Posts tagged nerdy
The Big Brain Binary Counter: An Abbreviated History
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Binary began in The BBSC as simple 0 and 1 flip cards:

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Our interest in binary was threefold:

  1. As part of our interest in Critical Thinking, we like to explode standard concepts and ways of looking at the world. As many of our Big Brains had never before questioned the foundations of base-10 as a number system, we figured we’d challenge their assumptions of its normalcy by introducing them to a new number system. Through this process, we gain a method of distinguishing the role of a number system’s symbols from that of its structural rules.
  2. Exploring binary is another way for us to explore switches and digital logic.
  3. Learning binary as a number system is helpful in case we ever want to delve into binary code.

After the flip cards, one of our sidekicks decided to build a binary counter and bring it in for Brains to play with, turning binary counting into a bit of a competitive sport in The BBSC:

From there, Big Brains built our own prototype binary counter using standard light switches, arduino, and giant 7-segment display panels:

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Once we had our functional prototype, Google Foundation was kind enough to grant us the funds for a whole team of Big Brains to design, code, and build a full version of the binary counter on which Big Brains continue to learn and teach binary within the Yesler community and throughout Seattle:

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From there, the City of Seattle was kind enough to grant us the funds to develop our Big Brain Binary Counter documentation and video through its Technology Matching Fund.

In learning binary, as in all things, teamwork makes the dream work.

The Infinite Burden of Being Cardboard Godzilla
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Cardboard Godzilla’s humble origins date back to late 2015, as we were nearing the end of our second or third stage of development on our City of Light, when one (or more) Brains suggested the need for a villain. A complexly powerful symbol of the folly of men, Godzilla was the obvious choice. So, on December 31st, Big Brain Buddy Eva deftly made the first cut of what, so far, has been a year-long intermittent creation of several Brains.

Through Godzilla, Brains have explored and explained the fundamental concept of input, process, output:

Brains have learned about and played with servos:

And Brains have developed a bit of hardware and software in the process:

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But mostly, through Godzilla, Brains have exercised Persistence and Adaptability. Poor Cardboard Godzilla has been up and down, on and off his S-hook, at least ten or fifteen times over the last year. His first animation involved his LED eye and “roaring sound” that initiate when the door to The BBSC Lair is open. Then, came his “fire breath”, which happens next in the loop. Finally (so far), his back arm also moves up and down in the process. In that sense, Cardboard Godzilla is our first home-made robotic platform—a tool for exercising all the superpowers as well as helpful motivation for developing new skills.

We want Godzilla to declare, “I’m going to destroy your city!”? Well, we’re going to have to figure out how to do that.

It’s this almost magical ability to inspire and facilitate iteration that makes art, specifically art made by Big-Brained Superheroes out of real-world junk, so valuable to The Big-Brained Superheroes Club. It’s a special kind of burden for a giant piece of cardboard to serve as an outlet for so many different Big Brains imagining, making, breaking, reimagining, and making again, but somehow, Cardboard Godzilla has managed to carry it for a little over a year now. If he weren’t such a complexly powerful symbol and quirky labor of love, it’s unlikely he would have been able to handle it. And in spite of all the ups and downs, he hasn’t even neared his half-life yet. Go Go Godzilla!

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Bonus: Cardboard Godzilla has also helped introduce a whole new Big Brain generation to a cult classic:

(PS Omar, Moody, Marwa, and fam, we miss you!)

Thanks to Microsoft and United Way

Once again, Team Microsoft does an amazing job upgrading our lair during this year’s United Way Day of Caring!

These excellent nerds took our to-do list and ran with it:

Circuit Tree repair.


Fixing broken electronics.


Digital logic box sleuthing and repair.


Shining up the place inside and out.


Fixing laptops, etc.

Makin’ the dream work!

