Apr 18, 2013

I Actually Think Girls Might Not Have a STEM Allergy

So, I just read a piece by teachers Jonathan Olsen and Sarah Gross titled, To Attract More Girls to STEM, Bring More Storytelling to Science. It features a lot of rather good arguments for interdisciplinary studies, but I just have to weigh in a little because it’s steeped in the blithe assumption that women just aren’t interested in STEM, so we need to be pulled in with other things that aren’t STEM – such as science-related literature, art, and history.

It’s not their fault. It’s a common assumption – and many people in this dark world of ours secretly wish it were true. The mind-boggling thing is that they started from research that should have told them the opposite.

The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, tracked about 1500 college-bound students over a decade and found that more women had the highest scores on both the math and the verbal portion of the SAT test than their male counterparts. These women were more likely to pursue non-STEM careers after graduation even though they excelled in those fields in school.

Olsen and Gross think this indicates “many girls’ antipathy toward all things STEM.” I wonder how they imagine those girls got their high SAT scores.

These are women who took in everything they could of all the disciplines, and at the end had to choose which to pursue for life. If you’re an ambitious person – the kind who loves to challenge herself, the kind who wants to do great things, the kind who has so far managed to excel in every subject she’s studied – the biggest question that informs your post-graduation plans is going to be, “Where can I achieve the most?”

It’s the right question to ask, even if we feel a little uneasy with it. It’s noble and right to try to be an excellent steward of your own talents, even if it means setting aside other things that you may love.

The best and brightest students are going to ask this question as early and as often as they can. For whatever reason, it looks like, by graduation time, these young women don’t believe they can accomplish the most in STEM. I don’t know why they believe this; you’d have to ask them, but I can tell you that offering a less rigorous curriculum to accommodate them will not help. Girls are smart. We know when we’re being coddled, and we know that once it’s done to us, it sticks. We know how the need to prove ourselves can siphon off our time and energy. We know there are people out there who want to see us fail out of pure spite, and that if we want to get ahead, we need to avoid them.

I feel a little bit of kinship there. I joined the DIY community because I wanted to learn new tools and use them to build new things. I love turning ideas to practical uses and, when the mood strikes me, I do this with a sewing machine. I was mostly self taught, but I used sewing to learn how things are built.  If they wouldn’t teach me to use a miter box or a voltmeter, people would gladly teach me to use a needle and thread – so, I went to town.

From sewing I taught myself carpentry – not just that I learned to do one after the other, but that one *informed* the other. Once you start reverse-engineering people’s handbags, you’ve hit a sort of tipping point. Things start to fit together.  From carpentry, papercraft, and from papercraft, panel design and laser cutting.

So, nobody in the DIY world is wrong when they assume I know how to sew – even if their only reason for thinking it is that I’m a woman.  They’re wrong when they assume I’m ONLY interested in sewing – that I can’t hold an intelligent conversation about biology or 3D printing or audio processing or SQL. To me, that seems impossible – how could I only know one thing? Everything informs everything else; every discipline is connected. I can’t argue that interdisciplinary teaching is bad – it’s brilliant. It’s natural. It’s already happening in the brains of students all the time.

When people assume that you only know one thing, they try to speak that language, even if it’s a poor language for what they’re trying to say.  They’re working backwards, reaching down to make a primitive connection because they can’t understand just how very tall you are.  This is why I’ve grown to despise the Lilypad Arduino.

I don’t hate the actual product – it’s really quite cool.  The Lilypad is a microcontroller designed for soft circuitry – electronics that are worked into textiles. You can sew it into a project and use it to program systems of sensors, lights, and other components. Adding the sewing aspect to it makes things a bit more involved than they would be tinkering with a regular Arduino board, but you can do some pretty neat stuff with it if you put in the time. The reason I’ve come to dread the name is that I’ve had loads of people suggest I buy one – just because I’m a woman and in the room. Somehow this has turned into the microcontroller starter kit for women, just because in theory, it bridges the gap between something we already know and something we want to learn.

