Introducing Tam Makers

Tam Makers is a community of makers, teachers and students in Marin County. We build things together and offer courses, meetups and a makerspace at Tam High School in Mill Valley. To learn more, visit http://tammakers.org

We are starting Tam Makers, a new makerspace in Marin — and invite you to come visit, if you are in the area.

We offer courses for adults and teens, meetups and a new makerspace at Tamalpais High School, in our state-of-the-art wood shop and computer lab.

We created this community center to serve the needs of our local community, whether you are interested in making things for yourself or supporting a makerspace for your children.

Join our meetups

If you live in our area, come to one of our free meetups, so we can tell you more, hear what you think and plan our next steps together.

August Meetup August 24 Sign up

Our community meetups run from 6 to 9pm in our makerspace at Tam High School (see address below). Adults and teens welcome. If you missed our last meetup, here are photos and slides of this event, as well as the video of our presentation and group discussion.

Sign up for classes

This fall, we are offering a wide range of classes for adults and youth: from Arduino to laser cutting, hand tools, wood turning and how to make elegant boxes, to name but a few.

Learn more in our Classes page, where you can sign up for these classes before they fill up.

All adult classes start at 6pm. Teens can also sign up for these classes, with the help of an adult.

Visit our makerspace

All events are at Tamalpais High School, in our state-of-the-art wood shop and computer lab: 700 Miller Avenue (Room 416), Mill Valley, CA 94941. See map.

The best times to visit our makerspace are during our free meetups — next one is July 20 (see above). To get a feel for our space and community, check out the Tam Makers Photo Album.

Take our survey

We would love to hear what you think of Tam Makers, so we can better serve you.

Please take our short survey , if you haven’t already.

Your feedback means a lot to us and will help plan our next steps.

Meet our team

Organizers include: Geo Monley, Fabrice Florin, Howard Rheingold and our maker friends, with the Tam High School District’s Community Ed program.

We are developing this program to build fun maker projects with our community and learn from each other.

For more information, visit tammakers.org . To get our newsletters, subscribe to our mailing list. You can also email us at info@tammakers.org .

We hope you will join us. We invite you to share this page with friends and neighbors.

See you soon!

This post was updated on August 6, 2016 to introduce new classes and meetups.

Maker Art: Build a City of the Future

What will life be like in the 22nd century? Help dream up a better world and build a City of the Future. Art by Boombastik3 via Deviant Art.

Create a city of the future in this cool after-school activity.
Future Art by Boombastik3, CC-BY-NC-SA.

This spring, I am teaching a new ‘maker art’ course to build a city of the future with middle school children.

Update: Our first classes have already started in two schools. You can track our progress here:

New Class: We are teaching a summer camp for kids ages 10 to 14,  during the week of July 11 to 15, at Tam High School in Mill Valley. Students will also build a new City of the Future — and learn to program Arduino boards. Learn more here — and sign up here.

Here’s a quick overview of this fun and educational after-school activity.

What is it?

Create a city of the future with arts and electronics!

In this maker art course, you will build a cool model of what our world could be like in 100 years. You will first make a futuristic home with a cardboard ‘wonderbox’ and an animated character. You will then bring it to life by making your character move, lights blink and sounds play.

Next, you will assemble your boxes into a small city of the future, and landscape it together. At the end of the course, we will make a short video of your creations — and you get to keep your box when the course ends.

Who is it for?

This after-school course is for middle-school students, ages 10 to 14 (6th to 9th grades). No experience necessary!

What will students learn?

Our classes combine art and technology to help you develop a range of skills: science, technology, engineering, art and math skills (STEAM); creative expression and communication skills.

You will create your own interactive art, in a playful way that makes learning more fun. You will also collaborate with other students to build something greater than you could do on your own.

When is it?

During our spring course, we meet every Wednesday from 3:30 to 5:30pm at Tam High School’s wood shop in Mill Valley. This 2-hour class runs for 8 weeks, from March 30 to May 25, 2016.

Our summer camp will be from July 11 to 15, 2016. We will meet every morning from 9am to 2pm, also at Tam High School’s wood shop in Mill Valley. This 4-hour class runs for 5 days.

How do I sign up?

Our spring courses have already started. But you can register now for our summer camp.

Sign up here for our summer camp.
Cost: $325 per student. (Materials and Arduino board included, a $75 value.)

What will it look like?

Here is a first example of what our city of the future could look like.

