Sunday, November 28, 2021

Sewing with Conductive Thread inTucson

 As the Christmas holiday approaches while our bus is parked in Tucson,  I found myself inspired to create an Arizona inspired e-textile project that can function as this year's Christmas hat. 

I started with a straw hat that I had purchased to walk around the desert with; the  decorative holes were begging for sewable LED's.   

I have aspired to learn how to use color changing Adafruit neopixels that  I've been carrying around for a few years.

I broke off 7 of them and considered where I might want to sew them on my hat. 

I also experimented with where I might want to place a micro-bit and battery pack
 so it would be comfortable and secure inside the hat.  The microbit would be used to control the lights using code.

Out came the alligator clips so I could attach the neopixels to the  the microbit 
and play with controlling them with block code (via MakeCode).  This was actually the first time I have used neopixels in a project.  I always felt intrigued but  intimidated by them.  
Thanks to the  Adafruit Uberguide to Neopixels, I started to understand them better.

I felt comfortable sewing conductive thread to the Ground and Power pads in extexile
but adding a third conductive trace through the DATA IN and the DATA OUT pads was new to me. 
It still baffles me how so much data can pass through a single piece of conductive thread through a series of neo-pixel lights. 

After some frustrating and unpredictable results when I experimented with
wiring the circuit, the code and neopixels. 

Eventually I  felt like I understood the circuit paths and started to use conductive thread 
to sew 7 neo pixels onto a piece of black ribbon. 

Unfortunately the final results didn't light up.  
No matter how hard I looked I couldn't spot the problem. 
Eventually I started to cut apart the black ribbon, but on a hunch, I  tested the 
circuits after each cut.

My hunch paid off, and after sacrificing two neo-pixels, the 5 remaining neo-pixels lit. 
I reworked my design to one with the 5 working neo-pixel strip and moved on. 

The next challenge was thinking how I might attach the three strands of thread to the microbit without shorting out the circuit from loose conductive thread moving around under my hat. 

The plan I came up with was to use conductive thread to sew a piece of fabric onto the microbit -  then add snaps to the fabric that were connected to the microbit via conductive thread. 
This would make the microbit removable to be used in other projects if needed. 
It also kept things soft and flexible.
Of course I tested to snaps in my basket to make sure they were conductive before sewing them on. 

I hit another obstacle when I came to attach the threads from the black ribbon to the snaps.

I could not see anyway to create a short circuit.  I came to the conclusion that I would need to insulate the threads to prevent a short circuit. 

I finally decided to make cloth channels for each piece of thread.  This insulated  the thread while keeping everything soft and flexible.   It was not pretty, but it worked.  I also chose fabric scraps that created a way to color code the (now hidden) wire to match Ground (black fabric scrap), Power (red fabric scrap) and NEOPIXEL data (multi-colored fabric scrap)

I'm almost embarrassed to post this one picture, but I  reminded myself that this was really a proof of concept prototype level project, and it was okay to forgo beautiful for functionality and focusing on my aspiration to learning to code and control neopixels. 

I tacked the black ribbon with just a few stitches - and when I was convinced that that the circuit worked with no shorts, I applied a layer of nail polish to  any exposed thread as an insulating layer.  Crossing my fingers that this would prevent shorts from happening as I moved around wearing my hat.
I grabbed some good old white thread, a glue gun, and velcro and did a quick job securing  everything in place before heading over to play with code. 

Next I started to play with the MakeCode environment and soon had written some code to control the 5 Neo-pixel lights. 
I was ready to continue playing with code, but the two empty pins on the microbit called for something. 

  So I grabbed a black ribbon and some red and white holiday decorations and added a festive looking band to the hat.     I added two simple sewable LEDS  which I attached to PIN 0 on the microbit.   This would allow me demonstrate the code needed to control straightforward external LEDS as well as NeoPixel LED's

I made sure they worked by adding a couple simple code snippets that would turn the little LED sequins off and on with button A and B 

And voila a physical computing project that has me vested enough to experiment with 
Microbit code.  

But wait -- there is one more pin left open.
I can't let that go unused. 

Considering that I also aspire to gain more creative confidence with sensors --
I think that this seems like the perfect use for that open PIN. 

I've received some interesting suggestions from my online network. 
More experimenting ahead -- 

Monday, November 15, 2021

A month in Desert Hot Springs


We're on the road again (as a couple) - heading from Desert Hot Springs, CA to Tucson AZ,  I can't believe how this past month has flown by. 

Sam's Family Spa continues to attract both RV'ers and day visitors who appreciate soaking in the mineral water.  The four hot springs are each set at a slightly different temperature and drained each night.  The weather was usually between 80 and 90 degrees and the salt water pool became a great way to cool off. 

 I found that the water motivated me to do my physical therapy exercises.  I even ordered a set of water resistant earbuds to listen to a new audio book (The OverStory by Richard Powers) while doing 'silly walks' around the pool that closely resembled the PT exercises I was 'suppose to be doing" due to my meniscus issues. 

During the month at Sams Family Spa in Dessert Hot Springs Craig and I made new friends and reconnected with old friends we've met in our travels,

It's always a plus when you feel a connection with your neighbors in an RV park. We enjoyed watching Pat and John settle in next door and learned a lot about how they navigate their desire to travel

I  finally got a chance to try an electric bicycle -- something I've been wanting to do for over a year now.
My neighbor and new friend, Pat, guided me on a short excursion around our Desert Hot Springs neighborhood -- and I must say that any hesitancy I've had about getting one just went away.  The question is WHEN to ORDER one and WHERE to get it DELIVERED. 

