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.

Thank you,  BECU , for making the Big Brains your 2015 Member Volunteer of the Year! We’re thrilled to be in such great company.

Thank you, BECU, for making the Big Brains your 2015 Member Volunteer of the Year! We’re thrilled to be in such great company.

Meredith Wengercommunity
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
Meet The Big-Brained Superheroes Club Board
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Alex – Alex Allred has worked with nonprofit organizations for over 10 years, most recently with 826 (an afterschool writing and tutoring center) as a member of the management team for eight years. Currently, she runs her own business, Balance Bookkeeping. Alex joined The BBSC’s board in 2015.


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Amina — Amina Shali is the mother of two Big-Brained Superheroes and joined the board after seeing how much her 10-year-old daughter enjoyed participating in BBSC.  Originally from Kenya, she has lived in Seattle – Yesler Terrace, specifically - for eight years.


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Ashley – Ashley Seni has a master’s degree from Stanford University in materials science and works as a solutions engineer for DatStat. She began her association with The BBSC as a volunteer sidekick and has enjoyed it so much she also joined the board. 


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Fadumo – Born in Somalia, Fadumo Isaq moved to Seattle (Yesler Terrace) in 1999. She operates a child care business from home and volunteers in a variety of community initiatives. Fadumo has raised nine children in Yesler Terrace. She is a proud grandmother of one of The BBSC’s youngest superheroes.


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Frewoini – A long-time resident of Yesler Terrace and parent of two superheroes, Frewoini Gugsa is an active community volunteer and has served on the boards of several area nonprofit organizations.


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Meredith – A long-time Seattle-ite, Meredith has a Master of Science degree in Human­ Centered Design and Engineering from the University of Washington. As a Yesler Terrace volunteer (2011), she saw a need for a club where Yesler kids would have a safe, stable place to develop their potential to learn and create. So she did something about it and founded The BBSC.


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Rachida — Rachida Maurou is the mother of three Big-Brained Superheroes, ages eight, six, and five, who have been active in BBSC since discovering it last summer. She has lived in Seattle’s Yesler Terrace community since moving to Seattle from Togo (West Africa) nine years ago. What does she love about Seattle? The water.


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Thom – By day, Thom McDonald is a Facebook production engineer. But each Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, Thom becomes one of The BBSC’s most veteran sidekicks – he has volunteered for BBSC since 2011 (when it was a homework help service). Thom has lived in Seattle for 16 years.


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Zahra – Long-time Yesler Terrace resident Zahra Ostero is better known to her neighbors as Mama Zahra; the “mama” is in recognition of her leadership role in the Yesler community. A refugee from Somalia, Mama Zahra is the mother of three Big-Brained Superheroes and visits The BBSC regularly.

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!

Super Shortie Corner Surprise
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We may talk a lot about our big nerdy projects and heady ambitions, but in many ways, the heart of The Big-Brained Superheroes Club is play. Super Shortie Corner was created in a small corner of the lair during our recent clean (and build) week for the express purpose of encouraging imaginative and educational play in the five-and-under set. It’s been a surprise to see the space being used by Brains of all ages for playing, inventing, and creating entire imaginary universes and scenarios to wrap around their activities. Any phony toughness or competitiveness here gets quickly rebuffed because Kindness and Teamwork are the minimum requirements.

We don’t talk much about “discipline” in the Big Brains for the simple reason that we’re not looking for discipline (in the usual sense of the word) from the Brains. It’s not enough for our Brains to just gain the capability to refrain from hurting each other or themselves with their actions. To realize their full potential, Brains must also gain that feeling of liberation that comes from cooperation and collaboration. Willpower and Respect—our version of “discipline”—are only two of the twelve superpowers that can help them gain that liberation. For all the rest, they need motivation and permission, both of which they are somehow getting in this teeny tiny corner of the room. Such a pleasant surprise!

Public Service Announcements
  1. If you’re not following The BBSC on Facebook, you are missing out big time! https://www.facebook.com/BigBrainedSuperheroes/
  2. If you’re not subscribed to our newsletter, you are missing out monthly. https://www.facebook.com/BigBrainedSuperheroes/app_100265896690345
  3. If you’re not following us on Twitter, you are only kind of missing out. https://twitter.com/BBSuperheroes
  4. If you’re not following us on Instagram, that’s ok because we don’t have an Instagram account. Yet.
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
Joy and TOMORROWLAND

Joy is big with Big-Brained Superheroes. There’s a reason Big Brains passionately promise to “try hard, be kind, and HAVE FUN!” whenever they come in. As we say, Big Brains are creators of things. And joy is the grandmother of invention.

