Forget Beanie Babies as McDonald’s Happy Meal toys, or U2’s new album magically appearing on everyone’s iTunes list: the collaboration of the century is here. Estefannie Explains it All answered a call from LOOK MUM NO COMPUTER (aka Sam) who was looking for a coding genius to bring his cryptocurrency-measuring musical machine to life.
Sam wanted to use the up-and-down nature of cryptocurrency value to generate voltages that would power synthesisers and generate sounds. He’s good at music, but middlingly bad at the coding side of things, and so he roped in Estefannie’s smarts to devise a solution.
The Raspberry Pi bit
Estefannie‘s plan involved a Raspberry Pi and some pulse-width modulation signals, which can be filtered down into analogue voltages.
She marked this all out on a breadboard, with ten LEDs connected to Raspberry Pi standing in for ten cryptocurrencies. The Raspberry Pi pins send voltages to the LEDs that correlate with the real-time percentage of change the cryptocurrency values experience.
The music bit
In order to make the monotone output of Estefannie’s creation sound more musical, Sam needed more than one cryptocurrency to be heard at a time, and to be able to alter the chords. So he built ten analogue circuits on perf boards. These slow down the changes in the cryptocurrency values, altering the audio output. And ten separate oscillators allow each board to interact with each other. Sam explains it much better, so check out his build video.
Transatlantic collaboration videos
This is a cool mash-up of a project, with each maker producing brilliant videos focusing on the separate expertise they brought to the build.
If you want to dig deep into the marathon coding session Estefannie performed to create this musical machine, check out her project video:
And if you’re interested in the analog musical side of things, check out Sam’s:
Hour-long cryptocurrency concert
If you actually trade cryptocurrency, this would be a whimsical way to keep an eye ear on market changes. If you don’t trade cryptocurrency and you also don’t have the skills to build something like this, then you can just pretend.
Sam has produced an hour-long ‘performance’ video of the machine doing its thing. So stick it on in the background next time you’re doing busy work at your desk and pretend you’re also a crypto-trading coding artist.
I speak English. Super well. And I can read the rough, overall vibe of writing in French. I can also order beer and taxis in Spanish. Alas, my dog can do none of these things, and we are left in communication limbo. I try asking them (in English) why they’re so mean to that one Cockapoo who lives across the road, or why they don’t understand the importance of the eyedrops the vet insists I have to hold their eyelids open to administer. They just respond with a variety of noises that I cannot translate. We need to fix this, and thankfully NerdStroke has harnessed Raspberry Pi to build a solution.
How does it work?
The dog wears a harness with a microphone that picks up its barks. The barks get processed through a device that determines what the dog is saying and then outputs it through speakers.
Raspberry Pi Zero is the affordable brain powering NerdStroke’s solution to this age-old human-and-pup problem. But writing code that could translate the multitude of frequencies coming out of a dog’s mouth when it barks was a trickier problem. NerdStroke tried to work it through on Twitch with fellow hobbyists, but alas, the original dream had to be modified.
Spoiler alert: fast Fourier transforms did not work. You would need a clear, pure tone for that to work in a project like this, but as we said above, dogs bark in a rainbow of tones, pitches, and all the rest.
So what’s the solution?
Because of this, a time-based model was devised to predict what a dog is likely to be barking about at any given time of day. For example, if it’s early morning, they probably want to go out to pee. But if it’s mid-morning, they’re probably letting you know the postman has arrived and is trying to challenge your territory by pushing thin paper squares through the flap in your front door. It’s a dangerous world out there, and dogs just want to protect us.
Nerdstroke had his good friend record some appropriate soundbites to go with each bark, depending on what time of day it happened. And now, Nugget the dog can tell you “I want to cuddle” or “Why aren’t you feeding me?”
While the final project couldn’t quite translate the actual thoughts of a dog, we love the humour behind this halfway solution. And we reckon the product name, Holler Collar, would definitely sell.