REVEALED: The Big-Brained Superheroes Club secret plan for world domination. Or, really, just our plan to learn and teach how computers work through building on basic concepts. As always, a work-in-progress.   - Art and concept by BBS sidekick Thom -

REVEALED: The Big-Brained Superheroes Club secret plan for world domination. Or, really, just our plan to learn and teach how computers work through building on basic concepts. As always, a work-in-progress. 

- Art and concept by BBS sidekick Thom -

Meredith Wengernerdy
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Documenting the documentation: binary video storyboards edition.

Sadly, the movie in which two brothers were changed into a vampire and a werewolf through a change in their binary code never made it to print. Nor did the one that involved witches and ninjas.

Who would have guessed that the binary movie development process could elicit such creativity?

Our Making and Tinkering Resources
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Considering getting more involved in making and tinkering? Here are some Big Brain recommended resources:

  1. The Tinkering Studio (website, YouTube, Google+, Twitter): We can’t express enough love for the ingenuity, style, and generosity of the folks at the Tinkering Studio in San Francisco’s Exploratorium. If you see something you like in The BBSC, these folks likely played some role in its design. No matter how much tinkering/making you do, reading their book and taking their online course are guaranteed to teach you something new and valuable! Their Facilitation Field Guide: also quite helpful.
  2. SparkFun (website): SparkFun goes above and beyond in making their products accessible to diverse groups and individuals. We particularly value their Great Big Guide to Paper Circuits.
  3. Learning-oriented websites: Specifically, Edutopia and MindShift frequently talk about the value of making/tinkering in educational arenas.
  4. MakerEd’s Makerspace Playbook may also be helpful to newcomers.

For our part, as we sometimes mention in our Origin Stories, The BBSC didn’t necessarily develop as a “tinkering/maker space” as much as it evolved as a community-driven exercise in recreational nerdiness. In other words, we just wanted more hands-on ways to work out our brains, and so, we have honed in on a mishmash of tinkering/making/other tools, activities, and techniques to help us do that. If anything, we may often start with something that community members enjoy or find value in and “nerd it up” by any means necessary. This is where we find the most fun.

Volunteer and Build More Stuff!

Volunteering at The BBSC is a team effort, primarily designed to engage your brain and exercise your superpowers. Volunteers are empowered to choose from among a variety of projects, making use of diverse skillsets and interests. We’ll typically start the day with a tour of The BBSC, a recitation of The BBSC Oath, and a brief skill-building exercise. From there, you can select your project(s) based on what you know how to do or what you want to know how to do. Sometimes you’ll have a BBSC Volunteer Sidekick available to help you out, and other times, you’ll have only your fellow project team members to rely on. In short, a volunteer day is just like a regular BBSC meeting but with significantly taller Brains.

Volunteer Project Options

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#1 Super Sensing Skittles Dispensing Device Hackathon

Nerd Level: 8

The Big-Brained Superheroes Club needs a better way to track time spent in the club by Big-Brained Superheroes and Volunteer Sidekicks. So, when we found this functioning motion-sensing candy dispenser at Goodwill, we got unreasonably excited at the prospect of replacing its motion sensor with our Sparkfun Fingerprint Scanner - TTL (GT-511C3) and turning it into an attendance tracker. We have the most significant components of this project, including Arduinos/Raspberry Pis, and what we really need is more brains dedicated specifically to researching, designing, and developing this Super Sensing Skittles Dispensing Device.

Skills Most Needed: An appreciation of human-centered design, requirements gathering and documentation knowledge, basic electronics experience, basic knowledge of microcontrollers/ single-board computers, C/C++ programming knowledge

Superpowers Most Exercised: Empathy, Creativity, Critical Thinking, Teamwork, Leadership, Empowerment


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#2 Electronics Repair and Documentation

Nerd Level: 3

Our electronics wall plays a central role in The BBSC, and as such, it gets a significant amount of use. A solder joint fail here, a hot glue fail there, and eventually, we get a decent-sized pile of components in need of some kind of repair.