I have no doubt I’ll eventually make some soft circuitry project, but I have very little interest at the moment. When you’ve learned something into the ground, doing it needlessly is a suffocatingly boring proposition, so I’m not too keen on sewing a bunch of stuff to learn electronics. I’ll probably do some robotics, since I know how to build things on the laser cutter so I won’t have any problems building the mechanical parts – plus, I’ll get some new and useful skills. Then, I’ll take what I’ve learned in robotics and prototype my piece’s functions on a regular Arduino and a breadboard, then move it to the Lilypad.

That’s my interdisciplinary roadmap. Notice how it plunges right into the heart of STEM to start with, then comes back out to do the actual interdisciplinary work.  I don’t need to add electronics to my sewing to ease myself in to electronics; I’d learn electronics so I can add them to my sewing.

I can imagine that working the other way, but  it involves me letting others take the lead on design and learning very little.  That’s not why I’m here – to play games, to tinker with special tools and learn special lessons, to constantly explain myself or to “make a statement” with my presence; I’m here to learn, and to get things done. I think those young women are here for the same thing.

Nov 27, 2012

Summon: Laser Patron

There’s one more reward to feature – and it’s a whale. We call it the Laser Patron.

What is Laser Patronage? It’s your name on my laser cutter, but it’s more than that. It’s a laser cutting service at laser owner prices – without having to install, maintain, store, and learn to operate a laser.

As Laser Patron, you’ll be able to send me design files, art, or concept specs, and the finished laser cut items will magically appear in your mailbox. Yes, there are services that will do this for you – but while the Laser Patron is a large reward at $6,400, it’s also a highly economical way to get these services.

For example, one popular online laser cutting service said it will charge $8-9 simply to laser the doily, the main part of a Laser Lace cameo – an extremely intricate part. By contrast, the Laser Patron can laser 25 of a comparable part with one hour of his or her 100 hour laser reserve, at a cost of $2-3 a part. Materials are provided.

The laser our Patron will be sponsoring can cut through fabrics, plastic, leather, wood, and many other materials (softer than metal, ceramic or glass.) It can etch any art on the surface of the material, and cut it into any shape, and can also etch anodized metal, stone, and blast the silver off the back of a glass mirror.

There’s more technical stuff on this page. If you’ve ever wanted to have a laser at your disposal and can afford the $5,000 price tag, I’d love to be working on “The (your name here) Laser Cutter for the Arts.”

The Personal Cameo Sitting – Prepare to be Transformed

The $500 reward in our Kickstarter campaign, the personal cameo sitting, is an amazing reward, and I’m really surprised that no one has yet taken me up on it.  The reason for this is that I haven’t really talked about it very much, and as we go into 25 hours left of funding, I want to correct that.

The first and most banal thing you will be getting in the personal cameo sitting is a custom cameo – fully custom. It will be as unique to you as the 7 cameos in Laser Lace Letters are to each of those characters. In these cameos, the patrons are transformed into creatures of myth and power, their existence distilled into a moment of deeper meaning.

The personal cameo sitting is more than just a custom cameo. It’s a chance to become the star of a Laser Lace Letters story. Your Laser Lace story will trace the origins of that meaning.  For, just as each of these stories answers the question, ”where did these disappeared people go?”, they also tell us just how they came to appear on their cameos as unicorns, rabbits, foxes, and robots.

You and I will be working together, to produce a brand new story, and to offer that new story to your fellow patrons if you so choose.  It’s also the rare chance to bring my entire unusual set of skills – and the new laser cutter I will have command of – at your disposal.  Unlike the other stories in Laser Lace, yours will run the gamut of my storytelling and propmaking capabilities.  Does your character collect ancient Egyptian artifacts? You can expect to find one in your story. Perhaps she carries a pocket watch that was given to her by a relative now long gone. That pocket watch will be coming to you in the mail.

Every one of these stories comes down to a moment of truth, where a secret is revealed – your character’s true self. What will it say? More importantly, what will it be?

Nov 25, 2012

The Laser Princess Ascendant

We are close.  Laser Lace Letters may well happen.  In the next 68 hours, we’ll know for sure.

