Name: Miriam Langer
Home: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Makerspace: Cultural Technology Development Lab (CTDL)
Day Job: Professor of Media Arts & Technology, New Mexico Highlands University
Electronics : Art : Interactive Museum Installations
How’d you get started making? Things got serious when I got my first Arduino in 2008. Right away, I knew it would change the way my media arts students could work with electronics, develop exhibits, and build responsive installations. We started buying boards & components until there were dangerously tall towers of red Sparkfun boxes everywhere! Then, the students wanted to take their skills to the community, and we began our NM Makerstate Initiative, partnering with the NM State Library. We send our AmeriCorps Cultural Technology interns to rural libraries across New Mexico to conduct maker days with local communities, and train librarians in new skills. Also, I’m an ITP grad, so even though my first physical computing class involved the frustrating BX 24, Dan O’Sullivan & Tom Igoe were so encouraging, I wanted to keep that momentum going back home in New Mexico.
What type of maker would you classify yourself as? I’m a do-it-with-and-for-others maker! My favorite part of what I do is working with my CTDL lab colleagues: Rianne, Miles, and Stan. Without them, none of our projects, especially the Museduino, would ever have happened. We make things for museums, libraries, national parks, and artists. I love it when a specialist — a costume conservator, a paleontologist, an historian says “I have this idea, but I don’t know if it’s even possible…”, and then we say yes, and build it for them. We’ve also been visiting artists at other colleges, sharing our maker ethos with students from all disciplines. I also will come up with an idea, such as — I want to walk through a room of paper butterflies that respond to my presence — then we prototype and find a museum or visitor center that will let us install it.
What’s your favorite thing you’ve made? My favorite thing I’ve made is…more makers! Of physical things, my favorite will always be the pneumatic tubes, made with Chris Weisbart & Michael Wilson for the Santa Fe Children’s Museum. They were made from scavenged parts and unusual sourcing — Chris found that the best clear tubing came from dry cereal factories, and the whole thing looks like a Dr. Suess installation. It works, it was inexpensive to make, and kids love it.
My other favorite thing is the Museduino, an Arduino shield & satellite system for making robust exhibits & installations, because every day it makes our work easier!
What’s something you’d like to make next? My new lab! We spent seven years getting this beautiful historic ruin from 1905 renovated. There were around 2,000 pigeons living in it. We’re moving in this week, and my new lab is completely clean and empty. Right now my favorite tool is the box cutter! My amazing lab tech, Dre, said that if I let it get as messy as the old lab, she’s going to lock me out, and I believe her. Once moved in, we’re starting on some large-scale, responsive dinosaur footprint projections for the Natural History Museum in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Any advice for people reading this? Learn to love prototyping and develop good troubleshooting habits! Also, if you aren’t the type of person who’s going to keep your resistors sorted by value, find someone who is, and be really nice to them. Finally: buy a good multimeter and use it all the time.
Who else should we profile? Have you profiled my cousin, Ilya Pratt? She runs the maker program at Park Day School in Oakland. She’s fantastic (we sequester ourselves at family holidays and talk about all our projects and what we’re willing to pay for laser cutters). Also, Jason Alderman (@justsomeguy) knocks me out with his posters & sketch-noting awesomeness, along with his tech skills. He’s always messaging me “did you see this new open source microcontroller/mini-computer…there’s already a wait list!” Thus keeping me informed and causing me FOMO all at once.
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