CFP: Symposium on Amazing Stories: Inspiration, Learning, and Adventure in Science Fiction (Date Updated)

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Symposium on Amazing Stories: Inspiration, Learning, and Adventure in Science Fiction

Date: Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, 9:00AM-5:00PM Wednesday, November 30, 2016, 9:00AM-5:00PM

Location: New York City College of Technology, 300 Jay St., Namm N119

“By ‘scientifiction’ I mean the Jules Verne, H. G. Wells and Edgar Allan Poe type of story—a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision … Not only do these amazing tales make tremendously interesting reading—they are always instructive.”
-Hugo Gernsback, 1926.

When the widely recognized “Father of Science Fiction,” Hugo Gernsback first coined the term that captured the essence of the genre we now call science fiction (SF), he envisioned SF as a new form of literature that inspired with prophecy, taught with scientific and technical facts, and engaged with adventure. These traits unique to SF have launched many of its readers on trajectories into the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) fields.

Join us for a one-day symposium exploring SF as a medium for engaging imagination, a means for exploring STEM/STEAM fields, and an instrument for discovering interdisciplinary connections, and also celebrating the new City Tech Science Fiction Collection held in the Archives and Special Collections of the Ursula C. Schwerin Library.

We invite presentations of 10-15 minutes on SF and how it fulfills learning, inspiration, and fun in STEAM-focused environments. Possible presentation topics include, but are not limited to:

• SF inspired STEM careers (or what SF inspired you to enter your field?)
• SF as a teaching tool (or what SF have you used or want to use in your classes?)
• SF’s imaginative functions (or Gedankenexperiment, considering ethical issues and unintended consequences, visualizing the influence of science and technology on society)
• Bridging STEM and the humanities via SF (or SF as an interdisciplinary cultural work that embraces STEAM)
• SF and place (or SF’s deep roots in Brooklyn and New York City)
• The fun and learning in archival work in SF collections (or making the City Tech Science Fiction Collection work for faculty, students, and researchers)

Please send a 100-word abstract, brief bio, and contact information to Jason Ellis (jellis at citytech.cuny.edu) by Oct. 31, 2016. Schedule will be announced Nov.15, 2016.

Organizing Committee: Jason Ellis (Chair), Aaron Barlow, Jill Belli, and Mary Nilles.

Hosted by the School of Arts and Sciences at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY.

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Posted in Announcement, City Tech, Science Fiction

CFP: NANO Special Issue: Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Narrative, Characters, Media, and Event

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I’m co-editing (with my colleagues Alan Lovegreen and Sean Scanlan) a special issue of NANO New American Notes Online that explores Star Wars: The Force Awakens as narrative, character, media, and event.

NANO is a badass journal that focuses on concise, rigorous, and multimodal arguments. It is dynamic in its writers’ approaches, and it is fast to publication with appropriate blind peer review. It is the perfect venue to approach something as big as Star Wars: A Force Awakens  with a critical and close lens before the next installment in the new trilogy appears! The CFP is included below, but you can find the original CFP and Submission Info page on NANO’s website. Please comment or email me with any questions.

Call for Papers: Issue 12

Deadline: February 1, 2017

Special Issue: Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Narrative, Characters, Media, and Event

Guest Editors: Jason W. Ellis, Alan Lovegreen, and Sean Scanlan



 

This thing [Star Wars] communicates. It is in a language that is talking to young people today, and that’s marvelous.

—Joseph Campbell in conversation with Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth (1988)

There are certainly many more themes in The Force Awakens that speak to us, and help us to learn more about these characters and what makes them tick.

—Dan Zehr, “Studying Skywalkers” column on starwars.com (May 18, 2016)

 

It is the aim of this special issue of NANO to address the significance of the latest installment of Star Wars by exploring its narrative, characters, media, and event. Across nearly four decades, audiences spanning generations have experienced Star Wars through films, television programs, books, video games, special events such as the annual “celebrations,” and other storytelling media, including action figures and LEGO. Following Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm, George Lucas’ production company, audiences experienced a new transmedia event and a continuation of the old stories with the release of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens in 2015. Joseph Campbell’s earlier observations about the first film raises new questions that deserve to be answered about the latest: How does this new film communicate? What language does it use? And, to whom is it speaking?

One way to approach these issues of communication and language is through the convergence of the film’s narrative and characters, especially how the transmission of this convergence gets revealed through a variety of media as an event. For example, how does the film’s narrative respond to, continue, and challenge those that it follows? And what about the cast of characters—some returning and some new? What do these characters and their performance of the narrative have to say about the here-and-now as well as the past? Of course, the narrative is told through media, which includes different film technologies, digital distribution, DVD and Blu-Ray discs, websites, video games, and apps. And stepping back for a larger perspective, the release of the film and its transmedia supporting elements inform The Force Awakens as an event, in part orchestrated by Disney/Lucasfilm, and in part connected to contemporary events, including #oscarssowhite, #womeninfilm, and #paygap. Furthermore, how does its event(s) relate to those of the past, including specifically those centered on the release of the earlier films and subsequent events awakening fans’ nostalgic enthusiasm. The Force Awakens’ considerable box office performance and tie-in successes signal how significant this film (and its progenitors) is, and it is the aim of this special issue to explore the promise and pitfalls of its cultural influence.

