Living With Technology: Sparkleballs combine old with new
Published 4:21 pm, Wednesday, November 2, 2016
I am fascinated with how old can become new again. Working with one’s hands used to be dismissed, but is popular again. Handwritten thank you notes have gone out of style, but are now fashionable again - and indicate far more care than an email, text or tweet.
So when I was at an event recently, I saw something that caught my attention.
I attend Saugatuck Congregational Church. For years, we have had a women’s group called the Crafters. All year, they work to make Christmas ornaments that they sell at an event during the holidays.
For years, the Crafters have made a ball out of clear Solo drinking cups that have clear or colored Christmas lights on the interior. It can be hung from the ceiling and is described by my pre-teen son as “magnificent.”
What he’s done is instead of having traditional Christmas lights, he’s taken strips of three-color LED lights that go inside the ball.
Combine the strips of LEDs with an Arduino computer, some software and a battery pack and the sparkleballs become programmable and portable, meaning they don’t have to plug into a 110 volt household plug.
And, rather than sticking with the full ball, Rob made a half-sphere so it can be worn as a hat!
The Saugatuck Church Middle School Youth Group was looking for a Halloween project, so we took Rob’s design and modified it to include the ability to change the programming on the sparkleballs by pushing a button on the case that held the Arduino computer.
Mike Ogrinz, a technology friend of mine, guided me through the process of programming Arduino computers and getting the software and LEDs to work correctly.
Last Friday night, the youth group, under the direction of Dana Johnson, created nine sparkleballs. Some of the youth made hats, some made necklaces, some made piles of glowing, blinking cups. But they all made something that they could use for Halloween.
The best part is that all of the youth had remembered the projects that the Crafters had made and now they were making it their own.
By combining something that they had seen for years with something that they could make their own and had a cool factor (blinking LEDs), each of the youth had fun making something that they could show their friends … and learn a little along the way.
As a parent, I enjoy finding project that not only I can do with my children and other youth, but is interesting to me. Updating traditional projects with aspects that are interesting and relevant to today is a great way to combine different age groups as well as have a lot of fun.
Mark Mathias is a 35+ year information technology executive, a resident of Westport, Connecticut. His columns can be read on the Internet at http://blog.mathias.org. He can be contacted at email@example.com.