Follow NerdStroke’s future projects
NerdStroke is all over the socials, so follow them on your platform of choice:
Even if you don’t follow Simone Giertz on social media or YouTube, there’s a good chance you know of her work. Originally hailed as the Queen of Shitty Robots, Simone’s early videos of questionable contraptions, such as the Toothbrush Machine and Hair Washing Robot, quickly went viral, birthing a variety of GIFs and shareable content that quickly took over the internet. But, nowadays, she’s shelved her bots and focuses her attention on more reliable projects, such as her highly successful crowdfunding campaign for The Every Day Calendar, and the impressive Truckla, a Tesla pickup truck that beat Elon Musk’s Cybertruck to the post when shared online in June 2019.
Alex Bate caught up with Simone Giertz (pronounced Yetch, not Gerts) to discuss how she went from unreliable robots and GIF stardom to bunk-beds made of leaves and office chair sidecars for needy pets, and why her openly discussed brain tumour helped to realign her business model.
A career of two halves
HS To me, as a viewer, it feels like your YouTube career is split into two halves. There’s Simone, the Queen of Shitty Robots, and then there’s everything post-surgery, like Truckla and The Every Day Calendar. Do you see it too?
SG The difficult part about YouTube, and also the good side of it, is that if you have a really long career, you grow up during that career, and you change and your interests change. And I don’t want to just play a role, I want to be genuinely excited about the things I do – you get sick of things, and you want to explore new things. So, in order to do that, I’ve really tried to be ‘theme agnostic’ for my YouTube channel.
And that was something that was really hard with Shitty Robots, because it was something that I knew that people really liked, and that I had a level of success with. But I was just not that excited about it anymore. And I think the brain tumour became a really good page turner for me, because I had such limited energy capital, you know, and I really just wanted to spend my time and my very limited energy on doing things that I was super-pumped about.
I think the projects I build now still have some elements of the stuff I did in my early days, but they’re definitely less GIF-compatible.
In the beginning, all I was thinking about for every project was a GIF. That was the main deliverable that I had in my head, and the main piece of content that I focused on, and then I kind of built a YouTube video around it, and around the process of creating this GIF. And I let go of that. Not every project needs to have a punchline. It can be fine. It can be a little bit more dull.
But, I still feel guilty about it.
SG Yeah. People are very sweet about it, but I still get comments with people being like, ’Oh, I miss the Shitty Robots.’ But, at the same time, you have to think, ’It’s my life, and I really want to do the things I want to do.’ And I’m also so drawn to my product business and wanting to focus on that. And the way that my YouTube channel can co-exist with that is for me to explore different products and make videos about them. And it’s actually becoming a pretty good tag team.
HS Talking about your product business, the biggest one to date was obviously The Every Day Calendar. 2300-odd backers, and over half a million dollars raised. How did you feel when your first Kickstarter just soared like that?
SG It was fun and scary. Because, as somebody who’s terrified of disappointing people, crowdfunding campaigns are kind of like the worst position to put yourself in because you really risk disappointing people. But, I don’t think we did. I mean, we were late, but I really just wanted to deliver a good product because it was expensive. And, yes, we raised over half a million dollars, but it’s not until now that we’ve actually broken even.
SG It’s so expensive. And so much of that is in product development. When it comes down to it, and you’re actually putting something out in the world, it’s just crazy how much it costs. And I mean, we probably didn’t do it in the most efficient way we could, because we were rookies. But, it was definitely very humbling and terrifying.
HS Would you do further products with Kickstarter? Or do you think you’re now at a point where you would just create a product and sell it, and not have to rely on crowdfunding?
SG We’re hopefully launching our store this summer, and we’re going to have four different products in it. And, I’m hoping that any easier products can be self-funded. And, if there’s something more complicated, like the Companion Chair, which is definitely going to be a bigger project, it might end up being crowdfunded because with funding, you also get market testing. You can get a lot out of it. But, that said, after I did The Every Day Calendar, I remember saying I’d never do it again. Every night at 3 am, I would just wake up and be like, ’Oh my god, what if we send out the calendars and then, in two years, all of them stop working! People are going to be really angry.’ I’m scared of that. But, I guess that also, even if customers are buying your product off the shelf, you are always going to live with that fear over your head.
The early days
HS It’s really interesting to go back and watch your earliest videos, particularly the first one in Swedish, and see how far you’ve come. Was it always the aim to start the business? To have staff and be opening an online store and selling your products?
