Interesting “DIY LED Dress”: Google Tries to Play Nice With Girls

Many Makerspaces and Fab Labs now feature active “fabric” and “fashion” tech activities, including DIY sewing projects that incorporate inexpensive LED’s and other electronics in clothing. These days, a well rounded Maker knows how to sew as well as solder.

Google has appropriated these local efforts into it’s “Made With Code” site.

Made With Code is explicitly designed to entice girls and young women to learn to code through projects designed to appeal. The example projects present “cool” girls doing Fangirl-y things: story telling, healing, helping, cooking, and, of course, sewing. The narrative is that all these cool things have code in them, and girls can and should learn code so they can express their creativity.

The “Made With Code” projects teach you coding (or anyway, mean to do so), via a web based graphical programming scheme. The web site walks you through simple programming projects by dragging and dropping components with immediate visual feedback. It’s a cool interface, and damn impressive. Whether this is actually programming or not, I dunno. (For example, I was unable to write bad code or produce a runtime error, which is 90% of programming, as far as I’m concerned.)

The project that caught my eye is the LED Dress: Code + Fashion.  This lets you create a Little Black Dress with blinking moving LED patterns. The “program” lets you set the base pattern, translate and scale it, animate it, and set the color. The animation of the right shows what your dress should look like. Pretty cool.

I’m a little disappointed that there isn’t any way to download either the code that I wrote or the pattern to actually make the dress. I’d like to download it and make it at my local fab lab, fer instance. When the design is finished, there is a vague message about “your design may be selected to be made”.

I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing that all the designs go in a database (controlled by Google, naturally), out of which some are selected. This is pretty mysterious, since they didn’t get my name, nor did I give permission for them to have my data, let along manufacture it.

I’m especially disappointed that I can’t see the “code” that I supposedly wrote. The interface is basically a fancy way to fill in a form, and I can see how there are some simple generative algorithms inside here. But not only did I not code the algorithms, I don’t even know what they are. Whatever “code” is in this design, we never touch it. This ain’t programming.

Is this really what we want to teach new programmers? Coding without algorithms? Coding without the possibility of writing bad code? Coding without debugging, for heavens sake!

(I’ll leave out the opaque ownership situation. Part of the point of learning to code is learning to create code that you own, and can share or sell as you wish.)

Grumble, grumble. Stop being so negative, Bob! If kids (girls or boys) get excited and create interesting things and maybe end up learning real coding, then its all good.

I should note that this project is endorsed by Friend of the Blog, Maddy Maxey who really is walking the walk. If Maddy is involved, then it must be cool!

Just watching her video wears me out. 🙂


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