Hour of Code Wellington: The Internet of Marshmallows, Kids, Penguins, and Technology Brainstorming for the City

hackmiramarmakerspaceThe Hour of Code Wellington was run today in Wellington at Scots College, Strathmore, and saw kids, adults, and the old hands learning to code, connecting marshmallows and bananas to computers, and practical application of the Internet of Things devices that include the monitoring of penguin boxes in Taranaki. As well it brought industry and local politicians together for a brainstorming session on how Wellington can drive technology education and innovation with the Eastern Suburbs as a spawning ground.

The Hour of Code is an international movement that allows anyone exposure to coding and technology. Organised under the banner of Hack Miramar (technology events, advocacy and constructive civil mayhem) with Maker Space and run at Scots College the event was attended by dozens of young and older from the peninsula and further away including our local Councillor Sarah Free and the Mayor (an ex coder herself) Celia Wade-Brown, somewhat damp after a bicycle ride in the rain.

The three technology rooms included a visual coding using Scratch to teach newbies and the old alike how to code from, well, scratch. Maker Space brought their unique brand of education with bananas, hammers, buttons, marshmallows, and other edible items all attached to a coding engine allowing people to see the connection between devices and coding. Andrew Hornblow from Taranaki ran sessions on RasberryPi showing people how to create sensors, link them to the Internet, and collect data at the back end. Andrew has built sensor networks that monitor penguin boxes, water levels, and other farm data.

The initial shyness of participants, particularly the parents, gave way to organised chaos as dozens of people moved from session to session.

The idea of the movement is to bolster the education of kids, generally, and get them on a path of learning for technology using very visual, hands-on technology under the shepherding of volunteers. It sparks the imagination of kids and provides a beautiful segue into technology rather than the typical intimidating wall of the computer screen or textbook.

The session also brought together teachers, university lecturers, the Wellington City Council, the head of Scots College, local entrepreneurs, technologists, and other interested parties to talk about how the movement can be grown, how Miramar and the Eastern Suburbs can be used as a catalyst to not only educate people on technology but to also spawn entrepreneurs, products, and assist in the creation of technology and other business.

Given the creative past of Miramar, and no shortage of volunteers, there is every chance of this snowballing into something very interesting.

The Eastern Suburbs for most part when settled was a large, smelly (I assume), swamp, populated by a lot of flax. The enterprising locals dug a rather long tunnel to the sea and drained the swamp. One of the city’s largest exports was flax fiber. Over time farm land gave way to smaller settlements and the Peninsula was also the home of the Wonderland Park, a full-sized theme park including all of the rides of the day. Unsurprisingly, due to lack of patronage, it folded in the end. Only to be replaced by a very large insane asylum of which the buildings still stand today.

Innovation, fun, risk, and insanity can be used to describe the Peninsula, even in recent days of the Film Industry, the same words would apply. . People thought Peter Jackson was insane to invest not only in the area, but to tackle JRR Tolkien’s masterpiece. Who would have guessed at the result?

Earlier in the year, myself, Ben Wilde, and Mike Riversdale, organised Wellington’s first Civic Hackathon that brought a large group of interested parties together to hack the city transport issue. The energy and turn out has convinced us that there is something here to be done with technology in a wider sense. The support from Council, local industry, national industry, and education has been surprising. Even Helfen, a local building innovator (to say the least) helped us out. Proving that high-tech (which Helfen certainly are) is also an opportunity.

The Mayor rightly pointed out that the Eastern Suburbs are “a city within a city”, noting that we have every ethnicity represented, every kind of business, and multi-millionaires to beneficiaries all within a small border (I paraphrased there and used some of my words.) Scots College is already working with local schools and has a world-class facility supported by Sir Richard Taylor and other locals.

The challenge, everyone agreed, was how to construct a movement without creating a bureaucratic and institutionalised morass. Too often all the will in the world with the a scattering of innovative ideas is slowed and stopped when process is brought into play. And there is the conundrum, how do you manage organised chaos and collaboration, which is proven to spawn innovation when you have different groups that need a working framework?

The answer is unknown, however, the risk is recognised, which means that people can work to avoid it. It is clear to me that the unfettered discussion of ideas is king. Gone are the days of neo-liberalism of last decade which taught us to work in competition with each other, and be fiercely protective of our ideas. Now is the time of cross-pollination, at least on a city level, where groups and companies come together, and share everything.

That sharing, in a hackathon style, or over a beer, or coffee, at an event like the Hour of Code, at the BBQ, the school fair, through twitter, as a part of conferences, at the local (which is where this movement was born), or running into people along Lambton Quay, is what creates community. And what is being created here is a very strong community of individuals with the same goals. To make Wellington better.

It really is that simple.

What is remarkable is the absolute energy and appetite that kids have for technology. What is also very interesting to me is the fact that Lego is still the best selling Christmas present this year (thanks Celia), which tells me that kids aren’t being subsumed and taken in by technology in itself, that creativity is still alive and well.

Something special is happening in Miramar. With more events planned, enthusiastic people and volunteers from every walk of life, Council support, industry interest, innovative crazy “sky’s the limit” thinkers, couple with a smart city, with it’s roots in the coast, the compact city, the weather, and the sea, exporting internationally at an increasing level, then things are looking good. Bring on the positive disruption.

For those of you who want to get involved, then contact can be made here.

Also Gallery, and yes, I know it is formatted weird, the editing defeated me.

Hammer as an input device
I’m sure this plugs in here…
A future IoT inventor
Maker Space packed out
Tells you when penguins are in bed
The IoT in real life
Andrew teaching
Coders coding…
Sarah Free learning to code
The Mayor with Ben and the IoT
“I use to have hair but I grew it out to make room for my brain” – The Head of Scots brainstorming
The Internet of Marshmallows
Honestly, it was this big
So many things!
“What do you mean I just hacked the NSA?”



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