“There’s a lot of people who say the great innovators of the last century all had the opportunity to play with things like chemistry sets, and had the possibility to explore things in a more open-ended way, and that’s what led to their great innovations,” said Ted McGuire, president of Thames & Kosmos. “Now people are worried we don’t have those same opportunities for our young people.”
But even at the goo-making end of the retail spectrum, toy company executives make good arguments for the educational value of their products. At Be Amazing! Toys, top sellers include Insta-Snow, Cool Slime (“Just mix the two liquids together and you’ve got perfect slime every time”) and the Geyser Tube, which is a package of Mentos and a tube to funnel them into a soda bottle. Some kits cost under $5.
“We look at ourselves as, ‘Here’s a great way to introduce your child to the world of science and make it interesting, not boring,’ ” said Reneé Whitney, a vice president at Be Amazing! Toys. “Once they’ve had the ‘wow effect,’ we try to explain why it happened.”
Snobs may scoff, but the experiments are quick and foolproof and can be done (whew!) without a grown-up. Science lessons are spoon-fed along with the fun: Kits like Growing Gators, which comes with miniature alligators and cards to track their growth, ask children to measure their experiments and hypothesize about what might happen, Ms. Whitney said. That sugary-looking “Water Gel” that turns water into a solid? The kit explains that it’s the same stuff found in baby diapers, and encourages children to cut open a dry diaper and see how much powder it has.
“We’re trying to teach them to think like scientists,” Ms. Whitney said.
Whether a future generation of scientists will look back fondly on their days of dropping candies through the Geyser Tube into Diet Coke remains to be seen. But it does seem that each generation grows up with a science toy that inspires in a particular way.
Rosie Cook with a kit from 1917.
Jessica Kourkounis for The New York Times
Rosie Cook with a kit from 1917.
“I’m 31 years old, and when I was growing up, everyone had this little Fisher-Price doctor set,” said Rosie Cook, a historian at the Chemical Heritage Foundation who is curating an exhibit on chemistry sets. “I honestly think that’s why a lot of people my age wanted to be doctors.”

Sunday, June 3, 2012

RoboFur with LilyPad Arduino

This was in the video for the Innovation NYTimes Magazine June 3, 2012

LilyPads, LEDs, and Make-up?

Have you seen these latest trends in using the LilyPad Arduino and LEDs for an array of new fashion and designer make-up? Wow, it makes getting ready for the club to a whole new level!

LED Eyelashes

LED Eye Shadow

and LED Teeth

FPgirl - Bring your style to life!

Just saw this new web community advertised on network television -- Fashion Playtes! FashionPlaytes is a whole new kind of "shopping trip." The website enables girls to design unique outfits that can be ordered online, fabricated, and sent to your home. FashionPlaytes also has several other features (that remind me of some of the games virtual design studio on from designing clothes and models to creating their own design studio. They say, "We provide high-quality fabrics, fashion-forward styles and a safe, creative environment - and girls bring the creativity and fun!"

Check out more at:

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

341 Backers to Modkit Micro and Counting!

Help Kickstart Modkit Micro!

What's Modkit Micro?

Modkit Micro is a graphical programming environment for microcontrollers.  Microcontrollers allow programmers and engineers to add behaviors to everyday objects and electronic gadgets.  We created Modkit Micro to bring the world of microcontroller programming to the masses.  Modkit Micro helps almost anyone to make almost anything smarter through a simple, yet powerful visual programming interface.

How does Modkit Micro work?

We designed Modkit Micro to be as intuitive as possible, while still retaining the power and flexibility of a real programming environment.  See the workflow below to get an idea of just how intuitive Modkit Micro is:

This looks like Scratch, how is it related?

Modkit Micro is based on years of research at the MIT Media Lab including the popular Scratch project, so it will look familiar to the over 1 million kids and novice programmers who have already been introduced to Scratch.

What Hardware does Modkit Micro Support?

We developed Modkit Micro to be flexible enough to support many different microcontroller platforms and boards.  See the list below for our currently supported boards:

If you are looking for hardware that we currently don't support, make sure to check out the FAQs at the bottom of this page for info on requesting additional board support.

Is Modkit Micro for kids?

Yes. We recommend Modkit Micro for kids of all ages — from 6 to 106!
Modkit Micro is really for anyone who wants to add interactivity to their everyday lives — without dealing with the obstacles associated with traditional programming.  This includes artists, inventors, kids, designers, engineers, educators, students and everyday makers. We've tested Modkit Micro with these diverse audiences in workshop settings, Maker Faires and our Learn 2 Teach, Teach 2 Learn educational program.

