Making Simple Robots (2014)
Afterword: What I Learned Writing This Book
One of the things they don’t emphasize enough in most books of projects for beginners is that learning to be a Maker involves failing.
Sometimes, a lot of failing.
In the course of putting together the projects in this book, I was reminded of that fact on a daily basis. Like the Beatty family with their Box of Shame, I still have the remains of projects that didn’t quite work the way I wanted, or that were accidentally ruined because of a lack of skill or sheer bad luck.
Figure A-1. It may not be pretty, but it works.
There are also quite a few half-finished projects in my Multiple Large Storage Containers of Shame that simply grew too complicated, too expensive, or too time-consuming to include in this book. Some I may return to in the future, after I’ve had a chance to hone my making skills and expand my knowledge base. The rest, I’ll leave to other people to solve—and use my leftover parts to build new projects.
If there’s one thing I learned writing this book, it’s that successful Makers—engineers, designers, artists, and programmers—have a higher tolerance for failure than the rest of us. Unexpected results are seen as a learning opportunity, and an incentive to try harder. And “Yeah, sometimes it does that, just ignore that error message” is sometimes considered an acceptable response to a question about why something isn’t working.
I think that difference in attitude is one reason “beginner” projects often don’t feel like they’re meant for beginners. If you’re used to technology working more or less reliably (and customer service taking it back and replacing it if it doesn’t), then dealing with the frustration and powering through to a successful conclusion—or a better understanding of what does and doesn’t work—may not come naturally.
But I believe it can be learned, like any other Maker skill. Just think back to your childhood, when every skill was a new one. Even basic stuff like tying knots and using scissors was a new experience, and things didn’t always go as planned. But after enough practice and a little help and encouragement from those around you, eventually those skills were absorbed into the repertoire of things you didn’t have to think about anymore.
With enough practice, you can master the techniques, equipment, and background knowledge needed to do the projects you want to do. And you can build up the persistence muscles that help you overcome frustration, too. If that sounds hard, I agree. I’m not there yet. But I’m trying. Every day I learn a little more, and it shows. Both in the projects I was able to create for this book, and in my interactions with other Makers.
If you’re like me, you may have once felt like all you could do was walk around Maker Faire or your local makerspace and marvel at all the amazing things you saw there. But now you’ve taken that first step, and begun to learn some of the new techniques and technologies that have emerged since you first did arts and crafts in grade school. If you’ve explored the projects in this book, you can probably follow a conversation about 3D printing or Arduino that just a few months earlier would have sounded like Martian. If you’ve already tried them out, you’re probably able to ask intelligent questions of your own.
And when you reach the point where you can answer questions from other people? That’s the moment you’ll feel like you’ve really arrived.
Throughout this book, I’ve suggested websites, books, and tools that can help you learn the specific background and skills you need to do the projects in this book. Here are some more general strategies:
§ Start (as the Beatty family did) with kits and tutorials that lay out the materials and the directions for you.
§ If at all possible, give yourself extra time, in case you have trouble figuring out a step.
§ If at all possible, get extra supplies, in case something breaks or is defective.
§ Scour YouTube, makezine.com, and other sites for videos that show you how to do things that may be hard to follow in still images.
§ Ask questions of people you meet in person and in online help forums. Ignore the trolls—there are plenty of helpful folks who will take the time to get you over your roadblock.
§ Learn with others at classes, workshops, and at places like makerspaces and Maker Faires in your area. Find a club or start a meet-up where you can get together with like-minded people to share ideas and collaborate.
§ When you’ve mastered a skill, pay it forward, by helping the next person.
Good luck! And if you have questions, comments, or suggestions about this book, feel free to contact me. I’d love to hear about your adventure with making simple robots.