Registration For The Shenzhen Maker Summit Forum is Open

Maker Faire Shenzhen Maker ForumThere are many reasons to visit Maker Faire Shenzhen. Some come to take a look at the innovative applications of technology by global makers, Some come to get involved and experience the fun of hands-on creation. Some come to learn about the highlights of science and technology and the crossover […]

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Maker Business Spotlight: Aide Memoire Jewelry

Aran Galligan from Aide Memoire Jewelry was nice enough to give me not one, but THREE tours of her space. We had connectivity issues and then after that I completely goofed and didn’t record. Luckily, the third time was a charm because I really enjoyed this tour. I’ve always been […]

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What if "Sesame Street" Were Open Access?

The news of iconic children’s television show “Sesame Street”’s new arrangement with the HBO MAX streaming service has sent ripples around the Internet. Starting this year, episodes of “Sesame Street” will debut on HBO and on the HBO MAX service, with new episodes being made available to PBS “at some point.” Parents Television Council’s Tim Winter recently told New York Times that “HBO is holding hostage underprivileged families” who can no longer afford to watch new “Sesame Street” episodes.

The move is particularly galling because the show is partially paid for with public funding. Let's imagine an alternative: what if “Sesame Street” were open access? What if the show’s funding had come with a requirement that it be made available to the public?

Open access advocacy is about showing decisionmakers a world they hadn’t thought possible, where certain resources are available to anyone regardless of economic means. It might have been unthinkable a decade ago that outputs from government-funded research could be made available to the public rather than locked down in expensive journals. But in 2013, the White House ordered all government agencies that fund research to implement policies ensuring that that research is shared with the public for free, no less than a year after publication in a journal. Back then, the idea of going beyond the one-year embargo period was still unthinkable for some, but in the following years, a dozen major foundations would implement policies requiring that the research they fund be made available to the public on day one and published under licenses that allow anyone to share and reuse it.

The open access movement has made great strides in bringing government-funded research to the public. But peer-reviewed papers are just the tip of the iceberg of publicly funded materials: just as making scientific research available to the public helps ensure that the people who could most benefit from cutting-edge medical research aren’t locked out, making government-funded educational resources available to the public helps ensure that economically disadvantaged students can get access to the same quality of resources as wealthier ones. When the government funds educational materials without taking steps to make them available to the public, it risks deepening socioeconomic gaps in society rather than working to close them.

In 2011, the federal government launched an ambitious, two-billion dollar initiative to revamp career training programs across the country, with a requirement that all educational resources produced as a part of the program be available to the public and licensed under a license that allows anyone to adapt and redistribute them. The program brought the open educational resources (OER) movement to national prominence, and since then, many states have adopted OER policies requiring that state-funded educational materials be open. And in 2017, the Department of Education adopted a rule requiring that all of the materials it funds be made open to the public. But that doesn’t affect the wealth of educational resources funded by other departments.

Which brings us back to “Sesame Street.” While it’s true that direct federal government funding makes up only a small portion of Sesame Workshop’s revenue, the nonprofit gets considerably more income from the public television stations across the country that pay for PBS programming, and those are also funded by the government via the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (a nonprofit created and funded by Congress). They’re also funded by grants, corporate underwriters, and, well, viewers like you. If those governments, institutions, and individual donors had demanded that the works they fund be made available to the public, then we would not be facing a future where HBO exacts a toll for access to “Sesame Street.” Indeed, the government’s primary interest in funding cultural and educational works should be to ensure that they can stay available to the public. As Alyssa Rosenberg wrote in the Washington Post:

It’s about whether people who don’t live in areas with museums, or who can’t afford cable, much less premium cable subscriptions, have access to arts and culture. Private funding can build museums, but it may take public money to subsidize skyrocketing admission. Elmo products may keep “Sesame Street” alive and cranking out new episodes, but it was the PBS pipeline that made sure children of all economic backgrounds had access to new episodes at the same time.

If the public paid for a resource, then individual members of the public should not have to pay again in order to have access to that resource. Open access has transformed how academic publishing works in the United States, and OER has done the same for collegiate educational materials. But many other government-funded resources have gone untouched, including a wealth of government-funded educational resources, entertainment, and fine art. For policymakers creating programs to fund those types of materials, the story of “Sesame Street” might serve as a cautionary tale: if public access is not hard-coded into those programs from the beginning, then someone may erect a wall and demand a toll to enjoy the fruits of that public funding.

