Thursday, December 29, 2016

Pop Up Thinglab 22: Heart and Design

Heart and craft with a 3D print pen
Pop Up Thinglab 22 was a drop-in open learning 3D printing craft and design workshop at Northolt Library. We had a pair of Flashforge Finder 3D printers and an XYZPrinting daVinci 3D print pen to promote the scope of art, craft and making things in an age of the mass consumption of things.

In an era of increasing automation we are developing the value of people by promoting human centric making rather than machine centred production. At the heart of what we are doing is the exploration of an artisanal economy of scope rather than a machine economy of scale.

With 3D printers and a 3D printing pen we had two different but related technologies for making - both melting "plastic" to make things but with the 3D print pen using manual craft and the 3D printer using digital design. 

Mainstream education has become all about the head rather than the heart - to such an extent that many hear Thinklab instead of Thinglab ... I have to explain that it's called Thinglab because its not just heads on but hands on and that its about doing things as well as thinking.

Digital technologies and methods play an important role in the contemporary maker spaces and many focus on digital making - "digilab" being a a popular name for this type of maker space. While digital is a major factor in what we do we didn't want to be limited ... we wanted to be able to do anything ... painting, origami, knitting, needlework, cooking ... :)

Having the 3D print pen and the 3D printer together in Thinglab 22 demonstrated why we chose the name Thinglab. Thinglab is about experimenting with any thing - analogue and digital - art, craft and design. Thinglab is about our hearts and our heads.

Using a 3D print pen is a craft ... its a lot like like icing

Both 3D printing and 3D crafting with the 3D pen need patience. Watching a 3D printer make something is like watching paint dry but the making is automated so you can get on with other things while the printer does the making. Using a 3D printing pen also needs patience but I notice how people get absorbed in what they are doing - they are engaged in the making and show real satisfaction with what they have made "I made that". Thus reminds me of a chapter in a book by Stephen King (Cujo I think) where a relative is showing off the new juke box he has just bought - "did you make it" the other relative asks ... he just can't get what the big deal is when you simply go out and buy something.

The 3D printing pen is a good way to explain how 3D printing works and a good way to explore the differences between manual\analogue craft and digital design and manufacture. 

Using the 3D pen is just like writing with a pen - its a live performance that creates a unique physical artefact in real time  - errors and all. 

Talking about performance and patience we spoke about how using a 3D printing pen is a lot like using an icing gun or doing sculpture. I spoke about how Nissan commissioned the worlds biggest 3D printing pen sculpture of a full size Qashqai car to mark its 10th anniversary of production. This took 800 hours and 8.3 miles of filament to make using a 3Doodler 3D printing pen.

Watching people with the 3D pen reminds me how quickly people can learn and how natural learning is outside the managed learning environment of formal education. None of our thinglab experimenters had used a 3D pen before but after a few minutes trial and error they all got the hang of it, got ideas for what they wanted to make and started making - learning and doing at the same time.

Making things with multiple colours was natural for those using the 3D printing pen but its far from straightforward with a 3D printer. I think of 3D printing and their filaments as like 2D impact printers and their ink ribbons of the 1980s - you couldn't mix colours and it was too much effort to change colours. Many 3D printing professionals simply print in white and finish with acrylic paints. I am waiting for the next generation of 3D printers that will do for 3D printing what the laserjet and the inkjet did for 2D printing - speed things up and let us mix colours easily. 

Digital design and 3D Printing
Many people refer to 3D printing as "additive manufacture" or fabrication but I think 3D printing describes it wonderfully  ... using a 3D pen is like writing with a pen but 3D printing is just like using a word processor and a printer.

Using a 3D printer separates design and making - this widens the scope of possibilities and provides exciting opportunities. There is enough scope for people to specialise in the separate fields of 3D design and 3D making or do both. Digital designs can be shared, mixed, re-mixed and tinkered - the diverse, variation and selection and copy- transform-combine "sex life" of digital design provides an evolutionary engine of a maker movement. 

Thinglab 22 took place at Christmas so we 3D printed Xmas decorations from the Thingiverse shared 3D design gallery and tinkered some of them with Tinkercad to put people's initials on snowflakes and their names on stars and xmas trees.

Thinglab 22 craft and design
There was something for everyone at Thinglab 22 - art and craft for the heart with the 3D printing pen and digital design and printing for the head.

For more images of Pop Up Thinglab 22 visit: Thinglab 22 images (Flickr album)

For our Thingiverse collection of easy 3D printed Xmas decorations visit

To find out more about inspireNshare visit

To find out more about inspireNshare Thinglab visit

Monday, December 26, 2016

Pop Up Thinglab 21: Virtual Reality at Teach Meet Tech London 3

360 image from Thinglab 21

Pop Up Thinglab 21 was an inspireNshare virtual reality workshop at Teach Meet Tech London 3.  We focused on DIY virtual reality and conversations about the virtual reality ecosystem products, costs and comparisons.

