Visit to Greenfab

On Sept 27, the Design for Greenfab class made a visit to the Bronx to visit the Greenfab facilities, and to discuss a little electronics while demonstrating how to make “throwies”. Throwies are LEDs attached to a 3V coin cell battery. Fairly simple to put together – you just put the appropriate leads on the battery and attach them with magnets and tape. Voila!

So, while the actual p-comp project was quite simple to put together and explain, our bigger goal was to introduce electricity to the kids, who were mostly boys around age 12. Not exactly the most attentive audience.

At the table with Sue and Macaulay, the 3 of us sort of struggled to explain how electricity worked; how exactly the electricity got from the battery to the LED; how do we know that the LED won’t blow up; why is 3 volts better than 6; what if we want to light up more than one LED; and how long will it take before the battery dies out?

I will say that while the kids seemed less enthralled with our electricity explanation, they did seem to enjoy the personal expressiveness of throwies – particularly when they added about 3 LEDs. I’m not yet entirely sure how to keep the kid’s attention better for next time, but probably just having a more interactive learning session might help.

“Instructables” review

Given the materials, budget and level of complication, I decided to choose the Instructable for how to make an iPod speaker from a Hallmark music card as the Instructable to review for Design for GreenFab. This Instructable shows you how to install the speaker from a music card into a cereal box, and use the jack from some old headphones to connect it to your iPod. Depending on what you eat or where your junk bin is, the most expensive item to gather might be the cereal box or one of the old headphones – but I’m guessing that any cardboard box or carton would work just fine. I’ve read all the steps, but haven’t actually tried putting anything together so my review won’t be empirically based yet. However, it could be down the road.

Step 1: Gives the materials and tools required or recommended. These include:

  • Hallmark Music Card
  • Old headphones
  • One empty cereal box from a Kellogg’s Cereal Variety Pack
  • Glue Gun
  • Electrical tape
  • Utility knife

To improve this list, I’d like to have a few things clarified.

Headphones vs Speakers: The first 2 materials are a music card and some headphones. Both of which have speakers, yet we have to go through the extra step of getting the Hallmark Card and then tearing it up. It would be helpful to know why the speaker from the card is so much better than the speaker from the headphones. My guess is better amplification, but I’m not really sure, actually.

Cereal box vs a box: Next, we’re asked to use a small box from a Kellogg’s cereal variety pack. I’m not really a big fan of cereal packs. For some reason, cereal now costs as much as $5.00 (or more!) and buying a variety pack could mean that I get some cereal that I won’t like or won’t eat (because it’s too sugary). Alternatively, if we’re asked to use a small box because it’s a better acoustic fit than the large cereal box, I’d much prefer to use the dimensions of the small box to make a box of the same size, using the thin cardboard of a full-sized cereal box.

Missing stuff: Further into the instructions, a ruler pops up (it’s actually featured in an image) and there’s at least one reference to measuring a relatively specific length. Better to just add the ruler in the beginning. Secondly, there’s an incongruity with the picture that shows an X-acto knife, and the materials list that includes a utility knife. The two are not the same, particularly if precision when cutting is necessary.

Recommended items: The electrical tape is meant to be used to protect two exposed wires from a short. I really like shrink wraps. One pack lasts forever and they’re so much cleaner and more effective than electrical tape (IMO) when used for this purpose. Also, the author recommends a soldering iron. In my experience, taped wires have a pretty short shelf life particularly if the item that uses them gets moved, ever. (Then again, this is a speaker made from a cereal box, so permanence is probably not a priority.)

Step 2: Removing the speaker from the card. This step seems pretty straight forward, except that without an actual wire stripper, cutting away 1/4″ of wire insulation could be tricky. Tips, regarding how to cut away the wire insulation and not go through the wire, would be helpful. Another image/instruction incongruence is with the photo of the speaker without the black, plastic covering and no instructions mention removing this covering or how to remove it.

Step 3: Stripping wires. This step is a missed opportunity to show the fiber-like material “interlaced with the leads themselves”.

(Skipping Step 4.)

Step 5: Since you only really have one chance to not make a hole that’s too big for your speaker, an improvement would be an instruction to measure the width of the speaker and make a circle with that diameter. Then, make a second hole of some measurement smaller than the first. A specific and minimum for how much smaller the 2nd hole should be would help to eliminate confusion and opportunity for mistakes. The image for this step also shows the mysterious ruler…. Also, although this step mentions making a hole for the iPod jack, it should also mention that actually threading the hole could wait until the very end, after the speaker has been installed so the wires don’t get in the way.

So, now that I’ve spent all this time going through the holes in this Instructable, I should say that I actually do like this instructable. There are a few things that I like particularly. I think that all the images are very clear and show all relevant parts with nice detail. I also like the image tips/notes included in the instructions. The YouTube video is a nice, inspirational touch to help you visualize how this project will turn out. Lastly, I like how the author includes information that would be useful should someone wish to continue with electronics, such as saving the 3v battery and heading off to Radio Shack. I was too intrigued by a related post about installing speakers into dolls, but this one would be good to make in a pinch or as a future Xmas present.