Introduction to Physical Computing

Wissa Wassef, weaving by Reda Ahmed, Egypt
Wissa Wassef weaving by Reda Ahmed, Egypt

TechWomen has started its first Virtual Delegation and I am one of the delegates from the Silicon Valley to Cameroon. On 14 June, I gave the online keynote speech on “Building a Global Network.” On 17 June, Maryann Hrichak and I (TechWomen Mentors) are leading a session on “Introduction to Physical Computing” with 100 students in Douala and Yaoundé, working with TechWomen Lead Fellows Janet Bih Shufor and Gisele Beatrice Sonfack.

Maryann and I will introduce the online discussion through the history of computing and weaving, specifically Jacquard looms, considered a precursor to modern computing technology. The idea for this approach came from my daughter Jessica Dickinson Goodman who was one of the Mentors on the 2018 TechWomen Delegation to Nigeria during which she gave a workshop on “Teaching Binary and Encryption Through Weaving.” Our Physical Computing session this week will be relatively short but we plan to cover the relationship of physical objects (like looms and yarn) to computing devices. We will show parts of the hands-on video “Personal Jacquard Weaving” and will end with a more futuristic view in the video “Knightscope – Present and Future” from Knightscope, the robotics company where my long-term TechWomen Co-Mentor, Mercedes Soria is Executive Vice President of Software Engineering, and Chief Intelligence Officer.

Some key dates from my introduction: 1804 Jacquard loom, 1837 Babbage Analytical Engine (programming by Ada Lovelace), 1884 Hollerith punched card tabulating machine (used in 1890 U.S. Census). Punch cards and paper tape continued in use until the 1990s.

Gisele and Janet will lead the students through an exercise using the MIT Media Lab’s Scratch program. Gisele wrote this about the exercise: “To control a system, or automate its operation, we use the variables which can be random or fixed depending on the type of sensors, we apply the conditions. Loops are uses to do the same thing infinitely. These concepts are the basics of physical computing.” This is their handout.

Here is our 17 June 2021 session plan:

  • 10 minutes – Introduction to Physical Computing (Katy Dickinson & Maryann Hrichak) on Zoom, including Arduino weaving video segment
  • 25 minutesScratch activity in two Zoom breakout rooms with about 50 students each, one in Douala (lead by Gisele), and the other in Yaoundé (lead by Janet), with ten TechWomen mentors helping
  • 5 minutes – Reflection (Katy Dickinson & Maryann Hrichak) on Zoom, including Knightscope robots video

TechWomen is a mentoring program of the US State Department – Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

TechWomen Maryann Hrichak, Katy Dickinson, Janet Bih Fofang, Gisele Beatrice Sonfack, Zoom 2021-06-15
TechWomen Maryann Hrichak, Katy Dickinson, Janet Bih Fofang, Gisele Beatrice Sonfack, Session Planning Meeting 2021-06-15
Xaviera Nguefo Kowo and Janet Bih Shufor, TechWomen Cameroon Delegation Screen Shot 2021-06-17
Xaviera Nguefo Kowo and Janet Bih Shufor, TechWomen Cameroon Delegation 2021-06-17
Fellows Janet, Jessica, Gisele of TechWomen Cameroon Delegation Screen Shot 2021-06-17 Screen Shot 2021-06-17
Fellows Janet, Jessica, Gisele of TechWomen Cameroon Delegation 2021-06-17

Thanks to Jeannice Farrer Samani, Janet Bih Shufor, and others for their recommendations on materials below. During our TechWomen-Cameroon Physical Computing session, I knew many of the girls might have network connection problems or would not  fully understand the Zoom-based presentations because we spoke in English and many of them are French speakers. I want the “References and Resources” to present inspiring materials they could read later. I selected physical computing examples focused on weaving and robotics and included women and girl role models not only from Cameroon and Africa but also from the U.S. I hope that the girls will find these materials helpful!

References and Resources:

Additional Information from TechWomen Mentor Suzette Shipp:

1640 Weaving Room, Carlyle House, Alexandria, Virginia USA (postcard).

Updated 22 June 2021

If you want to receive Katysblog posts by email, please sign up using the Sign Me Up! button (upper right on Katysblog home). Images Copyright 2019-2021 by Katy Dickinson.

2 Comments

Filed under Home & Family, Mentoring & Other Business, News & Reviews

2 responses to “Introduction to Physical Computing

  1. Congratulations and kudos!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. Pingback: #twcameroon week two: networking in a virtual era and design thinking with students — TechWomen

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