Three weeks ago, we showcased our work as Cemetech for the sixth consecutive year at World Maker Faire. This annual event in New York City brings together Makers from all walks of life and specialties, from machines to electronics to crafts and beyond. Since 2012, we have been going to the Faire to display hardware and software projects, talk to kids, their parents, teachers, and the general public, and generally just to enjoy a weekend outside. We brought our usual set of displays showing off the value of learning programming and electronics with graphing calculators, enriched with one brand-new display. Shortly before World Maker Faire, we announced that we'd be at the Faire for a sixth year, after much less planning than last year. Like the last two years, we heavily focused our message on the fact that graphing calculators are the perfect way to get started with vital STEM skills like programming, math, science, and electronics.
Graphing calculators are an ideal platform on which to learn programming, because most high school students in the US already have them, carry them around in school and commuting, and can whip them out to work on their latest projects. You don't need to download, install, or configure anything; just hit [PRGM] on most graphing calculators, and you can instantly start writing TI-BASIC (or a similar language) directly on the device. You don't have to worry about breaking the calculator: make a mistake, and it'll probably help you find where you made a mistake, and what you did wrong. Calculator programming adds an element of competition, and has done so before the term "social media" had even been coined: you can send your programs to your friends' calculators, get the prestige of having created a cool program or game from scratch, and look at how things other people made work. Finally, as you get more advanced, you can advance to a more complex language like C or ASM that lets you go even deeper into concepts like computer science and computer architecture, or even electrical engineering.
Here are a few of our favorite photos from this year:
This year, we ended up showing off a variety of projects to make these points; from left to right along our table:
Learn to Program demo: A giant calculator emulator, with key entry from a real TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition calculator. Aims to teach visitors to write a simple guessing game in 60 seconds.
Calculator Music: A TI-84 Plus Silver Edition with mobileTunes and songs by Alec "qazz42" Szigeti and Thomas "elfprince13" Dickerson.
GPS Demo: A version of the GPS for graphing calculators project, allowing a calculator to communicate with a GPS module to get its latitude, longitude, altitude, the current time, and more.
SimpleI/O Demo: First displayed this year at T^3 2016, the SimpleI/O demo illustrates how easy it is to connect an Arduino to a graphing calculator. It shows how a calculator can read the state of pins on an Arduino to see if you're pressing a button or toggling a switch, and how the calculator can in turn control LEDs, motors, and more.
Whack-a-Mole: Built with a TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition, a TI MSP432 Launchpad, and lots of RGB LEDs and light sensors, the Whack-a-Mole project was a hit at World Maker Faire 2015 and T^3 2016.
TI-DCC: Controlling an N-scale electric locomotive with a TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition and the TI-DCC library, new this year.
"Using the TI-84 Plus" and "Programming the TI-83 Plus/TI-84 Plus": As has become traditional, we brought copies of my books as examples of written reference material that new learners could explore outside of Cemetech. "Programming the TI-83 Plus/TI-84 Plus" teaches programming concepts to beginners via TI graphing calculators, giving them a toolbox of programming knowledge they can bring to any programming language. "Using the TI-84 Plus" is the missing manual: a gentle guide to the vast array of math and science features available on TI graphing calculators, grounded in plenty of examples just like the ones students might see in class or on the SATs.
Interactive calculators for games: a TI-84 Plus CE, TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition, TI-84 Plus Silver Edition, and if any of them are still working, a Casio Prizm, with games and other programs loaded.
CALCnet Networking Demo: Four TI-83 Plus calculators connected via CALCnet, running the Flourish demo, showing how you can build and test a complex communication protocol with just the hardware your calculators provide, plus a few wires.
Many thanks to the volunteers old and new who helped man the Cemetech table. Tim "geekboy1011" Keller made it possible for our booth to happen at all this year, and Alec "Qazz42" Szigeti has the honorable distinction of having helped all six years we attended. Cemetech members Pieman7373 and mr womp womp attended for their first time, having carefully planned their trip together, and were incredibly helpful in making our booth run smoothly (especially after we trimmed Pieman7373's mullet). Everyone pitched in wholeheartedly, whether talking to the thousands of visitors who stopped by our tables to explain Cemetech's mission and why we were at the Faire, keeping our demos running, or protecting the interactive calculators from the destructive hands of small children. We combined exhausting 10am-6pm days at the Faire (more like 8am to 8pm with travel, setup, and teardown) with our annual traditions of socialization, dinners, and enjoying each other's in-person company. As always, most of us also stopped by Maker Faire on Friday night to start setting up, get paella, beverages, and tasty desserts, and start setting up our booth.
My heartfelt thanks to everyone who helped make our sixth World Maker Faire appearance a resounding success. We also salute elfprince13 and Eeems, our loyal members who couldn't make it this year. By the end of the weekend, we had given away nearly all of our Cemetech bookmarks, worn out our voices, and explained graphing calculators to visitors young and old. Most importantly, we left satisfied that we had opened many more eyes about the value of exploring programming and electronics with calculators, and excited to see some of our more enthusiastic visitors again here on Cemetech. The encouragement of everyone here on Cemetech was a big help as well, and several of you stepped up and offered to share the burden of preparing for the Faire. I hope that we'll see as many of you as possible as attendees at the Faire next fall, and if you're interested in helping staff the table, please speak up!