This issue welcomes multimodal essays up to 4,000 words (excluding works cited) exploring topics relating to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, including but not limited to the following:

  • transmedia storytelling and The Force Awakens (including “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” publications, such as Chuck Wendig’s novel, Star Wars: Aftermath, and comic books Star Wars: Shattered Empire and Star Wars: Poe Dameron
  • media transformation and adaptation (e.g., comparing the film with Alan Dean Foster’s novelization)
  • materiality and The Force Awakens (e.g., LEGO, play, and collecting)
  • Star Wars fandom and cosplay
  • Star Wars reference materials and publications
  • starwars.com and the official Star Wars app
  • Star Wars videogames including LEGO Star Wars: The Force AwakensStar Wars Battlefront, and the now defunct Disney Infinity tie-ins
  • Jakku Spy VR experience
  • Star Wars Celebration and ComicCon special events
  • social and political movements’ coinciding/connecting with The Force Awakens
  • the hero’s journey and the heroes’ journeys
  • movement and storytelling
  • vehicles as characters
  • nostalgia and familiarity
  • inclusive casting/characters
  • droids and aliens
  • hidden bodies/cgi characters (e.g., Maz Kanata/ Lupita Nyong’o and Captain Phasma/Gwendoline Christie)
  • race and gender in The Force Awakens
  • terrorism, insurgency, war, and militarism
  • surveillance

Direct questions to the Special Issue co-editors: Jason W. Ellis [jellis@citytech.cuny.edu], Alan Lovegreen [alanlovegreen@yahoo.com], and Sean Scanlan [sscanlan@citytech.cuny.edu].

NANO is a multimodal journal. Therefore, we encourage submissions that include images, sound, or video in support of a written argument. These multimodal components may consist of objects and data sets that go beyond traditional media. The multimodal components of the essay must be owned or licensed by the author, come from the public domain, or fall within reasonable fair use (see Stanford University Libraries’ Copyright & Fair Use site, http://fairuse.stanford.edu/overview/fair-use/ and the U.S. Copyright Office’s Fair Use site, http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html for more information. NANO’s Fair Use Statement is available on its submission page, http://www.nanocrit.com/submissions-information/).

For questions about video, audio, or image usage, please contact NANO: editornano@citytech.cuny.edu.

NANO uses modified MLA (Modern Language Association) formatting and style.

Submission style guidelines: http://www.nanocrit.com/submissions-information/style-guide-nano/

Submission form: http://www.nanocrit.com/submissions-information/submission-form-page-nano1

Keywords and abstract: Each author is asked to submit 5 keywords and a 150-word abstract to accompany their submission.

Schedule: Deadlines concerning the special issue to be published in NANO:

  • Submission deadline: February 1, 2017
  • Complete comments and peer review June 2017
  • Pre-production begins August 2017

We look forward to receiving your contributions.

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Posted in Announcement, City Tech, Personal, Science Fiction

Working Bibliography for Digital Fabrication Module of “A Cultural History of Digital Technology” at City Tech

This is a 3D print of a Mandelbulb that I created with Mandelbulb3D, Fiji, and meshlab.

This is a 3D print of a Mandelbulb that I created with Mandelbulb3D, Fiji, and meshlab.

I’m an NEH Fellow for City Tech’s “A Cultural History of Digital Technology” project. It brings together faculty from across the college to design humanities-course modules and a new course proposal that brings the six modules together. I am contributing to the Digital Fabrication Module of the course curriculum that the team will develop.

I put together the following bibliography of Science Fiction, critical work, video games, and software as part of my contribution to the project and the upcoming curricular work. Following my bibliography, I have included the preliminary viewings and readings for this module (which were selected before I joined the project as a fellow) for those interested in learning more about these topics.

Working Bibliography

Fiction: 3D Printing (chronological)

Heinlein, Robert A. “Waldo.” Astounding Science Fiction Aug. 1942: 9-53.

Smith, George O. “Identity.” Astounding Science Fiction Nov. 1945. 145-180.

Russell, Eric F. “Hobbyist.” Astounding Science Fiction Sept. 1947: 33-61.

Sheckley, Robert. “The Necessary Thing.” Galaxy Science Fiction June 1955. 55-66.

