Tag Archives: Making Things

MOHOP sandals: A Kickstarter project I’ve backed

Every Summer, I wish for a pair of sandals that are comfortable but have some style so that they can feel a bit smart as well as casual. And I’m rubbish at finding them – I don’t really like shoe-shopping at all, which doesn’t help. Enter MOHOP sandals.

I was browsing Kickstarter projects over Christmas and came across the MOHOP sandals project. Basically, you get a pair of sandal bases, some ribbon, and some design cards. You then thread the ribbons on the bases according to the design cards (or your imagination). The bases are flexible with wooden heels and are suitable for vegans and people with a range of other ethical shopping goals (inc, if you’re from the US, made in the US).

(Although the bases shown have high heels, they’re also available as flats or different heights of heel.)

They’ve apparently been going for some time (at mohop.com and on Etsy) but were struggling to meet demand. They’re taking the Kickstarter route to fund expanding their production capabilities (inc creating local jobs).

I think the sandals are a great idea. They’re fun to look at, comfy to wear (according to the reviews), and infinitely re-designable, which appeals to my crafty side. You can thread decorations on to the ribbon or replace the ribbons completely with strips of sari, shoelaces, or anything else that occurs to you.

At the moment, the cheapest pair is $45 for a pair of flats (though there are lower-cost ‘perks’ available if you just want to contribute without buying any shoes). I’ve gone for the $100 ones that have low heels. They’re looking for $50,000 of funding by the 25th January so that they can open their new production place. They’ve got some way to go yet so if you like the look of them, consider supporting this cool idea!

Here’s their video about manufacturing their shoes:

The Ambient Kettle

Back in 2007, my Mum and I got a pair of Internet-connected Nabaztag bunnies. Aside from all the online content we could subscribe to using the bunnies, the most fun thing for me was that we could ‘pair’ our bunnies so that they would talk to each other. If I moved the ears on my bunny, the ears on my Mum’s bunny would move to match, and vice versa. The 250 physical miles disappear for a few seconds when you see the ears move and know that it’s because Mum is physically moving the ears of her bunny. I know exactly what she’s doing at that particular pointing in time, as if we’re briefly in the same room. The technical term for this is, apparently, ambient awareness.

My Nabaztag bunny
My Nabaztag bunny

The bunny ears experience of ambient awareness inspired my first (and, so far, only) Arduino project: Monitoring electricity using Christmas lights. The red/orange lights indicated the current electricity usage of my house and the blue/green lights indicated the current electricity usage of Mum and Dad’s house. The more electricity currently being used, the faster the lights flashed. Again, it was just that tiny tiny insight into what was happening 250 miles away. Just the mundanity of everyday life shared.

So I was curious about the Kickstarter project for the Good Night Lamp. The Good Night Lamp is a really nice and simple concept. One person has a Big Lamp (shaped like a  house) and they give Little Lamps, associated with the Big Lamp, to friends and/or family anywhere in the world. When the owner switches off the Big Lamp (when they go out or go to bed), the associated Little Lamps also switch off. An appealing part of it is that you can collect a Little Lamp from each of your family or group of friends and arrange them on a shelf so that before you go to bed at night, you can see each of them ‘say goodnight’ as their respective lights go out.

Good-Night-Lamp-9
Good Night Lamp

The problem I see with the Good Night Lamp is similar to the one with the Nabaztag. While I think it’s great having simple devices that do just one thing well, it doesn’t half clutter up the place. These kinds of devices need shelf-space. And it has to be shelf-space you can see easily in a place you’ll often be or they don’t work. Maybe as people replace all their books with the more easily stored ebooks, living-room bookcases will become filled with ambient devices instead. I got to chatting with Ambient Orb fan Andy Stanford-Clark about it.

While my and my Mum’s’ Nabaztags have now died or gone into hibernation and the Christmas lights never made it as far as the tree, our more lasting providers of ambient awareness don’t even have their own physical forms. Instead, they’re software on our smartphones and tablets, devices that we have around anyway, wherever we are. In particular, SMS updates of my Mum and Dad’s Tweets.

Every morning, my Mum wakes up, has a coffee with my Dad, and reads interesting articles on her iPad. I know this from when I’ve visited them and because when she reads an interesting article, she tweets or retweets it and I receive about half-a-dozen txts in quick succession. Later in the afternoon, after they’ve got home from wherever they’ve been that day (or have found free wifi somewhere while they’re out) and are drinking another cup of coffee or tea, I receive another half-a-dozen txts pointing to interesting articles online. Just receiving the txts gives me an awareness of them waking up or sitting down to read the paper. Clicking the links to the articles gives me an insight into what they’re reading and how they’re probably feeling about the topics of the articles. The fairly mundane, everyday things that we wouldn’t remember, or bother, to talk about on the phone a week or so later.