SG I mean, no, I would definitely be lying if I said that this is some sort of master plan. There was no scheming where I had the large whiteboard – ’This is the trajectory of how I’m going to become known as the Queen of Shitty Robots. And then I’m going to pivot that into running a product business.’ I’m definitely not that smart.
But, I had an inkling of what I was interested in. And I mean, I really liked making videos. And I think that everything kind of happened in a very fortunate way. Because I had this job where I was a Maker in Residence at a US company called Punch Through Design. And my job was just to build different things. And right when my job there was ending, I posted the Toothbrush Helmet, and that started getting some traction. I was moving back to Sweden because my visa expired, and I just had this year of living with my mom again, and having very few expenses and I was like, ’OK, I’m gonna just make sure I work enough to get by, but then the rest of the time, I’m just gonna spend it on building these machines that I want to build.’
So I was very fortunate in the way that I could structure things so I was able to spend time on my YouTube channel in the early days.
But, it’s also so easy to look back and be like, ’Of course, all these things led me to where I am today.’ But when you’re in the middle of it, you’re just flailing. And my flailing, fortunately, landed me in a position that I’m very happy with today.
Commander Scraps the canine sidekick
[It’s at this point of the conversation that Simone’s three-legged canine sidekick, Commander Scraps, decides to join us. Those who have seen Simone’s build video for the Companion Chair or Lego-based Dog Selfie Booth will already know of Scraps. Those who haven’t, well, Scraps is adorable, so you should definitely check them out.]
HS Some online content creators are often stuck within a theme – wood working, electronics, 3D printing, and so on. But, for you, it seems that you’re the theme, you’re the brand, and you can get away with creating whatever content you want. Do you see that when you interact with your community? That freedom?
SG It’s something that I thought a lot about in the early days, like, how much is the channel about me and my life? And how much is it about the things that I build? And I think what I struggled with is that I’m not that interested in my life. Like, I really want to make videos that I myself would want to watch. I’m not really interested in vlogs, so I decided early on that while it’s about my life to an extent, it’s still centred around these projects I’m building.
In some ways, I’m pretty private on the internet, but also very open, like when it comes to brain tumour stuff. I was really open about it, and I wanted to tell everyone about it because it was a way for me to process what was happening. I remember having to tell myself that I had to stop telling waiters or Uber drivers that I had a brain tumour. ’Hi sweetie, how are you today? Well, I have a brain tumour, but other than that, I’m pretty good.’
When it came to talking about it online, it was a no-brainer. Haha.
But then there’s other stuff that I don’t talk about, like, I don’t really document my life. I don’t talk about my friends really, or my relationship status, or anything like that. Because you have to draw the line somewhere. And I always felt like documenting my life was just too intrusive.
Queen of Shitty Robots
HS When you look at your most popular videos on your channel, even though you’re known as the Queen of Shitty Robots, those videos aren’t actually in the Top 5. Instead, it’s the video of you in the zero gravity simulations, and Truckla, and locking yourself in your bathroom for 48 hours. It’s interesting that the thing you’re most known for isn’t the thing your audience is most interacting with.
SG Those Shitty Robot videos mostly did really well on other platforms, like Twitter and Reddit. Not so much on YouTube because it has its own metrics and algorithms.
The thing that is really useful for other creators who are getting started is to figure out what is your hook, or what is the very simple version of what you’re doing. Like, Queen of Shitty Robots kind of became the headline. And it was this very clear message, and it was something that was really easy for journalists to write about. It was a spearhead for branding.
This was not something I was thinking about at the time, but looking back, my fear then was to make sure I didn’t get pigeonholed, and that I could never move on from it, because that’s the problem when people only know you for one thing – you can’t really move on beyond that. It’s really nice to have that spearhead, and then you can broaden it, and that’s how you have longevity.
I didn’t want this to be over in a year. I wanted to be able to keep on doing it because I was really enjoying it. And now, I want to make sure that I have more legs to stand on, because when you’re going through health problems, you realise that if you can’t be in front of a camera, everything grinds to a halt. If you’re not well enough to work, or if YouTube changes its algorithm, it becomes such a fragile business structure. So, that was one of the reasons why I decided I needed to go into products.