EFF is proud to celebrate Open Access Week 2019.

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NEW GUIDE: Adafruit 1.14? 240×135 Color TFT Breakout LCD Display #AdafruitLearningSystem #CircuitPython @Adafruit @MakerMelissa

A new guide in the Adafruit Learning System: Adafruit 1.14″ 240×135 Color TFT Breakout LCD Display.

Say hello to our 1.14″ 240×135 Color TFT Display w/ MicroSD Card Breakout – we think it’s TFTerrific! It’s the size of your thumbnail, with glorious 240×135 high res pixel color. This very very small display is only 1.14″ diagonal, packed with RGB pixels, for making very small, high-density displays.

We’ve been looking for a display like this for a long time – it’s so small only 1.14″ diagonal but has a high density 260 ppi, 240×135 pixel display with full-angle viewing. It looks a lot like our 0.96″ 160×80 display, but has 2.5x as many pixels. We’ve seen displays of this caliber used in smartwatches and small electronic devices but they’ve always used a MIPI interface. Finally, we found one that is SPI, and it has a friendly display driver, so it works with any and all microcontrollers or microcomputers!

See the new guide now…

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MicroPython, bringing Python to hardware for everyone #OHM2019 #oshwa @ohsummit #opensource #opensourcehardware @opensourceorg @micropython #micropython

Mpheader

The next chapter for electronics is Python, from powerful Raspberry Pi computers to low-cost microcontrollers which are able to drive robotics, to running Machine Learning, the most popular programming language in the world (Python) has arrived on hardware, and we have MicroPython and its creator, Damien George, to thank.

First up, what is MicroPython? Glad you asked, here it is directly from micropython.org

MicroPython is a lean and efficient implementation of the Python 3 programming language that includes a small subset of the Python standard library and is optimised to run on microcontrollers and in constrained environments.

The MicroPython pyboard is a compact electronic circuit board that runs MicroPython on the bare metal, giving you a low-level Python operating system that can be used to control all kinds of electronic projects.

MicroPython is packed full of advanced features such as an interactive prompt, arbitrary precision integers, closures, list comprehension, generators, exception handling and more. Yet it is compact enough to fit and run within just 256k of code space and 16k of RAM.

MicroPython aims to be as compatible with normal Python as possible to allow you to transfer code with ease from the desktop to a microcontroller or embedded system.

There’s also a good history of MicroPython over on Wikipedia, and we’ve posted about some of the early days, history, and its recent 6th birthday…

  • 29th April 2013: first line of code written (in private, before anyone knew about it, before it was even called Micro-Python)
  • 17th Sept 2013: first code running on a microcontroller, on the very first prototype of the pyboard
  • 2nd Oct 2013: register micropython.org
  • 4th Oct 2013: first commit in what is now the main repository
  • late Dec 2013: source code up on GitHub
  • 21st June 2014: last of the Kickstarter rewards sent out (for the first Kickstarter)

The Early Days of MicroPython – YouTube.

April 29, 2019 is the sixth ‘birthday’ of MicroPython. At the April Melbourne Meetup, Damien George, creator of MicroPython, delves into his archives and shows the earliest code and notes about the goals of the language. The material pre-dates the first git commit! Listen in as Damien reveals how and why the language began and evolved. It’s a nice way to celebrate MicroPython’s sixth birthday!

In newsletter #8 from MicroPython, Damien published some never-before-seen details about the start of MicroPython.

Here is an excerpt from the initial notes. The title is “Python board” and the date is 29 April 2013:

Python board 29/4/2013

The smallest, cheapest python.

A piece of hardware that is small and cheap, runs python scripts, and has good low-level access to hardware. If we can do it with a single chip, that would keep it small and cheap. Need then something with a large amount of flash and a decent amount of RAM, that also is cheap enough. Atmel SAM’s have order 1MiB flash and 128KiB SRAM, for around $10 one-off.

Main features:

  • Implements Python 3 core language.
  • Flash presents as a flash drive with vfat filesystem.
  • Put python scripts on flash and it runs them (maybe have a (multicolour?) led that flashes on error and writes a “core” dump to the flash). This led can also double as a user output led.
  • Can run multiple scripts on once.