The City of the Future will include a row of 'wonderbox' homes in the foreground, and a city landscape in the background. It will be about 6 feet wide, 3 feet deep and up to 4 feet high, and be placed on a rolling 'maker art cart.'

This 3D model shows a first visualization for our city of the future, to be designed with our students.
Created by Fabrice Florin with Sketchup, CC-BY-SA.

Our city of the future will include a row of ‘wonderbox’ homes in the foreground, and a city landscape in the background. The model will be about 6 feet wide, 3 feet deep and up to 4 feet high, and be showcased on a ‘maker art cart’. See our course slides for more images.

Who is teaching this?

Fabrice Florin is teaching this course with Geo Monley, Cynthia Gilbert and other art makers.

As a multimedia innovator, Fabrice has led the development of many pioneering products in education, news and entertainment, working with Apple, Macromedia, Wikipedia and other digital media groups. He is a lead designer at Pataphysical Studios and is teaching several maker art courses in the Bay Area.

The Tam High course for middle school children is hosted by Chris McCune and Betty Sue Johnson at Tam District Community Education. Advisors include Jean Bolte, Tara Brown, Donald Day, Dale Dougherty, Phyllis Florin, Natalina Frederick, Cynthia Gilbert, Howard Rheingold and our art maker community. We’re grateful to them all for making this course possible!

Will you teach more courses?

Yes! We will also teach a week-long ‘maker camp’ the week of July 11, every weekday from 9am to 1pm: in this camp, we will learn to program Arduino boards to build our city of the future.

Sign up here for this summer camp.
Tuition: $325 per student. Materials and Arduino board included.

How can I learn more?

You can learn more about this project in this course overview — and read about our other ‘maker art‘ courses in 2016.

For our spring courses, you can track our progress in each school here:

If you have any questions, you’re welcome to email me — and we invite you to spread the word in your community.

We look forward to coaching more children to become art makers!

Fabrice

Teaching Maker Art

Students show off their Halloween Wonderbox at our first 'maker art' workshop at the Mill Valley Library.

Students show off their Halloween Wonderbox at our first ‘maker art’ workshop at the Mill Valley Library.

This year, I am teaching ‘maker art’ to school children, to help them create interactive art with electronics — such as this fall’s Haunted House.

In our classes, we show students how to build miniature worlds with animated characters — then light them up, make them move, play sounds and tell their stories. This hands-on activity invites children to learn by doing, in a playful way that engages all their senses and puts them in charge of their own learning.

Here’s an overview of our first  classes in 2016, for elementary and middle school students ages 6 to 14, in four different Bay Area schools and libraries (see list below).

 

Fabrice presents our Maker Art classes at the ReMake Education Summit.

Fabrice presents our Maker Art classes at the ReMake Education Summit.

Project Update

I gave a talk about our Maker Art classes at the ReMake Education Summit in Sonoma on August 4. Here are the slides of that 20-min. presentation, which also included these photos of our maker art classes — and this short video on how to create a Halloween Wonderbox.

Here’s what we learned so far from these maker art classes:

  • Maker art is deeply engaging
  • Art + tech + stories appeal to more learners
  • They identify with their characters
  • Creative freedom gives them license to play
  • Student-driven projects build their confidence
  • Collaborations are fun and productive
  • Family activities level the age gap
  • Wonderboxes help frame our imagination

I plan to write a more in-depth blog post about these findings in coming weeks. For now, here are more lessons learned, written by our team during our first experiments in spring 2016.

This fall, we are teaching these courses at Tam Makers, our new makerspace in Mill Valley:

Maker Art: Create a Haunted House Sep. 28 – Nov. 16 For ages 10-14 Sign up
Create a Wonderbox Oct. 26 – Nov. 9 For adults Sign up

If you are in the Bay Area, I invite you to sign up for one of these courses. Making art together is fun and educational!

 

Young art maker Josephine Maeght shows off the Chinese New Year Wonderbox she is creating with another student at the Lycée Français.

Young art maker Josephine Maeght shows off the Chinese New Year Wonderbox she is creating with another student at the Lycée Français in Sausalito.

Create Your Own Wonderbox

In our workshops, we give each student a small cardboard ‘wonderbox’ and ask them to create an interesting scene in that box, on a given theme (e.g. Chinese New Year, see below). They learn to design and build their artworks, then bring them to life with lights, motion and sound. At the end of the course, we assemble all their boxes together and ask students to tell their stories for a short video ‘show and tell’. We provide all the materials for this course and students can take their wonderbox home at the end.

