Making with purpose


When I was a senior in high school, I had the honor of participating in a “college connection” program that offered students the opportunity to take college courses at the local community college while attending the necessary senior high school classes.  One of the most useful pieces of advice the coordinator and instructor for the program introduced me to the concept of opportunity cost. He would say that, “luck is when skill meets opportunity.” a variation on a quote, attributed to Roman philosopher Seneca, which reminds us that we make our own luck.  “Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity” It’s hard to prepare for the unknown and be ready for every opportunity that comes our way. Time spent doing something could be time spent doing something else. Every moment of every day could be divided-up into a cost-benefit analysis. Since we have a limited amount of time in our life to live and learn, some self-reflection on our values is useful.  What is the motivation behind completing the work or even the project for that matter? Or put in business terms, what is the Return On Investment?

I think for the Maker, opportunities most often come in the form of time spent learning or practicing a subject – Knowing the advantages and disadvantages of working with and using various materials such as paper mache, plaster, concrete, glues and adhesives, wood, acrylic sheets, and laminates, paints, etc.  Basic crafting skills, cutting with scissors, or razor blades and glueing. It is extremely useful to have basic shop skills, access to the machines, and being able to safely operate saws, routers, sanders, and drills. Practice makes permanent. We cannot expect to become experts on a subject overnight, it’s okay not to know how to do something, try to find someone who can help, take small simple steps towards achieving the goal.

Even though it may pain me to swallow my pride, I try not reinvent the wheel.  If I don’t have direct experience performing a task, I take the time to research how others have approached similar problems.  It is best to learn from others before making a serious mistake simply because I don’t want to appear stupid.

Reliably wiring the hardware and designing the software to operate using the Arduino is the challenge.  Hacking Electronics – Simon Monk ( link to Amazon ).  Regardless of your experience level, this book is an excellent resource, what tools are needed, when and how to solder, and many basic fundamentals of electronics using Arduino.  The second edition, includes Raspberry Pi.

Cost considerations

I don’t know about you, but I rarely have money to spend on projects and whenever possible reusing and re-purposing junk is ideal.  Many of my projects contain parts I’ve purchased at local dollar stores and items found through eBay.


It takes time to learn how to use tools and equipment successfully, let alone, have the time to actually make the project meet your expectations.  Time used for the project is time that could be spent with family, friends, learning something more important, etc.

What is worth making?

  • Something I can sell for lots of money.  Quantity.
  • Something I can be proud to call mine.  Quality.

The quest for defining Quality, can and has led many minds down a path of questioning one’s own values.  Over the last few years, I’ve had the opportunity to work on my own project from scratch, the catch being that it must remain low-cost because I simply don’t have the resources to go fancy.  My motivation primarily comes from combining my strong interests in electronics and gardening and my desire to seek out quality solutions for relevant issues. When I care about the work I am doing, I’m more inclined to feel passionate for the work I am doing and ultimately more inclined to produce quality work.  I gradually developed an automated system capable of maintaining and monitoring any garden using microcontrollers, sensors, and wireless controlled outlets.

We tend to have a false assumption that if something comes in a fancy package, it must be good and therefore, of high quality.  Robert Pirsig provides his perspective of 1960’s America:

“The result is rather typical of modern technology, an overall dullness of appearance so depressing that it must be overlaid with a veneer of “style” to make it acceptable. And that, to anyone who is sensitive to romantic Quality, just makes it all the worse. Now it’s not just depressingly dull, it’s also phony. Put the two together and you get a pretty accurate basic description of modern American technology: stylized cars and stylized outboard motors and stylized typewriters and stylized clothes. Stylized refrigerators filled with stylized food in stylized kitchens in stylized homes. Plastic stylized toys for stylized children, who at Christmas and birthdays are in style with their stylish parents. You have to be awfully stylish yourself not to get sick of it once in a while. It’s the style that gets you; technological ugliness syruped over with romantic phoniness in an effort to produce beauty and profit by people who, though stylish, don’t know where to start because no one has ever told them there’s such a thing as Quality in this world and it’s real, not style. Quality isn’t something you lay on top of subjects and objects like tinsel on a Christmas tree. Real Quality must be the source of the subjects and objects, the cone from which the tree must start.” Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

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