First thing to know about soldering irons: they're hot.
If that doesn't frighten you away, you might have what it takes to wire up the circuit board that will take you on an electronic treasure hunt through Santa Monica's GLOW event.
During a class at the newly rejiggered 1450 Ocean community center in Santa Monica's Camera Obscura building, one woman, despite the warnings, promptly grabbed the metal portion of her soldering iron, burned her hand, and asked for a refund. Once that was out of the way, the rest of us got down to the actually not-all-that-dangerous work of kit building laser-etched LED pendants.
Once a senior citizen's center, 1450 Ocean this summer retooled itself into a learning center open to all adults, offering classes for dancers, crafters, makers, and hackers, enhancing its offerings through partnerships with organizations like Machine Project, a performance and installation space in Echo Park, and Crash Space, a Culver City lab that is "home to hackers, programmers, builders, makers, artists and people who generally like to break things and see what new things can be built with the pieces."
At the LED pendant workshop, Crash Space's Naim Busek is handing out kits that include a small plexiglas pane that says "GLOW," a circuit board, several resistors, chips, and LEDs. The students range from total newbies to experienced builders, from teens to seniors, but by the end of the evening, everyone is proudly wearing their creations around their necks, ready to deploy at GLOW on September 28.
Each pendant is equipped with a radio chip that will receive signals from infrared beams hidden throughout GLOW, in five of the exhibition's artworks. Worn in standard mode, the badges' six LEDs will simply cycle through three colors. But in "treasure hunt" mode, the badge will turn off all of the LEDs until the wearer finds an artwork with a hidden transmitter. Each transmitter will turn on one LED. Once the wearer has found all five transmitters, the sixth LED will activate, doing fast flashing and color changing to indicate a "win."
When Santa Monica refurbished the nearby Ken Edwards Center into a "one-stop shop" for all city senior services, that left 1450 Ocean free to transform from a senior center to a general community center open to all adults. Yet because of the center's history, plenty of seniors still take classes there (one student at the GLOW workshop was an 80-something, one was 19), making for an interesting mix. The assembly made for a far more diverse group by age, and also by gender, than CrashSpace instructors typically see at their hacker-intensive workshops.. "We embrace this diversity of ages and intentions — classes can draw people for so many reasons," said Naomi Okuyama, one of 1450 Ocean's coordinators.
1450 Ocean will offer the GLOW workshop again this Thursday, Sept. 26 and Saturday, Sept. 28. Other upcoming classes at the space include "Musical Soldering," where Mark Allen of Machine Project teaches how to make "a primitive but rad synthesizer" ("I hope we see older folks at that one" Okuyama says), and "Embroidery for Artists," where students learn to transfer original designs or just "doodle" on fabric. The complete schedule is at www.smgov.net.