HS I guess you can’t really be known as the Queen of Shitty Robots where everything you make doesn’t really do what it’s meant to do, and then expect people to buy serious products from you and trust they’ll work.
SG That’s definitely one of the things when we launched The Every Day Calendar – I was wondering how are people going to be able to take this seriously? But, I think that’s what’s really nice, that my audience has been around long enough and they’ve seen that there’s more to it than that – there’s actually, ironically, a lot of work that goes into making Shitty Robots.
HS I remember the first time I saw your work was when you collaborated with Adam Savage to make an automated popcorn machine in 2016. It’s a great video that really highlights how great collaborative work can be when two people focus on what they’re really interested in to make a final product. And you’ve worked on other videos with creators such as Laura Kampf. Is there anyone else you’d like to work with?
SG I’m really interested in people who are kind of beyond the community that I’m currently in. It would be really fun to do stuff with musical artists; I’d love to collaborate with OK Go. Or venture beyond that and work with people who make art, and fashion designers. People who are outside the world where I’m creating. And there are people that I just love and would always want to work with, like Laura. She’s the sweetest, most talented, down-to-earth and funny person. I really love working with her. I should really think of who’s on my bucket list.
Something I’ve really missed during the pandemic is just getting to spend time with people who are excited about what they’re doing, and having that excitement rub off on me. There’s nothing more inspiring than someone being pumped about something, even if you don’t understand what it is. In some ways, lockdown has been great for creating as I’ve had more time to loiter in the shop, but I definitely miss that input and just being able to talk to people.
Secret new ideas…
HS And are there any projects you’d like to build that you just haven’t gotten around to doing yet?
SG Honestly, I just want to build stuff for my house right now, which I know isn’t the most interesting answer. I still have the CEO Bouncy Chair on my list – I want to make this kids’ bouncy chair, the type where you’re almost in some sort of plastic diaper. But I want it to look like a mahogany desk with a Rolodex and it’s for grown-ups. And make some spoof commercial for it when it’s marketed as an exercise device, but there’s just some balding white guy in it. I think that’s the only one that I’m still eager to build. Let me look at my notes…
[Simone proceeds to pull out her phone and list project ideas from the notes app. Should I tell you what they are or should I leave them as a surprise? With great power comes great responsibility!]
HS Those are definitely some interesting ideas…
[I’m very responsible].
HS Going back to your audience, you seem to have been somewhat spared a lot of the negativity people receive in comments, and online in general. Why do you think that is?
SG I’m just always so scared. Haha. I’ve been spared from the trolls and the hate, and I’m just terrified of ruining whatever equilibrium is happening right now. That’s one of the reasons I post so seldomly. I was looking the other day and thought, ’Oh, it’s been 45 days since I last posted on Instagram!’, and I notice I keep getting DMs from people asking if I’m OK. I’m just always scared to overstep, or do something that would upset people, or cause me to fall from some sort of pedestal. I just never want to post something that doesn’t work for other people, you know?
HS I get it. The comments section of YouTube alone can be an awful place sometimes. Speaking of YouTube, are there any other makers at the moment who are inspiring you?
SG I love 3×3 Custom. She’s my happy place because she’s at a level of making that I’m just not at. Her jig work is just wild, and the quality she puts out. And I love Nicole McLaughlin. She does these really fun and weird fashion contraptions, like shoes made out of tennis balls. She’s very cool. She’s a level of coolness that I aspire to and never expect to get to.
But, one of the most inspiring things for me is time. And I know that if I run out of ideas, it’s because I’m overworked and I haven’t had enough downtime and time to just loiter in the shop. I try to enforce this on Fridays, where me and my teammates just work on whatever project, and it doesn’t have to be work-related. And some of my best ideas have come from that type of work, where I don’t know what my end goal with this is, but I’m just going to tinker with it for a little bit.
Did you catch the very cool Raspberry Pi Pico piano project shared on the latest Digital Making at Home livestream? The sibling maker group from the GurgleApps family, Amelie, Caleb, and Ziva, chatted about how they got into coding before inviting us into miniature musical mayhem.
What do you need to make a Raspberry Pi Pico piano?
