Here's the transcript from our soldersesh backlog - enjoy this gem from Nov 2021!
In this soldersesh, Carrie got to put together one of Charlyn's LED rings and jumped into some great conversations! Charlyn, a programmer by day and maker by night, loves to design wearable electronic jewelry and other glowy things! She talked about her first kit she designed for Adafruit (DotStar Fortune Necklace), growing up in the Philippines and how she grew an interest in STEM, and her awesome LinkedIn class: "CircuitPython: Connecting a Robot Cat to the Internet."
You can find Charlyn (aka @chardane) on Twitter and Instagram, and find her website here!
(0:00-5:03) Meet Charlyn
Carrie: Hello, everyone! I'm Carrie Sundra with Alpenglow Industries. Today I have Charlyn Gonda with me and she is amazing! She is @chardane on Twitter and if you are not already following her, you should. She is a coder by day and maker by night; as a software engineer, she makes all sorts of beautiful creations! Today we're going to make one of her creations, which is this really cool, twisted, LED ring. Welcome to the show and thank you so much for coming on.
Charlyn: Thank you for having me.
Carrie: No problem. There’re so many things I don't even know where to start. Why don't we start with some show and tell? It's always fun to just start with show and tell.
Charlyn: Okay, I've got a few things! My first LED Adafruit guide is a capacitive touch necklace that predicts your fortune, but only if your fortune consists of a yes or no answer... So, if you touch it, it dies. (Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work in the stream, the necklace turned off lol.) It says hello world right now, but if I disconnect it from Bluetooth, then this capacitive touch actually does something. (Charlyn: “I think I introduced the firmware bug there.”) It's powered by a little power pack in the back and has a nRF52840 chip, like the ItsyBitsy Bluetooth one. The entire case is laser cut, which was really fun to cram everything in there and the wires are actually inside the chain. I did a little bit of wire wrapping there with gold floss, so that was fun/tedious.
Carrie: Sounds like you could do in front of the TV.
Charlyn: Exactly, I had to put on some Bob's Burgers to make it actually bearable! I was super happy with how it turned out and the matrix inside here is a DotStar matrix, the little itty-bitty one from Adafruit. The first time I saw that matrix, I thought, I need to do something with it, but I didn't know what for the longest time! I learned about that Matrix kind of early on in my maker journey and just didn't have enough of a creative toolbox to make it happen. But that sort of black LED obsession actually started with this ring.
Carrie: Oh, cool! I just have to interject and say how I love, how you just unabashedly covered a corner of the of the Matrix. It looks so cool and works so well, and yet I feel like I would have done the engineer brain thing of, “Oh, I can't cover any part of this. I have to incorporate the whole thing,” but you just decided to block part of it and make it a different shape and I think that that is super neat!
Charlyn: Yeah, I was just trying to figure out a compelling shape because it's a square and it's kind of really uninteresting to me when it was a square. So, these brass shapes, I actually have a bunch of them. I had posted on my Instagram, this exploration that I did where I just kept combining different acrylic shapes with different brass shapes because it looks really strange, but these brass shapes are really satisfying to look at. Every time I look at them, I want to think about something to make with them because they're so compelling to me! That's kind of part of my process. I think is just finding something that's weirdly appealing and just pulling on that thread of what can I make with it so that it keeps its shape or the thing that makes it appealing, but then with LEDs.
Carrie: I like it, LEDs make everything better. Everything. It’s a proven fact.
(16:12 – 21:15) Hobbies, Projects, and Business
Carrie: So, what do you tell people who say, “Oh, you should totally make those and sell them.”
Charlyn: Oh my gosh, that's a pretty common refrain. As a software engineer, I could cobble together a script that will do a thing, but to put these into production and get them into people's hands is a different exercise entirely. I think it's the same with hardware, but 10X. I can't, I can't even begin to- I mean, it takes me a long time just for this one ring. We're going to make one today so we can see how long it takes, but to make something like this at scale…
Carrie: We could try to put an equivalent retail price on it.
Charlyn: Yeah, there we go. That would be really fun! Honestly, I have the luxury to not productionize it at the moment because it's a hobby. So, I'm kind of just leaning into the fact that it's a super fun thing that I get to do! There's a certain hesitance in putting pressure on it in terms of monetizing it because I am afraid of spoiling it for myself almost, although that's not always going to be the case. I think there's a lot of people who do the thing that they love and it's a sustainable sort of lifestyle. But it's scary, it’s a scary sort of thing to think about.
Carrie: Definitely. It's a big deal to turn a hobby into work, too. I have definitely seen people lose the enjoyment that they used to get out of it.
Charlyn: But it's also not guaranteed. I think there's also a world where both is true. You see the negative parts of it, but then you also experienced all the positive sort of highs with that. Maybe I'm just missing out on that, too, I don't know – it's different.
Carrie: Right. It's very different. It's still stressful just a different set of stresses. There are still things that are wonderful about the two, about work or making a hobby or work, but they're just different.