Which is why, when the extremely kind folks at AlliedM invited us to the screening of TOMORROWLAND at Cinerama, we were so excited. How long had it been since we had seen a live action sci-fi movie that offered the promise of a hopeful future? Too too long! And even longer since invention had played a serious part in helping create that future.

So, thank you, AlliedM and TOMORROWLAND, for reminding us all that, to be our brainiest most superheroic selves, joy isn’t an option—it’s a requirement.

Our Math Problem
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Big-Brained Superheroes are creators of things. Whether those things be Space Needles or Circuit Trees, video games or airplanes, some version of math almost always comes into the equation. That’s just the way it is. And that’s where our math problem begins.

While some Big-Brained Superheroes are perfectly comfortable doing the math wherever they find it, we have found that a nontrivial number of Brains freak out in certain contexts. And though math anxiety is something we recognize and work on (as we do reading anxiety), this seems different. Many of these Brains seem perfectly comfortable doing the math in the worksheets they bring in from school. But when facing the exact (exact exact) same problems in the context of real physical things, they freeze up—as if they’re being asked to speak a completely different language without ever having learned the words. Is it us?

After we reward for Sense of Adventure to keep them from running out the door, we typically break the problem down within the context of the project we’re working on. In the process, these Brains seem to be learning how to solve the problem all over again. Just as if they had never seen it before. If we have time, we try to connect the problem-solving process we go through directly back to their homework. But though we try, it doesn’t always jive. The connection doesn’t seem to deep-down feel real. Maybe it is us.

The flip side of this equation is when Big Brains solve math problems for us that they don’t seem to be solving in other contexts. A surprisingly common example:

Volunteer Sidekick: “What’s 15 divided by five?”
Big-Brained Superhero: “I don’t know division.”
Volunteer Sidekick: “OK, how many fives are there in 15?”
Big-Brained Superhero: “Three.”
Volunteer Sidekick: “Congratulations, you just learned division.”

Obviously, these Big Brains aren’t just learning division—they’re learning that they’ve already learned division. Or maybe they’re not. Maybe the math our Brains do in The BBSC and the math they do in other contexts never become the same math to them. And this is where our math problem currently sits.

As we say, Big-Brained Superheroes are creators of things. They can’t not be. And there’s no getting around doing math in the process. But the math they’re doing in other contexts doesn’t seem to them to be the same math they’re doing in The BBSC even though it is the exact same math (or so it seems to us). Our solution to this problem so far has been to develop “BBSC math”— a collection of activities and stuff we make or find on the market that we think helps facilitate learning the math we need to use when creating things.

Obviously, this solution is incomplete. At best. For starters, we have the obvious structural inefficiencies—the multiplication of time, materials, effort, etc. going into solving multiple problems that are really the same problem. More importantly, however, we have concerns about the strain this dissonance puts on our Brains. They’ve already got what must feel like a million divergent cultural, social, and intellectual demands on them; do they really need more? For math?

At present, our answer is yes. But we admit—we have a problem.

Let it Fly
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This airplane was a Big-Brained Superhero reward that got its original wings and tail mangled and, consequently, ended up in the project pile. It’s now on its fifth or sixth set of prototype wings/tail thanks to the singular interest of one young BBS, who, every time he walks through the club door, heads straight to the plane and keeps trying new design combinations until he has to go home. Once it flies again, it’s his to keep, but that seems to be only part of his motivation.

We’d love it if the process of getting Big Brains independently, deeply involved in relatively complex projects were as simple as defining objectives and supplying materials and rewards. But Big Brains just don’t work that way. In fact, for a very long time, this particular Big Brain had been obsessing over finding a way to earn an iPod. His single-minded devotion to the subject gave us a whole new appreciation for his Persistence superpower. However, it seems that finally feeling secure that he has a way to achieve his iPod goal has given him the freedom to passionately pursue other, more remote, interests. Flights of fancy first—all else can wait.