Clarke, Arthur C. The City and the Stars. Harcourt Brace/SFBC, 1956.

Stephenson, Neal. The Diamond Age, or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer. Bantam Spectra, 1995.

Gibson, William. All Tomorrow’s Parties. Viking Press, 1999.

Brin, David. Kiln People. Tor, 2002.

Marusek, David. Counting Heads. Tor, 2005. [expansion of his novella We Were Out of Our Minds with Joy, 1995].

Doctorow, Cory. “Printcrime.” Nature vol. 439 (12 Jan. 2006): 242.

Sterling, Bruce. “Kiosk.” The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction Jan. 2007: 68-113.

Doctorow, Cory. Makers. HarperVoyager, 2009.

Stross, Charles. Rule 34. Ace Books, 2011.

Hamilton, Peter F. Great North Road, Macmillan UK, 2012.

Gibson, William. The Peripheral. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2014.

Newman, Emma. Planetfall. Roc, 2015.

Robinson, Kim Stanley. Aurora. Orbit, 2015.

 

Fiction: Fractals (chronological)

Langford, David. “Blit.” Interzone Sept./Oct. 1988: 40-42.

Rucker, Rudy. “As Above, So Below.” in The Microverse. Ed. Byron Preiss. Bantam Spectra, 1989. 334-340.

Shiner, Lewis. “Fractal Geometry.” in The Edges of Things. WSFA Press, 1991. 59.

Anthony, Piers. Fractal Mode. Ace/Putnam, 1992. [second novel in his Mode series].

Di Filippo, Paul. “Fractal Paisleys.” The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction May 1992: 72-106.

Charnock, Graham. “On the Shores of a Fractal Sea.” in New Worlds 3. Ed. David Garnett. Gollancz, 1993. 125-136.

Luckett, Dave. “The Patternmaker.” in The Patternmaker: Nine Science Fiction Stories. Ed. Lucy Sussex. Omnibus Books, 1994. 3-18.

Pickover, Clifford A. Chaos in Wonderland: Visual Adventures in a Fractal World. St. Martin’s Press, 1994.

Turzillo, Mary A. “The Mandelbrot Dragon.” in The Ultimate Dragon. Eds. Keith DeCandido, John Betancourt, and Byron Preiss. Dell, 1995. 167-172.

Williamson, Jack. “The Fractal Man.” 1996. in At the Human Limit. Haffner Press, 2011. 187-204.

Leisner, William. “Gods, Fate, and Fractals.” in Strange New Worlds II. Eds. Dean Wesley Smith, John J. Ordover, and Paula M. Block. Pocket Books, 1999. 166-183.

Thompson, Douglas. Ultrameta: A Fractal Novel. Eibonvale Press, 2009.

Patrice, Helen. “Mandelbrot Universe.” Dreams & Nightmares no. 92 (May 2012): n.p.

Strasser, Dirk. “The Mandelbrot Bet.” in Carbide Tipped Pens: Seventeen Tales of Hard Science Fiction. Eds. Ben Bova and Eric Choi. Tor, 2014. 365-378.

 

Non-Fiction (chronological)

Snow, C.P. The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. Cambridge UP, 1961.

Rucker, Rudy. “In Search of a Beautiful 3D Mandelbrot Set.” RudyRucker.com. 5-14 Sept. 1988 (revised 24 Sept. 2009).

Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Thurs, Daniel Patrick. “Tiny Tech, Transcendent Tech: Nanotechnology, Science Fiction, and the Limits of Modern Science Talk.” Science Communication vol. 29, no. 1 (Sept. 2007): 65-95.

 

Video Games (chronological)

Rescue on Fractalus!, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rescue_on_Fractalus! and https://archive.org/details/a2_Rescue_on_Fractalus_1985_Lucasfilm_Games_cr_Blade.

.kkrieger, http://web.archive.org/web/20120204065621/http://www.theprodukkt.com/kkrieger.

No Man’s Sky, http://www.no-mans-sky.com.

 

Software

KPT Bryce 1.0 (1994), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MY8GPU5osx4 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGLjPYgs8bg and http://kai.sub.blue/en/frax.html and http://fract.al.

The Mandelbrot Set in HTML5 Canvas and Javascript, http://tilde.club/~david/m/.

Julia Map, http://juliamap.googlelabs.com/.

FracalLab, http://hirnsohle.de/test/fractalLab/.

Paul Lutus, The Mandelbrot Set, http://arachnoid.com/mandelbrot_set/index.html.

 


 

Preliminary Viewings

NOVA, “Fractals: Hunting the Hidden Dimension,” http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/physics/hunting-hidden-dimension.html.

Benoit Mandelbrot TED Talk, Fractals and the Art of Roughness, https://www.ted.com/talks/benoit_mandelbrot_fractals_the_art_of_roughness?language=en.

