One small step for Steph, one giant flap for makerkind

I’m Steph, I’m quite new to the Raspberry Pi Foundation, and I’m very new to Raspberry Pis. Until quite recently, any mention of pie to me meant that good food was on the horizon – now my horizons are much broader. I’ve been part of the Programmes Team at Pi Towers for about 3 months, and I’ve only just picked my jaw up from the floor in awe of the creative geniuses around me. The things that I’ve seen are mindboggling and I began to wonder how they were created. Well, there was only one way to find out – make something myself.

Steph and her creation

The smile of a happy maker

The time had come for me to get started in the world of digital making. I’ve always been into arts and crafts, and I love to put my own touch and personality on my possessions; sewing buttons and colourful things on to clothes, revamping drawer knobs, applying découpage to any plain bits of furniture, and taking over the world with my glue gun. However, making something digital from scratch was a daunting prospect! I wasn’t going to let it scare me, though; I’ve dived out of a plane before and landed with a smile on my face.

So, supported by my team and with that ‘Friday feeling’, I took the plunge and transformed into a digital maker for the afternoon. I was presented with a DIY Gamer Kit, from Technology Will Save Us, as my first project. I opened the box of components and loaded up the online instructions, then I had to take a deep breath and compose myself as I read the word ‘solder’. I was very excited that I was going to need to solder, then realised I didn’t know how to do it. Rachel Rayns, my lovely desk buddy, gave me a soldering tutorial; now, I feel like I can solder most metal things in the world. I loved it.

Steph learns to solder

The soldering skills that earned an Instagram marriage proposal.

I continued the rest of my mission on my own, with the incentive of being able to play Snake at the end of it. I worked my way through the kit, identifying all of the digital ingredients and joining them together in the right places. I soldered push buttons, LEDs, a buzzer, resistors, and many other components to a PCB (printed circuit board). I was amazed at how quickly the parts grew into a device that looked very much like a Game Boy, and I was impressed to see how it matched the photo instructions – very useful!

Following the instructions, I added a brain to my device in the form of an Arduino, and an acrylic accessory to the front and back. This was a great way to protect my game; if I’m honest, I may have dropped it a few times whilst fumbling through the engineers’ tool stash. Luckily, nothing fell apart, which was a testament to my new-found soldering skills. After fixing the spacers, nuts and bolts in place, the only thing left to do was to connect a 9v battery to the game, and then run through the office waving it around when it powered up.

I had made the DIY Gamer Kit, and in that moment I wasn’t sure which thing made me smile the most:

  • How quickly I was able to put it together – even though I stopped to admire my work every 5 minutes
  • The fact that I could now play Snake
  • Knowing that, against all odds, I hadn’t burnt myself
  • The idea of going to make something else straight away

Once my smile had shrunk back down to normal size, I was calm enough to think about doing some coding. I’ve been told that code can be used to solve real life problems, and I certainly needed it when I uploaded the game ‘Flappy Bird’ on to my new game machine and couldn’t survive for longer than 2 seconds. My problem was that my bird was flying far too fast to control – it had to be hacked! Again, with the help of Rachel we hacked the game and adapted the code. I was then able to play Flappy Bird at a much more reasonable flying speed. My problems didn’t quite stop here, though, as I continued to fly my bird into wall after wall, ending the game prematurely. We hacked it some more, and now I’ll never see the words ‘Game Over’ again.

Rachel and Steph go through Coding 101

Coding 101

I’ve been inspired to be more of a digital maker, because I enjoyed every minute of my very first project. I hope that others may find the same inspiration from the amount of joy on my face in the picture below. Go forth and make something, and you too could be this happy.