What place, if any, do nonbinary folks have in “Women in Tech”? Join us next Tuesday to discuss!

Being Nonbinary in Women-in-Tech Spaces:
a panel discussion hosted by Spanning Tree

Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016, 7 p.m.
Iron Yard, 1341 G St NW

People who identify as nonbinary (that is, neither male nor female) often find themselves in an awkward position when it comes to the diversity-in-tech issue. On one hand, they inhabit a marginalized gender identity in a field dominated by men; on the other, they are by definition (if not always by intent) excluded from spaces for women.

Where do nonbinary people in tech belong? Are women-in-tech spaces even aware that they exist? Can a women-in-tech space be welcoming to nonbinary people, and how? What are some common pitfalls of spaces that unintentionally tell nonbinary people they aren’t welcome (or don’t exist!)?

A panel of nonbinary people in tech will share their experiences navigating the world of women-in-tech, answer audience questions, and offer perspectives on making gender diversity initiatives more inclusive. People of all gender identities are welcome to join the discussion..

Please RSVP on our Meetup page  so you’re on the guest list for building security.

We hope to see you there!

Learn to Solder!

Sunday, September 25, 2016 from 1 to 4 p.m. at Creative Colony (in The World building in Silver Spring)

This one-time workshop is for those with any and all skill-sets to fabricate a simple contact microphone out of a piezo disk. You3766017668_69be01ffbc_o will learn how to solder and create the contact microphone to amplify objects (much like a pick-up microphone does for a violin or saxophone through vibration). We will also have a collective and open discussion about soldering practices, previous knowledge [or non-knowledge!] of soldering, how individuals learned soldering [if they already have the skills], and why we may feel it’s an important skill-set to have.

Workshop attendees are invited to bring in scrap metal, e-waste materials, wooden objects, apples, paper, slinkies, etc. to amplify and make into instruments. This is meant to be a fun, creative project, where attendees will take away simple soldering skills. Participants may take their contact mics home.

Pay-what-you-can for materials, from $1 to $15.

Please RSVP on our Meetup page.

Catherine’s soldering workshop recap

From our intrepid soldering instructor Catherine, a recap of our October soldering workshop:

Want to know what a great time we had building our Simon Says games last weekend? So great that I forgot to take photos. But had I taken photos, you would have mostly seen the back of heads as everyone diligently joined components using hot metal. Fun, no?

To kick us off, I read my new favorite children’s book Rosie Revere, Engineer. I bought it for my daughter, based on the cute cover. It only took one read thru and the huge lump in my throat to convince me it was a keeper.  I wouldn’t dare ruin the ending but it serves as a lovely tale of trying and failing, and getting back up to try again.

Yes, I read everyone a book about failing.  I’ve often read about the need to try and fail, and of course learn from those failures, but I’ve seldom put that into practice – at least not in the last 15 years. Once I graduated from college, it was as if a silent veil fell and suddenly I felt I should know all the answers. At the time, I couldn’t clearly identify what had changed, but looking back, it was as if the stakes were suddenly much higher and failure was to be avoided at all costs. And it has taken me a while to shake that notion off. I’ve come around to believing in the cliche, that the fun is in the try, as much as in the success or failure, or at least I hoped I could get everyone to buy into that idea for the next two hours.

After being properly prepped for failure, I did a short soldering demo. And thanks to a huge assist from Karen at Gadget Lab we had plenty of soldering irons to go around. We paired up the eight attendees, each team with their own hot iron, to start practicing. To begin, they connected plain wires to a small ‘perfboard’, which served as our scratch paper while learning. Ours was green, but otherwise looked much like this:

Oh, but first I made them cut their own wires because  a) I am lazy and didn’t do it ahead of time and b) sharp wire cutters are fun. Now there was nothing left to do but to do it. Students sat looking at their soldering setup like, huh, I’m really supposed to touch this?

Yes, you. You in the conference room chair who signed up for this class. You. now. really.

And one by one, they each did. With each joint and each wire, you could feel the confidence building. Then a pause. Time to move away from the perfboard and onto our ‘real’ project. There seemed to be an invisible barrier when it was time to move to our final canvas. I could see the fear about being wrong in their eyes and I knew it had to go.  

Luckily the first “real” joint was a confidence booster, a simple resistor with more than a wide berth for the iron. Flush with the success of the first join, students progressed on their own, joint by joint. Not to say there weren’t a few hiccups, like a melted switch here or a burned out buzzer there, but by the end of the class, after some fine tuning and squeezing of the battery mounts, we had eight working Simon Says games. Some may have been louder than others, but all technically worked.Simon_Action

After we finished, as a bonus we toured the Catylator makerspace that recently opened in the basement of the World Building.  We’re hoping to partner with Catylator in the future, as they build out their membership base and programming, and would love to hear what our members are interested in doing. Another intro class like this one? More hardware? Let us know in the comments!

Spanning Tree at Robot Fest 2015

Katie staffing the Spanning Tree table at Robot Fest 2015
Katie staffing the Spanning Tree table at Robot Fest 2015

On Saturday, April 25, 2015, Spanning Tree made its inaugural appearance at the Robot Fest celebration of the creative use of technology.

This annual event features dozens of exhibitors showing off not only robotics from R2D2 to unmanned aerial vehicles and everything in between, but also 3D printers, soft circuit fashion, microcontroller workshops, vintage electronics, amateur radio equipment, electronic musical instruments, and more. It’s held at the National Electronics Museum in Linthicum, Maryland, which  houses decades worth of creative engineering and showcases technical advances in science and engineering.

Along with information about our organization, Spanning Tree representative Katie brought a karakuri automaton she built from a kit. Originally made in Japan from the 17th century to 19th century, these pre-electronic robots used clockwork mechanisms to perform actions, sometimes even interacting with their environment, as in the case of the tea-serving robot she brought. Using only gears, cams, springs, and levers, it moves in a straight line for a set distance, moving its feet as if walking, and then bows its head. This signals that the tea is served, and the doll stops when the cup is removed. When it is replaced, the robot raises its head, turns around, and returns to where it came from. Robot Fest attendees were very interested in this demonstration of “old school” robots, prompting discussion of craftsmanship, ingenuity, and the meaning of the word “robot” itself.

Here’s a short video of the tea-serving robot in action:

Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

Happy Ada Lovelace Day! This is an international day celebrating the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. Do you know what pioneering woman in technology is referenced by our name, Spanning Tree?

The answer is Radia Perlman, a software designer and network engineer. She is most famous for her invention of the spanning-tree protocol (STP), which is fundamental to the operation of network bridges.