Charlyn: Yeah, for sure. And I mean, I'm sure you know, how that experience goes.
Carrie: I’ve done it a few times, with both results. Like when I dyed yarn for a little while and was actually doing yarn shows and I was going on the road and having booths at these different yarn festivals and stuff.
Charlyn: Wow, shows and festivals – it's a whole world that I have not yet seen.
Carrie: They're pretty cool. There are different ones. I think the ones that I liked the best are the ones where there are also fiber animals that you can actually see. Fleece judging shows are really interesting. At the end, after they've judged them all, you get to go around and just paw everything!
Charlyn: No cuddling though, even though you really want to.
Carrie: I didn't like the dying enough to do what I would have had to have done in order to make it work.
Charlyn: Well, it's good. I feel like the fact, you couldn't have known that until you have gone through that journey, right?
Carrie: Yeah, absolutely. And it was a great break from engineering because I was super burnt out on it. Then after I took a break for a little while, I got back into it and got a lot more enjoyment out of it, doing it on my own terms. So, it was good. It was a good break, even though financially it was not good.
Charlyn: That's always the case. That's always the eternal struggle, isn't it? But that's crazy. I have so much respect for you and the fact that you went through that journey because that's an adventure.
Carrie: It has definitely been, I still feel like the adventure is somewhat ongoing.
(1:44:50 – 1:50:48) Circuit Python Class
Carrie: So, tell me about learning circuit Python and the class that you just had. I am totally unfamiliar with LinkedIn in classes.
Charlyn: Yeah, to tell you the truth, I also was unfamiliar until I produced this course with them. I have recently launched this course; it's called Circuit Python: Connecting a robot cat to the internet. It's about using Circuit Python and Adafruit.io, this MQTT server that Adafruit has that is mostly free. It uses a Metro M4 Express AirLift Lite, which is a really long name. It's their M4 form factor board that has an ESP32 chip. Or is it ESP266? I don't know which one, but it’s one of the two Wi-Fi chips. As a side note, as I'm getting into a lot of this hardware stuff, the thing that hardware engineers and people who are really into hardware do, is memorize a bunch of random numbers and letters. That totally make sense once you know what they are, but when you don't, you're like, what? What do you mean? Why do you have to call it its full name? I mean, I guess it's an abbreviation, but anyway, I feel like I've had to learn a lot of it coming in. Ooh it’s lighting up!
Carrie: I'm now testing out the fit on different fingers. I think the middle finger is probably our best bet there.
Charlyn: Yeah. I actually think it's a little bit cramped on this finger, but you know, like I said, it might end up being a midi ring. That's always an option, right? Here we go, it's a midi ring right now. See, it's fancy! But yeah, that's the course and it's really fun to make. We filmed it at my old apartment in San Francisco and they shipped me seven boxes of equipment – lighting and cameras and all of that stuff. I had been writing the course in 2019, we were supposed to film it early 2020, and then locked down happened. So, we dropped the ball hard on producing the course and I was not in a mental state anyway to actually be productive. So, we picked that back up again earlier this year, cause we were like, okay, either we wait until next year or we try to get it to happen with remote filming. I decided I just want to have this course out there; I wrote most of the content already, I just needed some editing. I think that was maybe the most challenging. Well, two challenging parts were that I had to write it and then I also had to perform it. The performance piece of it was actually pretty challenging because I felt like I needed to know every single line of code and exactly what it does and every single component and exactly what that does before I could be confident in talking about it. So yeah, it's out and I am happy to have been able to do it.
Carrie: That is super cool! You said it is free for anybody with a LinkedIn account?
Charlyn: Yes! So if you have a LinkedIn account there's a specific link and it's in my Twitter feed (@chardane). The link makes the course free for 24 hours after you click it. It's not a super long course, it's like an hour, over 11 episodes. So it’s a bite sized thing.
(1:55:15 – 1:59:46) Path into STEM
Carrie: So, I do want to also hear, before we go, what was your path into STEM and how did you become a professional software engineer? What do you do? What's your day job, if you can talk about that.
Charlyn: Yeah, I’m a software engineer by day and the way that I got into it was kind of by luck. I actually grew up in the Philippines and I went to high school there. My junior year is when they started offering computer science courses and I was one of the lucky ones to be able to actually go to a school that offered computer science. We had computer classes, but they're mostly about using the computer, not coding.
Carrie: Yeah, I had typing, I had typing twice.
Charlyn: I feel like if I did not have that computer science course in high school, I definitely wouldn't have chosen computer science as a major – I wouldn't have gotten into coding. After I took that course, the other thing that happened was that Neopets was a thing. Do you know about that?
Carrie: I don't. I remember Tamagotchi.
Carrie: It’s more different from your normal day to day.
Charlyn: Yeah. I already have work; I already have to fight a bunch of complex coding systems at work.
Carrie: It’s not what you want to do when you’re at home to relax.
Charlyn: Some people really like doing that too as a hobby, but I think this is fun. Being able to just make stuff like this is fun.