The siblings made two separate keyboards: one coded in MicroPython and another coded in Circuit Python. The Circuit Python-coded board also has MIDI functionality! Watch the video below to learn more about the exploration process.
Power of resistors
So how do the resistors power this project? Four resistors are connected from ground to power in series, with the highest voltage in the far right-hand resistor (see image below). The voltage drops as we move along the series to the far left-hand resistor. Analog pins sit between each resistor and act as the ‘notes’ on the piano.
You don’t even need a board like the kids made, you can just twist or solder a series of resistors together to make the base of your piano and then ‘play’ it by pressing an analog pin against the wires. With a board, the piano looks much cooler though.
A perf board would also work for this project if you don’t want to go to the trouble of making your own piano board but still want something that looks a little more ‘piano-like’ than a bunch of resistors.
To make the snazzy board you see in the video, the kids grabbed a copper-plated board and drew out designs on sticky paper (their printer was broken so this was a homely, if more time-consuming, option). Stick the paper designs to the copper board, put that board in etching solution, and you’ve got a homemade piano keyboard. They also tried using a Sharpie to draw designs straight onto the board, but the sticker designs look a lot more slick.
Resistor placement perfection and coding
Resistor placement took some time to perfect: the siblings tried out a few cheap copper boards before they got it right. The video below shows you how to code your Pico piano.
Level up your Guitar Hero gaming with Nick O’Hara’s Jon Bot Jovi Guitar Hero robot. While Nick admits this is an expensive project (around $1000 to build), it’s something that was so “ridiculous, hilarious, and awesome” he felt he just needed to do it.
You’re halfway to shredding a Bon Jovi chorus perfectly on Guitar Hero and you can taste the fame. Problem is, you’re no Jon Bon Jovi. Or Peter Frampton. Or Slash. So you need Raspberry Pi to assist your rockstar dreams. Enter Jon Bot Jovi.
A solenoid is just a coil of wire, but when you pass an electric current through it acts as an electromagnet, and a magnetic field is generated. When you turn the current off, the magnetic field goes away. Inside the coil of wire is a metal rod, when the current is on and the magnetic field is present, the rod is free to move in the direction of the field. In this way, a solenoid converts electrical energy into movement and the rod moves in or out of the coil depending on the current applied.
Here, a Raspberry Pi controls a bunch of solenoids as they press and release the buttons on the guitar controller to give Nick his god-like skills. Watch the build video on YouTube for a simple walkthrough of how this all works.
Building the mechanical fingers and solenoids was one of the trickiest parts of the build. Nick ended up burning through a lot of them as he’s new to robotics and didn’t understand the relationship between power, voltage, and current, so they burnt out quickly. Luckily, he found a robotics guy to give him a 30-minute crash course, which set the project on the right path. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes.
Note recognition was also far from an easy task. Nick originally tried to look at specific pixels on the screen, which worked for slow songs, but for faster songs it would miss around 30% of the notes. He eventually turned to OpenCV, but it took a fair amount of effort to hone the perfect filtering to make the note recognition accurate. Fiddly, but worth it.
Shred, guitar hero!
Nick’s favourite part of the project?
“Seeing Jon Bot Jovi absolutely shred on the guitar. Did you see how fast he’s strumming during Through the Fire and the Flames?!”
We love seeing a maker so happy with a final build and we wish we could come and play too! (We are similarly stunted in our guitar-playing abilities.)
Recently listed as one of Instagram’s Top 7 Women in STEM, software engineer and content creator Estefannie talks to Alex Bate about electronics, her online community, and why she can’t stop giving away free tech in her Instagram Live streams.
Based in Texas, Mexican-born Estefannie graduated summa cum laude from the University of Houston with a degree in computer science and a passion for helping people discover computing.
Some years later, with an established career as a software engineer under her belt, Estefannie is best-known for her YouTube and Instagram accounts, Estefannie Explains It All, and can often be found with a soldering iron in one hand, a rescue cat in the other, all while sporting the most fabulous pair of circuit board Louboutin heels and laser-cut lightning bolt earrings. Yes, it’s fair to say that we all want to be Estefannie. But how did she get here?
Alex You originally made videos on your channel four years ago to make sure that you’d retained the information that you were learning at the time?
