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I’m currently driving from Chicago to New York with my cardboard-and-velvet Circuit Castle for World Maker Faire New York. I’ve lovingly nicknamed it Castle-in-a-Car–there’s barely any room left for my suitcase! My CRV is loaded up with moving boxes ordered from U-Line and U-Haul, vinyl castle wall backdrops from an online party supply, and a variety of junk from my basement including two commercial-grade garment racks (minus the clothes), some red velvet curtains that never looked right in my bedroom, a wood chest with rope handles rescued from a stream on my folks’ property, zippered cube-shaped cushions that I will turn into chairs after I find packing peanuts New York (no room in the car), and a sequin-covered sweater so thoroughly shiny it appears to be covered in LEDs–and maybe it will be by Saturday.

I paced out the 10 x 10 perimeter of my booth in my basement and built the castle, then photographed the four walls and flattened everything down for the car trip. Each box, vinyl door, window, staircase and sconce is numbered and ready to spring back to life at the New York Hall of Science. I’m not selling anything at the Faire–just creating an experience for kids that involves making circuits. I want to see what emerges and what kids can learn in the high-energy environment of a Maker Faire. I’m also prototyping this concept as a program for libraries, a slightly quieter setting. If it plays at the Maker Faire…

The first thing you’ll see if you visit my booth is an automated doll house which is an exact replica of the full-size castle. Pushing the doorbell lights a fire in the fireplace (home automation at its finest) and causes a ghost to appear on the curtain. Moving your hand in front of the distance sensor causes the red eyes in a skull and crossbones to glow at different intensities, while shining a flashlight on the scene trips a photo sensor and, well, you’ll just have to try it and see what happens.

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A doll house home automation project can be used to teach the same technology concepts as a robotics program, and I suggested this project to the members of Workshop 88 in Chicago in order to see if we could interest girls in learning to code and wire things together. My theory is that most girls would find learning to code far more interesting if they are learning to turn a light on and off inside a doll house instead of on a breadboard. A doll house also lends itself to digital fabrication such as 3D printing of doll house furniture or using a Shape-Oko to mill a facade.

I’m dreaming of an “open source doll house” community where people can exchange files, whether for 3D printing of doll house furniture or programming sequence of events. In the meantime, I’ve never written a single line of code for the Arduino–just an occasional cut and paste. And most of my soldering and wiring is confined to jewelry. So I want to give a shout out to Jim Williams and Bill Paulson at WORKSHOP 88, who get the full credit for actually implementing the idea, from building the doll house to wiring together a “doll house network” that allows any sensor to talk to any output, and programming a set of rules into the Arduino. I’m learning about circuit diagrams and software coding bit by bit, and in the meantime I contributed some tiny velvet curtains and a ghost!

I named my project “Duct Tape Bling” in honor of the pre-teen and teen girls who are making everything from roses to purses out of duct tape. There is a crazy quilt made of a dozen different patterns of duct tape rolled up in my car, waiting to be unfurled and hung from a garment rack, I mean a castle wall.

No matter your age or gender or prior experience with duct tape, I hope you’ll stop by castle-in-a-booth and make a circuit and a little led bling to the quilt. Or if you prefer, why not snap your pic holding a sparkly sword made from silver duct tape wrapped around a foam pool noodle, and topped off with a strand of LEDs. Once you learn how to build a simple circuit, anything is possible!

You’ll also see “artifacts” on display made by kids age 4-12, such as a Blinky Backpack with programmable LED patterns, a dragon messenger bag with a single red glowing dragon’s eye, and a light-up shoe box farm. All of them have circuits made with conductive thread or conductive tape–and most feature a generous dose of duct tape with monsters, fireworks, and other patterns.

So if you’re interested in the concept of an open-source doll house, or LED bling, or cardboard castles, or any other strategies for getting out of the rockets and robots rut, let’s get the conversation started!


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