Monday, June 20, 2011

Alpha Club Update and Amon Millner @ IDC 2011

First we have a quick update on our newly launched Alpha Club:  As a thank-you for your continued support, we've set all existing alpha testers (including our Kickstarter supporters) up with a free six month Alpha Club membership.  If you are an existing alpha tester, simply log in at  and start using the Alpha Club features today.  

The Alpha Club is a membership based club that allows Modkit fans and users to support our efforts while receiving early access to new features as they are completed.  We have already launched some exciting Alpha Club features, so consider signing up today and getting involved.  We're grateful to all our supporters and Alpha Club members who are helping us bring robotics and Arduino programming to everyone, including children, artists, and everyday engineers.  Make sure to spread the word to your friends and colleagues through your social networks as every new member helps us get closer to our vision. 

Amon Millner's IDC Presentation - In true "Computer as Chalk" fashion

Now for some news: Amon will be demoing Modkit at the 10th annual International Conference on Interaction Design and Children in Ann Arbor Michigan this week.  IDC's goals are "to understand children’s needs and how to design for them, by presenting and discussing the most innovative research in the field of interaction design for children, by exhibiting the most recent developments in design and design methodologies, and by gathering the leading minds in the field of interaction design for children."

Amon officially joined Modkit after earning his Ph.D. from the MIT Media Lab's Lifelong Kindergarten Group for his work including research on physical computing as an extension of the popular Scratch programming environment.  Amon's doctoral dissertation was titled "Computer as Chalk" and featured many hand-drawn (actually finger-drawn with an IBM Trackpoint - now that's dedication!) sketches of youth engaged in designing physical computer interfaces such as the above IDC presentation snippet.  If you're out at IDC or in the Ann Arbor area, make sure to check out Amon's Modkit demo on Wednesday.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

TEDxKIDS@Brussels + Design Blocks

I'm back from TEDxKIDS@Brussels.  I did my first TEDx talk and ran two Modkit workshops for about thirty 10 year olds.  For the talk, I focused on the idea of Generation D: Digital. Democracy. DIY.  The talk started with the digital (personal computer) revolution and its roots in the hobbyist/hacker culture.  I then jumped to the democratization of the internet and how the internet helped democratize many domains such as commerce, publishing, fabrication, etc.  This all set the stage for the question:  If hackers (programmers) can help democratize all of these domains, what if hacking (programming) itself was democratized?  This is of course the motivation behind Modkit!

 From Hobby to Hollywood - Ed Baafi talks about the Apple I's move from homebrew to mainstream 

For the TEDxKIDS workshops, I only had about 45 minutes with each set of 14 kids, just enough time for an introduction to the Modkit environment and a proper "Hello World" exercise.  As many of you know, a typical Hello World exercise consists of printing "hello" to the screen or in the case of embedded systems (physical programming) it usually means blinking an LED on and off.  Of course, we started with the typical blinking "hello" using the built-in Arduino LED, but moved on to a more interesting (and appropriate) "Hello."  We used the new Modkit MotoProto Sheilds along with a servo motor and potentiometer knob.  I had the kids trace and cut out their hands on construction paper.  They then, taped the paper hands to the servo and programmed the potentiometer and servo so that they could make their paper hands wave "Hello."  They had a lot of fun!

Unfortunately I just found out about this, but our friend Evelyn Eastmond is raising money for her Design Blocks project on Kickstarter.  There's only a few hours left and she's not yet close to her goal, but we just pledged hoping for a last minute sprint.  Like Modkit, DesignBlocks takes the graphical programming ideas of projects like Scratch and aims to apply them to different domains. In this case the idea is to enable artistic expression, similar to the processing project.  If you see this in the next few hours, make sure to go pledge.  If not, go send Evelyn a comment and encourage her to repost the project.  That way we can all help her spread the word next time.