Category “making”

Alt Computing Club Date Change

Just a note that we’ve changed the date for the next Alt Computing Club to March 14th at 6pm. Same speakers still anticipated, same venue!

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

“So you want me to teach STEAM?”

Awesome blog post by Sarah Margalus (who also happens to be my wife).

I have two proposals for the courageous teacher that took on this massive job. These are meant to support your efforts and empower you.

1. Start with what you’ve got (or can get for free).
2. Teach skills, not just concepts or the making process.

I, for one, see this problem fairly often. Use what you have, don’t go out and buy a fancy machine. And, teach how to do something.

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Announcing Southland Maker Fest

Registration for tickets and booth space is now open for Southland Maker Fest! Check it out.

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

How To Get Started With Making

I often have people ask me how to get started with making or makerspace things. While this can often depend on the individual, their interests, and how they can leverage those interests as an insertion point into making things, there are some general kits, projects, and books out there that I’d recommend to anyone (ages ~12 and up) giving their first try at soldering, microcontrollers, digital fabrication, etc. Here’s a list of some things I usually recommend:


  • Conway’s Game of Life is a zero-player game that was invented in 1970 as a mathematical way of simulating cellular growth and destruction. There are plenty of websites out there where you can run a simulation, but Adafruit also makes these really cool, dead-simple kits that allow you to solder together your own small segment of a Game of Life board. I like these as first soldering activities because they aren’t too abundant in parts, so require less time and have a lesser chance of things going wrong. At the same time, they incorporate several different kinds of components, so you gain a wider exposure to simple electronics in this small package.
  • The Meggy Jr RGB Soldering Kit by Evil Mad Scientist is a great product for folks looking to get into soldering and interested in dipping their toes into the custom game platform space. Once built, this kit gives you a fully-programmable handheld game platform with a d-pad, A/B buttons, and an 8×8 LED matrix. This is a little more complex than the Conway’s Game of Life platform, but should only take 4-ish hours to complete.


  • The official Arduino kit is a great way to get started with microcontrollers, breadboarding, and circuitry. It comes with a book of 15 projects, from beginner to advanced, that introduce you to the use of everything from LEDs to LCD screens to motors, and everything in between.
  • MakeCode with Circuit Playground Express is a fun way for folks of all ages to get started with electronics. Circuit Playground Express is a very inexpensive, easy to use electronics platform with all sorts of sensors embedded, LEDs, and other things in it and a lot of possibilities.
  • Makey Makey is a fun tool that runs off the same chip as the Arduino Leonardo, which means it gives you the ability to simulate keyboard and mouse inputs on any computer. This device is an extremely low-barrier-to-entry tinkering platform for all ages. The folks who made it even put together this fun video that shows you some of its possibilities.

3D Printing

  • Thingiverse and YouMagine are both great websites for people wondering what’s possible with 3D printers. Both sites allow you to download pre-designed files that you can then print. But don’t stop there! I’d highly recommend learning by taking those designs and modifying them, gradually becoming more comfortable with the design tools until you’re making your own things.
  • There are several interesting collaborative 3D printing art projects (Project EGG is a cool one, Jeff Solin’s students’ Chicago flag is another that also incorporates laser cutting and CNC routing) that have come and gone. If you can’t find enough people to make something like this with you, another route you could go is joining We the Builders to collaborate on a massive 3D printing project.

CNC Routing

  • I have one strong recommendation for folks getting into CNC routing: check out open source furniture. Opendesk is a great website where you can (for free) download designs that you can then cut out on a larger format CNC router, put together, and stick in your living room. Some of these designs are really slick, too.

Laser Cutting

  • One really fun project to do with laser cutters is designing your own book cover complete with a living hinge. These are great gift ideas for friends and family with a favorite book, and is a really clever use of the precise nature of laser cutters.
  • For those more artistically inclined, and looking to take on a more complex project, laser cutting your own 2.5D topographic wood map is a fun craft project where you’ll find yourself designing, laser cutting, gluing, and painting a full relief map of… wherever. Instructables has a great walkthrough on how to do this..


  • Some of my favorite maker projects mix the new with the old. Case in point: vinyl cutting out a design, then silk-screening it onto textiles. Bonus points if you first sew your own object (I usually prefer a simple bag) before putting the design on it. That’s really making something from soup to nuts.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

It’s Cold Out There! Parent Edition with the Chibitronics Chibi Lights Kit

In Chicago, it’s nearly -50F with wind chill today and no sign of letting up. That means we have the next few days inside with kids who have a lot of time on their hands. So, we decided to break out the Chibitronics Chibi Lights kit and have our 4 and 6 year olds tinker with them.