Our strength would be small, cheap, simple, easy to replicate.

Can have a range of boards with different features. But all must be basically compatible and capable of running the same scripts.

Adafruit 2019 2841

Pybv1 1

Schem

In addition to the open-source software, the PyBoard (2013) is open-source hardware.

You can learn more about MicroPython and keep up-to-date with developments via the following resources:


Open source hardware month @ Adafruit:


Ohm

October is open-source hardware month! Every single day in October we’ll be posting up some open-source stories from the last decade (and more!) about open-source hardware, open-source software, and beyond!

Have an open-source hardware (or software) success story? A person, company, or project to celebrate? An open-source challenge? Post up here in the comments or email opensource@adafruit.com, we’ll be looking for, and using the tag #OHM2019 online as well! Check out all the events going on here!

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How to build a Linear Actuator powered by Solenoids and controlled by an Adafruit Metro M4

Rad project and write-up from Adafruit community member Euguene So. Check it out in full here.

Hello! My name is Eugene So. I am a Master’s student at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) majoring in Electrical Engineering. This website describes how to build your own linear actuator or motor using a pair of solenoid valves and an Arduino microcontroller. The linear actuator I am describing was built at NJIT in 1994 by a Master’s student named Alex Rokhvarg under the direction of Dr. Bernard Friedland. My Master’s project was to retrofit the controller for this apparatus. I used the Adafruit Metro M4 as the new controller. Here is a video demonstrating the linear actuator.

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Friday Product Post: Is it Secret? Is it Safe?

Hello everyone, and happy Friday! We have a few new products to show off this week, starting with a Qwiic-enabled, ATECC508A Cryptographic Co-Processor Breakout to add strong authentication security to your next project! Following that we have the new gator:circuit kit for micro:bit, and the brand new LIDAR-Lite v4. We are so excited for the new LIDAR-Lite that we're going to do a deep dive into it next Tuesday, so make sure to check back then! Now let's jump in a take a closer look!

The Authentic Deal!

SparkFun Cryptographic Co-Processor Breakout - ATECC508A (Qwiic)

added to your cart!

SparkFun Cryptographic Co-Processor Breakout - ATECC508A (Qwiic)

In stock DEV-15573

The SparkFun ATECC508A Crypto Co-processor Breakout allows you to add strong authentication security to your IoT node, edge d…

$4.95

The SparkFun ATECC508A Cryptographic Co-processor Breakout allows you to easily add strong authentication security to your IoT node, edge device or embedded system. It includes two Qwiic ports for plug-and-play functionality. Utilizing our handy Qwiic system, no soldering is required to connect it to the rest of your system. However, we still have broken out 0.1"-spaced pins in case you prefer to use a breadboard.


Complete the circuit!

SparkFun gator:circuit Kit for micro:bit

added to your cart!

SparkFun gator:circuit Kit for micro:bit

In stock KIT-15595

A kit with all the gator:bit ProtoSnap boards & 10 pk alligator clips for easy circuit building

$39.95

As part of SparkFun's gator:bit series of alligator-clippable accessories, the SparkFun gator:circuit Kit includes all of the current ProtoSnap gator:boards, and offers a handful of ways to interact with projects you create using only gator-clip cables. Each little board on this ProtoSnap can be kept as a whole while on the board, or broken apart for individual use! It includes three ProtoSnap micro:bit accessory boards along with the gator:bit. The gator:bit is an all-in-one “carrier” board for your micro:bit that provides you with a fully functional development and prototyping platform. This kit is recommended for all users, from beginners to engineers, and does not require any soldering!


Garmin LIDAR-Lite v4 LED - Distance Measurement Sensor

added to your cart!

Garmin LIDAR-Lite v4 LED - Distance Measurement Sensor

In stock SEN-15776

A small, lightweight, low-power optical ranging sensor with incorporated ANT profile wireless networking technology.

$59.99

The LIDAR-Lite v4 LED sensor is the next step in the LIDAR-Lite line – a small, lightweight, low-power optical ranging sensor. It's the first to incorporate ANT profile wireless networking technology into an optical sensor. Its built-in nRF52840 processor means developers can create custom applications, or be operated as a stand-alone device right out of the box by using the preloaded stock application.

SparkX came up with a version of the LIDAR-Lite v4 with an attached Qwiic connector and 0.1" spaced, single-row headers to make it the easiest LIDAR-Lite to access.


LoRa Fiberglass Antenna Type N - 5.8dBi (860-930MHz)

added to your cart!

LoRa Fiberglass Antenna Type N - 5.8dBi (860-930MHz)

In stock WRL-15597

If you need maximum distance for your LoRa project you need this incredibly durable, outdoor antenna with 5.8dBi gain.

$49.95

If you need maximum distance for your LoRa project, you need this incredibly durable outdoor antenna with 5.8dBi gain. This 860-930MHz antenna is 90cm / 35.5" long and includes hardware for pole mounting. Made of fiberglass and aluminum, this antenna is ideal for heavy-duty and high-power LoRa base stations, but can be used with LoRa nodes as well.


That's it for this week! As always, we can't wait to see what you make! Shoot us a tweet @sparkfun, or let us know on Instagram or Facebook. We’d love to see what projects you’ve made!

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Massachusetts: Tell Your Lawmakers to Press Pause on Government Face Surveillance

Face surveillance by government poses a threat to our privacy, chills protest in public places, and amplifies historical biases in our criminal justice system. Massachusetts has the opportunity to become the first state to stop government use of this troubling technology, from Provincetown to Pittsfield.

Massachusetts residents: tell your legislature to press pause on government use of face surveillance throughout the Commonwealth. Massachusetts bills S.1385 and H.1538 would place a moratorium on government use of the technology, and your lawmakers need to hear from you ahead of an Oct. 22 hearing on these bills.

TAKE ACTION

Pause Government Face Surveillance in Massachusetts

Concern over government face surveillance in our communities is widespread. Polling from the ACLU of Massachusetts has found that more than three-quarters, 79 percent, support a statewide moratorium.

The city council of Somerville, Massachusetts voted unanimously in July to ban government face surveillance altogether, becoming the first community on the East coast to do so. The town of Brookline, Massachusetts is currently considering a ban of its own. In California, the cities of San Francisco, Oakland—and just this week—Berkeley have passed bans as well.

EFF has advocated for governments to stop use of face surveillance in our communities immediately, particularly in light of what researchers at MIT’s Media Lab and others have found about its high error rates—particularly for women and people of color.

Even if it were possible to lessen these misidentification risks, however, government use of face recognition technology still poses grave threats to safety and privacy. Regardless of our race or gender, law enforcement use of face recognition technology poses a profound threat to personal privacy, political and religious expression, and the fundamental freedom to go about our lives without having our movements and associations covertly documented and analyzed.

Tell your lawmakers to support this bill and make sure that the people of Massachusetts have the opportunity to evaluate the consequences of using this technology before this type of mass surveillance becomes the norm in your communities.

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EFF Urges Congress Not to Dismantle Section 230

The Keys to a Healthy Internet Are User Empowerment and Competition, Not Censorship

The House Energy and Commerce Committee held a legislative hearing today over what to do with one of the most important Internet laws, Section 230. Members of Congress and the testifying panelists discussed many of the critical issues facing online activity like how Internet companies moderate their users’ speech, how Internet companies and law enforcement agencies are addressing online criminal activity, and how the law impacts competition. 

EFF Legal Director Corynne McSherry testified at the hearing, offering a strong defense of the law that’s helped create the Internet we all rely on today. In her opening statement, McSherry urged Congress not to take Section 230’s role in building the modern Internet lightly:

We all want an Internet where we are free to meet, create, organize, share, debate, and learn. We want to have control over our online experience and to feel empowered by the tools we use. We want our elections free from manipulation and for women and marginalized communities to be able to speak openly about their experiences.

Chipping away at the legal foundations of the Internet in order to pressure platforms to play the role of Internet police is not the way to accomplish those goals. 

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Recognizing the gravity of the challenges presented, Ranking Member Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) aptly stated: “I want to be very clear: I’m not for gutting Section 230. It’s essential for consumers and entities in the Internet ecosystem. Misguided and hasty attempts to amend or even repeal Section 230 for bias or other reasons could have unintended consequences for free speech and the ability for small businesses to provide new and innovative services.” 

We agree. Any change to Section 230 risks upsetting the balance Congress struck decades ago that created the Internet as it exists today. It protects users and Internet companies big and small, and leaves open the door to future innovation. As Congress continues to debate Section 230, here are some suggestions and concerns we have for lawmakers willing to grapple with the complexities and get this right.

Facing Illegal Activity Online: Focus on the Perpetrators

Much of the hearing focused on illegal speech and activity online. Representatives and panelists mentioned examples like illegal drug sales, wildlife sales, and fraud. But there’s an important distinction to make between holding Internet intermediaries, such as social media companies and classified ads sites, liable for what their users say or do online, and holding users themselves accountable for their behavior.

Section 230 has always had a federal criminal law carve out. This means that truly culpable online platforms can already be prosecuted in federal court, alongside their users, for illegal speech and activity. For example, a federal judge in the Silk Road case correctly ruled that Section 230 did not provide immunity against federal prosecution to the operator of a website that hosted other people’s ads for illegal drugs.

But EFF does not believe prosecuting Internet intermediaries is the best answer to the problems we find online. Rather, both federal and state government entities should allocate sufficient resources to target the direct perpetrators of illegal online behavior; that is, the users themselves who take advantage of open platforms to violate the law. Section 230 does not provide an impediment to going after these bad actors. McSherry pointed this out in her written testimony: “In the infamous Grindr case... the abuser was arrested two years ago under criminal charges of stalking, criminal impersonation, making a false police report, and disobeying a court order.”

Weakening Section 230 protections in order to expand the liability of online platforms for what their users say or do would incentivize companies to over-censor user speech in an effort to limit the companies’ legal exposure. Not only would this be harmful for legitimate user speech, it would also detract from law enforcement efforts to target the direct perpetrators of illegal behavior. As McSherry noted regarding the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA):

At this committee’s hearing on November 30, 2017, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation special agent Russ Winkler explained that online platforms were the most important tool in his arsenal for catching sex traffickers. One year later, there is anecdotal evidence that FOSTA has made it harder for law enforcement to find traffickers. Indeed, several law enforcement agencies report that without these platforms, their work finding and arresting traffickers has hit a wall.

Speech Moderation: User Choice and Empowerment

In her testimony, McSherry stressed that the Internet is a better place for online community when numerous platforms are available with a multitude of moderation philosophies. Section 230 has contributed to this environment by giving platforms the freedom to moderate speech the way they see fit.

The  freedom  that Section 230 afforded to Internet startups to choose their own moderation strategies has led to a multiplicity of options  for users—some more restrictive and sanitized, some more laissez-faire.  That  mix of  moderation philosophies contributes to a healthy environment for free expression and association online.

Reddit’s Steve Huffman echoed McSherry’s defense of Section 230 (PDF), noting that its protections have enabled the company to improve on its moderation practices over the years. He explained that the company’s speech moderation philosophy is one that prioritizes users making decisions about how they’d like to govern themselves:

The way Reddit handles content moderation today is unique in the industry. We use a governance model akin to our own democracy—where everyone follows a set of rules, has the ability to vote and self-organize, and ultimately shares some responsibility for how the platform works.

In an environment where platforms have their own approaches to content moderation, users have the ultimate power to decide which ones to use. McSherry noted in her testimony that while Grindr was not held liable for the actions of one user, that doesn’t mean that Grindr didn’t suffer. Grindr lost users, as they moved to other dating platforms. One reason why it’s essential that Congress protect Section 230 is to preserve the multitude of platform options.

“As a litigator, [a reasonableness standard] is terrifying. That means a lot of litigation risk, as courts try to figure out what counts as reasonable.”

Later in the hearing, Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL) asked each of the panelists who should be “the cop on the beat” in patrolling online speech. McSherry reiterated that users themselves should be empowered to decide what material they see online: “A cardinal principle for us at EFF is that at the end of the day, users should be able to control their Internet experience, and we need to have many more tools to make that possible.”

