Archive for the ‘Tech2Teach’ Category

Start to Resist –

August 31, 2008

Even on a sunny afternoon, Downtown Brooklyn holds the promise of shadows. Stately, municipal buildings and old bodegas mix together on the surface to let you there’s constant alchemy stirring in this neighborhood. At any time, something darkly enchanting could be ready to bubble.

Enter: NYC Resistor

A large loft on Bridge Street resembling a steampunk Leonardo’s workshop is where this hacker group meets regularly “to share knowledge, hack on projects together, and build community.” They started giving classes less than four months ago so joining a workshop, as you sit at an extended table/workspace and unpack your laptop like everybody else there, the feeling comes on that you just signed up with Morpheus and Trinity (before the crappy sequels.)

The class I attended was Arduino Programming 102: If Funky, Get Loopy.

Arduino is both software and hardware. The former is the most basic of programming languages, very suitable for us who never got beyond if/then/else. The palm-sized latter is a reminder of the mid-seventies AM radios we use to crack open by the end of summer to use the inside electronics as ninja throwing stars.

The board attaches to the unbelievably cool named “danger shield” of buzzers, lights and sliders. Once connected through two rows of pins, the equipment plugs into a laptop USB. Through manual manipulation and basic code writing, we made our shields produce repeating loops of Doppler noises and flashing lights.

Is it fun? Hell, yes –

Is it worth the $30? Hell, yes –

Is there a down side? Of course there is …

Our leader, Zach Smith was a really personable, supportive and knowledgeable teacher who even gave me his own macbook to use after an unresolvable uploading problem on my own computer. Despite all these great qualities, the method of instruction could benefit with a few improvements.

First, dry erase markers & whiteboard is not the way to go when there is a ceiling mounted projector ready to be used. A ‘live’ computer to actually model the codewriting would be better than flawed penmanship that was written and erased way too quickly. Second, a single page of handouts – with the symbols of definitions for variable types, flow control /syntax, comparison and functions was helpful, but certainly not complete for the day’s study or home extension. Lastly, a single instructor talking more or less for two hours is, to me, problematic. Fortunately, I went there were some programmers extraordinaire who could lean over and spot check my error messages, but without an assistant to ‘work the room,’ I missed an endeavor or two just to catch up.

But don’t let that critique turn you away-

Writing a few lines of simple code makes modern magic. Blinking bulbs and funny noises are a worthy conjuring for the electronic prestidigitators of NYC Resistor, you and that smart friend you know is cool.

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