Virtual reality may seem more like a consumer activity where you strap a viewer to your face and experience what others have produced but making virtual reality is not as specialised, complicated and expensive as many people might think. You can get into making virtual reality yourself with a very modest 360 camera such as the LG 360 CAM (around £150), Richoh Theta SC (around £250) Kodak SP360 (around £250) Kodak Pixpro SP360 4K (around £350), or the Samsung Gear 360  (around £350) - there is a useful little list of entry level 360 cameras here.

We used the Samsung VR ecosystem (S7 phone, Gear VR viewer and Gear 360 camera) to make and experience our own virtual reality. The Samsung VR ecosystem is useful in capturing and viewing VR quickly and privately off-net by recording with the camera, transferring with direct wifi to the phone and inserting the phone into the VR viewer to see what you just recorded in virtual reality.

Talking about making virtual reality 
Like most things making your own is a great way to appreciate and understand something and making virtual reality is a great way to appreciate and understand it. We used a VR camera to put ourselves in the picture by recording VR images and videos with ourselves and playing them back "in-situ" .... where the VR was made and with us in it!  The first thing to appreciate is the view of the camera - that it takes a full 360 degree image - a sphere where everything is in shot .... there is no hiding. Its probably due to years of exposure to 2D media but most adults have to adjust to the fact that the camera is working in 360 degrees and even then thinking "flat" ... arranging themselves around the camera like planets orbiting the sun in an ecliptic plane. I encouraged people to move out of the ecliptic plane and orbit the camera in 360 degrees posing above and below the camera like children who adjust quite quickly to the fact that the camera takes everything below, above and around it.

Immersive first person perspective is the unique experience virtual reality gives us and seeing yourself and your surroundings from the immersive first person perspective of someone, or something, else is always strange and fascinating. As we move from the familiar two dimensional passive voyeurism of flat media perspectives to the active immersive first person perspective of virtual reality the "VR selfie" feels as one VR tripper described it in Pop Up Thinglab 15  "like an out of body experience". 

Playing back your own virtual reality recordings gives the opportunity to re-immerse and "relive" a moment and to take time to look around and notice things you might have missed ... "I never noticed how nice the decorations on the ceiling were"  for example.

The immersive first person perspective of virtual reality gives the opportunity to experience the world from a different point of view and hopefully help people understand the world from different perspectives by "walking in someone else's shoes". We spoke about the potential of virtual reality in education and decision making to develop wider understanding of situations and empathy for others. I spoke about how the United Nations is using Virtual reality to raise awareness about vulnerable communities.

The immersive first person perspective of virtual reality gives the opportunity to experience things you would not be able to otherwise - with virtual reality you can take trips to exotic and far off locations - outer space, other planets, the deep sea, and high places for example. Some people prefer virtual reality soothing such as Dolphin encounter on the Great Barrier Reef but most people seem to want virtual reality thrill, adrenalin and adventure such as ski jumpingwingsuit flying, or climbing the north face of the Eiger. My current favourite VR app "Face Your Fears"  where a giant robot grabs you and climbs to the top of a skyscraper.

Can virtual reality be used to hep people overcome their fears and phobias
Talking about high places and fears ... one of our VR trippers had a real fear of heights and we got to talking about how virtual reality can be used to help treat fears and phobias. I spoke about Samsung's #BeFearless Fear of Heights - Cityscapes VR app that can help people approach and overcome their fear of height through controlled and graded simulated 360/VR exposure. Virtual reality could help people overcome their fears and phobias but this needs to be done with care -  “Real therapy, for phobia or other pathology, should be under guidance of a real psychologist .. a therapist would be able to monitor the client and adjust the experience [in order to give]  the best systematic desensitization effects for this particular client.”

We spoke about different types of VR system - from the PC powered high-end and more expensive systems like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive through the Playstation VR to the mobile VR systems like Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream and Google Cardboard. I spoke about how the better quality and better immersion with the high end PC systems provides a better experience but the "umbilical cord" connection to the PC that powers them can be a real problem - I told how I got tangled up in the Vive cord while painting in virtual reality with Tilt Brush for example. I spoke about how virtual reality is likely to disconnect from the PC in the future - either through wireless links or embedding more computing in the viewer itself either by using smartphones like Google and Samsung or with dedicated computing like Microsoft's Hololens.