If some critics of Section 230 get their way, users won’t have that power. Prof. Danielle Citron offered a proposal (PDF) that Congress implement a “duty of care” regimen, where platforms would be required to show that they’re meeting a legal “reasonableness” standard in their moderation practices in order to keep their Section 230 protection. She proposes that courts look at what platforms are doing generally to moderate content and whether their policies are reasonable, rather than what a company did with respect to a particular piece of user content.

But inviting courts to determine what moderation practices are best would effectively do away with Section 230’s protections, disempowering users in the process. In McSherry’s words, “As a litigator, [a reasonableness standard] is terrifying. That means a lot of litigation risk, as courts try to figure out what counts as reasonable.”

Robots Won’t Fix It

There was plenty of agreement that current moderation was flawed, but much disagreement about why it was flawed. Subject-matter experts on the panel frequently described areas of moderation that were not in their purview as working perfectly fine, and questioning why those techniques could not be applied to other areas.

The deeper you look at current moderation—and listen carefully to those directly silenced by algorithmic solutions—the more you understand that robots won’t fix it.

In one disorienting moment, Gretchen Peters of the Alliance to Counter Crime Online asked the congressional committee when they’d last seen a “dick pic” on Facebook, and took their silence as an indication that Facebook had solved the dick pic problem. She then suggested Facebook could move on to scanning for other criminality. Professor Hany Farid, an expert in at-scale, resilient hashing of child exploitative imagery, wondered why the tech companies could not create digital fingerprinting solutions for opioid sales.

Many cited Big Tech’s work to automatically remove what they believe to be copyright-infringing material as a potential model for other areas—perhaps unaware that the continuing failure of copyright bots is one of the few areas where EFF and the entertainment industry agree (though we think they take down too much entirely lawful material, and Hollywood thinks they’re not draconian enough.)

The truth is that the deeper you look at current moderation—and listen carefully to those directly silenced by algorithmic solutions—the more you understand that robots won’t fix it. Robots are still terrible at understanding context, which has resulted in everything from Tumblr flagging pictures of bowls of fruit as “adult content” to YouTube removing possible evidence of war crimes because it categorized the videos as “terrorist content.” Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) pointed out the consequences of having algorithms police speech, “Groups already facing prejudice and discrimination will be further marginalized and censored.” A lot of the demand for Big Tech to do more moderation is predicated on the idea that they’re good at it, with their magical tech tools. As our own testimony and long experience points out—they’re really not, with bots or without.

Could they do better? Perhaps, but as Reddit’s Huffman noted, doing so means that the tech companies need to be able to innovate without having those attempts result in a hail of lawsuits. That is, he said, “exactly the sort of ability that 230 gives us.”

Reforming 230 with Big Tech as the Focus Would Harm Small Internet Companies

Critics of 230 often fail to acknowledge that many of the solutions they seek are not within reach of startups and smaller companies. Techniques like preemptive blocking of content, persistent policing of user posts, and mechanisms that analyze speech in real time to see what needs to be censored are extremely expensive.

That means that controlling what users do, at scale, will only be doable by Big Tech. It’s not only cost prohibitive, it will carry a high cost of liability if they get it wrong. For example, Google’s ContentID is often used in the copyright context is held up as one means of enforcement, but it required a $100 million investment by Google to develop and deploy—and it still does a bad job.

Google’s Katherine Oyama testified that Google already employs around 10,000 people that work on content moderation—a bar that no startup could meet—but even that appears insufficient to some critics. By comparison, a website like Wikipedia, which is the largest repository of information in human history, employs just about 350 staff for its entire operation, and is heavily reliant on volunteers.

A set of rules that would require a Google-sized company to expend even more resources means that only the most well-funded firms could maintain global platforms. A minimally-staffed nonprofit like Wikipedia could not continue to operate as it does today. The Internet would become more concentrated, and further removed from the promise of a network that empowers everyone.

As Congress continues to examine the problems facing the Internet today, we hope lawmakers remember the role that Section 230 plays in defending the Internet’s status as a place for free speech and community online. We fear that undermining Section 230 would harden today’s largest tech companies from future competition. Most importantly, we hope lawmakers listen to the voices of the people they risk pushing offline.

Read McSherry’s full written testimony.