This educational program invites children to develop a wide range of new skills, across multiple disciplines: from creative expression to science and engineering. They seem really engaged by the freedom to create their own interactive art, which gives them more control over their learning experience. And working collaboratively, they get to experiment together and help each other create something greater than any of them could do on their own.

Learn more about our Wonderbox workshops here. For more info, read about our first Wonderbox workshop at the Mill Valley Library, then view this video and photo album, as well as the workshop instructions. This program was developed by artists and educators at Pataphysical Studios, creators of the ‘Pataphysical Slot Machine.

 

Maker art students are creating Chinese New Year Wonderboxes with different animals from the Chinese Zodiac at the Lycée Français in Sausalito.

Maker art students are creating Chinese New Year Wonderboxes with different animals from the Chinese Zodiac at the Lycée Français in Sausalito.

Chinese New Year Wonderbox

Celebrate the Chinese New Year by making an art wonderbox with a paper lantern and animated character.

In this course, students get to pick an animal from the Chinese Zodiac (e.g.: dragon, horse, tiger, snake). We give them a laser-cut wood figure as a framework to build on, as well as lots of art & crafts supplies and electronic parts. Kids bring them to life by making their characters move, light up, play sound — then coloring and decorating them with markers, fabric, feathers and jewels (see photo).

Children learn to:
• Light up a paper lantern
• Make a button and circuit
• Make their animal move
• Decorate their box
• Play sounds
• Tell their story

To learn more, watch this prototype video of the Chinese New Year Wonderbox — as well as this video of our first experiments with making animals move. You’ll also find more details in our course overview.

Our lower school students seem to love this fun and educational activity. They enjoy lighting up their lanterns and making their art move — and they gain a deeper understanding of electrical and mechanical engineering, as well as creative design and innovation.

Young art maker Theodore Carman built a cardboard propeller to move his flying dragon for the Chinese New Year Wonderbox he is making at the Lycée Français.

Young art maker Theodore Carman built a cardboard propeller to move his flying dragon for the Chinese New Year Wonderbox he is making at the Lycée Français.

For example, to make their animals move, they had to explore different ways to animate their creatures: using glue sticks to make them vibrate, or hand-made paper propellers to push them forward and make other objects move (see photo). In the process, we’re all learning to create simple ‘poetic robots’ — with just a few affordable parts that anyone can assemble together.

The Chinese New Year is our theme for January and February 2016. Our next theme from March to July 2016 will be to build a City of the Future, as outlined below.

 

What will life be like in the 22nd century? Help dream up a better world and build a City of the Future. Art by Boombastik3 via Deviant Art.

What will life be like in the 22nd century? Help dream up a better world and build a City of the Future.
Future City Art by Boombastik3 via Deviant Art, freely licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA.

City of the Future

Create a city of the future with arts and electronics!

In this course, children will imagine what the world will be like in 100 years, then build a futuristic model together.

This spring, I am teaming up with teacher and builder Geo Monley to teach this cool after-school maker course for middle-school students, held in his fabulous wood shop at Tam High. We will invite kids to invent the future by building it with art and electronics, making models of what life might be like in the next century. Starting March 30, we will meet every Wednesday from 3:30pm to 5:30pm at Tam High School in Mill Valley. Parents can sign up here for this 8-week course. Materials are provided and no prior experience is necessary. (We will also teach a weeklong maker camp on the same theme the week of July 11 — including Arduino programming: read more here.)

Students will first make a futuristic home with a cardboard ‘wonderbox’ and a small character, featuring a new invention that might change our lives in the 22nd century. They will then bring them to life by making their characters move, lights blink and sounds play. Next, they will work with other students to assemble their boxes into a small city of the future. At the end of the course, we will make a short video of their creations — which they get to keep.

Here is a first example of what our city of the future could look like.

The City of the Future will include a row of 'wonderbox' homes in the foreground, and a city landscape in the background. It will be about 6 feet wide, 3 feet deep and up to 4 feet high, and be placed on a rolling 'maker art cart.'

This 3D model shows a first visualization for our city of the future, to be designed with our students.
Created by Fabrice Florin with Sketchup, CC-BY-SA.

