Inaugural Dorkbot DC + Make:DC Workshop

This post was published more than a few years ago (on 2008-01-15) and may contain inaccurate technical information, outmoded thoughts, or cringe takes. Proceed at your own risk.

I went downtown tonight for the first joint Dorkbot DC meeting, and the first ever MAKE:DC meeting. It was held at the Koshland Science Museum, which I’d never been to before, but it was pretty easy to find --- just around the block from the Gallery Place Metro stop. We were going to make a 3x3x3 animate-able LED cube with some LEDs, some resistors, a perfboard, and an Arduino Diecimila PLUS USB Board (fully assembled), as featured on a recent Make Podcast. A bunch of us had pre-ordered kits, and apparently the Maker Store gave us a deal on all the parts, so they sort of co-sponsored the workshop. Very cool.

I’m guessing the museum people either hadn’t been told, or hadn’t thought out the fact that we’d be soldering, and soldering often produces wisps of smoke, and wisps of smoke often set off fire alarms that we were seated directly under. Several minutes of idle conversation within the group ensued while the details were hashed out, and the decision was finally made to move some tables into a slightly less sensored area.

It seemed like things were getting started, but only half of us had any instruction sheets, and hardly anyone really knew where to set out, so more idle conversation ensued. All was not lost, though, as everyone was enthusiastic, aside from a couple of people who got there so late that “their” yet-unpaid-for kits had been sold to people who were actually there and wanting to participate. Not that I blame them for being slightly miffed, but on the other hand, if you get to the event half an hour late, you might expect that things might have begun without you.

Which they hadn’t yet, but still.

I had some lovely chat time with the folks at my table, among which were Liz, who has been spending some time knitting small octopuses to leave around for others to discover (and who may or may not agree at some point to knit me a giant squid hat), and Charles, who gave us an impromptu demo of one of the OLPC XO laptops (which I have to say is mighty impressive for a $200 “hundred-dollar” laptop). There was another gent in dreads (sorry, I lost his name on the way home --- I’m terrible with names, don’t take it personally) who shared the innards of his electric accordion, which was powered by an Arduino hooked up to several contact switches and infrared sensors, among other things. I would have liked to have seen that in action.

Eventually, the project leader made his way around the room, table-by-table, showing us a demo unit, and how exactly the LED layers for the cube were supposed to go together. I’m not quite sure why it was done this way instead of showing us all at once using the big plasma display and microphone that they busted out later, as then we might have had some direction and gotten started earlier than about an hour into the session.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m complaining— I enjoyed some really great conversation while we were waiting, but it seems like things could have been slightly better planned. Still, it was only the first Make:DC Workshop, so I’m sure the kinks will get smoothed out in short order. Really, thanks go out to everyone who helped put this together, I really enjoyed it, and I want to participate and help out with more of these in the future!

In any event, we all got started, and many of us made impromptu LED assembly jigs by poking holes in the cardboard box for our Arduino power supply. One gentleman and his SO across the table from me (lost their names too, though I recall her name was unusual and pretty, and he was friends with the other gent whose name I’ve forgotten) had a soldering iron that started smoking before it even had any solder on it— from somewhere around the middle of the iron where the handle was attached. He elected to unplug his iron before it became a lap-threatening fire hazard, and so I shared mine around, as well as a few other tools and solder.

I think we got a good half hour of work in before we were asked to wrap it up because we were going to get kicked out of the museum at 9pm sharp. So, we wrapped up, tidied up the tables and chairs and headed out. There was talk that we might continue assembly at the next meeting, but there didn’t seem to be consensus whether that was at the next Make:DC meeting in 2-4 weeks, or at the next joint meeting in three months. There didn’t seem to be any official word, but I expect we’ll hear something via the email list soon. [The Dorkbot site and email list now seem to be dead —Ed. 2015-08-19]

There was an After Dork meeting at a local pub, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it. However, I did make it home with a half-assembled LED cube and a fully-functioning Arduino board that I’ve been wanting to pick up anyway, to use with the Making Things Talk book that I got for Yule. Kickass hacking times ahead!