I’ve talked so much about this project.  I’ve talked about the rewards, the philosophy, my inspirations and creative vision, but now I want to talk about the future – because that’s what Laser Lace is.  It isn’t just one (magnificent, daring, improbable, beautiful) project.  It’s a turning point in my creative journey.

Some of you have known me for a long time, long enough to see the beginnings of my journey as a CNC-enabled creator.  The past three years have been a love affair with laser cutting, as I learned almost everything there is to know about running the Dallas Makerspace’s machine and used it to make all sorts of arty and technically ambitious stuff.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say working with the laser is my favorite thing in the world.  Sometimes, when I’m stressed or worried, I’ll drive out to the Space and just design something on the laser.  I hear those stepper motors singing, and I feel like all is right with the world.

But about a year ago, something happened that made me think about what this love affair with the laser means – I got a BIG order for laser cut items for an ARG.  I was lucky – the order had to be fulfilled during this very time of year, just after Thanksgiving.  No one else was around at the hackerspace, so no one else needed the laser.  I worked with it for eight hours a day, for two whole days, without any interruptions.  But that experience made me realize that I was about to hit a wall.  As the space grew, laser time would become more scarce.  Today, the space is almost twice the size it was then, and gone are the days when I could prototype uninterrupted, let alone produce a large order of items.

Laser Lace Letters is going to open a door for me, one that can’t be closed.  I will end up with a robust writing credit, sure, and be ready to take Laser Lace to stores and events – and that will be very cool.  But more importantly, I will own a machine that, in the hands of a skilled designer, can do almost anything – and it will always be with me, no matter where I go from here.  This isn’t just one dream project –  it’s all of them.

I want to make more laser cut felt mosaics like the one I made for Desert Bus.  I want to start a line of jewelry that shows little girls that technology isn’t just for boys.  I want to make Research & Development(s), my tangible storytelling masterpiece, as good as it can possibly be.

You guys – my backers – are doing something incredible.  I’m not going to forget this soon, or ever.  And thanks to you, the world will soon witness the firepower of this FULLY ARMED and OPERATIONAL laser princess!  Anything – anything – will be possible, if we can just do this.

So, let’s.

 

May 20, 2012

A Robot Made This! – a product prototype for Maya

UPDATE: Maya wore her necklace to school!  According to her mom, the other girls in her class were excited to hear about the jewelry-making robot.  She looks like a rock star.

I’ve been making stuff for a long time, and trying to master the art of telling stories with them.  This is the first time I’ve taken up the task of telling THIS story – the story of how technology can serve women just as readily as men.  It’s a vitally important story to tell, and a complicated story to convey to an adult.  To see that it’s stuck with Maya and her friends, at least for now, is so incredibly satisfying.

If you work in a creative field and have any kind of entrepreneurial streak, you know how tantalizing a new idea can be when you’re working on a big project – and how easily it can turn into a huge distraction. Two weeks ago, I had a good idea, but because I’ll never get anything done if I drop my other work for it, I’ve decided to go ahead and cut it off at the prototype phase and post it here.

The idea all started with Maya, the daughter of my good friend Andrea.

She’s in kindergarten, and is as clever and adventurous a child as you’ve ever seen. She loves dancing and princesses and rainbows and anything that is pink.

Maya has also always, always loved cars and robots, right along with those butterflies and flowers and hearts. But recently she’s been saying that she doesn’t like these things anymore.

“I don’t like cars,” she told me, “because I want people to like me.”

This breaks my heart. And I imagine it breaks your heart, too. Five years old, and she’s already figured out just exactly how this thing works.

Funnily enough, I use laser cutting to do some really girly stuff. I make jewelry, handbags, and beautiful spindly art pieces right alongside project boxes and monitor stands. I mean, they don’t call me the laser princess for nothing.

I was left wondering how I could show Maya that technology isn’t separate from the beauty of art or the flair of fashion – the stuff that girlishness is made of. And then I remembered I’d made this the week before.

It’s just a little pendant made from a design that never got used in the Alias ARG; but it was made with the help of a robot. A laser robot. Maya had to have one of these. Here’s the letter I sent her.