We spoke about the Google Cardboard ecosystem - how this offers a low cost and even DIY access to virtual reality. If you have a phone with a Gyro which is running Android 4.1 or above or iOS 8.0 or above then you can make a cardboard VR viewer from as little as 78p, make one from a kit in a few minutes from as little as £2.35 or buy a ready made viewer under £15. We spoke about virtual reality content for children and families and had a go at some Cardboard VR content such as Invasion (which is always popular with children) and the Evolution of Verse.

inspireNshare have backed Zapbox for collaborative mixed reality in 2017
We spoke about how virtual reality is likely to develop in 2017 with augmented\blended\mixed reality systems that project the computer generated images of virtual reality into your field of view to mix with the people and things you see around you. Microsoft's Hololens is the premier mixed reality system available at the moment - its an excellent "all-in-one" system but very expensive at around £3,000! One of InspireNshare's missions is to explore and develop the accessible and cost effective technology of citizen tech and so for mixed reality projects in 2017 we have backed Zappar's Zapbox on kickstarter. The $30 ZapBox has the chance to do for mixed reality what Google Cardboard did for VR Zappar have achieved their $60k stretch goal and are going to release "easy 3D model visualisation" with the promise that we will be able to "drag and drop 3D models into a web interface for instant viewing in mixed reality with Zapbox complete with animation support". What's also really exciting is that Zapbox have reached their $70k stretch goal will add app support and backend servers to support multi-user collaborative mixed reality experiences. Zappar say they will use ZapBrush as a test case for collaborative mixed reality so we can "paint with friends in a shared world; whether you’re in the same physical space or located on opposite sides of the planet! It's like Google Docs but for Mixed Reality painting."

For more images of Pop Up Thinglab 21 visit: Thinglab 21 images (Flickr album)

To find out more about inspireNshare visit

To find out more about inspireNshare Thinglab visit

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Teach Meet Tech London 3: Networking People And Technology

360 image from the Teach Meet Tech afternoon unconference

The aim of Teach Meet Tech is to embrace and pioneer a contemporary, complex, networked, interdependent and adaptive view of the world and of education and technology.

Teach Meet Tech seeks to pop the standard filter bubbles of education by networking as many of the different parts of education as possible - bringing together people from schools, community education, adult education, sixth form colleges, further education, higher education, non profits, enterprise - mixing students, teachers, IT people, education managers, the public and business people together in one informal and fun event.

Teach Meet Tech 3 was an inspireNshare education and technology  fusion event in association with CCS Libraries, and the LMN  - all of which are involved in various ways with connecting people and connecting people with technology. InspireNshare promote people centric, cultural, creative and holistic approaches with education, technology, business and life. CCS Libraries are re-thinking and re-inventing local public libraries for the future - exploring their role within society, the content and technologies they provide access to and the activities that take place within them. The LMN will be familiar to most network managers in the education sector - they ran the London wide high-speed data backbone and connections which connected us to the Internet between 1997 and 2011. Today the LMN are networking people - providing training, professional development peer exchange programmes and promoting excellence in IT services for students and staff.

Teach Meet Tech 3 was held in Thornton Heath children's library - significant, symbolic and deliberate as public libraries are true life-long, life-wide community education spaces for everyone. A children's library is a space for learning enjoyment and Thornton Heath children's library is stimulating, colourful, playful and flexible - a perfect venue for Teach Meet Tech.

At Teach Meet Tech we talk about innovative education and pedagogy but had been using a pretty standard "stand and deliver" conference format of presentations. For Teach Meet Tech 3 it was time to start "practicing what we preached" - "stand and deliver" formats can have great value so we kept a loose conference format for the morning and experimented with an unconference type format for the afternoon with lots more HOHO (Hands On Heads On) with things and conversations between people.

Conference: Hector Minto presenting  “Are we accessible yet?  Who’s responsibility is it?” 

Teach Meet Tech 3 began with a welcome from Martin King talked about Scale Free Schools and the role of libraries in 21st century education as venues for open, life-long, life wide and family learning. Martin explained "fusion" concept of the event and talked about the importance of diversity, inclusion, networking, connection and working across boundaries 

Nigel Dias talked about Croydon Tech City using a short presentation and an excellent question answer and discussion session. Nigel spoke about Future Tech City (FTC) and projects that connect young people with technology opportunities and technology startups. Nigel gave an update on the latest FTC developments - traineeships and apprenticeships and the start of FTC connected library tech zones such as the new one in Croydon Children's library. 

Miles Metcalf gave us a Festive Surprise with a review of the year - zooming out in a wide ranging talk about big issues in technology and society from Brexit, Trump, elitist education, the perils and potentials of virtual reality, the power of technology companies, technology dependence, privacy, truth and the importance of learning in the 21st century.