 

Preliminary Readings

Devlin, Keith. The Language of Mathematics: Making the Invisible Visible. W. H. Freeman, 1998. 188-220.

Flake, Gary. The Computational Beauty of Nature: Computer Explorations of Fractals, Chaos, Complex Systems, and Adaptation. MIT Press, 1998. 59- 110.

Mandelbrot, Benoit. The Fractal Geometry of Nature. W.H. Freeman, 1983. 4- 38.

Mandelbrot, Benoit. Fractals: Form, Chance, and Dimension. W.H. Freeman, 1977.

Samuel, Nina. ed. The Islands of Benoit Mandelbrot: Fractals, Chaos, and the Materiality of Thinking. Bard Graduate Center, 2012.18-56.

 

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Posted in City Tech, Computers, Pedagogy, Science Fiction, Technology

Science Fiction at City Tech

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An anonymous donor recently gifted a tremendous collection of Science Fiction magazines (complete runs from the 1950s to the present), novels, and criticism to the New York City College of Technology, CUNY (City Tech). Alan Lovegreen and I collaborated on the proposal to acquire the collection and fund its relocation to City Tech’s Library Special Collections and Archives. While the Library prepared space for the 145 boxes of materials, we stored the collection in our two shared office spaces. Now that the space is available in the Archives, we have been moving the materials through the serpentine passages of 300 Jay Street and onto the shelves. So far, we’ve moved over 100 boxes into the Archives, and we anticipate completing the move very soon. To document the collection’s integration into the City Tech Library Archives and promote Science-Fiction-focused initiatives at the college, I created a new website called “Science Fiction at City Tech” on our open-learning platform, OpenLab. Due to the importance of this collection and the possibilities that it opens up for research, teaching, and recruitment, I added a permanent link to the Science Fiction at City Tech site in the menu above. After everything is shelved, I will create a photograph-based temporary finding aid, and the City Tech Library Archives (helmed by Keith Muchowski) will catalog the collection. There are already plans in the works for symposia, student-involvement projects, and more. Stay tuned for updates here and on the Science Fiction at City Tech site for updates.

Posted in City Tech, Science Fiction

Why Do I Build LEGO Sets Before Creating My Own Models? Thoughts on Haptics and Star Wars Rebels 75053 The Ghost

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I recently purchased the LEGO Star Wars Rebels 75053 The Ghost set to cannibalize for a MOC project. However, before I parted out the set and sold off the minifigures, I built the set one time and purposefully spread the build time across several days even though the set itself should only take a couple of hours of concentrated build time to complete. Why?

A personal reason stems from the enjoyment and stress relief that comes from building something with my hands. I see the model take shape as I place brick after brick. I take joy in the innovative techniques employed by the model’s designers. I reflect on the relationship of the model to its source material–in this case, the television program Star Wars: Rebels.

From a learning perspective, the haptic experience of building the model by following its instructions teaches the builder the process and techniques of the designer. Combined with the builder’s experience gained from model building and creative expression, one can reflect on the model’s design and guess about alternative methods and potential roadblocks encountered by the designer in earlier versions. In a sense, LEGO bricks serve as an interface between builder and designer, and through the interface, the builder learns and imagines new possibilities, which the builder can turn toward future projects. Building, pulling apart, rebuilding, redesigning, and creating forms the basis of a self-perpetuating active learning experience–one that begins guided and ends self-directed.

By spreading the build across several days, it allowed me to enjoy an extended building experience while giving my brain the space to think about and reflect on the building techniques employed by the sets designers. Had I built the model as quickly as I could have otherwise, I would not necessarily learn as much from the instructions and haptic experience of following the instructions to construct the model.

Based on my extensive first-hand experience as a LEGO builder and an educator who uses LEGO in his Technical Writing and Science Fiction classes, the transition from guided to self-directed learning is one of the powerful characteristics of LEGO as a learning platform. Furthermore, its orientation as a technology of play opens engagement and enables learning that is fulfilling because of the enjoyment that it can bring about (of course, LEGO might not be for everyone and the source of enjoyment in learning differs from person to person–as with the projection learning with lecture and PowerPoint, or other forms of active learning exercises, I propose that LEGO is another tool in the educator’s toolbox that can be used, repurposed, hacked, etc. as the case and need arises).

Before I disassemble The Ghost, here are some images of a nice model that accurately captures its source while adding play elements that fans of the series–young and old–will likely enjoy.

If you’ve deployed LEGO in some way in your classroom or assignments, share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below or ping me on Twitter.

