“I am a maker in the making”

Rishalaser running on Arduino Mega

Moushira Elamrawy is an Egyptian multidisciplinary designer and technologist based in the city of Cairo and founder of Rishalaser, a new concept for laser cutters that is opensource, portable, DIY, and easy to use. She wrote a piece on iAfrikan about becoming a maker and discovering Arduino. It’s an inspiring text and we want to share it on this blog.

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Confession: I used to be an architect (possibly still am!), and then I started tinkering with things.
The architecture engineering school I graduated from did not have a workshop space. The first time I met a CNC router in real life was three years after i graduated.

It is hard to discover what you don’t know even exists. Which is somehow, why I had zero imagination of how those awesome Theo Watson installations could possibly work.

I had no business fiddling with electronics whatsoever. My coding and programming skills were limited to some knowledge of ActionScript, some C, and that was about it.

I read about Openframeworks, installed it, went through examples, tutorials and thought “Nice, I can change parameters that in return would change behavior, fantastic..but ..then..what?!”

Rishalaser running on Arduino Mega

By that time, I was an architect working in Morocco, between an office that was based in Fez and a construction site based in a beautiful small southern village close to the Algerian borders, called Mhamid ElGhizlane. It normally took me a little over a day and a half to travel from Fez to the construction site.

I had a radio, which I considered my companion in those interesting border areas. Before Morocco, I was living in Sinai mountains, working on a similar desert development project, where the radio would normally catch signals of Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Jordan. The Moroccan Sahara, on the other hand, got me signals from Algeria, with lots of different dialects. Radio feels like travelling within time within places. It makes you really feel the distance you crossed.

[...]

In May 2012, I attended a beginners workshop for Arduino, lead by Bilal, who was visiting Egypt. During the workshop, I controlled an LED via Arduino.

It was magical.

I never used the board before, I barely understood any syntax, yet in 15 min, I did something cool . . that actually works. Arduino: I am in Love, I thought.

It is easy. It is just that starting alone isn’t easy. Going back home, I went through some examples and I felt oh..I can do stuff. I can do all these stuff actually. Oh, wait, there is also: Processing!

By September 2012, I moved to Barcelona for my masters, which started by a fabrication course in Fablab. I was Alice in wonderland. Then physical computing course started, and Alice’s wonderland was getting more vast.

Everything was awesome. The exact skill set that I wanted to learn. But I needed more, a lot more, time to absorb this whole new world. I thought of taking a gap year, but then, week after week, it turned out that once the ball gets rolling everything is accelerated.

Thanks actually to my sister for pushing me to trust that the ball will get rolling. She herself was moving from translation to graphics design one year before me. It is a family thing.

Arduino was THE treasure.

At the end of the day, all those fantastic surreal systems that I was fascinated by could be done with some components and an Arduino. The amount of associated open source resources is tremendous. The forum is awesome and people actually respond.

Through Arduino, I learned more about microcontrollers, I could program standalone circuits. Then the ball kept rolling, I learned eagle, I can mill some boards, I can solder (err, that was troublesome!), I can interface stuff, I can build sensors, I can work with data, I can build RF sensors, then I became obsessed with antennas, signal processing, and RFID.

I am still learning and learning, but it is much easier now.

Coming from this background, I always go back with time 4 or 5 years ago and recall how I used to react to a “closed box” new technology?

How life would have changed if machine interaction have been made easier, or basically how my life would have changed if machines had the opportunity to step out of their labs and talk to more people.

Making technology more portable and more accessible, is one reason why I started the mobile operated laser cutter project last year, of course, the project would have never been realized without the team that continued with enthusiasm.

Another wonderful project that I just co-started is Jebaleya Talks, with the hope of giving voice to women of Saint Katherine village in Sinai, by introducing them to smart textiles! Well, lets see how this will evolve..

While working in the desert in Sinai, the project foreman was my mentor, his words of wisdom still echo in my ears

“Everything comes along..with patience. If you could just wait”.

Apparently, he had a point!

E-mails are a distraction.

Meetings are boring.

Regular jobs suck your inner clock.

Take a sabbatical and learn what you want to learn and start anew.

At least try.

Oh, and during your sabbatical, give Arduino a try, it might change your life as well.

Let’s just hope that Arduino founders will keep embracing the same energy they started the project with, and that the big whales leave Arduino alone, so that it stays, open and libre just as how it helped liberate many creative energies and minds.

Keep reading on iAfrikan

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