Our city of the future will include a row of ‘wonderbox’ homes in the foreground, and a city landscape in the background. The model will be about 6 feet wide, 3 feet deep and up to 4 feet high, and be showcased on a ‘maker art cart’.

Learn more about this City of the Future course here.

 

2016 Courses

We are teaching 5 different ‘maker art’ courses and workshops in 2016, in Marin and the Bay Area:

(Update: courses grayed out below are either full or have already occurred)

Maker Art Class
Lycée Français in Sausalito – Jan. to June 2016
Weekly after-school class for children ages 6-10
Themes: Chinese New Year | City of the Future
Thursday afternoons for 90 minutes
For enrolled students of the Lycée only
Learn more

Wonderbox Workshop
Lycée Français in San Francisco – Feb. 15, 17 and 19
Special workshop for children ages 7-10
Theme: Chinese New Year
Three classes of 90 minutes each during ski week
For enrolled students of the Lycée only
Learn more

Create Your Own Wonderbox
Mill Valley Public Library – Feb 16 and 18
FREE workshop for children ages 8-10
Theme: Chinese New Year
Two classes of 2 hours each during ski week.
No experience required. Grades 3-5 only. Parents welcome.
Learn more

Maker Art: City of the Future
Tamalpais High School – March to May 2016
Weekly after-school class for children ages 10-14
Wednesdays at 3:30pm, for 2 hours
No experience required. Parents welcome.
With Geo Monley at Tam Makers
Learn more

Maker Camp: City of the Future
Summer camp for children ages 10-14
Weeklong from 9am to 1pm, for 4 hours daily
No experience required. Parents welcome.
With Geo Monley at Tam Makers
Sign up here | Learn more

UPDATE:

Maker Art: Create a Haunted House
After-school class for ages 10-15 (middle-school)
Wednesdays at 3:30pm, for 2 hours
No experience required. 
Sign up here | Learn more

 

Learn more about the maker art program in this project overview — and follow our progress in this photo album.

Next steps

Overall, this Wonderbox program seems like a great way to teach art and technology to school children, in a playful way that makes their learning experience more fun. So far, the students are responding well to this hands-on, project-based activity: they seem engaged by the freedom to create their own interactive art, which is music to my ears. And their parents also seem to really appreciate this fun and educational program.

To experiment with this vision, I am leading these pilot courses in the first half of 2016, with the help of my maker art community. We will determine next steps for this program after evaluating our first pilot results. Possible outcomes might include more Wonderbox workshops, a public maker space in Marin, a full line of Wonderbox kits, an online Wonderbox site for videos — and/or training programs for educators. We also hope that this program can help grow an ‘art maker movement’ over time, as described in these slides.

For now, I am really enjoying this new chapter of my life as a maker art teacher. Designing and leading this program has been very fulfilling so far — even if it can be exhausting at times. In a sense, this is a culmination of all the work I’ve done in my career, from education to entertainment and technology, bringing together the physical and digital worlds to support better collaborations and deeper understandings.

Every decade or so, I try to re-invent myself and take a new challenge. My last decade was focused on facts and how to tell them apart from fiction — first with our NewsTrust experiment, then on a much wider scale with Wikipedia. It’s very likely that my next decade will be all about art, learning and community.

 

Art makers from Pataphysical Studios help prototype different ways to make animals move for the Chinese New Year Wonderbox course.

Art makers from Pataphysical Studios help prototype different ways to make animals move for the Chinese New Year Wonderbox course.

Thank you

I would like to thank my art and learning communities and the great team of friends who are working with me to offer these classes.

First off, I’m very grateful to the schools and libraries who are hosting this program: Andrew Sobol, Marjolaine Debord and Wladymir Wladymir Paiva and everyone at the Lycée Français; Anji Brenner and Karen Clarke at the Mill Valley Library — and Chris McCune and Betty Sue Johnson at the Tam High Union District. This classes would not be possible without their wonderful support of our cause.

I’m particularly grateful to my partners in the classroom: Cynthia Gilbert at the Lycée Français; and Geo Monley at Tam High School. Heartfelt thanks as well to my wife Phyllis for preparing the art supplies for this class, and to my art friends from Pataphysical Studios: Howard Rheingold, Jean Bolte and her daughter Natalina for their advice, creative prototypes, art supplies and help assembling the kits. Kudos as well to Tara Brown at Kithub for supplying the electronic parts.