We spend quite a bit of time in The BBSC trying to figure out how to create this exact scenario—a Brain relentlessly exercising all of its superpowers for a creative purpose. And while we are still at the stage in which we just feel lucky when it happens, here are some of the things we know we need to have in order to make it possible:

  1. An environment that feels reliable and secure—Big Brains must know that they have the power to get all of their basic needs, perceived or otherwise, met. This sounds simple, but the standards for physical and emotional security seem to vary pretty dramatically from Big Brain to Big Brain, so meeting all of them sometimes feels like an impossibility. We’re constantly looking for ways to improve in this area, but we’ve got the basics (food, meaningful boundaries and expectations, laughter, etc) down well enough to satisfy a reasonable number of BBSes to varying degrees. We have a dream that, one day, we’ll be able to design for the toughest Brain out there, meet all of our goals and objectives, and bring everyone else along for the ride. Still working on it.
  2. All kinds of weird stuff lying around—While our Big Brains definitely need their comfort zones, in order to create, they also need inspiration and opportunities to get out of those comfort zones. We have yet to find a better way to provide that inspiration and opportunity than through stuff. Preferably weird stuff that they don’t see everyday. That can be broken. And maybe put back together.
  3. Ways to connect the dots—Internet, books, tools, humans. Our Big Brains need to have ways to learn what they don’t already know and colleagues to bounce ideas off of. For general purposes, we probably use our tiny book library more than our Internet, but that may be because our wireless is flaky and our devices are fragile. For technology purposes, we tend to use our devices. Regardless, just having a resource collection creates possibility.
  4. Magic—Call it Dark Matter, the Force, whatever. This is the placeholder for all of the needs we have yet to specifically identify but have seen impressions of. At the moment, there’s a bit more of this than we’d care to admit.

Regardless of where we are relative to where we want to be when it comes to providing all the things a Big-Brained Superhero needs, there’s one thing we’re pretty sure of: If we can make it possible, our Big-Brained Superheroes can make it happen.

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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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How do you solve a problem like a Tree-a? Reprise
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After much ado, we did it. The Circuit Tree is in full bloom.

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Not only did we finally find a use for our tree, we found unexpected value in our bag of donated jellyfish.

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Which, of course, only increases the pun potential (puntential?) of this project.

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So there we are. A little Creativity, some Critical Thinking, Persistence, and Teamwork, and then there was (more) light.

Best project takeaway: We know we’re very much on the right track when the most common response to seeing a club member standing on a table wrapping a tree in copper tape isn’t, “What the heck are you doing?”, but rather, “Can I help?”.

Thank you again to Ballard Reuse and all Big-Brained Superheroes Club supporters who help make these randomly invaluable projects possible!

Remaking Failure (part 2 of x): The Space Needle’s Legs
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If you’ve been keeping tabs on our Facebook page, then you know that we’ve been working on our City of Light on and off for a while now. Once we got proof-of-concept with the basic buildings and determined the resistance level needed for our LEDs, we turned our attention to constructing our Space Needle. 

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And that’s where we are.

Still.

Of all the factors related to our Space Needle’s design and construction—determining dimensions, features, materials, etc—finding a way to achieve basic structural integrity (ie, sticking the parts together) has been our toughest challenge so far. Some of that is just the nature of this particular beast: it has to be both strong and extremely lightweight so as not to break apart or cause injury should it come un-velcroed from our felt wall. Some of that is just the nature of The BBSC: our repertoire of materials for sticking stuff together has been mostly limited to glue (hot and not), tape, and solder, none of which have been particularly useful for our Space Needle yet.