Martin King presented "Human In The loop" - a talk about the problems of systems thinking ... about how convergent, analytic, prescriptive and deterministic system centric thinking leads to not just poor design for humans but design which discriminates and can even be dangerous. He talked about the advantages of design thinking ... about how divergent, synthetic and human centric thinking that can make life not just easier but also enjoyable and fun and how this obliquely leads to better systems which are more effective and efficient. Martin talked about the need to strike a balance in education between quantitative "SMART" skills (which can be more easily automated by machines) and qualitative soft skills such as creativity, imagination and empathy.

Hector Minto presented deep and wide about accessibility and assistive technology in “Are we accessible yet?  Who’s responsibility is it?”. Rather than make "reasonable adjustments" Hector argued for inclusive design sensitive to individual differences and local culture. Hector spoke about human diversity and about neurodiversity in particular ... we are all different - variation is not a problem but normal and natural and technology can help us mediate and accommodate rather than simply assimilate our differences. Hector spoke about Microsoft's mission with accessibility "to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more ... there are no limits to what people can achieve when technology reflects the diversity of everyone who uses it." Hector spoke about the potential of new technology interfaces such as voice input to Enable everyone and demonstrated the Microsoft language translator app"Like me" bias is a common problem for inclusive design so Hector demonstrated some recent and upcoming tools from Microsoft such as the Microsoft Accessibility checker that can help us check our designs and documents for accessibility.

Unconference: Hands On Heads On with tech and conversation
After the conference we took down the projector and screen, randomised the seats for a decentralised, unstructured and non-linear "unconference" of spontaneous simultaneous activities.

There is value in the standard lecture\presentation format but I have always noticed how social dynamics change with and without the central point of focus of a presenter with a projector and screen. It was a real joy to take down the projector and screen and watch peer to peer conversations emerge naturally. In a sense a projector can facilitate peer to peer discussion by being turned off. The buzz of conversation reminded me of playtime at school ... after the constraints in lessons children unleash their imagination and energy in the freedom of play. The Teach Meet Tech 3 unconference gave us freedom to play ... it was playtime :) 

Playing with Mixed reality
Hector Minto brought a Microsoft Hololens with him and we played mixed reality.  Hololens augments our reality by projecting virtual things into our field of view - we see the people and things around us but also see what the system shows us. Its generally only our heads that go into virtual reality ... what I liked about Hololens is that our hands are also mapped in - we can see our real fingers in the real world and at the same time "touch" things in the virtual world. The common gesture I saw with people using Google Glass augmented reality was the "salut" ... the swiping the side of the glasses to scroll menus and tap options. The common gesture I saw everyone doing with Hololens was "the finger" ... pressing virtual buttons in the mixed reality before your eyes. Another thing I liked about Hololens is that there is no "umbilical cord" to a PC and no need to use your phone for the screen and the computation ... Hololens is standalone .. its got a computer inside it ... this makes Hololens expensive but it is a real joy to use a self contained system and be able move around freely without getting tangled up in wires. Another thing about Mixed or blended reality systems is that because you can see your surrounding and they are mapped into the system ... there is tremendous potential for social use for systems like Hololens ... if you can afford more than one of them that is :)

Playing with virtual reality
Martin King brought Samsung's Gear VR and Gear 360 camera and we played taking virtual reality selfies and seeing ourselves our surroundings and people around us in virtual reality. People are familiar with seeing ourselves in two dimensions on flat media such as photos and videos but seeing themselves in virtual reality is something new. The VR selfie is the strangest selfie yet and In-situ virtual reality is strangely compelling and messes with people's senses as they move from the familiar two dimensional passive voyeurism of flat media perspectives to the active immersive first person perspective of virtual reality.  The best lie is close to the truth - In-situ VR is close to reality and gets the closest I've seen yet to confusing people that what they are seeing is real - people seem spell-bound looking around, many start reaching out to touch things and many can't resist moving around.

Playing with 3D printing
Carlos Izsak brought his Makercart and Printrbot 3D printer and we played with 3D printing. What fascinated me about the Printrbot is how small and portable it is and how it solves the mechanics of 3D printing. I'm used to 3D printers with the print head moving covering both the X and Y co-ordinates so it was fascinating to see the Printrbot having the print head cover the X axis (forward and backward) and the print bed move to cover the Y axis (left and right) as well as the Z axis (moving down for each layer in the 3rd dimension). Carlos 3D printed little bookmark samples for us .. a very relevant demonstration in a library.


For more photos of Teach Meet Tech London 3 visit

For more information about Teach Meet Tech visit

For more information about InspireNshare visit