Last but not least, it’s a real pleasure to meet parents of our students, and getting them engaged in the process. And it’s a real pleasure to be teaching their children, whose curiosity, creativity and enthusiasm are an inspiration to me.

I’m so happy to see a little community grow around our first maker art courses: I hope that over time we can turn this initiative into a vibrant community learning network.

Onwards!

Fabrice

The Pataphysical Slot Machine

PP Flyer - landscape

Behold The Pataphysical Slot Machine, our community-created poetic oracle.

This unique art exhibit engages people of all ages to inquire about their future and act on it. It encourages creative exploration by combining visual arts and new technology, the ‘maker spirit’ and ‘combinatorial poetics’.

Here’s a short video of the Pataphysical Slot Machine in action.

Visitors are invited to sit on the Pataphysical throne, facing three mysterious cabinets of curiosity. You can ask Ubu, our patron saint, for “instructions from the future”: he shares surreal and whimsical words of advice (e.g.: “Embrace purple sky”), which are printed on your receipt — and spoken with a thick french accent. 

For more inspiration, guests can then open one of 20 “wonderboxes”. Each box contains a different art scene: a singing flower, an alien invader, a red devil, a happy buddha or a native shaman, for example. Some of them sparkle with lights, some speak to you, others are animated robots — and an ‘olfactory clock’ tells the time with scents of cinnamon buns or blueberry pie. 

These slides show what the art exhibit looks like. To see the many ways in which people interact with the Pataphysical Slot Machine, check our photo stream on Flickr.

The art is inspired by many world cultures, the steam-punk movement — and by Alfred Jarry, founder of ‘Pataphysics, the “science of imaginary solutions.” The technology is based on Arduino and Raspberry Pi platforms, networked together — and soon to be connected to the Internet. See our interactive specs.

We are a team of artists, technologists and educators based in Mill Valley, California. Our members include Fabrice Florin (@fabriceflorin), Howard Rheingold (@hrheingold), Freddy Hahne (@arewereally), Stephanie LeveneDonald DayTim PozarJaney Fritsche, Mark Petrakis, Jean Bolte and many other friends, family and neighbors. Meet our crew in this ‘day in the life’ video.

We work together as a ‘peer learning network’: we teach each other what we know, across all levels of expertise. To share what we’ve learned, we teach ‘maker art’ workshops to show students of all ages how to create their own interactive art with electronics. We also maintain an extensive online documentation, and sometimes host online hangouts, to show you how to build your own interactive art — like this ‘geekout’ on motors and Arduino, held by video conference last fall.

We unveiled the Pataphysical Slot Machine at the Mill Valley Library in October 2015, when hundreds of visitors got a chance to interact with Ubu and friends. Read more about the events we hosted and what we discovered together.

Collaborative art is a wonderful thing. We invite you to create your own interactive art, wherever you are. Join the movement and start a maker art group in your neighborhood. And remember to have fun with it: ‘pataphysics is the art of not taking yourself too seriously’ 🙂

Fire in the hole!

Video, photos and narration by Fabrice Florin. Recorded at the Rheingold Room in Mill Valley, California, in February 2014. Music by Erik Satie and others.

Maker Faire 2015: bringing together art, tech and education

Maker Faire 2015 gathered many hobbyists, artists and innovators from the growing “maker movement”.

The Maker Media tent showed visitors how to create their own projects. Photos by Fabrice Florin, CC-BY-SA-3.0.]

Maker Faire 2015 gathered many hobbyists, artists and innovators on May 16-17 at the San Mateo Fairgrounds in California. Empowered by new technologies such as 3D printing, Arduino and Raspberry Pi micro-computers, these creative enthusiasts have triggered a cultural revolution that is transforming the way we work, play, learn — and express ourselves. This growing “maker movement” just celebrated its 10th anniversary and keeps getting more interesting every year.

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

I visited the Faire with Jean Bolte, a.k.a. Dr. Figurine, one of our art collaborators at Pataphysical Studios. Along with a dozen of other doctors, we are building the Pataphysical Slot Machine — a community-created poetic oracle, that’s powered by Arduino. We were there to check out the scene, on behalf of our other art friends who couldn’t come this year.

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

As soon as we walked in, we were greeted with fire art from Burning Man, which always gets me inspired. Makers and burners have a lot in common, and it’s nice to see these two cultures overlap in this annual gathering. In our own work, we also try to blend art and technology, to grow an ‘art maker movement’ that draws on these diverse cultures.