Hello Maya!
My name is Haley and I’m from Texas. I heard that some of the girls at your school think that cars and robots are for boys. I really hope they don’t think that, because cars and robots are awesome!

Cars are fast and beautiful and fun to ride in, and robots are smart and cool can do all kinds of things. Did you know robots can do girl stuff too? Me and one of the robots at my hackerspace got together and made this necklace for you.

(In case you didn’t know, a hackerspace is basically a clubhouse for girls and boys who like to play with robots. We have robots that fly and robots that run around like little spiders and robots that can sculpt like artists!)

I made your necklace with the robot that fires lasers. I gave it instructions, and the robot used really strong lasers to cut it out and make all the swirly patterns on it. It’s sparkly and pretty and totally made by a robot armed with lasers.

I make lots of cute jewelry with this robot, and people love it. So the next time someone tells you robots are for boys, just tell them a robot made THIS.

Love and cute convertibles,
Haley Moore

When I went to cut out Maya’s pendant, the laser was down for some minor repairs, so I had some time to sit around and toy with the idea of packaging the necklace too. I wanted to say in the package everything that I’d put in the letter, so that at a glance you’d know:

  1. Robots make things that girls want, for girls.
  2. A robot made this particular thing.
  3. This is something to remember whenever you feel like technology isn’t girly enough.

I came up with a package design with a robot reaching over the top of a regular jewelry card, with its manipulators around the attachment points for the necklace, as if the robot had just finished making it and was now handing it to the girl. It includes mechanical design elements, holographic paper, pink, swirly text and lace.

The robot is vaguely feminine but not super feminine – it’s just a machine, not a Fembot or Rosie from the Jetsons.  The declaration “A Robot Made This!” is written in a mix of typefaces that convey femininity and ties to technology.  The holographic paper tells you the product has a science element, and the lace tooling tells you that this isn’t just something for boys that’s been colored pink.

At this point, I wanted to jump down the rabbit hole and make an entire line of CNC produced pieces of jewelry for girls – design store displays, write all sorts of educational copy, start looking for retail targets – but I have to keep my focus. For the moment, this is just a nice thing I did for one kid, and hopefully it was helpful.

This necklace, along with three other designs, is for sale in my Etsy store. If you’d like yours to come on a card like the one I sent Maya, send me a note and I’ll package it that way for free.

 

May 15, 2012

New Laser Pendants

Four new designs coming soon to a laser cutter near you me. To follow up this one, which I did last week and sold out of before I could get it up on Etsy.

Restocking and putting out new ones this week.

BONUS:

A little canary on a lighthouse. It’s filibustering, vigilantly.
This one will need some hardware, but I think it would make a good little necklace.

Apr 24, 2012

Crowdfunding: Sweet Swag vs Crap

So, I’m working on a “little” tangible narrative project to fund on Kickstarter – little in that, it’s half couture accesssory line launch, half collection of short stories. A lot of thought has gone into planning the rewards for it, so I thought I’d share some of those thoughts, and walk you through some of my logic.

My campaign is a mixed bag of mass produced stuff, handmade stuff, and services. In my spreadsheet, each reward has an efficiency score.

Unit Price x (1 – (Sales Tax % + Kickstarter % + Amazon %)) – (Material Cost + Shipping Cost)

Unit Price

Efficiency =

This is basically like a profit margin that leaves out certain costs. The score shows how much of the revenue actually goes toward paying the project’s fixed costs, and (maybe! even!) making a profit.

Mass-Produced Stuff

(Average Efficiency: 61%)

This includes t-shirts, posters, hats, stickers, magnets, copies of a book – basically anything you take out of a box from a supplier and put into a box going to your backer. The upside to these is that they’re easy; but they also come with their own pitfalls.

There’s nothing wrong with mass-produced stuff, but it’s worth it to think through how that stuff is going to relate to the project as a whole. Copies of your book are highly relevant; t-shirts featuring the logotype for your horror movie aren’t, even if it’s a very pretty logo. Which I’m sure it is.

In my experience, things with logos printed on them are for giving away at events, not for making money. I’ve taken breaks from planning my rewards several times; when I come back to them, anything that doesn’t “fit” with the project jumps out at me right away and I can nix it.