My impressions: They absolutely love these things! Paper circuits can be so difficult to get working, but Chibitronics’ sticker LEDs and clever use of simple office clips and trace-on paper make it incredibly easy to put one together.

In addition, the book that comes with the Chibi Lights kit incorporates a clever element of art (something that Jie Qi, one of its creators, is well known for), and encourages kids to build circuits that are creative and incorporate drawing and other elements. So many STEM activities are focused on the end product (building a working thing) instead of the process, and the entirety of the individual engaged in the process. I really appreciate how the kit addresses this.

10/10. Highly recommend.

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Makerspace / Maker Resources

I often get asked: What are some resources where I can learn about makerspaces in higher education, in my K-12 institution, or just in general? So! Here’s a short list of things I’ve collected, written about, and read over the years that I’ve found particularly influential:

  • How Tinkering and “Problem Making” Are Shaking Up Higher Education – I wrote this article for Make a few years back, but think it still holds up as a good reference for the educational/curricular side of making in higher ed.
  • Chicago Makers – I originally built this resource solely to give people in Chicago a stronger idea of how to get involved in making in our fair city, but it has since also grown into a compendium of books and resources that I find useful in the maker community. Of particular note, and influence for me, is Tim Ingold’s Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture.
  • Stanford’s put out a book called Make Space, which is a really good crash course/index on different things you can build to facilitate creative collaboration in spaces like makerspaces.
  • I went to the very first International Symposium on Academic Makerspaces a few years back, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Since then, I’ve kept an eye on the whitepapers that come out of the conference, and have collected them all into Google Drive. You can find them here.
  • MakerEd put out a “how to build a makerspace” playbook several years ago that’s still a pretty good reference. The only caveat I would put in there is that every makerspace is different, and you should primarily listen to your community when it comes to what kind of things you should buy to support them.
  • I cannot stress enough how influential Object Oriented Ontology and Speculative Realism has been on my philosophy about making. Particularly, the ideas around objects, their qualities, perception, and the nature of things (including people). Some good literature in that regard: Graham Harman’s Object Oriented Ontology and Speculative Realism, Ian Bogost’s Play Anything and Alien Phenomenology, Ingold’s Making (referenced earlier), Ian Hodder’s Entangled, and the (surprisingly good) fictional book Ventus.

You can also, of course, always reach out to me for a quick chat or to come speak about these things. To do that, contact me here.

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Chindogu – Creating Useless Objects

I caught wind of this from a great 99 PI episode that you can find here. Chindogu is the art of creating things that are not entirely unuseless. From the website:

Chindogu are man-made objects that have broken free from the
chains of usefulness.

They represent freedom of thought and action:

The freedom to challenge the suffocating historical dominance of conservative

The freedom to be (almost) useless.

Highly encourage design interested folks to check this out.

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

5 Best Posts on the Blog for 2018

Brief thoughts on these posts:

  1. The makerspace budget worksheet, by far, has brought in a lot of traffic to the website. Looking forward, I plan on developing a more interactive model that helps people make purchasing options that fit their needs.
  2. My writing on alternative platforms, badges, and the philosophy behind the design of these things, collectively, form the most popular content on this website. This tells me a lot about the kind of writing that works best for my style, as well as audience interests.
  3. Productivity posts, how-to posts, etc. perform well when I write them, but I don’t particularly enjoy doing them. Still, it might be useful to share how I develop and curate systems that help me disseminate information, share knowledge, and organize my thoughts.

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

6 Fun STEAM Gift Ideas for Kids and Families

Over at This Should Work*, we put a short list together of fun STEAM toys and books you can pick up for the holidays, or any time. Check it out!

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Chicago game developers and hackers! Come on out to our second meeting at the DePaul University Idea Realization Lab. We’ll have a few short presentations from local developers on the platforms and controllers they’ve developed, followed by an open show-and-tell and gathering for people to talk about current, past, and future projects.

Short Presentations for our second meeting:
* Rob Rehr – Designing and Building the Wii Controller Badge Adapter
* Josh Delson – Building the game OVERTIME for GDC alt.ctrl

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus