boulder’s first maker faire

Boulder Maker Faire banner



UPDATE: Our booth was voted “attendee favorite” in the responses to the Boulder Maker Faire survey! Woohoo!! Apparently, we aren’t the only fans of chickens and gadgets, LOL.

What a weekend! 5,000+ people attended the event and our booth was so busy that Nathan and I forgot to eat or drink anything from 10am to 5pm on Saturday. Oops. We are completely exhausted but we feel honored to have been included.

Hey Chicken! was a hit with young and old alike. Our rubber chicken assistants kept the itty bitties entertained and made great stand-ins for demo’ing the roost bar pressure sensor. We put the light sensor in a shoebox with a removable lid to create a night and day simulator. Our goal was to create an interactive exhibit where folks could modulate the sensor inputs and observe their effects on the automatic door operation. Since operating the flat panel heater wouldn’t be very exciting, I repurposed the PowerTail to control the lights, including a globe light dressed up to look like a sun. It turned on when it was “day time” and off for “night time”.

yarn and pin block diagram

One of the biggest insights we gained from our experience was that this project really bridges the gap between generations. There were young people who brought their parents and grandparents back to our booth to share it with them. We heard stories of life growing up on the farm, even a woman who used to get in trouble for spending so much time in the hen house with her beloved chicken friends that she caught lice! There is a humanity to this project to which people are drawn. It appeals to the longing many of us have for connecting with the natural world in our increasingly impersonal, digital lives. Engineering appeals more to people, especially women, when it involves other things they care about in life, and for many, this includes backyard chickens!

lots of wires

Since we only had a week and half notice that we were exhibiting, it was a mad rush to get our model done for the Faire. We pulled some late nights but thanks to my husband Nate’s mechanical prowess, the motorized door was completed just in time. Go team! 🙂



hey chicken! coop automation project

coop hey chicken 800px
I’m tired of trudging through the snow in my pjs during cold, dark mornings to let the chickens out at sunrise. I’m also tired of rushing home in the evenings to shut their pop hole and worrying about the wild temperature swings we have here in the Front Range. So, I’m finally doing what I’ve been threatening to do for some time now: automate the chicken coop!! What will that look like?

design drawing 600x800

Our design uses an Arduino Uno + Wifi Shield + various sensors to detect the state of the coop like temperature, light, and whether the chickens are roosting to ultimately determine what the door and heater should be doing at that moment. The Arduino controls the motor that opens and closes the pop hole door and switches the heater on and off. A server application running on an iMac controls the Arduino wirelessly over the local network. The server functions as the “brains” of the operation and runs the automation based on the coop conditions the Arduino is reporting. I also plan on creating an iOS app to remotely monitor and control the coop via the server.

Luckily, I have a great group of folks who are working with me on this project – Jason in Oakland and my husband Nathan. We are collaborating and sharing our work on github.

Hardware list (so far):

Here are the pin assignments, although these may change. Yikes! Running out of I/O…
heyChicken PinoutDevelopment will proceed in 5 phases:

  1. Enable sensors (in progress): We’ve got a breadboard prototyping shield and have the temperature sensors working. Wifi is also up and running. The enclosure consists of some cruddy tupperware:


  2. Data gathering: Write a server daemon to request sensor data from the coop and store it in a SQL database. Generate plots for analysis. I’m interested in the light measurements vs. time all the birds have settled on the roost vs. what time the internet says the sun sets/rises vs. the weather conditions (i.e. sun/clouds/rain/snow) vs. the inside/outside temperatures.
  3. Construct the door assembly: Build pop hole door which will slide or rotate (vertical operation will require some additional mechanism to hold it in the open position). Connect motor, motor controller, and bumper sensors to operate the door. No locking mechanism is required since this door is inside of the closed run.
  4. Automation: Derive robust algorithms for opening and closing the door and operating the heater (thermostat). Implement on the server side. Detect and log error conditions. Send SMS messages on errors.
  5. iOS control app: Write an iOS application that serves as a control panel for the door/heat and associated automation, as well as displays current webcam images (cams already installed).
    heyChicken iOS sketch

That’s it! Now back to work…

body double

Custom paper tape dress form

Custom paper tape dress form

When I left Apple in June, I turned my engineering focus to garment construction, which I’m sure is some reaction to being in front of a computer 10 hours a day for a decade plus. With plenty of enthusiasm, I dove deep into my first project, this cute linen wrap dress from a japanese pattern book. I’ve been sewing on and off since grade school – how hard could this be? Long story short: it was a total fail. The completed dress looked great on my sewing table: beautiful fabric, nice even gathers, neat topstitching, seams finished cleanly. But on my body, the neckline gaped and the bodice had too much ease for my liking. I spent no time fitting this pattern to my unique shape and style preferences and the result was a beautiful dress that I will never wear. 😦

Since then, I’ve been obsessed with garment fitting technique. I’ve read lots online and found a ton of great books out there. But honestly, nothing has helped me more in this effort than creating my own custom dress form. It is a bit shocking to see yourself exposed like that but it is the first step to learning about (and accepting) your body’s unique qualities. It has been eye opening to examine my RTW clothing on my form and clearly see the shoulder and back fitting problems that I’ve ignored forever. It is funny how you just get used to ill-fitting clothing. No more for me.

My dress form is made from gummed paper packaging tape. I’ve read that paper tape holds its form better than duct tape. Here is the blog post that inspired me.

After I took these pictures, I closed up the holes, stuffed her tightly with newspaper, mounted her on an old floor lamp base, and coated her with many layers of Mod Podge for extra strength. It has been 4 months now and she’s still holding up. Big thanks to Karen Barefield for sculpting this masterpiece on me!