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

The most appealing art experiences for us were in the dark Fiesta Hall, where a wide range of light sculptures and interactive exhibits caught our eye, wherever we turned (see photos). We loved the illuminated tree of changes …

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

… the flying dragon and the synchronized pods …

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

… the giant giraffe …

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

… the glowing cubes …

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

… and the touch-sensitive mandalas.

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

I loved seeing so many children getting their hands dirty and making things together in workshops throughout the show. I think this maker movement has a huge educational potential, because it encourages young people to learn with their hands, through trial and error, to solve problems in ways that can’t be taught with books and lectures. The maker mindset invites this kind of “experimental play”, and as Maker Media founder Dale Dougherty points out: “out of that process emerge new ideas, which may lead to real-world applications or new business ventures. Making is a source of innovation.”

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

Robots were everywhere, in all shapes and sizes. They seemed both easier to build and more sophisticated than previous years. It’s worth noting that many of the hundreds of robots I saw were made from 3D printed parts.

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

Which brings us to 3D printers. That technology has matured well — and is becoming mainstream. This year, there were more 3D printers at the Faire than ever before — and some of them were a lot more affordable for regular folks like us. Dremel now sells a reliable ‘idea printer’ for under $1,000, which is getting within our reach (see photos). With a 3D printer, I think I could make the parts we need for our Pataphysical Slot Machine a lot faster, with a better fit and higher quality.

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

We had a great chat with Maker Media Lab director Marty Marfin and his crew (see group photo): we are discussing a possible installation of the Slot Machine in their new location at the Palace of Fine Arts. They greeted us warmly and gave us great tips for what software and hardware to use for 3D printing. Rhinoceros is their recommended software for creating the 3D models, and we got a nice demo of how it works.

Marty is a former sculptor and model builder and is interested in working together to create robots that look and behave more like sophisticated puppets — taking this tech-centric medium up a notch on the artistic scale. This is very much in line with what we are proposing to do with Théâtre Méchanique, so stay tuned …

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

We also joined a talk with Arduino founder Massimo Banzi, who gave us a good update on how this open micro-processor platform keeps growing, enabling millions around the world to create new and interesting things. I bought my first Arduino at the 2010 Maker Faire, then had a chance to chat with Massimo in 2013 — and I can honestly say that Arduino has changed my life, giving me the ability to express myself through interactive art in ways I never thought possible.

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

It’s a real pleasure to see so many hobbyists, artists and innovators join this ‘maker culture’, which is changing the way we learn and express ourselves . Over time, I’d like to help grow an ‘art maker movement’ to merge the sensibilities of artists and technologists, making our collective creations more meaningful to more people — and maybe even touching their souls.

Maker Faire 2015 Photo by Fabrice Florin, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

For more photos of this and previous events, check out my Maker Faire album.

And if you have any stories or links to share about Maker Faire or your own experience as a maker, feel free to share them here. That’s how we learn from each other. 🙂

Onward …

Théatre Mécanique

Theatre Mécanique is a proposed interactive storytelling system for recreating a wide range of stories with animated puppets.

Theatre Mécanique is a proposed interactive storytelling system featuring animated puppets and computer-controlled multimedia.

I propose to create a Théatre Mécanique — a project which I would like to work on in coming years, in collaboration with others. (For a visual overview, check out these slides.)

The idea is to build an interactive storytelling system that would let you experience and remix some of the great myths and legends shared by all cultures around the world. It would enable small groups of people to collaboratively reenact some of these universal stories, connect them with their daily lives — and better understand each other as a result.

This theater cart would enable small groups of people to experience some of the universal myths we all share.

This theater cart would enable small groups of people to experience universal myths, and select plot elements.

This mini theater would be mobile, like a hot dog stand, so it could be located anywhere, from birthday parties to street fairs or even on the Playa. It would feature animated puppets, which could either be controlled manually by live performers, or automatically by small computers like Arduino: the puppets could slide in and out of the stage, face one another and/or move their heads and limbs, as shown in the prototype we’re now developing for a balinese cuckoo clock.

Animated puppets would act out short stories selected by participants, set against colorful images on a rear-projected screen.

Animated puppets would act out short stories against colorful images, rear-projected on a background screen.

This mixed media system would include a good sound system for amplifying background music, sound effects and character voices, either live or pre-recorded. A rear-projection screen would set the mood by displaying a wide range of images for each scene, from landscapes from around the world to historical or futuristic scenes. An interactive controller at the front of the stage would let visitors and performers select different types of stories, characters, images and sounds.

