photo by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid
“Teach me to make” as simple as it sounds is a simple yet powerful effort on wordpress by a maker from USA. Apart from being a true maker, Michael Shiloh is an absolutely delightful and an approachable person to talk to. His sense of purpose in his work was very much apparent in my short, yet interesting conversation with him. Here are some widely and less known things about the teacher, student and entrepreneur.
Priya: What brought your interest in electronics? What is the very first project that you fondly remember completing till date?
Michael: Ever since I remember, I have been taking things apart and putting them back. The important thing is to pay attention to details while doing that. Like, where the screw fits, what part goes where, what are the names of the parts etc. even if one is not able to know the full functioning one should be able to call the parts by the name and know where they fit and what they do. Growing up at a time with limited resources, left only one option of harvesting old electronic parts. I suggest every aspiring-maker to do that!
(Gives a pause) As for the finishing part, I never finished a lot of projects, and I had a LOT of unfinished projects sitting around me in my room. But the important part was, that I caught hold of a lot of basics while making them. Not stopping, is important.
P: What drives your passion for Arduino and open source hardware?
M: 10 years back, I started a project called Teleo based on PIC which was on similar lines as an Arduino, just not with an IDE. Hence, a simple prototype for students to interact has always been my passion.
P: You talk about 3 methods of your teaching – contraption building, physical computing, and open source advocacy. What is Contraption building as defined by you?
M: Interesting question! Contraption, is an idea of a prototype in its raw un-polished form. It is the fastest way to check if what you assume in theory is in fact practical or not. I always encourage contraption as it makes understanding and explaining easier of the internal working mechanisms of an idea.
P: How is it different from Physical computing?
M: Contraption building, may or may not include electronics. It can be purely mechanical, say, just a few wheels, pulleys and a rubber band? Physical computing on the other hand needs an inclusion of electronics.
P: What do you think is the right approach to Advocate Open source hardware?
M: The right approach is to teach the concept of sharing knowledge, Eg: Pythagoras Theorem. Its a shared piece of knowledge which is applied everywhere, new theorems are proven using the age old theorem. The strength of Open source hardware is not only the product, but what people do using the product.
P: In all your teaching classes, What do you think is the biggest attraction for any individual towards Arduino?
M: (Laughs) I am yet to find a concept or topic where Arduino has not been used. Type on google, ‘The concept + Arduino’ and voila! You have an application. BE it gardening, space, music or photography, name your interest and there is a way to tinker with it using an Arduino.
P: We hear a lot about media art, as a concept these days. What is special about adding electronics to art?
M: Any Art installation with electronics is based on sensors and actuators. Arduino helps the artist to manipulate the idea in his head and give a more personal and interactive approach to a previously ‘look-but-don’t-touch’ art. Let me call it a more knowledgeable way of interacting?
P: Since you have taken so many workshops and visited so many hackerspaces, what are the few useful tips you might want to give to the maker at home?
M: The most important thing is, to have a space. Space defines purpose. The next is organizing the tools that you have. In my times, I used old shoe boxes with egg-cartons inside to separate the resistors, LEDs and potentiometers. Harvest old electronic items and know what they are used for, they might come of use later. A multimeter is a must have. So are tiny components like LEDs etc. To add intelligence a programing board would be useful, and arduino has a great community support for a maker even at the middle of the night!
Never get intimidated by others polished presentations. The more raw your circuit is, the better it is appreciated among the maker community. Do share the knowledge, including the success and including the failures.
P: What is your role as a part of Arduino?
M: Let me see… We can call it Community Liason. Ill take care of all the minor bugs, wishlist and major issues, bridging the gap between developers and the community.
P: Wow! That sounds exciting! On a separate note, what would be your Ideal birthday gift?
M: Since there is SO much to build and manage, that would be – time.
A full bios of Michael alongwith his latest work can be read here.