I’ve always had at least one side project running in one form or another next to whatever my profession was at a given time.
I’m more of a software guy, so in my spare time I try to do hardware projects; may it be handcrafting, soldering or 3D printing. Also I like building things, not using them.
A few years back (maybe around 2009?), when the Arduino hype was in full swing, just like most tech guys and girls I also got my hands on a few sensors and began tinkering with the easy to use device. The micro-controller was just too popular to ignore it. That must have been around the time, when RFID and NFC were mentioned in the media quite often. I played around with an RFID reader and some tags. The μC recognized the tags, performed web requests over ethernet and my computer played back different songs; just trying out this and that, nothing I used any longer than half an hour. I remember talking to my fellow students about cheap contact-less information transfer. We thought we’d be shopping in supermarkets with completely automated cash points in the near future. We now know, that we were so wrong. We don’t have those in Germany yet and Amazon opened its first shop with no checkouts in early 2018. Isn’t it ridiculous how long it takes for such a well known technique to become widely used in the ‘normal’ consumer world?
While I was working for the applied informatics group as a student, one postdoc was researching a way to get preschool children into digital game design. He wanted the kids to interact with physical world objects and reflect their actions into a multiplayer computer game. It was all about teamwork, being together and creativity. I liked the concept and ideas. That’s when I got a first short glimpse at the way children interact with tech. After university I lost sight of that interesting area in software-hardware-interaction research.
Instead, I dived into many private projects. I have a few drones lying around (partly unfinished), some RC planes and cars in the basement, a very fast (like 70km/h) Frankenstein e-bike without breaks, a DIY 3D printer, and so many electrical and electronic stuff. Sometimes I was working obsessively day and night when I got into a new private tech adventure.
All that good stuff got pretty much grounded when my first child was born. The amount of spare time that’s left for these kinds of things while also working full-time is almost zero. I was not angry at all, because the time with my kid was (and is) worth so much more. But I do admit that sometimes I was stressed and a little bit of soldering would probably have calmed me down (could actually be the toxic fumes, but whatever).
In that project-free phase (the first in a long time) me and my wife were expecting our second child and I had to take some time off work. In Germany we have a public support program called ‘Elternzeit’ (parental leave, literal: parent’s time) and ‘Elterngeld’ (literal: parent’s money). You have the legal right to temporarily stay away from your workplace. In this time you get a partial and time constrained financial compensation paid by the government while caring for your kids (either full or part-time). Due to complicated regulations and optimizations made by us, I had a few weeks of full father and child time. My older daughter went to kindergarten until noon and then she needed to sleep for about two hours. The afternoon and early evening was 100% family time. At eight PM it was her time to go to bed.
For me it meant a few hours each day to work on a side project without neglecting any time with my family. And that’s when I was back in business (at least for a few weeks). The only missing thing was a fun project.
We wanted to give our first daughter a present from our newborn at the day of her birth in order to start their relationship in a positive way. Probably like every kid, my daughter is into animal figures, pushing buttons, colorful lights and music. All these things could be combined into a useful kid’s toy: Marta Musik Maschine.