TEDActive Makers Hack Art, Urbanization, and Kinetic Energy

Laurence Kemball-Cook, CEO of Pavegen
Laurence Kemball-Cook, CEO of Pavegen Photo by Gina Clifford

TED is an annual, global idea conference. TEDActive is the arm of the TED conference that engages thinkers and doers in projects centered on the TED Prize. What happens when an artist, an engineer, an inventor, and a technology guru at TEDActive put their heads together around the idea of urbanization? Talk turns to making as an impromptu team emerges.

Luis Cillimingras of Ideo was the Urbanization project facilitator at TEDActive. Kiel Johnson is a fine artist with an amazing talent for working with cardboard. Kiel created a miniature city from cardboard for TEDActive. Laurence Kemball-Cook is the CEO of Pavegen systems, a company dedicated to converting human footsteps (kinetic energy) into electricity. Laurence presented at TEDActive, demonstrating how people’s footsteps on a Pavegen tile can be converted to electricity that can be used to power a radio. In his hotel room the evening before his presentation, Laurence hacked the radio (to accept power from a Pavegen tile). Beau Ambur, president and founder of AD&HD, Inc. is a technology guru who, as a child, taught himself electronics, wiring, and device hacking.

Because making things is what these guys love to do, they rapidly brainstormed a way to use a Pavegen tile (people power) to light up Kiel’s cardboard city. Luis purchased all the wiring, LEDs, and resistors required for the project. Beau, the technology guru, worked with Laurence and set about calculating resistor and power requirements. Over the next day and a half, the team wired the city up to the Pavegen tile.

Beau's calculations
Beau’s calculations Photo by Gina Clifford

As the team worked furiously to complete the wiring before the conference ended, people started making cardboard additions to the city. Someone built a yacht, another person created a TED sign. Someone even built an elevated park with resistors for tree branches.

Resistor Trees by Jenna Sampson
Resistor Trees by Jenna Sampson Photo by Gina Clifford

Finally, shortly before the end of the last TED session, the wiring was complete. The miniature city’s red lights glowed brightly as people streamed into the room and lined-up for their chance to jump up and down on the Pavegen tile. Some danced, juggled, and even laughed as they powered the city’s red lights. Literally and figuratively, this miniature city was “people-powered.”  What if real cities embraced diverse maker cultures and tasked them with innovative design and energy projects? If this project is any indication, our cities would be more beautiful, efficient, and fun.

TEDActive Attendees Power Cardboard City with Footsteps

About the Team

Miniature City Project team
Photo by Gina Clifford

Laurence Kemball-Cook is the CEO of Pavegen systems, a company dedicated to converting kinetic energy into electricity. Laurence was inspired to create Pavegen as a graduate student working at a large energy company in the UK where he was tasked with designing solar powered streetlights. Admittedly, Laurence is not a fan of corporate structure and was bored by the uninspired work he was doing. Motivated by his Sustainability and Industrial Design Engineering graduate college courses, he came up with the idea to harness otherwise wasted human kinetic energy to power lights or store the energy in batteries for later use.

Kiel Johnson is a fine artist with an amazing talent for working with cardboard. His miniature cardboard city, augmented with miniature signs, boats, hammocks, and art created by TEDActive attendees throughout the week, celebrates The City 2.0, the 2012 TED Prize.

Beau Ambur, president and founder of AD&HD, Inc. is a technology guru who, as a child, taught himself electronics, wiring, and device hacking.  It was Beau’s idea to light up the miniature cardboard city, and he definitely had the skills to accomplish the task.

Luis Cilimingras works at IDEO and facilitated the Urbanization project at TEDActive. Throughout the week, Luis worked tirelessly to facilitate conversations about improving cities as the world’s population shifts to urban environments.

Geeking Out With Theme Park Designers at SATE’11

Shane Skaggs of Menkin Media
Shane Skaggs of Menkin Media, Photographed by Gina Clifford

When I told my nine year-old that I met the person who created the Clutch Powers Lego hero, he screamed with excitement. The true heroes of the theme park world (the people who dream up, design, and build our favorite themed attractions around the world) converged at the Ports of Call at Sea World in Orlando, Florida recently to share, socialize, and engage at the SATE (Storytelling, Architecture, Technology, and Experience) conference. The Themed Entertainment Association hosted SATE’11 at Sea World around the theme “The Power of Story”, and its conference attracted some of the coolest theme park geeks in the world.

