You don't have to be an expert to be a teacher

Just in time for my session at That Conference, benefit from my recent discovery: Pin 13 Considered Harmful.

I've heard folks tell me they're not ready to present at conferences, because they're not experts yet. I look at it the opposite way: I barely know electronics, yet I built a robot. I built a robot, and you can, too! Take inspiration by what I've achieved despite my lack of expertise.

You don't have to be an expert to inspire passion. You don't have to be an expert to teach. You just have to care.

And you can fix things with a follow-up blog post. Eheh.

Arduino-Powered Clank

I've often said, incorporating an Arduino microcontroller into your costume can open up all new kinds of fun. For Halloween, I dressed as Agatha Clay, Girl Genius (seemed fitting). I just created a better video of my little clank:

Photos of the construction.

Source code that drives it.

Finding Faith in a Fish Sandwich

I just met C. J., the Silver Fox. He "flies a sign" under the Burnet/183 bridge.

I was waiting for an inspection sticker at Sticker Stop, sitting outside because it was too nice to be confined in a gray box with other sullen mammals. He walked up, and my otherness detector pinged. Well, for one thing, he was at the Sticker Stop without a car.

I blew a bug off the page of my book. He mimicked the gesture. "There was a bug," I shrugged. "At least you didn't kill the damn bug," he replied, and I had to agree. He set an unlit cigarette and a large beverage can on the picnic table and went inside. I considered my options: Go inside for the safety of crowds, or sit pat.

When he returned, he sat on the table and asked if he could tell me a joke. I could use a little mirth these days, so I said yes. It was a good joke, and he told it well. I laughed. "It was a pretty good joke, right?" he asked. "No swear words or nothing." I told him it was, and then we were talking.

He holds a cardboard sign that says "Wife and dog kidnapped by ninjas. Saving up for karate lessons. I really want the dog back!" That one, he says, works better on women than on men. He told me, "If there are two girls in the front seat, they see that sign and laugh, I'm getting paid." His other sign says "You may live in a $200,000 house. I live under a $2M bridge. Need money for repairs—the roof leaks."

He asked me if I knew God, and some questions are easier to just say yes to. God looks out for him, he said. God provides. C. J. is an alcoholic (He just said it, so matter-of-factly.), yet God helps him cross that street so many times a day, and sees him safely through the night when he's too drunk to remember how he ended up there. Then he asked me if he could tell me something, and here I expected the hard sell. But no, he just told me his story.

Twelve years ago, his wife was killed by a drunk driver. "That's what landed me under that bridge." After that, he became really angry at God. Then, about five years ago, he had a transformative experience. A minister, after serving a dinner that fed 300 homeless people, brought a bag of food to C. J. and said, "This is for you. This is from God, for you." C. J. didn't want it, didn't want anything from God, he was angry with God.

Two hours elapsed before he grew hungry enough to look in the bag. It contained a fish sandwich, topped with a double serving of tartar sauce, plus an orange soda. It contained just what his childhood self would have called his favorite meal. How could that minister have known? He couldn't. This was God. C. J. told me, "This was God saying, 'I still care about you. Even though you're mad at me, I am not mad at you.'"

He said a friend chided him, "You found God in a Happy Meal?" We laughed together, me and C. J., and I thought maybe God could look out for me a little, too.

Then he stood up, picked up his can and the cigarette which he'd never lit, and shook my hand. I thanked him for talking with me, and he thanked me for being willing to listen, since most people aren't.

Hello, Arduino. Let's get started.

Hi, CodeMash! Here are resources to get you started with the Arduino microcontroller, a prototyping platform to build crafty electronics projects (electronicky craft projects?).

My clank

You need the Arduino IDE, the editor in which you'll write your sketches.

You need the microcontroller board. There are many form factors to choose from. I have an Arduino Uno, and that's a great default choice. You might want one with additional capabilities, such as Ethernet or the extra processing power of the Mega, or you might enjoy the LilyPad, designed for being incorporated into costumes and wearables.

Note that a "shield" is a thing that plugs into an Arduino, so it doesn't have any brains on its own. Feel free to pick up some shields, they're a hoot, but be aware that you still also need an Arduino board.

Sources to buy from: AdaFruit Industries, Sparkfun Electronics, Maker Shed, RadioShack.

The slides from my talk are on SlideShare, and the sketch for the robot is on GitHub (along with a number of other sketches).

Pictures of building the robot, the video game, my ambient clock, and the thing under your bed.

What are you going to make? Leave a comment here or send me a note on Twitter (@scichelli). I can't wait to hear about it!