Batch size is also a critical consideration, and you should budget things differently depending on how many of them you need to buy. It’s not wise to count the cost of anything you’ll be buying in the hundreds or thousands as costing you “$1 per unit” if it costs $100 whether you sell one or 100. The best way to stay safe on your budget is to pick a likely number of orders and roll the cost of covering them into your fixed costs.

Finally, anything mass produced has a market value. No matter how awesome it is, a t-shirt is basically worth somewhere between $10 and $30 to a consumer, which means that charging $100 or $1,000 for it won’t seem fair. In the end, that means you are only creating a small amount of the value on that item, which means you’ll only get a small amount of the money.

Handmade Stuff

(Average Efficiency: 73%)

This is the central model of my project; people pay me money to buy supplies, turn those supplies into finished goods, and mail those to them. Handmade items require a lot of your time, but they also net you more money because you’re creating the bulk of their value.

I highly recommend counting time as part of your unit cost when you go to determine your reward prices. Put a reasonable dollar amount on your time, and estimate how much of it you’re using to make your rewards.

This is important to do because all the time you spend on reward fulfillment is time you could be spending on larger project goals. It’s easy to discount the time commitment when you think about making one or two reward items, only to find yourself overwhelmed when you have to make hundreds.

I keep my labor and materials costs separate, and assume that all or most of the labor costs until I fund are going into paying off the project’s fixed costs. The other advantage to assigning a budget for time spent, is that if your project overfunds, you have the budget to hire skilled collaborators. For money. That’s very helpful if your kickstarter ends up being a runaway success, as it should be.

Remember, signing posters and writing thank you cards takes time, too.

I find it’s easier to keep handmade things relevant because of the time commitment; I want my time spent to overlap with the main goal of the project as much as possible.

Also, unless you plan to close up shop and never offer these products again after the Kickstarter, you should also plan to stock yourself for retail or online out of your Kickstarter funds. Raise the money to make more product than you’ll sell in the campaign.

Services

(Average Efficiency: 74%)

These are the things that usually live below the fold on any Kickstarter page; they’re usually reserved for backers who pledge a lot of cash. In fact, I could overfund my campaign just by selling one of each of my services! Wait, is that right? *Doublechecks the spreadsheet.* Wowza!

I may differ from others on my philosophy for high end rewards; I’m looking to sell high end work, rather than get a large grant from a generous donor. I want my high end offerings to sell, and sell well. Someone out there would actually be giving my the listed amount, so I want to offer something that’s worth that much to them.

Determining their value is kind of a fuzzy proposition, but generally the following things increase the value of a service: luxury, personal attention, exclusivity, collaboration, credit, and relevance to the project.

The classic example of a good upper level reward is inserting your backer as a character in your book/movie/game/comic. That’s exclusive, requires personal attention, gives credit in a spectacular fashion, and is deeply relevant.

You may notice that their efficiency is only marginally higher than handmade items. I tweaked my services a lot to keep them close to the median efficiency, even though that has meant offering more stuff. If the efficiency is much higher, it means I’m offering too little and won’t likely attract a buyer; and if it’s much lower, it means I’m spending too much time or cutting too deeply into my funds.

Of course, this doesn’t just apply to services on the high end of the reward spectrum.  Make sure all of your services have concrete limits and deliverables. The more specific the service is, the better you can set a price for it.

Crunching Some Numbers

So, to figure out all of this, I built a set of spreadsheets. I won’t go into ALL of the details, because it’s pretty detailed. Here are the sheets I built:

Costs – The costs of all common materials, including labor, printing, time on CNC machines, paper, boxes, bubble mailers, etc. It calculates the total for each. This sheet takes also tallies the fixed costs for the project.

Each item in the sheet has a package price, and units per package. The average number of backers for a project of my size is about 250, so for anything that comes in boxes of more than 250, the costs sheet calculates the unit cost as the package price divided by 250, to keep costs from getting “hidden” in large package sizes.

Services – On this sheet, I enter the time it takes to perform each service offered, and it calculates the total cost.

Parts – I enter the materials used and labor time needed to make each part, and it calculates the material and labor costs for each.

