Kitty Ears by KonichiwaKitty

n5QwsFp2In my last blog post, I wrote about some contemporary inspirational role models that could help to encourage more teenage girls to get involved with STEAM subjects. One of the people I talked about in the post was scientist Rachel AKA KonichiwaKitty.

Earlier this month, Rachel announced that she was launching a learn-to-solder kit on her Etsy page to accompany the many exciting and attractive wearables and glitzy bits n piece that she already sells.

Rachel set up a market place stall at Raspberry Fields, the Raspberry Pi summer festival and I managed to get my hands on one of her early  pre-release kits.

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A trio of inspiring educators (Rachel, Me and the lovely Liat Moss)

I  first met Rachel over a year ago at Wimbledon Jam and it’s been lovely to see her journey from inquisitive maker to workshop leader and saleswoman extraordinaire and it now feels like it wouldn’t be a tech event without twinkly eyelashes and pink hair in attendance.

So, as promised, I took the time to build my  kitty ears and wanted to write an honest review so you guys can decide whether you want to give the kitty ears a go yourself.

First lets talk about the packaging – the box is simple, but Rachel has taken the time to design a selection of pastel coloured stickers. She has a brand and you can be sure that she will always be on it. From the love-heart shaped letter o in her font of choice, to the pastel pinks that adorn everything in sight, you know when something is part of KonichiwaKitty’s shop.

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Before I bought the kit, I was given a choice of both LEDs and ear fluff (I believe the technical term is Fluffy Yarn). After much deliberation, I went for bright pink fluff and blue LEDs because… why not?!

Opening up the box, I was pleasantly surprised to find all of the materials neatly laid out plus a list of materials and an instruction manual. I’d begun to think Rachel had thought of everything!

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My first job was to check that all of the equipment was in the box and luckily for me, it was – I did have a moment of doubt when I saw “cobochon embellishment x 2′ on the list, but by a process of elimination, I realised this must refer to the cool plastic shapes that can be stuck on the ears after the crafting! My sense of OCD would have  preferred two the same, but I can’t really complain about a cool unicorn and star to stick on afterwards!

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In the instruction manual itself, Rachel has taken the time to explain all of the equipment in the box so that a novice can understand a little about what it’s for. For me, this is a really valuable step, especially as the kit includes heat shrink, which many people may not even know about, but that is an essential tool for electronics work. As a bonus treat, Rachel has also included stickers in the box and who doesn’t like stickers?

The next page of the instruction booklet explains what other tools that you might need for crafting your headband which basically lists the tools need for soldering. I would like to see ‘strong glue’ added to the list because I really  found that to be valuable (more on that later).

Amazingly, she has even taken the time to film a video tutorial and so by age 8 of the booklet, I really began to get a feel for the amount of effort that has gone into this kit.

IMG_7826So, now onto the actual crafting side of things – some of  you may already know that I’m quite clumsy, however, I did find it quite theraputic slowly wrapping the fluff around the band. I started to worry that I might run out of yarn before I was done, but I needn’t have since I currently still have a huge chunk of it left. If you do decide to give this a go, you might want to bear in mind that you can be as generous as you want with the yarn since there is plenty in the box.

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The instructions suggested that you might want to use a bit of glue to keep the ends of the yarn steady, and I tried my hardest to just hold it together with a knot, but within a few minutes of trying to wrap the yarn around the ear section, the main bit of the headband had started to unravel so I headed off into the kitchen to find the UHU. Having super strong glue lying around the house does have its advantages sometimes (thanks Stuart).

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In the instructions, Rachel suggests doing one ear, cutting the yarn and doing the other, but I’m afraid laziness prevailed and I just wrapped the yarn around the midsection for a second time and carried straight on to the other ear after starting the first… It seemed to work ok and I still had plenty of yarn leftover.

The next step was to position the lights and check they work, as well as figure out which of the two cables was positive or negative. I’m afraid I once again ignored the instructions for this point which suggested placing the lights and then using a crocodile clip to test their polarity and instead I attached the battery pack first in order to position the lights because it was much easier to figure out where I wanted them to go while they were lit up. I admit, it was a bit more of a faff because I had to first attach the battery to the left hand side so I could wrap the LEDs on the right and then attach the battery on the right so I could attach the battery on the left, but it meant I was happier with the positioning then if I’d just guessed and then switched them on.