.  I  hope that I will continue to have the sense of adventure Pat has -- although I doubt I will ever find myself on a  5 day adventure climbing Machu Picchu when I'm 70 -- way to go Pat. 

I also made friends with a delightful young lady from Vermont and her parents.  Our time together scratched the teacher itch in me and the constant desire to create, make, and learn.  We had several play dates playing with circuits.  It did not take long for her to grasp the concept of simple circuits while we made a ladybug headband with light up antennaes for her Halloween Costume.   After Halloween, we explored circuits and code using Makey Makey and Scratch on my computer.  Before I left I introduced her to Scratch Junior on her iPad so she could continue  to explore creating digital stories with code.   I practiced observing and  'leaning in'  to her voice and choice to guide our time together.  It reminded me of why I dislike required "scope and sequence" in our schools.   I understand its place -- but also feel that it is a
 barrier to some powerful student driven learning opportunities. 

The light up antennaes were so fun to make

We also met a delightful couple from Quebec who have been on the road longer than us.  We enjoyed listening to many adventures they've had and learning about the places they've explored.  I felt the French connection and enjoyed practicing my French a bit, while Craig loved the biker connection as they shared motorcycle stories.

The day before I left, I organized a quick Make and Take Activity with my new friends. We shared stories while creating and making that made me feel even more connected.  I started to think about how making friends on the road is different in that you are often seeking commonalities and quick to find similarities. 

I also think that there is less risk in opening up and being vulnerable. If you misjudge, there is a high probability that you don't meet again -  yet today's technology makes it possible to  maintain connections you want to keep.   

Speaking of connections,  one of the highlights of our time in Desert Hot Springs was dinner with our friend Sam - from Yucca Valley.  Sam and I met at Raspberry Pi Academy several years ago. I always enjoy a chance to connect with him. This time we got to meet his llamas, goats, sheep, dogs, and cats. I even got to walk one of the llamas.  As usual Sam and I got to exchange stories of learning through creating and making. 

We also go a surprise visit from our friend Keren and her PleasureWay Van for a few days. Keren was one of the last travelers we met on the road (pre-pandemic) back in Oceanside, CA.  It was good to catch up and visit downtown Palm Springs together. 

We were blessed with an overnight visit from my sister - Chantal and her partner Tom during their year long exploration of the West  while truck camping  --(with some AIR BNB locations in the mix)  They are packing a LOT more hikes in their year, than we have in over 7 years on the road. 

Towards the end of our stay in Desert Hot Springs, our friends, Robin and Jeremy and their dog, Dylan, met us for dinner -- It's so cool to still be connecting with great people who we met during our first year on the road in Cedar Key Florida.  The Cedar Key experience launched many amazing friendships and it's interesting to think about the different versions of "traveling" that have evolved within our group of friends from that Cedar Key experience.  Technology has made it possible for an unprecedented amount of freedom in where we work and where we call home.  Jeremy and Robin are testimony to that -both employed full time. 

Craig and I tried to get 'off site" every few days.  We found some good food, brews, and cocktails.

Our excursions included  a few trips into Palm Springs which always seemed to include a dose of art and retail therapy.   We enjoyed the public art  downtown as well as the amazing exhibits in the Palm Springs Art Museum (which is free on Thursday nights from 5. -  7).   That is also the night of the weekly  Palm Springs Street Fair - which we also took park in.   The lines at the food truck felt too long, so we discovered and enjoyed make your own pizza at Blazes pizza. 

Since I flew out to Palm Springs, carrying only a back pack,  I found it necessary to  explore the shops in Palm Springs and  Palm Desert to fill in gaps in my wardrobe.  Oh darn! 

I think these sunglasses were my favorite find!

I bought them when Craig took me for a night out on the town for my birthday where we had Thai food and attended and open air performance at Hunters named Airotics

We discovered a close rival to Ben and Jerry's and  have become fans of  Lapperts Ice-cream
 (delicious treats -- so many adventurous flavors) 

I also found a need to set up a space for creating and making on the road.  Our mobile maker space had been dismantled during the pandemic pause.  Time to rebuild it --- slowly.  After a few trips to Joann's Fabric and Craft,  Harbor Freight, Lowes, Home Depot, and Good Will -  I found myself playing with maker projects again.   Doing some remote coaching for a Project Invent Team back East gave me an excuse to dust off my Microbits.   

Halloween presents so many opportunities to CREATE and MAKE.
I got to play with my new Cricut Electronic Cutter,  Hack some season novelties, and add code with a Microbit to make my Halloween Pumpkin Greeter

(Check out our Halloween Greeter which mashed up some Toy Hacking and Microbits) 

Meanwhile Craig had his own maker projects keeping the bus running.  He replaced hot water heater, replaced the alternator, fixed the awnings, and declared war with some stowaway mice who kept chewing on his new battery management system. 

We didn't get out in nature as often as we expected.   There were times when Craig really missed the jeep. 


We didn't make it back to Joshua Tree National Park, but our visit to  Sam's in Yucca Valley was filled with Joshua Tree sightings. 

We only made it to 1000 Palms Nature Reserve once.  Hopefully next time we'll visit both of these again.


Overall I  feel like we jammed in quite a bit in our fist month of being back on the road again.