While our Big Brains will often take on our repair projects, they sometimes need one of two things to help them out: either an experienced repair person actively guiding them through the process or a set of simple troubleshooting and repair instructions. We might not have either available to them at any given time. Your mission would be to troubleshoot and repair our electronics, and then create simple, easy-to-understand documentation of an efficient and effective troubleshooting and repair procedure for our Big Brains to use on their own.

Skills Most Needed: An appreciation of human-centered design and documentation, an ability to manage hot things, such as solder and glue (soldering instructions are available)

Superpowers Most Exercised: Empathy, Sense of Adventure, Critical Thinking, Creativity


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#3 Bendy Lights

Nerd Level: 6

The Tinkering Studio in San Francisco is one of our favorite resources for creative nerdiness, and we’ve been wanting to build our own version of their bendy lights for years. Help us, nerdy one, you’re our only hope!

Skills Most Needed: Fundamental knowledge of electric circuits, web research capabilities

Superpowers Most Exercised: Sense of Adventure, Adaptability, Persistence 


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#4 Light Table Evolution

Nerd Level: 4

Our rolling storage table is not living up to its potential. Change that by turning it into a light table

Skills Most Needed: Interest in and knowledge of basic construction and basic circuitry, web research capabilities

Superpowers Most Exercised: Adaptability, Creativity, Critical Thinking, Persistence


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#5 Wind Table Evolution

Nerd Level: 5

Our other rolling storage table is not living up to its potential. Change that by turning it into a wind table.

Skills Most Needed: Interest in and knowledge of basic construction and aerodynamics, web research capabilities

Superpowers Most Exercised: Sense of Adventure, Adaptability, Creativity, Critical Thinking, Persistence


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#6 Art Lab Re-creation

Nerd Level: 2

Help us make the most of our art supplies and materials by corralling them and creating your own artwork to inspire our Brains.

Skills Most Needed: Knowledge of basic art supplies and materials, design skills, craftiness

Superpowers Most Exercised: Sense of Adventure, Creativity, Critical Thinking


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#7 Garden Maintenance 

Nerd Level: 1

Take a mental health day and help maintain (weed, feed, etc) our garden!

Skills Most Needed: Plant identification

Superpowers Most Exercised: Sense of Adventure, Persistence


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#8 Choose your own Adventure

Nerd Level: You decide!

The BBSC lair is filled with all kinds of tools and resources enabling you to exercise your Sense of Adventure in new and useful ways. Want to fix a broken thing? Fix a broken thing. Want to tidy a messy thing? Tidy a messy thing. Want to make something weird? Make something weird! The main requirement is that you try hard, be kind, and have fun at all times.

Skills Most Needed: Whatever you decide

Superpowers Most Exercised: Whatever you decide

When discussing how we should organize our materials, a Big Brain suggested the old “art materials over here and electronics parts over here” approach. To mess with her brain, we gave her team a box of old circuit boards given to us by Interconnection and asked them to do something with them. So, they went ahead and discovered Planet Technology.

Art? Science? Technology? You be the judge.

Team Microsoft Upgrades The BBSC
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Thanks to our amazing team from Microsoft for making this the best United Way Day of Caring yet in The BBSC! So many superpowers working on behalf of our lair and garden at Yesler Community Center!

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Not only did Team MSFT fix up our laptops and electronics, they weeded and upgraded our garden, helped troubleshoot our 3D printer, and created some excellent BASIC programming activities for our TI-99 lab. In return, they got to enjoy some delicious homemade sambusa and tea provided by Mama Fadumo and Mama Zahra respectively. Seems like a totally fair trade.

Meredith Wengercommunity, nerdy
Volunteer and Build Stuff!