How cool it was to peek into the themed entertainment design business for a day. I learned the quirky story behind the Swarovski Crystals theme park in Austria, the origin of Lego’s Clutch Powers hero, and that Disney is creating a new Avatar attraction. Best of all, I chatted with some of the coolest and most successful themed entertainment professionals in the world. These folks win Thea, Telly, and Emmy awards.  They take inspiration from and pay homage to architecture, nature, Hollywood movies, and history. Their palettes contain everything from computer-generated movies, to sophisticated combinations of video projection, architectural construction, sound design, motion simulation, water, wind, air, story telling, and more. The projects they build might surprise you. We all probably think about Disney and Universal Studios when we think of themed entertainment, but I quickly discovered a whole universe of interesting themed entertainment projects.

Shane Skaggs from Nashville, Tenn. is a video specialist for Mankin Media Systems and he is passionate about storytelling through technology. Looking a very youthful 31, Shane shared a great story about how his company participated in converting a church’s youth center interior into a House of Blues-inspired theme complete with a 30-foot projection screen. The church, located in Louisville, KY, is called The Block. Do not be fooled by the simple name, the architectural details and technology integration inside of this building are stunning.

The Block
Inside The Block – Photo by Jody Forehand of Visioneering Studios, used with permission

Dina Benadon and Brent Young of Super 78, based in Hollywood, Ca, are rocking the museum world in Singapore, where they have designed a 360-degree immersive experience called Typhoon Theater in the Maritime Xperiential Museum – Resorts World Sentosa.

Maritime Xperiential Museum
The Maritime Xperiential Museum-Resort Photo by Jason Mendoza, used with permission.

The experience, opening in October 2011, literally and figuratively sinks the audience into the story of a 9th century trading vessel along the Maritime Silk Road as a massive typhoon hits. Using state-of-the-art in-theatre effects including projecting video onto painted silk, passengers find themselves in the depths of the ocean, up close with the shipwreck and magnificent marine life. Water spray, temperature changes, sound effects, and wind machines make the experience completely immersive. Dina and Brent designed Typhoon Theatre’s powerful story around a real shipwreck. The Maritime Xperiential Museum was built to house the Jewel of Muscat, a reproduction of a shipwrecked Arabian dhow found preserved in sediment.  According to Wikipedia, the wreck contained the biggest single collection of Tang Dynasty artifacts  ever found in one place and revealed previously unknown details about trade between the Middle East and China.

Kristy Scanlan and Joshua Wexler of Threshold Animation Studios in Los Angeles, Ca, really understand geek moms and geek dads. It is obvious that they both share a deep passion for fun and creativity in their work. For example, Kristy, who is head of production at Threshold Animation Studios, revealed that in the Bionicles movie, produced by Threshold Animation Studios, hieroglyphics written on the walls are actually names of production staff members.

Joshua is a self-proclaimed geek dad and he proves it in a big way.  Joshua, co-founder of Threshold, has been a Lego fan since childhood and is the father of two seven year-olds. He is also the creator of the Lego hero, Clutch Powers, cleverly named after the Lego term Clutch Power — the strength of the connection between Lego bricks. Joshua, in homage to Superman, Star Wars, Monty Python, Aliens, and Indiana Jones, dreamed up Clutch Powers so that Lego might have its own hero. He pitched the idea to Lego and Lego loved it.  The rest is history.

Clutch Powers Billboard in Legoland Florida Miniland USA
Clutch Powers in Legloland Florida Miniland USA- Photo taken by Joshua Wexler, used with permission

As the mother of a Clutch Powers fanatic, I asked Joshua for some cool, undocumented facts about the movie.  Joshua delivered. The Arthur Fol character’s name comes from the acronym A.F.O.L. or Adult Fan of Lego. If you visit Legoland Florida, which opens on October 15, 2011, be sure to check out Las Vegas in Miniland USA to catch a glimpse of Clutch Powers on a billboard there. While you are at Legoland Florida, check out the Clutch Powers 4D attraction, which was designed by Threshold Animation Studios.

Theme parks are the ultimate immersive experience, and the people who dream, design, and create them are among the most dynamic, creative, and fun people on the planet.  Therefore, the next time I visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter or stand in line at the Legoland Florida park, I will go with a newfound appreciation for the real heroes behind these amazing immersive experiences. Thanks SATE’11!

Legoland Florida: A Geeky Preview

Adrian Jones Legoland Florida
Photo property of Legoland Florida used with permission

Legoland Florida officially opens Saturday, October 15, 2011, but I was lucky enough to get a recent behind-the-scenes tour.

Prediction: Lego fans: Prepare to go crazy at Legoland Florida.