Posted in Lego, Science Fiction, The Brain

Customized LEGO Star Wars Millennium Falcon 75105 from The Force Awakens

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Introduction

After watching Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens for the first of four times (so far), I purchased the new LEGO Millennium Falcon 75105 (LEGO website page and Brickset model page). It is a wonderfully designed model that balances play with detail. This latest Falcon model from LEGO captures how the passage of time and change of hands has affected this storied ship’s appearance in the film. Despite the interior and exterior greebling, the layout of the Falcon is spacious and accommodating for customization by the LEGO builder. It was my intention to customize the Falcon to be more screen accurate in the main hold and cockpit, and more detailed in the engine compartment and rear storage/bunk spaces. Through the process of customization, I worked on the exterior dorsal and ventral sides (including an improvement to the boarding platform. Below, I offer some explanation and photos for each before and after stage of my customization, including the cockpit, exterior dorsal, exterior ventral, interior fore, and interior aft.

Cockpit, Before Customization

The original cockpit accommodates two minifigures–one sitting forward on the right (pilot) and one sitting one row behind on the left (copilot). It comes with a single lever for control and a printed wedge brick with cockpit controls. Due to the conical elements used for the cockpit, space is extremely limited. However, the rear of the cockpit has a strange design that is not evocative of the rear of the cockpit, which would have controls, lights, and a door. I targeted these issues in my customization seen below.

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Cockpit, After Customization

In my customization of the cockpit interior, I raised the control panel by one plate and gave the pilot and co-pilot handle-bar controls like in the films. Above the directional control bars, there are three adjustable levels sitting on top of the printed control panel wedge brick for controlling the engines.

 

Exterior Dorsal, Before Customization

These images are of the Falcon’s exterior before any customization. Of note, the Millennium Falcon’s fore running lights are red instead of clear (a change depicted in The Force Awakens), and a less clean exterior to illustrate its aging and modifications.

Exterior Dorsal, After Customization

The one external element that I wanted to accentuate as much as possible was the slightly raised panels above the rear quarter over the engines. This was easily accomplished by adding a single plate above the hinge for each sectional panel, and adding a single plate height to half of the bordering panels. The latter, however, also required finding 1×3 flat plates for the segmented panels as seen below.

Exterior Ventral, After Customization (no Before photos taken)

Originally, the boarding platform does not have hydraulic lifters and the bottom of the Falcon is largely exposed to the Technic beams that form the support skeleton for the model. I added the lifters and covered much of the bottom (more can be done when I have the bricks available to accomplish a better approximation of the Falcon’s bottom exterior (angled forward pods and rear hold pod beneath the engines).

Interior Fore, Before Customization

The 75105 Millennium Falcon model continues the innovative “petal” design forming the dorsal fuselage of the spacecraft, which first appeared in the 4504 set and was improved in the 7965 set. The best change from the earlier designs is for the forward bisecting panel leading from the mandibles to the gun turret. Instead of opening up toward the turret (4504) or opening forward toward the mandibles (7965), the panel now swings forward and down between the mandibles thus giving easier access to the builder for play inside the Falcon. The navigational computer is more accurately captured with a sticker applied to a flat plate than printed wedge bricks in 7965, and the Dejarik table is printed on a round shield element. My complaints with the interior design have to do with the inaccuracy of the placement of the Dejarik table/benches and bunks. I focused on this in my customization.

Interior Fore, After Customization

In my customization, I moved the Dejarik table and benches across from the navigation computer, which required rebuilding part of the mandible supports and the swing components for the center panel (to clear the center bench back). I relocated one of the bunks to the end of the hold to create the medibay where Finn bandages Chewbacca’s arm. In the main hold, I constructed a forward wall with panel details taken from the First Order Snowspeeder 75100 set.

Interior Aft, Before Customization

The engine compartment in the rear of the model is similar to the one in 7965. This part of the Falcon captures the junked essence of the Falcon in general and the effects of the passage of time and unkind handling of the Falcon depicted in The Force Awakens. I wanted to keep its garbage appearance while giving the engine compartment greater substantiality.

Interior Aft, After Customization

In the rear hold/engine compartment, I constructed two storage rooms/bunks with swinging doors (I would have preferred to have sliding doors but I don’t have the elements to do this while conserving the limited space available), and I designed additional mirrored engine modules that go on either end of the original engine included with the set, which I hope makes the engine look more substantial for a spacecraft capable of completing the Kessel Run in 14, er, 12 parsecs!

Conclusion

I hope to further customize the 75105 Millennium Falcon. As I acquire new bricks and elements, I would like to think about how to better integrate the engines into the design and aesthetic of the YT transport. Other goals include, integrate a mechanism for lowering and raising the boarding platform, similar to the 4504 set, design screen accurate landing gear that raise the Falcon by at least one plate higher while on display, and further integrate my customization into the model so that it attains a unity of design instead of a piecemeal added-on quality.

If you have customized the 75105 or other Millennium Falcon sets, please sound off in the comments. Thanks for stopping by!