Volunteering at The BBSC is a team effort, primarily designed to engage your brain and exercise your superpowers. Volunteers are empowered to choose from among a variety of projects, making use of diverse skillsets and interests. We’ll typically start the day with a tour of The BBSC, a recitation of The BBSC Oath, and a brief skill-building exercise. From there, you can select your project(s) based on what you know how to do or what you want to know to do. Sometimes you’ll have a BBSC Volunteer Sidekick available to help you out, and other times, you’ll have only your fellow project team members. In short, a volunteer day is just like a regular BBSC meeting but with significantly taller Brains.

Volunteer Project Options

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#1 Super Sensing Skittles Dispensing Device Hackathon

Nerd Level: 8

The Big-Brained Superheroes Club needs a better way to track time spent in the club by Big-Brained Superheroes and Volunteer Sidekicks. So, when we found this functioning motion-sensing candy dispenser at Goodwill, we got unreasonably excited at the prospect of replacing its motion sensor with our Sparkfun Fingerprint Scanner - TTL (GT-511C3) and turning it into an attendance tracker. While we have all the major components for this project, including Arduinos/Raspberry Pis, what we really need is more brains dedicated specifically to researching, designing, and developing this Super Sensing Skittles Dispensing Device.

Skills Most Needed: An appreciation of human-centered design, requirements gathering and documentation knowledge, basic electronics experience, basic knowledge of microcontrollers/ single-board computers, C/C++ programming knowledge

Superpowers Most Exercised: Empathy, Creativity, Critical Thinking, Teamwork, Leadership, Empowerment

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#2 Electronics Repair and Documentation

Nerd Level: 4

Our electronics wall plays a central role in The BBSC, and as such, it gets a significant amount of use. A solder joint fail here, a hot glue fail there, and eventually, we get a decent-sized pile of components in need of some kind of repair.

While our Big Brains will often take on our repair projects, they sometimes need one of two things to help them out: either an experienced repair person actively guiding them through the process or a set of simple troubleshooting and repair instructions. We might not have either available to them at any given time. Your mission, if you choose this project, would be to troubleshoot and repair our electronics, and then create simple, easy-to-understand documentation of an efficient and effective troubleshooting and repair procedure for our Big Brains to use on their own.

Skills Most Needed: An appreciation of human-centered design and documentation, an ability to manage hot things, such as solder and glue (soldering instructions are available)

Superpowers Most Exercised: Empathy, Sense of Adventure, Critical Thinking, Creativity

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#3 3D Printer Uncloseting

Nerd Level: 6

Someone kindly gave us a 3D printer over a year ago, and though we have taken it out of the closet from time to time, we have yet to get it to print anything of value. Maybe you’d like to try.

Skills Most Needed: Interest in/ knowledge of 3D printing, web research capabilities

Superpowers Most Exercised: Sense of Adventure, Persistence, Adaptability

#4 Windows Laptop Restoration

Nerd Level: 3

Our lone Windows laptop has a virus and a stuck cd drive. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

Skills Most Needed: Interest in and knowledge of Windows

Superpowers Most Exercised: Persistence, Adaptability

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#5 TI-99 Lab Enhancement and Activity Upgrade

Nerd Level: 5

Now that one of our TI-99s has finally had its official unboxing, it could use some peripheral set-up and development of fun and exciting BASIC programming activity guides designed to encourage our Big Brains to ask: “Shall we play a game?”.

Skills Most Needed: An appreciation and understanding of human-centered design, interest in BASIC programming, web research capabilities

Superpowers Most Exercised: Empathy, Creativity, Critical Thinking, Sense of Adventure

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#6 Garden Weeding

Nerd Level: 1

Take a mental health day and help weed our garden!

Skills Most Needed: Plant identification

Superpowers Most Exercised: Sense of Adventure, Persistence

#7 Choose your own Adventure

Nerd Level: You decide!

The BBSC lair is filled with all kinds of tools and resources enabling you to exercise your Sense of Adventure in new and useful ways. Want to fix a broken thing? Fix a broken thing. Want to clean a dirty thing? Clean a dirty thing. Want to make something weird? Make something weird! The main requirement is that you try hard, be kind, and have fun at all times.