Here are some clips from a short 40 minute workshop for elementary school students at TEDxKIDS Brussels.  Participants made a tangible version of the standard "Hello World" project by tracing their hands on paper and programming servos to wave at their command:


Why is this important?

Over the last few years, the DIY/Maker communities have pushed to make electronics and microcontrollers more accessible.  As a result, microcontrollers are no longer just for engineers — anyone can now pick up an Arduino board at their local Radioshack!  Now that microcontrollers are even easier to find and buy, they should be just as easy to interact with and program.  Modkit Micro works to make microcontrollers accessible to anyone, regardless of their particular background or skill set.

Now that the DIY/Maker communities have helped move microcontrollers to the mainstream, it is important to support projects like Modkit Micro that help to democratize programming.  By supporting Modkit Micro, you are supporting a tool that will enable the Maker mindset and culture to reach a much wider audience, including schools, community centers, art spaces, and basically anyone else with the desire to create.

Why Kickstarter?

We're launching Modkit Micro on Kickstarter to produce copies of the desktop version on a flash drive and to provide early access to the online version to our supporters.  Unlike most Kickstarter campaigns, we wanted to give our supporters something before our campaign is even finished.  Support Modkit Micro at any level that includes early access to the online version through the Alpha Club and you'll be able to redeem that part of your reward by June 1st.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Modern Tech Upgrade For The Lilttle Black Dress

By Emma Hutchings on May 25, 2012

This illuminated dress made up of film slides is a wearable tech version of the little black dress. The Little Slide Dress, designed by Emily Steel, blends modern technology with classic film and uses light to make the images come alive. The individual slides are backed with LEDs that are controlled by a light sensor that is connected to an Arduino Lilypad. When there is lots of light, the LEDs turn off and the dress looks shiny and black, with subtle hints that there might be more to it than meets the eye. When it gets darker, the LEDs are switched on and as the lights slowly pulse, the slide images are revealed.

Emily Steel on the inspiration behind the dress:
The Dress draws inspiration from classic movies and the ‘magic of film’ to create a wearable piece of technology and art… light is so important in the creation and viewing of images [in film] and this was one of the driving forces behind the dress’s creation. With film [we] only see what [is] really going on once the lights go out. For this to work there needs to be a balance of projected and ambient light, something the Little Slide Dress tries to emulate.

Weird Alien Dolls, Designed by You

By Tim Maly

It’s April when I ask Makielab founder Alice Taylor how it’s going with Makie, their line of customizable dolls. “It’s going great, with the caveat of the usual (and some unusual) last-minute crazy.” That crazy includes the wrong shipment of eyeballs from Spain, a CTO stranded in America, a run of dolls with two left hands and some deaths in the team-family. 

All that told, the company hit their deadline last week, launching a public alpha of, a site devoted to designing your own giant-eyed, fully posable moddable, hackable, custom dolls.
Using Makie’s character creator you can customize a doll to your exact specifications. Hit the order button and Makielab will 3-D print your own unique creation, assemble it and ship it to you.
Taylor’s background is at the intersection of games and media and, as you look over Makielab’s first offering, it shows. In terms of look and spirit, Makies have a lot in common with the DIY Blythe doll-modding community. In allowing customers to do some of that customization before the dolls are made, Makie taps into the obsessive attention to detail that can go into creating an avatar for a video game.

And once you’ve got your custom doll in hand, Makie encourages you to go a step further by hacking into it to add electronics.

Read the full article here

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Maker Faire Bay Area 2012 eTextile Lounge

For everyone that will be at the Maker Faire in the Bay Area this year, be sure to check out the following events shared with us by Lynne Bruning!

Maker Faire Bay Area 2012 eTextile Lounge Prince of All Cosmos web watermarked croppable 150x150Electronic textiles, wearable computing and craft tech Makers!
Innovating projects, hands-on workshops and informative lectures
Teach, create and inform the Maker Faire community!