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Posted in Lego, Science Fiction

How to Build a Cardboard-Box Raspberry Pi 2, Model B Computer with a 7″ Touchscreen LCD Display with Some Thoughts on Pedagogy

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My Cardboard Box Raspberry Pi 2, Model B with 7″ Touchscreen Display and wireless keyboard.

This guide demonstrates how to install Raspbian on a Raspberry Pi 2, Model B, connect the Raspberry Pi to a 7″ Touchscreen LCD, and integrate the computer and touchscreen in a cardboard box (which doubles as a case and storage for battery, keyboard, and cables).

I got interested in the Raspberry Pi, because it has many capabilities for learning: kitting out a computer, installing a Linux-based operating system, programming interactive software, and building with electronics. In particular, I am interested in how the Raspberry Pi can be used to create interactive software and be a platform for digital storytelling (which figures into one of the upcoming classes that I will be teaching at City Tech–ENG 3760 Digital Storytelling).

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My haul from Tinkersphere.

Instead of buying my kit online, I wanted to shop local to get started. Originally, I considered going to Microcenter, which is near where I live in Brooklyn. Unfortunately, they were sold out of the touchscreen display that I wanted. Instead, Y and I took a train into Manhattan and visited Tinkersphere where one of their helpful staff guided me to the things on my digital grocery list. I purchased Tinkersphere’s pre-made Raspberry Pi 2 kit, a 7″ Touchscreen LCD display, a battery pack (in retrospect, I should have purchased two of these, which I will discuss below), and a mono speaker with 1/8″ plug.

Tinkersphere's Raspberry Pi 2, Model B kit contents.

Contents of Tinkersphere’s Raspberry Pi 2, Model B kit.

Tinkersphere’s Raspberry Pi 2, Model B kit includes all of the basic equipment needed to begin working with this tiny computing platform. The kit is built around the Raspberry Pi 2, Model B computer with a 900MHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 CPU, 1GB RAM, 4 USB ports, 40 GPIO pins, HDMI port, ethernet port, combined 3.5mm audio jack and composite video, camera interface (CSI), display interface (DSI), micro SD card slot, and a VideoCore IV 3D graphics core. Additionally, the kit includes a wireless keyboard/trackpad, USB wifi adapter, 8GB micro SD card with NOOBS (the easy to use Raspbian installer), USB micro SD card reader, breadboard, wires, and 5v power supply.

To begin the setup, we should orient ourselves with the Raspberry Pi. This is the Raspberry Pi 2, Model B computer viewed from the top and the bottom:

Raspberry Pi 2, Model B, Top View.

Raspberry Pi 2, Model B, Top View.

 

Raspberry Pi 2, Model B, Bottom View.

Raspberry Pi 2, Model B, Bottom View.

The first thing that we need to do is insert the micro SD card with a copy of NOOBS pre-copied. If you need a copy of NOOBS for your own micro SD card, you can download it from here and follow the instructions here for formatting and copying the files from a Mac or PC to the micro SD card. The Raspberry Pi’s micro SD card slot is located on the bottom side of its circuit board. A micro SD card goes in only one way which allows you to press it in. If correct, the card should “click” and stay as seen in the photos below.

 

Insert the micro SD card like this.

Insert the micro SD card like this.

 

Press the micro SD card in and it will stay in place with a "click."

Press the micro SD card in and it will stay in place with a “click.”

 

The Raspberry Pi connected from left to right: micro USB power input from 5v power supply, HDMI, wireless keyboard/trackpad receiver, and wifi adapter.

The Raspberry Pi connected from left to right: micro USB power input from 5v power supply, HDMI, wireless keyboard/trackpad receiver, and wifi adapter.

Next, connect the Raspberry Pi to a display (such as a TV) with HDMI, and plug in the wifi adapter and wireless keyboard into two available USB ports. Alternatively, you can connect the Raspberry Pi to the Internet via ethernet and to a wired keyboard and mouse. Then, connect it to the 5v power supply. As soon as it is plugged in, the Raspberry Pi is turned on and operational. It will begin to boot from the micro SD card’s NOOBS installer, which will guide you through the process of installing Raspbian. See the images below to see what this looks like and what choices you should make for a basic installation.

NB: While we could have connected the 7″ Touchscreen Display to the Raspberry Pi before beginning the installation, the current version of NOOBS would not detect and use the touchscreen display. It is necessary for Raspbian to be installed and updated before the 7″ Touchscreen Display will be recognized and used as the Raspberry Pi 2’s primary display.

 

NOOBS boot screen with the Raspberry Pi logo.

NOOBS boot screen with the Raspberry Pi logo.

 

The NOOBS installer asks what you would like installed. Place a check next to Raspbian.

The NOOBS installer asks what you would like installed. Place a check next to Raspbian.