Packaging – Each type of packaging has fields for the cost of its base unit (such as a box), parts that need to be printed and cut, shipping, and assembly time. It calculates the materials and labor total for each. This includes both retail packaging and shipping methods.

Kit Builder – In this sheet, I mark off which parts, services and packaging I need for each reward, and assign it a price. It calculates a whole host of different things about each reward, including profit margins, net pay, and how many I’d need to sell to fund the project with just that reward.

This sheet also averages the calculations for all of the “active” rewards, so I can see the average profit margin and average amount needed to pay for the fixed costs.

Campaign Modeler – This works much like the Kit Builder; you can set numbers of sales for each reward and see how you’d do in different scenarios. For each scenario, it tells whether I’ve funded, and whether I’ve met my net goal and overfunding goals.

This may be more complicated than you want to get into, but I’ve found it extremely helpful in eliminating areas of doubt in my funding plan.

So, that’s essentially how I’ve gone about developing this.  Of course, everyone’s projects are going to reflect their needs, strategy and philosophy.  And after all, I’m describing a project that hasn’t even launched yet.  I’d love to hear your advice for me, too!

UPDATE: I felt this needed an addendum, so I wrote one.

Oct 26, 2011

Assembly Step 3: ??? Step 4: Profit, for Charity

Ladies and Gentlemen, my Majora’s Mask laptop bag….is complete.

And damn if it isn’t beautiful.  Let’s talk features.

The front is a hand-assembled fabric mosaic, made from around 200 pieces of laser cut felt and fleece, hand edged and stitched together.  I cut all the pieces on the laser at the Dallas Makerspace.  Then I assembled them into smaller mosaics, which fit together like puzzle.

The bag itself is made from cotton, felt, fleece, and heavyweight interfacing, and features the following awesome pockets:

  • 1 14″ zippered laptop compartment
  • 1 tablet pocket
  • 1 smartphone pocket
  • 1 pen pocket

The front flap snaps down with a pair of magnetic clasps.

So, do you want this bag?  Damn skippy you do.

The Desert Bus for Hope live stream starts on November 18, and as part of that live stream, this bag will be auctioned live! Check out Desertbus.org and follow @DesertBus on Twitter for up to the minute updates.

I know they also have a bunch of other colossally beautiful items for auction, including some amazeballs Cooking Mama aprons by my good friend Julisana, and they’ll be taking requests and giving out prizes, entertaining celebrity guests, and doing more Disney singalongs than any of them will care to admit come December.

In addition, your donations will condemn a team of poor gamers to an ever-lengthening hell marathon of the worst video game ever made. And all the proceeds go to buy toys and games for very sick kids. It’s sadism for a good cause!

Photos by the lovely and talented Nicole Greeley.  The dude is our hackerspace president Andrew.  The peeping girl, is me.

Oct 3, 2011

Assembly Step 1: Mini Mosaics

The first step in putting the felt mosaic together is to glue the smaller pieces to a series of larger base parts.  I’ll be able to do the stitching on each part by hand this way, much more easily.

The eyeballs, eye enclosures, and spikes are sub-mosaics, because I’ll be adding stuffing to raise them a little from the plane of the design.  Once I’m done, I’ll employ the same glue and stitch technique to arrange the base parts on the bag.

Did I mention this is going to be a bag?

It will be a messenger bag, padded with fleece, with an interior pocket for a 14″ laptop, a second pocket for a tablet/netbook/wacom, and pockets for mice, pens, etc.  I’ve designed it in Inkscape, using the original Majora vector I created as a guide.

Sep 15, 2011

Majora’s Mask Felt Mosaic, Almost Done!

I’m in the final stages of laser cutting all these felt bits for my contribution to the Desert Bus for Hope Craftalong, a handmade auction benefiting Child’s Play that will be happening over several mad days in November.  This is what all the parts look like, arranged on my kitchen counter while I shoo the cats away.

Everything fits together, but I think I’m going to re-cut some pieces to remove little parts hanging off the edge of the design, before I start hand-stitching all of these bits down. Also, I forgot to cut a piece. Do you see where it would go?