First, the park is beautiful. Amazingly detailed giant Lego sculptures are everywhere. Secondly, the rides and attractions are highly interactive. We cannot wait to try out the dark shooter ride and experience the 4D films! Third, the Lego brand comes to life throughout the park in every detail from employee nametags through an entire section of the park built from Lego bricks (Miniland  USA).  Fourth, can you say bricks, kits, and minifigs for sale?

When Legoland Florida opens, it will be the world’s largest Legoland.  Legoland Florida also boasts a Lego-themed ski show (pirates have taken over the shores of beautiful Lake Eloise).  Legoland Florida is dripping with Lego geekiness.  In fact, its difficult to predict who will enjoy the park more, geek parents or Lego geeklets.

Lego Darth Vader
Lego Darth Vader and R2-D2

All Legoland rides are kid-friendly and playfully characterized as pink knuckle rides. In fact, Duplo Village is an area dedicated to Legoland Florida’s youngest visitor.  In Lego Kingdoms, a colossal castle dominates this section of the park.  Oh, and it has a stunning roller coaster, the dragon, built into it.  The dark shooter ride in the Land of Adventure is a Lego-themed ride where laser guns are used to shoot targets. Laser tag fans will be first in line for this ride.  The new suspension coaster that simulates flight in Lego City sound like serious fun and not too scary!Lego Einstein

Lego Einstein under construction at the Imagination Zone


Legoland Florida field trips are the best theme park value anywhere. Period. Legoland Florida has committed to making the park as affordable as possible so that any young Lego lover can afford to visit.  For school groups of fifteen students or more, field trip visitors enter the park for as little as $5 each.  Field trip visitors are treated to 45 minute educational sessions directed by trained facilitators. Learning session participants use Lego bricks, gears, and even Mindstorms robots to learn about friction, balancing forces, and programming. By the way, field trip admission includes complete park access for the entire day!

With a pick-a-brick shop, a minifigure shop, and a licensed brand Lego kit store, there will be plenty of Lego-branded merchandise available at the park.  Legoland education materials such as Lego Mindstorms kits, gears, and pulley pieces can also be purchased at the park.

My favorite part of the park is Miniland USA.  Miniland USA features scale models of iconic architectural buildings from around the U.S.  Visit Washington, D.C., New York City, Las Vegas, and of course, various cities around Florida. According to Legoland Florida Master Builder, Jason Miller, a team of Legoland master builders traveled around Florida to photograph and study interesting buildings, landmarks, etc., before choosing and building the Florida section of Miniland USA.

Made entirely from standard Lego bricks, each structure in Miniland USA is meticulously detailed and built to-scale. What is my favorite Miniland USA model? It is either the Hemingway house in Key West or the Kennedy Space Center complex. The Hemingway house features Hemingway Lego cats roaming all over the place.  The Kennedy Space Center complex model is amazing and includes the Space Shuttle sitting on the launch pad, the crawler (the vehicle that carries the space shuttle to the launch pad), and the VAB building.

The Pirate ships and the Daytona 500 track are shaping up to be amazing models, too.  Jason promises that the Daytona 500 track model will feature motorized cars racing around on the track when the park opens.

Jason Miller, Legoland Florida Master Builder
Jason Miller, Legoland Florida Master Builder

Proof that Legoland Florida really understands the passion people have for Legos is Jason Miller, resident Master Builder of Legoland Florida.  Jason works in the Legoland Florida model shop, building and overseeing brick building for Miniland. Jason has been building with Legos his whole life and even studied mechanical engineering in college. What was Jason’s favorite college course? Jason enjoyed Introductory Engineering Design because he designed and built a Rube Goldberg device using straws! Although Jason is a genius model builder who loves math, his secret weapon is social studies.  Jason credits his interest and appreciation for social studies as a key to accurately portraying people and places in Miniland USA.

It was an honor to tour the model shop. Instead of bolts and screws, Jason’s shop is filled entirely with shelves upon shelves of bins full of Lego bricks.  Harry Potter fans might compare the model shop to the Ministry of Magic’s Hall of Prophecy with Lego brick bins instead of glass globes filling the shelves.

Miniland architecture is stunningly beautiful, incredibly detailed, and fun. I enjoyed the brick humor used extensively on building names. Lego fans will probably spend hours studying architectural details of the Miniland USA models, but hardcore geeks are going to get a real kick out of all of the “Easter eggs” Jason has built into Miniland.  For those who aren’t familiar with Easter eggs, an Easter egg is a common term computer software programmers use to describe a cleverly hidden extra bit of program, such as an extra game level, a humorous screen animation, etc. In Miniland’s case, with a nod to popular movies, Jason has added a few famous characters.  I am not going to reveal their locations, but Legoland Florida’s Miniland includes characters from Men in Black, Sister Act, and Star Wars (hint: wears a black mask and breaths heavily).

Atticus Shaffer (Brick) in Lego
Brick Heck in Lego – Miniland USA – Legoland Florida

The most interesting Easter egg is peering out of a window in the Statue of Liberty. Child actor Atticus Shaffer, who plays Brick Heck in the ABC show “The Middle”, visited Legoland Florida over the summer as a special guest.  Atticus is a huge Lego fan (hence the name Brick in the show) and thoroughly enjoyed his time at Legoland Florida.  As a tribute to Atticus, Jason created his character, Brick, in Lego. Be sure to look for Brick when you visit the park!

So, request some vacation time, purchase your Legoland Florida tickets, pack up your family, and head to Florida for the October 15, 2011, grand opening of Legoland Florida.  Plan to spend a few days at the park since serious Lego fans may not have time to experience everything in a single day. Wear a hat, sunglasses, and plenty of sunscreen. I will see you there.

Follow Legoland Florida on Facebook for the latest announcements, photos, and events.  Visit the Legoland Florida website for a map of the park, accommodations, and to purchase tickets.

Google Breadcrumb: Slightly Geeky and Fun Mobile Learning Tool

According to a Microsoft infographic on the Digital Buzz website, there are four billion mobile phones in use around the world.  Even more intriguing is that mobile Internet usage is on course to overtake desktop Internet usage by 2014.

In addition, of those four billion mobile phone users, over 60% of them are using their devices to play games.  Thanks to Google Breadcrumb, these four billion people can now create their own learning games without having any programming skills.

Google Breadcrumb is a Google Labs product that enables just about anyone to create simple text-based, mobile learning applications.  With only three additions to plain text, creating a working quiz is amazingly intuitive.  Breadcrumb is designed to work on any internet-enabled smart phone or computer. As a result, even those who do not own a computer can use it.  As with all Google Labs applications, Google Breadcrumb is an experimental application, may contain bugs, and could even be discontinued by Google in the future.

You will need a Google account to get started, but the application is completely online and free.  Creating quizzes is one of the most obvious applications but some people are using Breadcrumb to create data center troubleshooting guides or training guides.  By the way, kids will enjoy creating applications, too, because there is virtually no learning curve.  So, encourage the kids to create their own applications to help them study, quiz their peers, or even invent new uses for the tool.

When you have finished your application, test it by clicking on or scanning the QR code that accompanies your application.

Click on or Scan this QR code with mobile app on your camera phone to view a Google Breadcrumb quiz.

To understand how Breadcrumb can be used, check out the quiz we created while learning Google Breadcrumb.  Please share links to your projects by leaving a comment on this post.

With mobile devices gaining popularity at such a rapid pace, Google Breadcrumb encourages mobile learning through tools that anyone in the world can use.



Celebrate Pi Day by Learning the Secret of the Circle

circle-300x257Hands-on projects are great learning tools for kids, especially when they involve the word ‘secret’. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Pi Day (March 14 or “3.14”) with kids than to help them unlock the circle’s secret and discover Pi!  This fun activity uses common office supplies and household materials and is easy even for younger kids.

Materials needed

  • A compass or two different sized round containers from which to trace around the bottom
  • A sharpened pencil
  • A ruler
  • A calculator
  • Long lengths of heavy string or yarn
  • Scissors to cut the string


Follow these steps to discover the secret of the circle.

Tip: Use a compass to draw two different sized circles. It’s best to draw them of drastically different sizes.

  1. Lay out the length of string around the outside edge of the first circle, cutting it to fit precisely once around the outer edge.
  2. Now measure the length of string using the ruler and record this measurement as the circumference of the large circle.
  3. Draw a line through the center of the large circle and extend it to the edges of the circle. This is the diameter.
  4. Measure the diameter of the large circle using your ruler and record this number as the diameter of the large circle.
  5. Now, calculate the ratio of C/d (circumference divided by the diameter). A calculator is best for younger students so that they understand the concept of Pi even if they haven’t yet learned division.
  6. Repeat these steps for the smaller circle.

The secret of the circle is that no matter what size circle you start with, dividing the circle’s circumference by its diameter (C/d) always yields Pi!  Note that this activity will likely not  yield precisely Pi because of the somewhat crude measuring techniques.  However, repeating this exercise for many different sized circles reveals the pattern that holds the circle’s deepest secret.

Further reading

Here is a bit more information on Pi.

Wikipedia’s Pi information.

I found this lesson in one of my favorite math teaching aids, ‘Math Wizardry for Kids‘.


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