Skills Most Needed: Whatever you decide

Superpowers Most Exercised: Whatever you decide

If you’re interested in working on any of these projects, either sign up to participate in our United Way Day of Caring event or contact us!

Joy Division

Once again, we return to the urgency of joy in Big-Brained Superherodom.

First, some evidence

Joy and enthusiasm are absolutely essential for learning to happen – literally, scientifically, as a matter of fact and research.

Second, some more evidence:

The Double Helix, James Watson’s 1968 memoir about discovering the structure of DNA, describes the roller coaster of emotions he and Francis Crick experienced through the progress and setbacks of the work that eventually earned them the Nobel Prize. After the excitement of their first attempt to build a DNA model, Watson and Crick noticed some serious flaws. According to Watson, “Our first minutes with the models…were not joyous.” Later that evening, “a shape began to emerge which brought back our spirits.” But when they showed their “breakthrough” to colleagues, they found that their model would not work. Dark days of doubt and ebbing motivation followed. When the duo finally had their bona fide breakthrough, and their colleagues found no fault with it, Watson wrote, “My morale skyrocketed, for I suspected that we now had the answer to the riddle.”

Finally, some GIFS:

With joy:

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Without joy:

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QED.

Meredith Wengernerdy
The Space Needle and the Return of the Everlasting Why
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How to design and build a tiny motorized elevator? This is the next frontier in our Space Needle project, and the elevator development process raises several relevant (and mildly frustrating) questions:

  1. Of what (preferably recycled materials) should our elevator be made?
  2. How do we get it to stop/switch direction when the elevator “car” reaches the top/bottom of its path?
  3. How fast should it go, and what is the simplest way to get it to travel at that speed?

We’ve spent a relatively decent amount of time and energy contemplating, discussing, and researching various answers to these questions. But there’s one question that’s arguably far more relevant (and more frustrating) than any of them: Why are we even trying to build a tiny Space Needle elevator at all?

Taken in a certain light, this question may appear obtuse or, at best, tangentially related to the more technical questions we are working through. But, it’s the question we keep using to help us answer the more technical questions. For instance:

“What if we cycled an LED array up and down to look like an elevator?”
“Hmmmm…Nah. We want some mechanical motion in the City of Light.”
“Why?”
“Hmmmm….?”

At this point, we can’t completely answer this question, which feels like a weird thing to articulate. Shouldn’t we know this already?

None of the usual reasons apply. No one is paying us to do this (Really. No one.). Clearly, we’re not developing to a written set of specifications or requirements from any source (not even our own). We haven’t stumbled into any significant societal value in this particular project, per se. And, not surprisingly, a tiny Space Needle elevator isn’t part of any master plan to acquire wealth, power, or prestige, of which we are aware. So, Why?

It is perfectly rational, when staring into the Why Abyss, to shrug the shoulders and settle (or even retreat from the entire enterprise). And at times, let’s be honest, we have done that. But at other times, even when the abyss was at its most abysmal, we have refrained from doing the perfectly rational and, instead, responded with, “Let’s find out.”

We have no idea why.

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Let’s do this

We know. It’s been over a month since our Holiday Fund for the Nerdy drive ended (for us, the holidays go through February). So, let’s see where the Big-Brained Superheroes are now, shall we?

BBS Accelerator is actually happening! By popular demand, we’re experimenting with opening up the lair on Friday evening so that Accelerator members can work on their projects. While regular club meetings are still holding strong on Mondays and Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays are when the nerdiness goes to eleven.

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Re-Maker Fest happened and we are still working on posting all the things we remade in February. Oh wait, here’s a thing:

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Yeah. Remaking. If it’s being done well and in an innovative way, it takes time and care. And experimentation. Which also takes time and care. In short, a lot of time and a lot of care. And, of course, this means that remaking is an excellent way for our Big Brains to exercise their superpowers. Because sometimes the only thing we can learn to expect is the unexpected.

