Visit Us






About Us

Submit Your Art


Addicted to LEDs: An Arduino interview by Johanna Beyenbach

It has been over a month since my Arduino class ended, and I have already taken another – Intro to Circuits & Electronics (I am hooked). My Arduino instructor, Michael Doherty, was gracious enough to let me interview him for this post. Thanks Michael!

How did you first get into electronics?
Technology in general has played a big part in my life. My dad and I always did electronics projects for school, with LEDs and buttons and stuff.

Me too! I had one of those kids' electronics kits, where you could connect wires and make lights turn on.
I think there was a phase where we were the last of that generation of makers for a while, and then I think it really fell off for a period. All this creating and making stuff was based around the ideas - you don't have to buy anything new, you just have to fix things you have and make them better. This hit rock bottom in the '90s; a big indication of that was RadioShack. It became a place where you'd buy already assembled things, and no longer things like radio components. How can you as a kid be inspired by engineering if you don't have these things to play with? It completely cut off innovation. Fortunately, in the past year, it's swung the other way a ton. Now RadioShack carries Arduinos and they have kits and stuff.

I love that a mainstream consumer brand has shifted to support the maker movement. How about programming - when and how did that happen?
I studied Design and Media Art in UCLA. In that program, I was introduced to Processing, because one of the language's creators (Casey Reas) is faculty there. Casey's class really introduced me to programming and interactivity. While I was taking one of his classes, I came across Daniel Shiffman (Assistant Arts Professor at ITP)'s website. The stuff he was doing - interactivity, multiple screens, etc. - was really out there at the time; it made me really excited about the program.

How did all of this translate to what you did after college?
I moved to New York in the bad year (2008). When I first got here, I got an amazing job through ITP - at diller scofidio + renfro (a multidisciplinary design studio that does a lot of stuff that crosses of boundaries, like designing the High Line and Lincoln Center). I was doing data visualization for an exhibition in France about global trends, population, carbon emissions and disease. But after that, there was just nothing - I spent 6 months or so just trying to get by. Then this opportunity to go to ITP came up, so I enrolled. One of the foundation courses of the first semester is physical computing. After the 1st semester, people tend to go into a particular direction & take classes to facilitate that direction.

What did you focus on?
I focused on using technology to advance sustainable living and understanding our environment. Technology can be used as a way of understanding our world that's deeper than what we can do just with our senses. How can we use that information to inform better decisions around how we live our lives, and help us to live our lives in this way? I'm working on a project right now called Bitponics; it's about using technology to help you grow food. Hopefully I can launch it at the end of October.

How did you learn Arduino? And how did teaching it come into the mix?
While I was unemployed, I taught myself Arduino, learning mostly by example. Putting it together is not a big deal, it just took a while to really deeply understand the concepts behind what's going on. I still wouldn't say I'm by any means an expert, but for the types of things I'm doing it's okay. Most of the stuff I do is digital electronics - a lot of that is sending messages from one component to another.

At 3rd Ward, there was an opening to teach DVD Studio. I wanted to teach Processing too, but we weren't sure it would draw a crowd. So we positioned it as a free workshop to gauge interest. We had the workshop in a small photo studio with 20-25 chairs, and the room was packed. So I started teaching a Processing class! At the time, there were no other electronics or programming classes at 3rd Ward. After that, I started teaching Arduino.

So, that Processing lecture was basically the cornerstone of electronics at 3rd Ward.
It's a small world, but there are a lot of people in that small world. I would recommend people to teach classes so there would be more of them. That's one of the benefits of going to ITP - the connections.

What's your favorite Arduino project that you've seen lately?
Definitely the Rocket Ship Treehouse.

Interested in learning more about Arduino or physical computing? Check out 3rd Ward's full offering of classes here.

You can catch up Johanna's adventures in physical computing and New York City life by following her on Twitter.