Participants would be invited to approach the theater and pick a topic, place or time on the controller. The puppets would then act out a short 1-3 minute scene based on your selection. At the end of each scene, they would ask you for more plot ideas, to guide what happens next. The performance would be recorded on video, which could be emailed to you afterwards, as shown in this first example.

This is an ambitious project, but it appeals to me deeply, because it has the potential to support a wide range of applications: from simple party entertainment to more creative uses, like a time machine simulation — or even scenario planning for group discussions.

In coming months, I would like to explore this idea with friends and collaborators, starting with simple low-tech theatrical experiments and eventually building small prototypes for key parts of the system. I am quite aware this is a large, multi-year project, so I am proposing to start small, and spread research and development over time, with actual fabrication starting a year later. This process is inspired by our collaborative work on the Pataphysical Slot Machine, which we aim to exhibit in public this year.

For this Theatre Mécanique, I hope we can find the right balance between existing storytelling traditions and new interactive technologies — so that the human qualities that make great performances possible are supported by these tools, rather than supplanted by them. Interestingly, this also ties in with the larger challenge we all face as a species, as we look for the right interplay between human and machine intelligence. To that end, I hope that we can tap diverse communities of artists and engineers to participate in this creative experiment.

Fortunately for us, there is a large community of puppeteers already practicing around the world, from Guignol to ‘toy theaters’ to Wayang — and these creative artists have already paved the way for this art form to evolve in a computer-assisted setting! I look forward to discussing these ideas with interested collaborators later this year. For now, I have included below a variety of links that might inspire us in planning this project.

Onward!

Communications at Wikimedia

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I am happy to announce that I have joined the Wikimedia Foundation’s Communications team as Movement Communications Manager.

I have really enjoyed my work as product manager at Wikimedia in the last three years, leading the development of new tools like Notifications, Thanks, Beta Features, Media Viewer and other multimedia products. I am grateful for this opportunity to improve so many different parts of the Wikipedia user experience.

One of the lessons I learned during that time is that ‘better communications’ are really important to make the Wikimedia movement more effective. I also think that growing a ‘culture of kindness‘ is key if we want to engage a broader community of contributors. I hope to support both of these goals in my new role. 

I am now working with the WMF communications team on the Wikimedia blog and movement communications. My focus for the blog includes improving contributor workflow for community members and foundation staff, and providing editorial guidance for contributors. I also act as the main contact point for authors submitting new blog posts, and shepherd the publication process. Within movement communications, I work to improve the availability, distribution, and timeliness of communications from the foundation to the broader community.

I’d like to thank all my colleagues on the multimedia and product teams — as well as our many community champions — for being such wonderful collaborators over the past few years. I am proud of what we accomplished together, and I hope that the features we created can help many more people share knowledge productively in years to come. 

I’m delighted to take on this new assignment, and I look forward to many more productive collaborations in the coming year.

Onward!

A Culture of Kindness

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Many community members think that ‘being nice to each other’ can help improve Wikipedia.

Can we improve Wikipedia by being nicer to each other?

This was the topic of my talk at Wikimania 2014, which you can watch in the video below. In this short post, I would like to share some ideas from community members for growing a “culture of kindness” on Wikipedia.

Over the past few years, I have asked hundreds of Wikipedians the same question: ‘How can we improve Wikipedia?’. I invite them to write down their idea on a notepad, and then I take their photo, which I then share with other community members, as shown here.

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales invites community members to 'be kind to each other' at Wikimania 2014 in London.

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales invites Wikipedians to ‘be kind to each other’.

Here are some of the most frequent responses I have collected: “Be nice,” “Help the newbies,” “Be friendly.” Participants often observe that participating on Wikipedia can be a frustrating experience for new and experienced users alike, because many of our members lack civility. That hostile behavior turns away many good people, who might otherwise contribute to our cause — and this seems to harm the free knowledge movement.

‘A Culture of Kindness’ Slides

With that in mind, here are some of the ideas I have collected for building more trust in our communities:

  • help newbies
  • train editors
  • reward kindness
  • build more social tools
  • use friendlier channels
  • give everyone a voice

Help newbies

Be more encouraging to new users. Improve the way we welcome new contributors. Let them know they can help. Show them easy, fun things to do. This can be done through community programs like the Teahouse, as well as through personalized tasks and to-do lists.

