As of December 14th, 2016 we have set up our 5th activity set. We change all of our activities every 4 months, give or take 2 weeks. The new set of activities is themed “Community." Each set of activities has its technical and structural challenges that have to be overcome. Many times there is a lot of head scratching and a lot of frustration, until things finally work the way they were intended. Usually the moments of big challenge are spread over 4-6 weeks of prime build time. During the build time much of what could go wrong is explored in benchtop prototypes. This was also the case for the Community activity set, or so I thought. With just over a week to go before the Community set went live, the great activity crash began.
Two weeks from going live I had most of the activity components and programs tested and ready to assemble. I had gone over them multiple times. I tested how things worked when left connected for long periods, how different sensors would work, how relays would function, even how well static decals would cling to a particular dry erase contact paper. With all of that testing I was feeling pretty good—until the last week of November.
Late in the week of November 28th, as I began final assembly, all of the following and more happened:
- 2 amplifiers blew (one of them is pictured at the top of this page).
- A software update made it look like my 4 microcontrollers were not properly receiving the scripts I had written.
- The plastic window of our toy truck began acting like a giant capacitor causing glitches in our control system.
- The static decals I planned to use did not adhere to the tested contact paper, once the paper was attached to the disks we planned to use.
- The electric guitar pickups I chose did not drive our speaker amp with enough oomph to make any usable noise.
- The needle on our record player broke and I had no backups.
- 3 important 3D prints failed in 2 days.
- I lost a few key small parts for our stringed instrument activity.
- The pins in our prosthetic hand plugs would not stay in their housing.
- A 5 volt regulator I was using burned up.
While some of these issues were due to some lack of concentration on my part, having all of them occur in such a short time frame so close to going live was daunting. It is times like these when you just want to throw your hands into the air and surrender.
One of the key messages we try to convey to visitors is to not give up. Resilience is a key component to the invention process. When you are doing something or inventing something that has no instruction booklet things will go wrong. You must be resilient. During the week of November 28th I found myself mentally repeating the word resilience, resilience, resilience, resilience. It was not much comfort but it was all that I could do to not give up.
The week of November 28th passed. On Saturday we had a volunteer preview. This is where our volunteers see the activities for the first time. Often a number of activities are still in need of some tweaking. For this preview it was more like, “here are some activities imagine what they should work like.” The volunteers took the preview in stride. They shared their ideas and comments. Over the next 3 days, while trying not to let the fatigue of the previous week combined with a cold take me down, I practiced resilience. During that 3 day span, much of what had crumbled the week before was repaired, parts were found and problems were solved. December 11th and 12th turned out to be highly productive times for problem solving. Tasks that would have taken me a full day during the week that everything crashed were taking only an hour or two to complete.
Our set went live on December 14th. The activities have held up pretty well. There are a few tweaks, the kind that you do not see coming until you unleash hundreds of high energy kids on the activities, are yet to me made. For the next 2 weeks I will likely be tweaking this set. That is the norm. It is good to be back to the norm and to see that living the mission by practicing resilience is not just a message we convey. It is a truth that takes you across the finish line.