Estefannie Mm-hmm, that’s right.
A But why did you decide to move away from the early explainers and start making other types of content, such as your Daft Punk helmet, and running weekly live streams and giveaways? Because I’m assuming that when you were making those early Estefannie Explains It All videos, you didn’t plan on becoming an influencer?
E No. The influencer part? Oh, no. I was studying for an interview with Google and I decided to make explainer videos and put them online because I knew people would correct me if I was wrong. And, if they didn’t, I knew my explanations were correct and I was better prepared for the interview.
The YouTube comments section was the scariest place on earth for me, so that’s why I went for YouTube.Later on, it was close to Halloween, and I was about to have an interview with Microsoft, this time to be a product evangelist. And I knew that IoT, the Internet of Things, was ‘the latest buzzword’, and I already wanted to dabble with that technology. So, I decided I wanted to make an IoT project and put it on my YouTube channel. That way, when the Microsoft interview arrived, I’d also have that video to show.
Halloween happened and I’d made this stupid pumpkin robot thing that wasn’t even IoT, but I put it on YouTube anyway and realised that I’d really liked doing it. I really, really liked it. And that’s when I found out about Simone Giertz and other makers, and this whole world I hadn’t known about. I thought, ‘I really like doing this, so I’m going to keep doing it.’ I didn’t even care about the interview anymore because I had found ‘the thing’, the thing that I wanted to do.
Microsoft actually loved the video and they wanted me to keep doing more of them, but on their platform, and they would own the content, which I didn’t want. So that’s how it transformed from explainers as prep for interviews to wanting to make videos. And the influencer thing happened a little bit differently. It’s a bit more Instagram-my.
A It’s more personal. You’re creating a brand.
E A brand, yes, I think that’s the key. So the Instagram thing happened for two reasons. The first one was that, before YouTube, I was going to start a business making little video games and mobile apps. And I decided to make it an ‘umbrella’ business so that anything I made could go under there. Because I thought [she laughs], ‘they’re going to go viral and so I need to be prepared legally.’
And while I was doing all of the business stuff, I realised I also need to learn how to do social media, because I need to promote these video games. So I took the time to understand Instagram, follow the people that I thought were interesting or would be doing the same stuff as me. I started out with my personal account as a test and, again, I really liked it. I started seeing people follow me because they were interested in the lifestyle of a software engineer. And I thought it was cool because I would have liked to see how software engineering was as a career before going for it. It was like a window to that world.
A Do you think there’s been a change, though, because your brand was that you were a software engineer? And now you’re not in the same job. You’re a full-time creator now. Do you think that’s affected who follows you and how people interact with you?
E I was very afraid of that when I quit my job. I tried to not talk about it at first. But it didn’t really matter because the people who have followed along, they’ve seen all the changes. And when I quit my job, they congratulated me because I was now able to do this full-time. So it was like the opposite. They were following ‘The Estefannie Experience’, ha ha. For a lot of them, it was like, ‘Oh, that’s another cool path that you can take as an engineer.’
A What was it like to make the leap from software, from something you can control totally to hardware, an area where things can go wrong all the time?
E Oh, well, software can go wrong all the time, too. When I did that first Halloween pumpkin video, I think that really sparked a new interest in me of like, ‘Oh, I should have studied electrical engineering or computer engineering’. Because I am really passionate about the hardware aspect of it. I’d studied a low-level class as part of my computer science degree about gates and how they work. I remember having to draw them out.
And I really liked that class and understanding how electricity goes through those gates. But it didn’t matter because I was there to learn how to do the programming part. With electronics, it was so fun to go back and actually try it, and I was hurting myself, shocking myself, burning myself. It was great; I love it. It was like I was putting everything in my imagination into real, physical things. And I think that helps me. I like seeing things or touching things.
A You’re a big advocate for celebrating failure and learning from failure. You’ve done talks about it at Coolest Projects and Maker Faire, and you talk about it in your videos. In the earthquake simulator you built for Becky Stern, you showed the first way of making it and how it didn’t work, before showing the final project. Do you think it’s important to share failures on YouTube, instead of editing a perfect project build?