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Plastic Jellyfish Dress – Recycled Fashion with a Cause

Jellyfish Dress

Our oceans are our largest natural resource, filled with beauty and mystery and life. There are more than 15 trillion pieces of trash in the ocean. It’s estimated that there is six times as much plastic in the ocean as there is plankton. Plastic bags drift through the water and look just like Jellyfish to a hungry turtle. The turtles eat the plastic and die. 

This dress by Erin St. Blaine uses recycled plastic bags, bubble wrap, and soda bottles along with Adafruit electronics to create a bioluminescent jellyfish costume. Erin hopes to draw awareness to the problem of so much plastic in the oceans, and help to save our turtle friends.

Featured in the Reinvent the Runway Show 2019

Build Process

The Idea

I’ve wanted to make a jellyfish costume for ages. A few years ago I made the world’s first LED swimmable mermaid tail, Mermaid Glimmer, which was partially inspired by the bioluminescent jellies I saw at the aquarium. They had beautiful pulsing rainbow lights and I just loved the idea of mimicking that with LEDs.

I was invited to showcase a piece in the Reinvent the Runway fashion show put on by the Placer Arts Council this fall. The theme of the show was Science, and the rules stated that the fashion should be made from recycled materials. I’m passionate about the problem of plastic in the oceans, and specifically about turtles mistaking plastic bags for jellyfish, and the idea came to life from there.

Materials

California has done a great job in the last few years of minimizing plastic shopping bags. I wanted to build the whole dress from plastic bags, but being the hippie mermaid I am, I didn’t have any — I switched to cloth bags a long time ago. I posted on Nextdoor.com to see if any neighbors had recyclable single use plastics they’d be willing to donate to the project, and .. success! My neighbors had plenty of plastic for me to use in the form of bags, cups, bubble wrap, and plastic bottles. I had my materials!

The Build

I patterned the skirt off my Cinderella ball gown. I had a lot of Rayley’s bags, so laid them all out and hot glued them together into large fabric sheets, then cut the pattern just like I would with fabric. Instead of sewing, I attached the whole skirt together with hot glue, with a velcro closure. This was very satisfying. Plastic bags and hot glue go together like chocolate and peanut butter.

For the bodice, I built on top of an old costume corset I found in the back of my closet. I laid out the prettiest bags so they’d look nicely arranged and hot glued them to the corset. My favorite bit was using a plastic bag from Target on the back.

For the lights, I used Adafruit’s NeoPixel Dot Strands. I created five strands with 10 dots each, and wired them together to a Circuit Playground Express. For diffusion, I used clear plastic wine cups (also donated by a neighbor) that I painted the inside of with an iridescent spray paint. This diffused the lights so beautifully! I was really happy with how this came out.

I decorated the outside of the dress with bubble-wrap spirals. Cutting a spiral in fabric (or bubble wrap!) creates a beautiful swirly tentacle. I made a lot of them! I also made an underskirt from more bubble wrap spirals sewn to an elastic band, so that when I “fly” the skirt up and mimic the motion of a jellyfish, the tentacles underneath will show, creating that classic jellyfish shape.

Accessories

For my head, I created a glowing turtle fascinator. I used a plastic soda bottle for the turtle’s shell, and bits of plastic bottle, bubble wrap, and some googly eyes to finish him off. His feet are made of wire and they can “swim” around, and he’s entagled in fishing line as he swims through his sea of plastic. I lit him from underneath with another Circuit Playground Express.

I created a choker necklace from plastic soda bottle rings. This was inspired by images we’ve all seen as children of ducks, turtles, or other aquatic creatures with their heads stuck inside these rings. It turned out surprisingly pretty!

I made the bracelets from the same material, and connected them with fishing line to the hoop skirt.

Functionality

The bracelets allow me to “puppet” the dress without touching it. While wearing the bracelets, I can lift my arms up and down and the skirt will pulse like a jellyfish. The motion looks really cool, and really does say “jellyfish” to me! So, of course, I had to create a motion-sensing animation using the Circuit Playground Express’ onboard accelerometer, so that every time the jellyfish pulses, the lights animate. I did the programming in Microsoft MakeCode. Here’s the project if you’re interested to see how it works!

Reinvent the Runway

Here are a few more photos from the Reinvent the Runway Show. There were so many creative projects and costumes!  A lot of folks used lights and technology, and one entry even sported an Adafruit MonsterM4sk!

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