Train editors

Invite current editors to be more effective in their interactions with other users, through online training events and mentoring programs. This is easier said than done, as many editors don’t feel like they need to be trained or don’t have the time for this. But everyone can benefit from a bit of coaching when it comes to empathy. And special rewards could be offered to editors who take this practice seriously.

Reward kindness

Identify people who treat others nicely, show them appreciation, celebrate their acts of kindness, honor them as role models, encourage them to show others how to do the same. Kindness can be contagious!

Build more social tools

Simple features can help encourage kindness in subtle but powerful ways, like the popular Thanks notification feature that my team developed for Wikipedia. Other software tools could help invite more civil interactions, such as a better discussion system, real user profiles, or user avatars.

Another way to build more trust is to invite anonymous users to use a persistent identity, with some form of authentication that is more reliable than IP addresses. This idea is still controversial in our movement, but worth considering if we seriously want to improve current community relations.

Use friendlier channels

Communicate over more user-friendly channels: from face-to-face meetings to video conferences — or other ways to humanize how we interact with each other — to complement text-only channels that don’t convey emotions or body language very well. Our video roundtables are a good example of how civil conversations can be encouraged on multimedia channels.

Give everyone a voice

Make it easier for diverse user groups to contribute to our movement. For example, our nearly 500 million readers can help with simple feedback on how to improve Wikipedia content, as our largest user group. Women should also be empowered to participate more actively on our sites: to this day, a vast majority of Wikipedia editors are still men, and more kindness could help close that gender gap. And the same goes with many ethnic minorities and other disenfranchised groups. Giving all these users a voice can help make them feel part of our movement, and eventually engage them as future contributors.

Watch the video

To hear more about these ideas, you can watch this video of my half-hour presentation at Wikimania 2014, which provides more insights collected from community members:

Fabrice Florin presents ideas for improving how we interact with each other on Wikipedia, speaking at Wikimania in London on August 10, 2014.

This video is also available in other formats on Vimeo and YouTube. Key points of that presentation are featured in these slides.

I take these issues seriously, as they can slow down our collective work and prevent us from growing as a movement. The hostile behavior many users have experienced on our sites harms us all; I hope that over time, we can all make Wikipedia a safer place, so that more people can feel comfortable sharing knowledge in our projects. To that end, I am now studying the impact of kindness in collaborative environments — and I would be grateful for any recommendations you might have, as well as links to research studies, tools or best practices on that topic.

Some of the ideas above are easier to implement than others, some of them are more controversial. But I believe most of them could make a difference towards encouraging a kinder, more civil behavior within our movement.

Onward!

This personal blog post was re-published here on the Wikimedia blog on December 24, 2014. Fabrice’s talk on ‘A Culture of Kindness’ was first presented at Wikimania Social Machines Weekend, held by video conference on May 24, 2014. It was then shared with a larger group at Wikimania 2014 in London, on August 10, 2014. See also: Wikimania audience comments and video conference chat log.

Weiwei on Alcatraz

I was really inspired by Ai Weiwei’s new art installation on Alcatraz Island.

It’s a wonderful tribute to freedom and human rights, evoking global issues that impact us all, creatively blending fear and hope in the face of oppression.

Here are my photos from our expedition with art friends from Pataphysical Studios (see the full album for more pix).

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‘With Wind’ features a giant dragon made of kites created by Chinese artisans, with quotes from dissidents.

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‘Trace’ displays pixillated portraits of 176 prisoners of conscience from around the world, created with over 1 million Lego blocks.

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‘Refraction’ is a large metal wing made of solar cookers, evoking the freedom of flight enjoyed by birds on Alcatraz Island.

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‘Stay Tuned’ fills prison cells with the words and music of many poets and activists imprisoned for their views.

Well known for blending art and activism, Weiwei was himself imprisoned by Chinese authorities in 2011 and his travel is still restricted to his native China.

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I highly recommend a trip to Alcatraz to see this exhibit. It’s a short boat ride from San Francisco’s Pier 33 and the round trip lasts about 3 hours. And the unique setting on Alcatraz contrasts the prison’s dark history with amazing views of the Bay and birds in flight.

Learn more about the exhibit and tickets here. For more info on how and why Weiwei created @large, watch this video or this one.

Thanks, Weiwei, for inspiring us to speak up for freedom and human rights!