As drinking coffee or tea seems to play a regular, if side, part in the activities I’m notified about, Andy and I came up with the idea of the Ambient Kettle. In my house, we have a whole house Current Cost monitor that is connected to a server out on the Internet. It was the feed from this server that we used in my Christmas Lights project. Since then, though, I’ve added individual appliance monitors (IAMs) to a few of the appliances around the house, including the kettle. The feeds from these IAMs also go to the server and so can be used by applications that know which data to request.

So Andy hacked up a (private) Twitter account, @ambientkettle, which my Mum follows. Each time the kettle boils in my house, the @ambientkettle account tweets to my Mum:

@ambientkettle tweets
@ambientkettle tweets

Without being physically present or explicitly letting her know that I am making a cup of tea, she can get a sense of what I’m doing. The messages in the tweets that @ambientkettle sends are pre-canned and chosen at random but made to be chatty enough that it seems a bit like the start of a conversation. Indeed, Mum sometimes tweets back to it to say that she and Dad are also having a cup of tea or are looking forward to one when they get home, or whatever. As I say, it’s mundane but it’s those kinds of mundane things that make everyday life.

I’ll be interested to see how the Good Night Lamp gets taken up. It was featured in the very mainstream Daily Mail yesterday and its founding team has a good record of startups, product design, interaction design, and Internet of Things creativeness. And there’s something very appealing about having ambient awareness of friends and family when we’re geographically spread apart.

My unseamly new sweater

About this time last year, I finally got round to buying some yarn and a pattern to try re-learning to crochet. Last time I crocheted, I was about 12 and my efforts were limited to creating hair bun nets (as in the kind of things little girls wear – and indeed I wore – to ballet lessons). I think the last one was bright red for wearing to school on No Uniform Day for Red Nose Day. After that, I got bored of it and lost interest.

So after completing a smaller practice project last Spring, I decided to tackle something I’d actually wear. And as it was July, I figured it would be timely to make a jumper for the Winter (or even the Autumn, in my more optimistic moments). So I chose the Unseamly Sweater from a book I have called Stitch ‘n’ Bitch: The Happy Hooker. This weekend (8 months later, and on the verge of Spring),  I finished it.

Here’s a photo of me modelling it, catalogue-style:

Magazine pose for my completed crochet project.

I’m really pleased with how it came out. There was a moment last weekend when it seemed I wouldn’t be able to complete the second sleeve because I’d run out of yarn, and my original supplier was permanently out of stock. The combined wonders of Google and Ebay saved the day.

So, being a good little IBMer, I now turn to Lessons Learned:

  • Hold the crochet hook; don’t grip it. I struggled for the first two-thirds of the body (crocheted as a tube – front and back at the same time) to get my ‘guage’ right. Guage is the number of stitches to the inch, and is determined by a combination of weight of yarn, size of hook, and how tightly you hold the hook and yarn.
  • Use the right size of hook. Related to the point above, I started the jumper about 5 times before it was neither fit for a child nor fit for two of me at once. I actually used the right-sized hook for the arms (a size bigger than the pattern suggests) but, for the body, I used a size smaller and I ended up having to increase the wrong number of stitches to make it the right size of jumper. This also meant that I ended up buying more yarn than I should’ve needed.
  • Buy enough yarn first time. Every book tells you that this is the only way to ensure a consistent shade throughout – something only guaranteed by all the balls of yarn being dyed in the same batch. Because of the previous two points, I ran out of yarn not once but twice. Consequently, the body and the first quarter of one of the arms is a teeny bit darker shade than the rest of the arms.
  • I enjoy the decorative bit more than the…um…mundane bit. This is the same as for the sunflower pots I made two years ago. Being crochet, it was actually quite quick to get through the mundane bits and I enjoyed it more than I expected. I do, however, much prefer making the fun frilly bits and changing stitches. So while I really like the finished effect of this particular pattern, it did get rather repetitive along the way.

Incidentally, the yarn I used (for both this jumper and my previous project) is Anchor Bamboolo, which is actually made from bamboo mixed with some cotton making a lovely soft, light, shiny yarn – similar I think to mercerized cotton, which is what I’d looked for originally. Bamboo is probably better for the environment than cotton, which is usually really bad for the environment because of the phenomenal amounts of pesticides that have to be used to grow it (though this article and its comments ponder the pros and cons of bamboo as a material from a furniture design perspective).

So, bearing those lessons in mind, I’m now keen to find my next crochet project. I seem to have acquired a few patterns already and they might make more sense now that I’ve done a relatively easy one!