The cool badge

Yesterday started the Young Creators 2017 — a series of workshops promoted by the Lisbon City Council, focused on teaching technology to be used in creative endeavors.

Since I love technology and creativity — and there are not always events that promote the combination of both in such an obvious matter — I really wanted to join and so I readily signed up. After registering and paying, I noticed that some of the communication elements mentioned an age limit for these workshops (which seemed now to target only students, a consideration that was not mentioned in my registering process). Not knowing the criteria for the age limit I phoned the organization and asked if it was ok to join anyway. They said yes and I was on my way to become a young(er) creator. Guess this is also part of the hacking mentality. To identify what you want to do and hack (ask and find) your way into it, regardless of the barriers other people may see.

The first cool thing you notice are the badges — in translucent green. Of the many workshops, conferences and meetings I have attended, I always remember paper tags put into plastic holders or stickers where you would hand write your name, but recently in two occasions I came across these cool plastic badges that are so much better than the paper ones. You may say it is a detail, but well, it is details like this, that add enthusiasm to whatever content you are supposed to learn on those events. And mine, well it rocks and I am going to keep it.

(I must say that that is not even the first thing you notice. The first thing are the posters, which are also very appealing and perhaps the ones that led me to pay attention to the event in the first place.)

Then, the third thing you notice is the space — an old market in the center of Lisbon — it is not one of the most beautiful nor oldest markets, but the space is quite big and the fact that all the 4 different workshops — Bio Hacking, Textil Hacking, Robotics and 3D are only separated by what it seems an artificial jungle, gives that cozy feeling that you are not only learning the specific topic you came to learn, but also — almost by osmosis — the topics the other people are learning. During the the breaks, you can walk around and inquire the others about what they are doing, and, as announced today, in the last last two days, people from different workshops can work together in a project, each contributing with their newly found expertise.

The topic that I have chosen is Robotics. In the past I have purchased a Raspberry Pi and while I was looking into it Arduino kept appearing has the other popular board, for people that wanted to learn basic coding and build some stuff along the way. Since I had a taste of Raspberry (and berries taste good) I also wanted to learn more about the Arduino platform, and so I have picked this one. I have hesitated between this and 3D printing (ironically the two topics that were not sold out days before the beginning), but thought that 3D printing would be easier to learn on my own. The other two topics seemed quite intriguing but their usefulness more remote.

I got paired with Diogo, a student of Civil Engineering from Instituto Superior Técnico, that is finalizing his master thesis focusing on transportation. In the initial round everyone introduced themselves with name and background — and now that I think of it, I believe I was the only one — or one of the few — with a background in Business Management. I recall some people with backgrounds in Arts and a couple with background in Physics (that was always ahead on assignments 😃 ).

When the instructors asked who had experience in programming, I didn’t raise my hand, as I am self taught, and did not want to raise the expectations or set the bar too high for what it is meant to be a learning experience. But some of the concepts came in handy for some of the exercises. Think that I wouldn’t have a clue in some parts of the exercises if I had zero understanding about programming syntax. The challenge for the instructors of introductory classes is always to put themselves in the shoes of people that don’t know anything, and sometimes that can be quite difficult to accomplish to full extent. Either ways the instructors always made themselves available to go back to the concepts whenever doubts arose.

One or two hours in, the first contact with the elements of the board and the “jargon” — jumpers, pins, resistances (hey, you shouldn’t take for granted everybody can identify a resistance when they see one), some misplaced cables, existential questions and the robot was turning his gaze right and left for the first time. Shortly after the robot was making an awkward square which wouldn’t pass in the police breathalyzer and I knew we had given birth to a new being — from now onward named Frankenstein Pintas.

Regardless of what happens tomorrow and on the last day, these last two mornings were fun and educational. I don’t believe in the antagonism between thinking and doing, or that you have to label yourself a “doer” vs. a “thinker”, as I always enjoy doing both, and the fun thing about these workshops was that they all seemed to have some sort of theory followed by practice and implementation and a tangible output. In our case it was the robot car moving, in the case of 3D printing it was some small objects a girl showed me today in the morning, in the case of Bio Hacking it was for example some squared cases that displayed pictures created by bacteria that were modified to exhibit different colors.

I always like (and believe in the power of) unexpected combinations and so it was good to be in this environment, experiencing and learning with people from different backgrounds. To make this experience even more enriching would recommend increasing even more the diversity of people that participate (age, background and experiences), perhaps promoting the event more intensively, as I believe the contents are (should/could) be of general interest.

Still two days to go, looking forward to see the next adventures of Frankenstein Pintas 😃