 

The NOOBS installer will ask that you confirm your choice. If you haven't already done so, choose US keyboard and locationalization at the bottom of the screen before proceeding. Then, confirm.

The NOOBS installer will ask that you confirm your choice. If you haven’t already done so, choose US keyboard and locationalization at the bottom of the screen before proceeding. Then, confirm.

 

The installation will proceed and complete. With the micro SD card that I have and without overclocking the Raspberry Pi, it took about 20-30 minutes for the installation to complete.

The installation will proceed and complete. With the micro SD card that I have and without overclocking the Raspberry Pi, it took about 20-30 minutes for the installation to complete.

After rebooting following the installation, the raspi-config tool launches. This program gives the user easy access to many configuration options for the Raspberry Pi including how it should boot (automatically login and load xwindows, or boot to a command prompt login), and if you would like to overclock the Raspberry Pi for additional performance (use this option with caution–you will likely want to add heat sinks and increased ventilation if you overclock the system). I configured my Raspberry Pi to operate at normal speed and to boot to the command line with login.

After booting into Raspbian, the first thing that you see is the login prompt.

After booting into Raspbian, the first thing that you see is the login prompt.


The default login for the Raspberry Pi is username “pi” and password “raspberry”. Type each of these credentials in when asked followed by pressing the Enter key. Then, you will find yourself at the command line interface (CLI).

Raspbian's CLI.

Raspbian’s CLI.

After logging in, you have a Linux command prompt (here is a list of helpful file system commands).

Before setting up the 7″ Touchscreen Display, we need to update Raspbian. To do this, first type: “sudo apt-get update”. If prompted to install anything because it will take a certain amount of space, simply type “y” and press “Enter”.

Entering a command at the prompt in Raspbian's CLI.

Entering a command at the prompt in Raspbian’s CLI.

To explain what this command means, “sudo” runs a command as superuser, or the user that is all powerful on a linux system. The command that you want to run as superuser is “apt-get,” which is a package manager, or a manager of software packages that run on your Raspberry Pi. “update” is a modifier for “apt-get,” and its purpose is to tell “apt-get” to update its index of available software packages with what is stored on the remote software repository (where your Raspberry Pi is downloading its software from).

After the update operation completes and you return to the command prompt, type: “sudo apt-get upgrade”. Similarly, agree to the prompts with “y” and “Enter”. The “upgrade” modifier to “apt-get” tells it to upgrade the software based on what it learned when updating its index with the previous command. Thus, when you run these two commands, you should run the update command first (learn) and the upgrade command second (act on what was learned).

To launch into Raspbian’s X11, type “startx”. Inside X11 or xwindows, you will find many of the GUI-based software that really makes the Raspberry Pi sing: Scratch, Python, Mathematica, and more. If you have never used X11, it works a lot like Windows 95/98 except that the Start Menu bar is at the top of the screen instead of at the bottom and “Start” is replaced by “Menu.” Some quick launch apps are directly available to be launched with a single click from the start bar (such as Terminal, the Epiphany web browser, and Wolfram Mathematica) while all of the installed X11 programs are available from the “Menu.” Below are images of the Raspbian desktop and navigating through some of the default programs available.

To easily install additional software, you can install the Synaptic Package Manager, which simplifies finding and installing software packages by wrapping package management in an easy-to-use GUI. From inside X11, open Terminal and type “sudo apt-get install synaptic”. This will install Synaptic, which you can open by clicking on Menu > Preferences > Synaptic Package Manager (more info on this and other Raspberry Pi stuff on Neil Black’s website).

When you done browsing around, you can click on the and choose to shut down. After a few moments, your display should show a blank screen and the activity lights on the back of the Raspberry Pi (red and green) should only be showing a solid red. At that point, unplug the micro USB 5v power adapter. If you are ready to install the 7″ Touchscreen Display, unplug the HDMI cable, too.

In the images below, I demonstrate how to assemble the 7″ Touchscreen Display and connect it to the Raspberry Pi. I followed the excellent instructions available on the official Raspberry Pi website, which also details how to install the Matchbox virtual keyboard for using the touchscreen without a keyboard.

To begin connecting the 7" Touchscreen Display to the Raspberry Pi, place the screen facing down.

To begin connecting the 7″ Touchscreen Display to the Raspberry Pi, place the screen facing down.

 

Screw in the standoff posts to hold the display controller card to the display. Connect the display and touchscreen wires as described on the official installation guide.

Screw in the standoff posts to hold the display controller card to the display. Connect the display and touchscreen wires as described on the official installation guide.

 

Insert the display cable to the video input on the controller card.

Insert the display cable to the video input on the controller card.

 

Place the Raspberry Pi above the display controller card and attach with the supplied screws that screw into the top of the standoff posts.