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The LED strip that has been provided with the kit has two cables which are attached to the LEDs in a parallel circuit. One of the two cables is attached to the positive side of the LEDs and the other to the negative. The battery can be attached to either end of the cables because the LEDs themselves complete the circuit, but you need to figure which cable is which in order to attach the battery correctly. In the instructions it is explained that the cable is coated in plastic to prevent short circuits, except for the very ends, which have been stripped ready to solder.

The instructions suggested marking which cable is positive by cutting it shorter and stripping the plastic layer off, but I preferred to just reuse some of the masking tape from the box to put a mark on the one I needed to remember, which saved me getting into a mess with cable cutters and stripping things!

I’m lucky that in our cupboard is a third hand to help out with soldering and I think that I would’ve found this task significantly harder without it. First, I needed to clamp the battery pack and the cable I wanted then carefully line up the two cables before getting out the soldering iron and applying heat.

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I have to admit, I found soldering the two wires together a little more tricky than my first foray into soldering which was the Learn to Solder Zoo Badge from the PiHut, but I eventually got both of my wires carefully soldered together. I think this is perhaps the weakest area of instruction, however, it’s quite hard to write down detailed instructions for how to solder for the first time so I’m not sure how this could be improved.

It was at this point that I suddenly wondered what would happen if I slipped and the soldering iron hit the fluff! I had visions of my kitchen bursting into pink fluffy flames and so I decided to test – The small offcut I pressed the soldering iron towards melted a little and didn’t particularly smell nice, but it seemed to be fairly good at handling the heat so that was a bit of a relief.

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The final step was to apply a hairdryer to the heat shrink in order to seal the joins, which I took great pleasure in doing, although I think I was hoping it would shrink even more so was a little disappointed with the inner layer of shrink!

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The final step was to try my ears on and take a picture for social media!

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So, final thoughts. Firstly, a lot of thought has gone into this kit. It is clear and detailed in the instructions. Rachel has done a fantastic job in sourcing materials and writing a great instruction booklet. I haven’t watched the video, but I suspect it is equally excellent and detailed. I love that this brings together crafting and electronics in a fun and creative way and I enjoyed trying out new skills.

But… I wouldn’t recommend this for the very first time soldering, for someone clumsy like me, I think it requires a little more finesse then a first timer can manage. I would suggest getting a learn to solder zoo kit first to make a mess and blob everywhere before graduating onto something a little more complex – for me, soldering wires together was the first time I found soldering to be a bit of a challenge as it was a bit more fiddley than anything I’ve done before.

Overall though, I really love this kit and think Rachel should be incredibly proud of what she has achieved. I can’t wait for my biggest niece to be a little bit older so that she can learn to solder with one of these kits too! I think she’d absolutely love it!

One final note, I made the kitty ears last week but haven’t had a chance to blog because I’ve been involved in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The very same day that I made the kitty ears, the battery pack fell off some LEDs in Titania’s wings (yes, the queen of the fairies had lit up wings)… guess who ended up bringing a soldering iron to the theatre to fix the wings?

It’s a funny old world isn’t it?

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2017 in review

I was going to write a Facebook post or a brief tweet about all of the things I’ve been up to this year, but then I realised that professionally, 2017 has been one of the most exciting and varied years of my life – so much has happened that, looking back, I can’t believe it’s my life. Two years ago I was a respectable, happy primary school teacher and now, in the space of one year, I’ve been to Argentina, Brazil, Texas and Orlando for work as well as NYC for holiday and various parts of the UK and Brussels for an award nomination! What a rollercoaster.

TL;DR : I’ve had an AMAZING year

January

By January, I finally felt settled into my role at pi-top, I’d begun working on some pi-top events for a couple of charities BECSlink and IntoUniversity and having lots of fun with the ever-growing staff. I managed to squeeze in visiting the London Python Dojo at Sohonet where I finally met Drew Buddie IRL and the two of us chatted to all the attendees about the teaching of coding as well as getting a better understanding of how a Python Dojo works.

I attended BETT for the first time as an exhibitor, which was kind of exciting – I got to meet so many people IRL and, because everyone knew where to find me, I probably met more people than I would’ve had I just been visiting the show. I was expecting to be exhausted by the end of the week and, although I was pretty tired by Saturday, I was also still super-excited to see so many lovely people in attendance and I can’t wait for this year. I also attended the BETT awards with pi-top where we won the ‘start-up of the year award’ – I was really pleased with this as I had been involved in writing the application and so it was great fun getting all dressed-up with the company founders and getting up on stage to accept the award. pi-top are shortlisted for another two awards this year so fingers crossed we get to win again!!