E I think so. Yes. It comes from a place within me where, when I wasn’t good at something when I tried it for the first time – I’m a nineties kid, I don’t know if this is anything to do with it – but you try, and you fail, and you just assumed ‘OK, I’m not good at it.’ I’m not supposed to be playing piano, or whatever. That’s how I grew up thinking. And so, when I became an actual engineer, and I say ‘engineer’ because studying computer science is one thing, but to become an engineer is something completely different.
And when I actually became an engineer, that’s when it hit me that you have to really just go for it, stop thinking, stop planning, stop analysing, and just do it and see what happens, and learn from that.So that was a great lesson in life for me, and I want to show people like me that I make mistakes all the time and that I struggle sometimes, or that it takes several steps; it takes several tries to get somewhere. And so I want to show it for those people who feel maybe like they can’t do something because they didn’t do it the first time. I want to show them the human side of engineering.
A That’s cool. I liked when you were making the visor for your Daft Punk helmet and it was just a series of Instagram Live videos of you unsuccessfully melting plastic in your oven as you tried to learn how to vacuum-form.
E The plastic melting was so fun, and I learned a lot. I would never do that again, ha ha.
A Of all the projects you’ve made and shared, what has been the thing that you’ve been the proudest of because you managed to overcome an issue?
E I think with most of my projects, I’ve had to overcome something. Except with the Jurassic Park Goggles. Although it was a pain to do, I already knew what I was doing, and that was because of the Daft Punk helmet. I struggled so much with that one that I knew exactly what do to with the goggles.I’ve been working on a smart litter box project for my cats, Teddy and Luna. That one required me to do a lot of woodwork and play with tools that I had never played with before. And so those days terrified me. But, I try to push myself with every project, so they’re all scary.
A You have projects that you’ve put your blood, sweat, and tears into, that you’ve worked hard on, that you’ve written all the code for. Where do you stand on whether you should give that code away for free? Do you provide it all the time? Do you ever think, ‘no, I’m going to keep this for myself’?
E Oh, I am a true believer in open source. My plan is to continue to give it all away and put it on my website. This morning, I was finishing up a blog post I’m writing about the Daft Punk helmet. A step-by-step on how to do it, because I know people watch the video, but they might not be able to follow it to make their own. So now I’m going ‘here, here’s what I use’. And all those links in the post, Home Depot, etc., all the links I’m using, they’re not even affiliated. I’m making zero dollars out of that post I’ve been working on.
I know lots of the people who want to recreate my projects are kids, and they have no money. This is the type of education I wish I had had when I was younger. If I had known about this stuff, I would have started when I was very young. So, I can’t charge them. I feel, if they have to buy electronics, there’s no way I can charge extra for the schematic and the code. I cannot do that. It’s about being very conscious of who my audience is. I don’t want to stop them from making it. It’s the opposite. That’s why I do giveaways every week on Instagram Live. I want to give them the boards. I want to give them everything so they can do it. I didn’t have any money growing up, and I know the feeling.
I respect people who want to charge for it. I understand. But I’m not in that boat. Even the smart little box that I’m currently working on, someone who I respect very much said, ‘oh, that’s a great idea, why don’t you patent it and manufacture it? There’s a market for it.’ And I know there’s a market for it, but that’s not the point. The point is to show that you can do it. Anything that’s in your imagination, you can build it, you can do it, and here are the steps. Yeah, I want more money, but I think I can get there in different ways, through YouTube ads and sponsorships.
A There are a million different ways to make an LED blink, and none of them is the wrong way, they’re just the comfortable way you find to do it. Do you get backlash when you release your code from people saying, ‘Well, you should have done it this way’?
E I have never received backlash on code and, in fact, I would encourage people not to be scared to publish their code. I know people who say they want to open-source their code but they have to ‘clean it up first’, and they’re scared to publish it. But the whole point of open source is that you put it out there, you know it works, and it’s going to be OK. And it gets better because people will contribute. I’m never afraid of showing code.
A Do you think, when you talk about financial accessibility that that’s one of the reasons that’s holding you back from starting a Patreon? That you’d be putting a financial wall up against people who can’t afford it.