We’ve also just started a gardening program, in which Seattle Parks provides the seeds, and we design and maintain two planting beds out back of the community center. So far, Jack, our lead gardener sidekick, has worked with Big Brains to weed, fix the beds, and plant some sort of bean. User-centered designed birdhouses and bird feeders are also in-progress for the garden.

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Those tiny tombstone-looking things in there are popsicle stick plant markers. We’ll be posting updates on how our garden grows.

Now that we’ve mentioned some of the Brain building, let’s mention some of the builders. None of these activities would happen without these organizations:

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And then there’s people like you! All the individuals out there who help make our Big-Brained Superheroes grow. Thank you for all you do!

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Upping our Game with Interconnection
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Thanks, in part, to a generous laptop discount from Interconnection, one superpowerful Big-Brained Superhero had the tools he needed to both begin development on his Arduino-driven video game and work on his Powerpoint presentation for his science class, making this Superhacker Saturday one for the record books! Let the games begin.

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(Arduino and breadboard materials supplied by the City of Seattle Tech Matching Fund and SparkFun)

Is it Time to Remake Remaking?
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Re-Maker Fest was great last night, largely because the panelists and attendees were so motivated and inspiring. A commitment to re-making was broad and deep in this crowd, and as such, many thoughts were provoked. When an amazing event participant asked one of our Big Brains what interested her most, that Big Brain’s response surprised all of us BBS sidekicks: she was most interested in turning our defunct Power Wheels into power racers. This response was then echoed by another Big Brain at the event.

Why is the Big Brain power racer enthusiasm so surprisingly relevant? At various points throughout the evening’s discussion, a certain nostalgia about remaking threatened to creep in. Allusions to the past and loss (of skills, reverence, etc) periodically resurfaced in mildly melancholy ways. But our Big Brains aren’t much influenced by nostalgia. Their goals aren’t necessarily to bring something back but to make something new. It just so happens that their default starting point for this endeavor is, thanks directly to one Tamara Clammer of BPT (among others), something old.

In this scenario, the path of least resistance to our Big Brains getting to build a brand new car starts with a used, non-working car. They don’t want to reinvent the Power Wheel, as it were. They want to get from point A to point B in the funnest, most direct, way possible. For them, at this moment, remaking has very little to do with a misty past and everything to do with a bright and shiny future. It’s the small step for one Big Brain that leads to the giant leap for Big-Brained-kind.

It's true! SparkFun sparks fun!

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A few weeks ago, SparkFun gave a very generous gift to The Big-Brained Superheroes Club. But the truth of the matter is that we haven’t even gotten to those boxes yet. We’ve been so busy soldering connections, stripping wires, and testing voltages with our new SparkFun tool kits that we haven’t yet made our way to the best stuff! Which brings us to the other gifts that SparkFun is giving us: the opportunity, motivational support, and tools we need to work our way toward harder problems.

In our experience, SparkFun is unique in how far it goes to put its tools and information into the hands of unlikely makers. And they do it with flair (and flare)! When we started excavating all the shiny red SparkFun boxes from our first delivery, word got around the community center rather quickly that something was up. Almost immediately we had more hands helping us than we knew what to do with. And even before our main electronics components had arrived, we were digging out of our stash a discarded CD player motor and other junk with which to play.

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Since then, Big-Brained Superheroes have built 12 logic gate modules and a few soon-to-be revealed components of our emerging electric circuits lab. All using the many tools we were able to get thanks SparkFun’s educational discount and Seattle’s Technology Matching Fund. The most exciting aspect of this project, though, is that it’s really just the beginning of something even greater. Each new tool we figure out how to use, each new part we learn about, and each new circuit we build makes our world just a bit more accessible and equally more fun. And all those shiny red boxes waiting for us on the shelf serve as an excellent reminder that we’re just getting started.image

Thank you, SparkFun, for helping make it all happen!