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February

February saw my first Coding Evening of 2017 – we’ve managed to host one per half term since I started running them in 2014 and I’m still having lots of fun and meeting new people each time!

At pi-top, February also saw the first Champions weekend – I got to take most of the lovely people that I’d selected to be pi-topCHAMPIONS to Bletchley Park and the National Museum of Computing for a two-day bonding and training session. Not only did we get great feedback, we also had an amazing time. It proved to be a great weekend all around and I was reminded once again how lucky I am to have so many wonderful people in my life.

On a personal note, February saw me taking up running properly for the first time in my life – I’ve just checked and have managed to clock up just shy of 300km this year which is pretty impressive for someone who has always hated running!

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March

March began with the pi-birthday, what a fabulous event that was – from unicorn face paints, to pi-brewed beers, it was great fun. I managed a talk and panel at the event in spite of a nightmare cold and got to meet a host of wonderful people – from the young up and coming coders in the pi-youth community to some wonderful adults organising events and supporting children around the world (I’m looking at you Mr Provenzano). It was also great fun catching up with the Pimoroni pirates and long-time community members like Alex Eames again and we managed to squeeze in a giant meal at a local restaurant after one of the nights.March

March also saw another Coding Evening and I also got to visit one of the schools in the group I used to work for as a teacher to deliver a workshop as part of their STEM day. As part of my work for Crossover Solutions, I visited a school in Amesbury to run a Physical Computing workshop and had lots of fun!

April

I’m really lucky that I know so many wonderful people in the Raspberry Pi community and so I was really pleased to be invited to help out at PiWars 2017 in Cambridge – I was invited to help judge the event and so I headed up for a weekend of fun. I have to admit that PiWars was a HUGE highlight for me in 2017 – I always burble about how great the Raspberry pi community is, but this is the event that really shows this off. Lots of fans coming together to compete, but with no malice or anger, just lots of support and fun. Even the people who did badly left smiling and so I’m really exciting this year to have bullied some of my colleagues at pi-top to help me enter a team! I can’t wait to see how we get along!

April also saw me attending a lovely little event in Malvern called ATI and running pi-top workshops in schools in Eastbourne. Albert Hickey and I also managed to squeeze in a third Wimbledon Raspberry Jam which was a hugely successful event including talks by students, teachers and community members as well as workshops run by young people and involving LOTS of glitter.

I also started some work for Crossover Solutions teaching for half a day every other week in a local school in Wandsworth which has been great for keeping my finger on the pulse of CS teaching!

No surprises that it was another busy month.

May

In May, I built my Pimoroni Mood Lamp and really honed my soldering skills- turns out, I’m quite good at soldering!

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I met with Alasdair Davies and Francisco Coutinho Gouveia at London Zoo so we could talk about the amazing coding and conservation activities they’re getting up to on the island of Principe – in the last few weeks, Alasdair has been receiving footage from the turtles that are currently ‘wearing’ Raspberry Pi cameras and it’s hypnotic stuff.

May saw me visit Cornwall again to do some work for the National STEM Centre as a roving Scratch roadshow as well as visiting Bank of America to help them run an amazing pi-top workshop for children of their staff!

June

June was a whirlwind month – I managed to fit in performing in an amateur performance of Blithe Spirit as Edith the maid, a Coding Evening at the Library Pot in Richmond AND a trip to San Antonio, Texas for ISTE (the US equivalent of BETT).

July

I’m still not sure how I survived July – I was meant to be going to Brazil for two weeks to run some coding workshops for teachers, but somehow, before I knew it, I was booked to spend the week before in Argentina for pi-top!! I got to attend the first Code Club festival in Horsham but had to leave at lunch time so I could head back to Heathrow for my flights to Buenos Aires.

July

I can’t get over how much of an amazing three weeks I had in South America and I’m very excited about heading back to São Paulo in two weeks for some more training with Maple Bear!

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I spent my birthday in Brazil so it was a great relief to finally come home and relax a bit in August.

August

On the first of August, pi-top moved offices from a very ‘start-up’ office in Bethnal Green, to a much more professional looking office in Old Street – it was a very exciting move for all of us and has been great fun! The only problem with the new office is that it’s much too close to too many lovely eating places!