E One hundred percent. I don’t want to add to people’s financial strain. In fact, I am starting my new cryptocurrency so that I can send tokens to people around the world and, kinda like arcade tickets, they can spend them on things.
A How does that work? How can I spend your cryptocurrency?
E OK, so it has zero monetary value. The idea is that instead of giving out imaginary internet points to people in my live streams, they get actual internet points. And they can exchange them back to me for real items. I’ll have a menu of tech – so many points gets you a Pico, or a Raspberry Pi 400, or some other board – and people exchange their internet points for prizes. It helps me see how active someone has been in the live streams so I can say yes, it’s worth the $200 to ship this item to someone in India.
A Ah, I get it. It’s like house points in school.
E This is why it takes me so long to release a video because I’m like, let me do the cryptocurrency and then also that live stream, and then also this video about so and so. I just want to have a voice.
A How do you decide what content to make? Is it just about creating content you think your audience will like? Or more about content you think is important for people to know?
E I think I’ve always made videos that I felt were important, but I was always trying to, y’know, ‘play the algorithm’. And that was happening while I was still working and trying to quit my job so, of course, that was a period of my YouTube career where I was trying as much as I could to get views and hop on trends. Not the trends that were just ‘trends’, but trends by people I liked. Back then, I was a big fan of a YouTube baker, so I did a project using her stuff in the hopes she would see it. But I’m not really like that any more. If I see a channel I really like, I’ll try and do a collab, but not just because it would be beneficial for my channel. None of that any more. Just stuff I like.
One piece of advice that a lot of YouTubers have told me – that I’ve decided not to follow – is that you have to stick to one thing so that the audience knows what to expect. The same with Instagram. But I disagree, and I’ve gained more followers by being myself more. I’m Estefannie who also really, really likes crazy fashion. I like make-up and weird earrings, and why should I have to tone that down? Because I’m an engineer? I only post things that I would like. It’s not always me soldering. It’s not always code.
A You create the content you want to see, not the content you think people want to see.
E Yes. That would be easy to play that game, but that’s not what I want to do.
A A lot of content creators would create a separate Instagram account or YouTube channel for their other passion, but all that’s doing is showing that it has two different audiences. I think, especially when you are a woman in tech, if you then separate out the other things that you like, it’s almost like you’re saying, ‘Oh, well, these are two separate things that can’t exist together.’
E Exactly. You’re saying, ‘I go to work. And I’m a scientist, and I look like this. But then I go home, and I look like this’. And it’s not true. There are some creators who have a million YouTube channels, and I don’t understand why because people really like them for who they are. But it’s following the example of how, if you want to do vlogging, you have to have a separate channel, and I don’t think you necessarily have to.
A You are the brand, and people subscribe to you. You love fashion, and I couldn’t see you doing a ‘come shopping with me down Melrose Place’ video because that’s not who you are, but I could totally see you trying to make your own lipstick.
E Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
A You would make that video and your audience would love it because it’s you, and you’re doing something you’re passionate about.
E Yeah, I mean, it’s like, the best example for me is Colin Furze. He is who he is. He wears his tie, he’s great. That’s very transparent. That’s him.There’s a maker who influenced the way I dressed for a bit, and I see it on all the other maker women in how they dress. And I didn’t even like those clothes. And when I noticed, and I stopped myself, and I was like, ‘this is not the Estefannie Experience’. It’s the other person experience, and I don’t need to replicate that because that’s not me. And if I want to wear my giant heels, I’ll wear my heels. You have to be yourself.
If people want to be creators, it’s OK to be yourself. And if you’re the only one and you don’t have a team like other creators, that it’s OK to take your time and not do it for the algorithm. That’s my advice. You don’t have to post every week. I mean, you can, but don’t kill yourself. It’s a one-woman show over here. I do my taxes, I do the website, I do the videos. That’s the advice I want to give here. That’s what I want people to take from this interview.
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Issue 42 of HackSpace magazine is on sale NOW!
Alex spoke to Estefannie for the latest issue of HackSpace magazine. Each month, HackSpace brings you the best projects, tips, tricks and tutorials from the makersphere. You can get it from the Raspberry Pi Press online store or your local newsagents. As always, every issue is free to download from the HackSpace magazine website.