Place the Raspberry Pi above the display controller card and attach with the supplied screws that screw into the top of the standoff posts.

 

Connect the other end of the display cable into the output connector on the Raspberry Pi.

Connect the other end of the display cable into the output connector on the Raspberry Pi.

 

Use the supplied jumper wires to connect connect the power input of the display controller card...

Use the supplied jumper wires to connect connect the power input of the display controller card…

 

...to the power output leads on the GPIO pins on the Raspberry Pi. This is one of three possible powering configurations--the other two involve USB.

…to the power output leads on the GPIO pins on the Raspberry Pi. This is one of three possible powering configurations–the other two involve USB.

 

This is the rear of the 7" Touchscreen Display assembled with the controller card and Raspberry Pi.

This is the rear of the 7″ Touchscreen Display assembled with the controller card and Raspberry Pi.

 

This is the front of the 7" Touchscreen Display with the power leads sticking out from behind.

This is the front of the 7″ Touchscreen Display with the power leads sticking out from behind.

 

This is the Raspberry Pi powered up again with the 7" Touchscreen Display.

This is the Raspberry Pi powered up again with the 7″ Touchscreen Display.

 

Mose and Miao had lost interest in the project by this point.

Mose and Miao had lost interest in the project by this point.

 

To complete the project, I cut a hole into a Suntory shipping box from Japan that is the exact same size as the 7" Touchscreen Display box, which would work well, too. It is works well for holding up the Raspberry Pi and storing its accessories when I go between home and work.

To complete the project, I cut a hole into a Suntory shipping box from Japan that is the exact same size as the 7″ Touchscreen Display box, which would work well, too. It is works well for holding up the Raspberry Pi and storing its accessories when I go between home and work.

Of course, you can use the Raspberry Pi with or without a case depending on your needs. I used the Suntory cardboard box from Japan for practical reasons (thinking: William Gibson: “the street finds its own use for things”–it’s a good size, on-hand, and looks cool) and research reasons (thinking about my work on proto-cyberpunk and the hidden nature of computing, which is an idea explored in my previous blog post about the poster that I created for the 13th annual City Tech Poster Session).

I have run the computer and touchscreen from the 5v battery that I purchased from Tinkersphere, but I get a graphics warning that the Raspberry Pi is under voltage (a rainbow pattern square persists in the upper right corner of the display whether in the CLI or xwindows). I might get a second battery to run the display alone, which would help me troubleshoot if the battery that I have now is actually outputting enough voltage and amperage needed by the Raspberry Pi alone. In the meantime, I am running everything at my desk with the 5v power adapter, which provides ample power for the Raspberry Pi and 7″ Touchscreen Display.

In the future, I would like to use the Raspberry Pi in a writing or technical communication course. There are many ways to leverage the technology: problem solving, writing about process, creating technical documents such as reports and instructions, using the Raspberry Pi as a writing/multimodal composing platform, digital storytelling with tools that come with the Raspberry Pi, and more. These ideas are built only around the Raspberry Pi and its software. A whole other universe of possibilities opens up when you begin building circuits and integrating the Raspberry Pi into a larger project.

The basic cost of entry with the platform is $30 for the Raspberry Pi 2, Model B and a few dollars for an 8GB micro SD card. If you have access to a display with HDMI, a USB keyboard and mouse, and ethernet-based Internet access, you can get started with Raspberry Pi almost immediately. For a future grant application, I am imagining a proposal to purchase the basic needed equipment to use Raspberry Pi in an existing computer lab. I can bring the kits to each class where students can use them on different assignments that meet the outcomes for that course but in an engaging and challenging way that I think they would enjoy and would be beneficial to them in ways beyond the immediate needs of the class.

On this last point, I am thinking of working with digital technology in an a way many of my students will not have had a chance to before, feeling a sense of accomplishment, learning from one another on team-based projects, experiencing a sense of discovery with a computing platform that they might not have used before, and of course, communicating through the process of discovery in different ways and to different audiences. This might be something that you’re interested in, too. Drop me a line if you are!

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Posted in City Tech, Computers, Pedagogy, Technology
Who is Dynamic Subspace?

Dr. Jason W. Ellis shares his interdisciplinary research and pedagogy on DynamicSubspace.net. Its focus includes the exploration of science, technology, and cultural issues through science fiction and neuroscientific approaches. It includes vintage computing, LEGO, and other wonderful things, too.

He is an Assistant Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY (City Tech) where he teaches college writing, technical communication, and science fiction.

He holds a Ph.D. in English from Kent State University, M.A. in Science Fiction Studies from the University of Liverpool, and B.S. in Science, Technology, and Culture from Georgia Tech.

He welcomes questions, comments, and inquiries for collaboration via email at jellis at citytech dot cuny dot edu or Twitter @dynamicsubspace.

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