The jack-o’-lantern is made of the usual hollowed-out pumpkin, but this is just the beginning. I am hacking this pumpkin.
I am taking a “Halloween hack-o’-lantern” class at a hackerspace at the Hoboken MakerBar. It’s a place where you can learn to make a rocket, or program a computer, or build something out of concrete.
Think genial mad scientists’ lair. Nobody asked my dad why it was his daughter following him around in an electronics store, not his son. There weren’t any sons. It was a feminist statement, but to an eight-year-old kid, it was just life.
The next step, after carving a face into my pumpkin (I chose to make it look like a metallic Cylon, the bad guys from Battlestar Galactica), is sticking LEDs into it. These have been soldered to wires. Which have been soldered to an Arduino, a small blocky controller—the brains of the hack-o-lantern. My friend Will helps me with the carving, and he and other members of the class help me with the soldering.
I am not very good at this. And yet, for the first time in a while, I am home.
I am a 55-year-old woman who never took a shop class in her life, and I am far from a programmer. I should feel like a sore thumb at MakerBar, which skews younger and male. But I don’t.
This is in part because the only things the MakerBarbarians care about are making stuff and teaching people how to make stuff.
And the rest of it is because I am a Daddy’s girl.
My dad was raised Roman Catholic, but his true religion, I believe, was tinkering.
When I was a kid, I helped Dad connect his stereos and his speakers and his tape recorders. Wires fell out—we put them back in. Things didn’t work? Probably the power source. From my dad, I learned that things were rarely broken—they had either run out of power or were not connected correctly.
At Radio Shacks and hardware stores, I became Dad’s sidekick. Then, after he showed me the basics of his workshop, I sat at the hard wooden workbench in our basement trying to construct a dollhouse out of a cardboard box, acrylic paint, and some two-by-fours. I hammered and sawed—unsupervised. I sawed at cardboard with box cutters. I breathed in sawdust. Unsupervised.
At the hardware store, nobody told me to be more ladylike, especially my Harvard-educated dad, who was not fond of sports but was crazy about jazz and foreign languages. Nobody asked my dad why it was his daughter following him around in an electronics store, not his son. There weren’t any sons. It was a feminist statement, but to an eight-year-old kid, it was just life.
I was, and am, so lucky.
Parents are powerful. Given the right circumstances, they can inoculate their kids against some of the silliness of the world. “Making stuff” didn’t have a gender for me. In the rarefied air of my father’s workshop, I was a maker.
Too soon, a ferocious, fast-moving brain cancer killed my father in 1985. All the wires in the world couldn’t save him. As happens in families—during my adolescence and his middle age—we grew apart. But we stayed true to who we were. In 1980, he made himself a dinky home computer. He programmed the computer to say hello to me and my sisters, usually with a genial curse. Meanwhile, I took a job at tech-heavy Carnegie Mellon University. Hanging with people who made robots or set things on fire intentionally. Nerd heaven.
Too soon, a ferocious, fast-moving brain cancer killed my father in 1985. All the wires in the world couldn’t save him. I stopped making things. Until I found the MakerBar, and met people who reminded me so much of my dad that I keep waiting for him to walk through the door.
It takes me a long time to finish my hack-o’-lantern. The LEDs wobble in the pumpkin flesh. The wires fall out; I put them back in. Finally, my pumpkin blinks, pauses, blinks, with just the right touch of evil. I carry it home in the dark.
I set it down every block, just to watch it shine.
Photo courtesy of bkgaz/halloweenforum.com.