To meet our requirements, given our constraints, we have used our development time to exercise our Persistence and Adaptability. The joints of our Space Needle “legs”, for instance, have undergone at least four iterations:

  1. Soldering was no good as the large swaths of aluminum just sucked up the heat.
  2. We tried a cold weld two-part epoxy on its own at each joint only to have them all break. One by one.
  3. We then cut some thin metal rectangles and epoxied them to the backs of the legs to hold the joints together, but the bends in the legs made it difficult to get anything with a straight edge to hold to both sides of the joint equally well so failure inevitably ensued.
  4. Our final (so far) solution: Pennies*. Not as lightweight as we’d like, but they’re the right shape and seem to get the job done.
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It’s tempting here to start spouting pithy quotes about failure and how it’s just a point (or several points) on the path to success etc etc etc. But what’s more interesting to us is understanding just what enables us to keep going through our failures to find, even momentary, success. We see failure, like we see Empowerment, as a luxury good:

  • For starters, we need Brains. More than one, in this case, with diverse sets of knowledge and abilities.
  • Second, we need time. We’re constantly learning as we go, and consequently, our iterations often require time for us to confer, casually ponder, and enable our Creativity superpower to do its job.
  • Third, we need capital resources. Tools, materials with which to experiment, and money with which to acquire supplies as we go are all essential even for the most minimal of projects, such as this one.
  • Finally, we need motivation and Empowerment. Not only do we need to want to do it, we need to feel like it’s at least possible. Not surprisingly, it helps when the complexity of a project is somewhat obscured from the outset so as to enable escalation of commitment.

Simple? Maybe. Obvious? Probably. And it doesn’t take very much reading between the lines here to glimpse at least a few of the social, cultural, and economic underpinnings needed to achieve even the teeniest tiniest of successes. These are the real legs on which our Space Needle is built. So, where does that urge to spout the pithy quote even come from anyway?

* = That’s right. We’re literally building our Space Needle out of money. Symbolism aside, just don’t tell the US Treasury, please.

Remaking Failure (part 1 of x)

So, in February, we hosted this great Re-Maker Fest, which was inspiring and informative and all kinds of brain-embiggening, and, not coincidentally, has us reconsidering failure (again). In the course of that event, we made a challenge for ourselves to see how many things we could remake before the end of the month (in this case, it turned out to be within the next three BBSC meetings). The results:

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We started off strong—taking apart this doll in the hopes of turning it into something new. And we did turn it into something new: a collection of doll parts. That’s something.


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And then, as we mentioned in our previous post, we attempted to turn some broken crayon bits and leftover cardboard into artwork. In summary: If you’ve ever wondered what happens when you try to put a new spin (literally) on melty crayon art, now you know.


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Finally, we combined our magnetized electronics, a metal vent thingy, some vellum paper and tiny clothespins (all of these items are used items) with a bunch of shapes we had lying around to make a light play box. The takeaway: Add some magnets and a bit of string and maybe we’ve found a new crazy/creepy use for that doll parts collection.

From our point-of-view, these remaking experiences are just part of the process. A process that some might look at and think is a waste of perfectly good broken dolls, crayons, and random parts. And if the remaking process ended here, we would probably agree. But it doesn’t and it won’t. Which is why this is just part 1 of x of our Remaking Failure.

How do you solve a problem like a Tree-a?
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This inherited tree has been a point of contention in The BBSC for a while now. At first, we thought we’d manage it by decorating it with squishy shapes:

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Not bad. But the leaky sand box in which it stood was eternally messy, and the groovy shapes kept falling off or getting repurposed elsewhere. What to do? 

Since the sand was the biggest issue, we dealt with that first. Several Big Brains took it outside and held a fairly extravagant de-sanding party (i.e., they dumped the sand onto the ground, played in it for over an hour, and finally swept it away). From there, we just shuffled the precariously perched naked tree around the room until we could settle on a plan.

“Burn it,” was one Big Brain’s suggestion. Not really an option since the tree had a history and sentimental value for some of our Big Brains.

After bandying about a string of ideas of what to make it—an evolutionary tree, a bunch of branches, etc—we decided to table it. Literally, we decided to put it in the middle of the room’s biggest table. But first, we needed to make a sturdy stand for it (and thanks to a generous gift certificate from Ballard Reuse, we were able to do so):

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Once we figured out where and how to put up the tree, the rest of the plan fell into place.

Another issue we’ve had for a while is that we’ve wanted more diverse lighting sources in the lair. Especially in the winter when the coldness of the overhead fluorescents becomes particularly apparent. Combine that need with a pretty decent supply of wired LEDs, copper tape, and silicon jellyfish, and the result is somewhat obvious:

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The Circuit Tree: just the beginning.*

* Note: This post is part of our concerted effort to show more of the process of what we do in The BBSC. We’re still searching for ways to make it interesting. We’ll keep working on it.