Event: eTextile Lounge at Maker Faire Bay Area
Date: 19 – 20 May 2012
Time: 10AM – 6 PM
Location: Fiesta Hall East Lobby

Maker Faire Bay Area 2012 eTextile Lounge TheTouchGlove3web 150x150SATURDAY 19 MAY 2012

Maker Faire Bay Area 2012 eTextile Lounge Luk vibrato skirt for website web 150x150 
SUNDAY 20 MAY 2012

  • Ally Seley – Sunday May 20 at 10 AM
  • Angela Soft Circuit Saturdays - Soft Circuit Hula Hoop Experiments Sunday 20 May 11AM
  • Dia Campbell NOON – 1PM
  • Shannon Henry of PolyMath Designs 2:00 – 3:00



Friday, May 11, 2012

Crafts in America -- PBS series

We have a deep sense of longing for the handmade. Perhaps because each of us, in our own way, has had a craft experience. Sometimes it's an object passed down to us, or one that crosses our path, and connects us to others in traditions, heritage, and rituals. Craft is all around us. You'll find it wherever you look – hiding in plain sight.
Craft in America offers you a place to explore these connections and to inspire your own creativity – through the PBS documentary series and this website. Join us on this voyage of discovery.
View the programs on the free PBS iPhone/iPad app, online at, or purchase DVDs of the Peabody Award-winning series for your home library. 

To learn more about the episodes or featured artists, click TV SERIES or ARTISTS above. Go to theEDUCATION section for online and downloadable lesson plans. Check the SCHEDULE for broadcast times on your local PBS station, and stay tuned for new episodes coming soon.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

E-Textiles @ 2nd USA Science & Engineering Festival

Some pictures from this incredible event in Washington DC on April 28-29th, 2012. We had a small booth, hosted by AERA, the only one with e-textiles among 3,000 exhibits! Students from SLA showcased their e-textile designs.

Sparkfun also was there with two samplers!


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Philadelphia Fabric Workshop Exhibit

Fabric Workshop presents monumental works by Pae White, Mark Bradford, Jennifer Steinkamp

Pae White´s "Summer XX." The phrase "Hasta la muerte," "until death," is spelled out on a wall in yarn. The room is so suffused with brilliant red one feels surrounded in a mist of it. CARLOS AVENDAÑO

Pae White's "Summer XX." The phrase "Hasta la muerte,"
"until death," is spelled out on a wall in yarn. The room
is so suffused with brilliant red one feels surrounded in a
mist of it

When the Fabric Workshop and Museum moved to Arch Street to make way for the expansion of the Convention Center, it gained some cavernous, loftlike spaces on the upper floors of its building that lend themselves to monumental installation projects.

In the current art climate, there seem to be many artists who like to work this way. But how many can effectively fill a shoebox-proportioned room that's 130 feet long? Pae White can and does, with a mesmerizing construction of red yarn called Summer XX.

White is one of three Los Angeles artists being featured at the Workshop through late spring. The others are Mark Bradford, who fills another large gallery with a mural-like installation called Geppetto, and Jennifer Steinkamp, who needs far less space for her projected animations, but whose impact is nonetheless substantial.

White's piece, inspired by graffiti near her studio in East Los Angeles, is a tribute to a recently deceased mentor. It emerges from the Spanish phrase Hasta la muerte — "until death" — which is spelled out on one long wall in yarn, in blocky, emblematic letters.

Threads project from these emblems across to the opposite wall, where they're anchored high up, just under the ceiling. Walking under this three-dimensional maze of threads, one feels enveloped by it, not only physically but also optically and psychologically. The room is so suffused with brilliant red that one feels surrounded in a mist of it.

Another subtle touch: The wall containing the emblems is painted a dark color, apparently gray. Yet a greenish halo hovers around the concentrated red of the letter-emblems, a bit of optical magic that the modernist painter Josef Albers demonstrated many times over in his Homage to the Square paintings.

One doesn't feel that White is working on this scale just to fill up the space. The installation wouldn't work if it were diminished; it needs this much volume to create the visual and spatial effects that give it psychological punch.

Mark Bradford also uses most of an entire wall for his collage mural called Geppetto, yet here one feels that the underlying concept isn't sufficiently weighty to support so much acreage.

The piece is made of about 2,000 sheets of newsprint that have been "canceled" by overprinting with ink, whose tone ranges from gray to black. The sheets, pasted directly to the wall, overlap in a mosaic arrangement. Bradford has left a long irregular section of wall uncovered; I concede that the symbolism of this escapes me.

Visually, Geppetto is an abstract version of Whistler's famous Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1. Metaphorically, as the title's reference to the Pinocchio fable (Bradford also based an earlier piece on the story), it offers other allusions, something about paternalism, perhaps. There aren't enough clues here to lead to a core truth.