At the beginning of August, Stuart, Kirk and I managed to build my Google AIY (or ‘Boxy’ as Kirk renamed it), which was great fun!

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On a personal note, in August, we managed to sneak away for a few days with my nieces (aged 7 and 4 at the time) and had a little escape to the country visiting both Longleat and Stourhead House and I directed a rehearsed reading of a play, which I’m now going to be directing in April in Kew!

At the end of August, I decided to see if any of my pi-top colleagues fancied playing a few board games after work and thus ‘board games nights’ were launched at pi-top with a games night occurring every couple of weeks (and occasionally twice in one week). I have to admit to being really pleased with how this has worked out as there seems to be at least 6 people each time and occasionally as many as 12 and, while there are a few ‘core’ gamers, the attendance has been quite varied, allowing a greater variety of people to hang out and spend time together – great team building!

September

Having missed the first pi-top social in July as I was in Brazil, I was pretty excited to organise a second one – karaoke night in the local pub… unfortunately, I’m not sure my colleagues would appreciate me sharing details of the event on social media, but let’s just say that it was a FABULOUS night and I hadn’t realised that I worked with such an amazingly ‘talented’ bunch of people 🙂

I’d love to pretend that September was a peaceful month, but with everything building up for October, there was nothing quiet about it – between a Code Club event at Monzo, beginning our PiWars project, organising a Coding Evening and attending the ArtsRichmond Swan Awards for drama and musicals, it was another crazy, but exciting month.

Also in September, I had an article published in issue three of Hello World magazine – thanks to my earlier meeting with Francisco, I had developed an interest in teaching coding to pupils who don’t speak English as their first language so, while I was in Brazil, I wrote a piece for the magazine and was really excited to see it published.

I finally put all of my running practice to the test in September by running my first 10km in Kew Gardens, finishing in just over one hour and 8 minutes.

October

At the beginning of October, I finally took a real holiday and Stuart and I headed off to NYC for a week – we got back just in time for pi-top to launch the new pi-top with Inventor’s Kit, which had kept me busy for most of September. It was an amazing achievement to have been involved in such a great product and I really feel proud to have been part of the team.

This month also saw me being featured in the MagPi magazine on their community profile – thank you for writing lovely things about me Alex, it was a real honour.

October also saw me ‘popping’ over to Orlando for a few days to attend an event called Project Lead the Way, but, more importantly, to spend some time with John Sperry, my US counterpart along with pi-top‘s new education guru, Graham Brown-Martin.

When I landed back in the UK, I had to immediately jump in my car and drive to Cardiff as I’d been invited by the RPF to help out at Picademy as part of PyconUK. PyconUK was a really wonderful event this year and I’d like to thank everyone who was so supportive of my talk about mental health – this was a bold new step for me and I really hope I get the opportunity to talk more about it in 2018.

Also at Pycon, I was presented with a John Pinner award for service to the Python community which was overwhelming and amazing and I was so honoured to be one of the first recipients (along with quite a few familiar faces including both Tim Golden and Josh Lowe!)

I got to catch up with some many amazing people at Pycon – you read my write up here.

November

I thought that November had brought an end to my travels, so it was surprising to learn that I’d been shortlisted for an Ada Award for European Digital Woman of the year, meaning I had to go to Brussels for an overnight stay. Although I didn’t win, it was an incredible honour to be shortlisted and to spend some time with some wonderful people, especially Danny and Helena, as well as one of my favourites, Iseult and her wonderful daughter Aoibheann – what a fab couple of days!

November saw another Coding Evening and a trip to the V3 Tech Awards, which pi-top were shortlisted for as well as a visit to Merton Council to talk about ways to support the local community and youth clubs with pi-top.

December

December has been a wonderful month with Christmas parties, event planning and meetings about some exciting stuff next year. Thankfully there were no trips abroad, just to visit family in Cornwall and Lincoln and I’ve finally been able to relax a little bit.

Next year is already looking exciting with trips to Brazil, Dubai and Chicago already in the diary – I’m directing a play with auditions in 10 days and a house-move may even be on the cards later in the year (fingers crossed – five years in a one bedroom flat is my limit when the pair of us have so much stuff).

I’m really looking forward to attending BETT with pi-top as we have some great things planned and I’m confident that 2018 is going to be another amazing year. I still can’t get over how much my life has changed in the last 18 months.