Make things 'til you make it at the Blowing Things Up Lab

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Recently while reading a tweet from the Blowing Things Up Lab, I learned about Emily Daub, a maker and college student who designed a running shirt that helps runners be more visible to motorists—my daughter is a runner so this sounds like a great idea to me.

The shirt is photosensitive which cause the light intensity of the fabric to change in ambient light. According to Emily Daub, "If you run at night, this is for you. This lights up as it gets darker outside on two independent photocells and no microcontroller!" In this interview, I ask Emily more about this fantastic invention.

Fun fact: Blowing Things Up (BTU) lab is located at the University of Colorado in Boulder, where Emily is a student of Alicia Gibb's, the executive director of the Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA), who I wrote about last year and contributed to our 2015 Open Source Yearbook.

How did you get your start with open hardware?

I got started in open source hardware about a year ago, but have been benefiting from the idea of open source for years. My advocacy for open source began with my involvement in the BTU lab, which is directed by executive director of OSHWA and the author of Building Open Source Hardware, Alicia Gibb. Open source creates a cycle of innovation: I find someone’s work, add my insight and share, and someone else can take it from there.

What drew you to the BTU lab at the University of Colorado?

I was a part of the Fashion Design Student Organization at CU, and got an email from the then president of the Makers Collective, Alex Klinger, asking if any of us wanted to collaborate on wearable tech pieces. I went in to work on taking my very simple circle skirt, and putting and accelerometer and 70 LEDs in the hem, and coding it so the LEDs would light up when the wearer spun. I was fascinated that I could come to this room, and someone could help me make light up skirts, and next to me, someone was designing a computer game. What drew me the the BTU lab and has kept me there is that you have many tools to make almost anything.

Have you had mentors? How important were they to your development?

Yes and no. The maker community where I am is often a "you're on your own" atmosphere, telling others to go Google a question they know the answer to rather than help others, which can be isolating. This leads me to all the mentors the Internet can provide, learning from elements of other people's projects. However, the guidance of Anne Woodman, a woman I worked under for years doing jewelry design, taught me how to be gritty in the design industry: make things till you make it. And Alicia Gibb has given me more insight into how the tech industry functions.

You are now the president of the Makers Collective at CU. How do you develop and maintain your community at the collective?

When I came to the Makers Collective I knew basically nothing, but thanks to the Internet and somewhat the community of the BTU lab, I have learned a lot. There are many barriers (perceived or actual) that often get in the way of people learning to work with their hands. Making is a very important skill, and my goal through the Makers Collective is to teach as many people what they want to learn. To maintain and develop the community of the collective, I involve the community as much as possible in the decision-making process. I do surveys at the beginning of every semester asking people to choose a few topics from about 30 topics that will then become our weekly workshop meetings.

The Makers Collective has an extensive Code of Conduct and anti-harassment policy. How has that affected you?

I can't say there haven't been issues. Like many places in the engineering world, women make up a very small portion, which causes an underlying tone of sexism. Due to my gender, age, and "girly projects," I often become "little-sistered" and not taken seriously, or conversely I can be seen as too authoritative. I have also been judged and had privileges revoked because I am dating a particular member of the lab. However, in a broader sense, the Code of Conduct and anti-harassment policy does help to establish respect in the community, but we still have a long way to go.

How do you license your work? How do you share your work? 

I license all my work under CC BY-NC-SA. This license states that anyone can share my work as they choose, and they can remix it, but you must give appropriate credit. This gives me a little protection but also allows people to use my ideas and create their own projects, too!

GitHub and Thingiverse have not been the best places for me to share my work, often I only have elements of my projects that are 3D printed or code, so it is easier to upload the files of each in other tutorials if those parts are needed. So instead I share my work on my website, which allows me to have a wider personal archive of my work, and Instructables, which is a great platform where a lot of people see my work.

I want to make my own Photosensitive Running Top that is displayed on your blog. How do I get the plans?

The step-by-step tutorial is on my website and my Instructables page. I make simple, clear, and concise guides of all my projects. I find projects often lack a lot of the explanation in the detail, so in my instructions I use as few tools and materials as possible to create clean guides to creating cool projects.

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Educator, entrepreneur, open source advocate, life long learner, Python teacher. M.A. in Educational Psychology, M.S. Ed. in Educational Leadership, Linux system administrator.

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