Bradford's short video Niagara, projected on an adjacent wall, is similarly problematic, although it's more engaging visually. A black man in yellow shorts, seen from behind, sashays down a Los Angeles sidewalk. After you see this a few times, you require an explanation, especially about the title.

As your Workshop minder might explain, the man is a prostitute who promenades down this sidewalk daily on his way to a local park, his "place of business." "Niagara" refers to his undulating gait, which reminded Bradford of the way Marilyn Monroe wobbled away from the camera in a memorable scene from the 1953 film Niagara.

So, it's a bit of street theater, life imitating art.

Jennifer Steinkamp's two animations, Fly to Mars and Moth, likewise develop simple ideas, but in a way that produces exceptional lyricism and a Zen-like meditative calm.

In Mars, we watch a small flowering tree proceed through the seasons. It blossoms, leafs out, then turns color, although the branches never go completely bare. All the time the branches sway back and forth, up and down, as if pushed by an invisible wind. The crown of the tree surges, then relaxes, like waves as they approach a beach.

Moth comprises four projections, each one depicting lengths of tattered cloths of contrasting colors rhythmically billowing and slumping like sheets on a clothesline. The motion is continuous, entirely natural, and amazingly dimensional for a flat projection. As with the tree, watching these projections soothes and almost hypnotizes.

There's a coda to this show that you shouldn't miss. Down the block in the New Temporary Contemporary, the Workshop has juxtaposed Bradford's Niagara with a brief video by Philadelphia artist Carlos Avendaño called Brenda.

In this pairing, the context for Niagara shifts to emphasize the theme of sexual identity, and consequently becomes more understandable. This is because Brenda features drag queens on the street at night; it's a beautiful, all-too-brief slice of unconventional life, captured by Avendaño with touching intimacy. Los Angeles artistsalso feature prominently in a new exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art called "First Among Equals." It purports to be about how artists collaborate and contribute to each other's work, submerging their identities temporarily to achieve a larger purpose.

The problem is that, with one exception, the art used to demonstrate this concept not only isn't very compelling, it also reveals very little evidence of communal enterprise. Absent the elaborate and somewhat strained didactic foundation, nothing that the show desires to convey is readily evident.

What we seem to have here is an intellectual premise desperately searching for visual evidence to support it.

The exception is a projected video by the Philadelphia group Extra Extra (Philadelphians account for half the participating artists and groups) that takes visitors on a tour of a virtual museum. Each visitor controls his or her "tour" through body movements such as walking in place, lifting a knee, or kicking to the side.

One becomes so preoccupied with the movements that it's hard to focus on what the tour reveals, if anything. The significance of this piece is the steadily advancing state of digital technology and how artists are adapting it.

Larger than life

Work by three California artists remains on view at the Fabric Workshop and Museum, 1214 Arch St., and the New Temporary Contemporary, 1222 Arch St., through late spring. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and noon to 5 Saturdays and Sundays. Admission $3. 215-561-8888 or

“First Among Equals” continues at the Institute of Contemporary Art, 36th and Sansom Streets, through Aug. 12. Hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesdays, 11 to 6 Thursdays and Fridays, and 11 to 5 Sundays. Free. 215-898-7108 or

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Check out the E-Textile Lounge by Lynne Bruning on Tuesday evenings!

How -To videos series about the basics construction of DIY soft circuits, eTextiles and wearable tech.

These video shorts will help you-
  • select hand sewing needles for conductive threads
  • sew electronic hardware to textiles
  • compare conductive threads and fabrics
  • use conductive thread with your sewing machine
  • and so much more!

This series began Fall of 2011 while I was cyber-tutoring an 8th grade student and has grown to include DIY projects, methods and materials.

For hands on help I host the live eTextile Lounge uStream on Tuesday evening.
This global hackerspace is a live broadcast from Denver at 8PM.
Please come by and say Hello!

I hope these help you with your own groovalicious eTextile projects.
Now go out there and make the world a more beautiful place. 

Also, check out:
Weekly global hackerspace where you can ask questions and banter ideas with other eTextile and wearable computing innovators, trend setters and wide-eyed novices.
on Lynne’s uStream channel Tuesdays 8:15PM or 20:15 in Denver, Colorado USA
Join the google+ eTextile Lounge hangout. Tuesday’s 7:45PM MST