The Electron Theory vs. Little Greenies

The author introduced me to a way of writing about electricity and explaining terms (or as he calls them – jargon) about it which I had never seen before. He does it in a witty, super light-weight and constructive manner. By using the character of Little Greenie, he describes things like voltage, current, resistance, electrons, etc. What I like the most about his style of writing is that in the dialogue between him and the imaginary Little Greenie Mike he firstly uses some of the scientific explanation, which is accepted to be true and is widely believed (the electron theory). However, in response to that, the author also provides the view of Little Greenie who actually explains the same process, just by using less abstract and less complicated vocabulary and a description of events that is easier to understand for a reader who has no background knowledge. Overall, I think that by writing both the scientific and Little Greenie’s explanation, the author has made it possible for the reader to create an analogy between those explanations and understand better what’s going on even in terms of the electron theory.

Assignment 1: Switch

For this task, the main goal was to develop a switch to turn on an LED light in a creative fashion without using our hands. After much pondering, I decided to create a simple yet effective way of connecting people through a bracelet switch.

The personal objective I had for this task was to try to find a way of creating a light switch that would connect two people through collaboration. In class, the satisfaction of simply turning on a LED with the push of a button was the highlight of my day. Through this assignment, I wanted to spread this same excitement with someone else. Thus, I considered two ways of elaborating this. The first was to use any conductive material attached to a body part to create a switch. The second was to utilize other conductive items or objects to have the same effect. In the end, I decided to focus on the second method and play around with the concept of a “friendship bracelet”; this led to the development of creating a bracelet switch.

Some initial ideas I considered before arriving to the conclusion of connecting with others was to attach buttons to clothing materials and pushing them together to turn on the LED, making “workout” switches that would require a person to stretch in a specific position for the switch to work, or even to make a switch that connected directly to one’s foot. Nevertheless, in the end I decided that it would be better to utilize switches that would include others, making the switch more interactive along the way.

After finally settling on an idea for the assignment, I then obtained the materials that would be needed. Since I had no bracelets that could conduct electricity, I obtained several strands of conductive paper and conductive thread to wrap around the objects. Through this manner, it was ensured that the bracelet would conduct electricity in its entirety. Below are images of the process of wrapping up the bracelets, the original items I used, and the final version of the bracelet.

After doing this, I used more conductive thread to connect one bracelet to the “ground” wire in the RedBoard, and the other to the wire in the “ground” slot of the breadboard. In this manner, both bracelets would be connected to the circuit and their interaction would cause the light to turn on.  This is demonstrated in the following images and video:

As is seen in the videos below, this type of switch would allow for people to interact with each other in different ways in order to turn on the LED. 

This other example technically includes hands, but regardless, I thought it was an interesting additional way of using the switch. 

Before elaborating the switch, I first wanted to further understand how circuits work and what is actually happening with the components. Attached below are some notes I took as a means of trying to grasp the topics in class a bit more, to then apply to this assignment. The sources I used were  ,   , and

Overall, this assignment was a great opportunity to apply concepts learned in class such as circuits, resistance, and voltage in a creative way that could also help to connect with others in an entertaining manner. Regardless of the fact that my creation is quite simple, I believe it fulfills the purpose of sharing the small joy experienced when turning this LED light through one’s own means. This assignment also gave me the opportunity of having exposure for the first time to circuits and electronics, something I did not think I would have enjoyed as much as I did during this task.

No-Hands Switch: Divine Intervention

In my divine-intervention-activated switch, the circuit is closed by two sheets of tin foil attached to the tip of two cables that I’ve taped on God’s and Adam’s hands. When the foil sheets touch, the LED light turns on. The pulley system that makes the hands touch is activated when one steps over and pulls down a rope attached to the pulleys.

My inspiration for this no-hands switch came from the iconic scene in ET in which Elliott’s and ET’’s fingers touch, generating a spark.


I wanted to play with a similar image, so I chose The Creation of Adam, the fresco painting by Michelangelo that decorates the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. I wanted to create a system such that, when Adam and God’s hand touched – I know they actually don’t touch in the painting, but what’s life without some creative license? – the LED light would turn on.

I set to work on a system of pulleys that would ultimately use a pedal to activate the entire mechanism – I use “pedal,” quite liberally to mean that it would be one’s foot, and not the hand, that activates the switch. First, I created a prototype in order to get an idea of how the system could work, and added a circuit to the whole thing to make sure it was feasible.

Prototype of the mechanism.
Circuit in the prototype

After making the prototype, I made a diagram to visualise how forces would be arranged and how I’d use my materials.

Diagram outlining how forces are arranged in the mechanism.

In the end, I used:

  • 2 XL bearings.
  • 2 short sticks thick enough to hold the bearings
  • 4 matchsticks
  • 4 pieces of embroidery thread (50 cm each, approximately).
  • 4-6 straws (I only used the part that bends)
  • Super glue, and a hot glue gun
  • 2 springs
  • One large piece of thick cardboard and another piece of thinner cardboard.
  • Tape

The most challenging part of building this switch was attaching the rope to the bearings such that the push-pull action would work. I used the bending part of a couple of straws to ensure the rope would not derail (see pictures below). Another crucial aspect was arranging the springs so they would pull the hands back to their original position and open the circuit (see pictures below). Overall, the system was pretty fragile, and using one’s feet was probably a poor design choice, but it does the job, and I managed to stick to my original idea of a bulb turning on through divine intervention!

Ropes secured in place by the pieces of straw.
Arrangement of springs at the back of the the cardboard.

Switch Birds: Lightweight, Conductive, and (Supposed to Look Like) Flamingos

One of the great things about Mustache Switch is that the lights turning on and off, as well as their colors, have a meaning. The no-smile turns on the red light (big no no) and the smile the green one (universal symbol of “all good”). I wanted my own LED to stand for something when it lit up (even if vaguely).

And for unknown reasons, I thought about flamingos.

Here’s the thing: flamingos are often portrayed as touching their beaks to form a heart. I carried out a Google search to prove this. Here’s the photographic evidence. Boom, tenth image result, flamingo heart!

How cute (though cheesy) to create two flamingos that light up a red LED when they touch each other. After all, red is the color we humans have chosen to represent love.

It’s also the color for anger, which is a happy coincidence. It turns out, as a learned during my thorough research for this project, that flamingos make cool shapes with their necks when they fight (here’s more visual proof).

Thus, my flamingos are either lovey-dovey with each other, or they want to rip their necks out. Either way, strong emotions are involved, manifested in the red light that turns on when they come into contact.

My idea was to make two flamingos that come together by blowing on them. They had to be lightweight for this purpose, and obviously conductive.

These are some bits of the process:

Bitten chocolate and the aluminum foil I wanted to use.

I remembered I had some aluminum-covered chocolate in my cupboard. I proceeded to eat the chocolate (for the sake of this project, nothing more) and use the foil.I cut out two cardboard flamingo shapes out of a battery package (because recycling!), and covered them with the aluminum.

Flamingo shape cut out of cardboard.

The bases of the flamingos were made with aluminum candle holders and paper clips. This video shows a complete flamingo:

I have an indecent amount of paper clips, so I ended up using lots of those. They turned out to be the best choice for flamingo contact. I guess they provide less resistance than the thin aluminum foil?

This is the finalized switch:

Deep Inside, We’re All “Guys in Tight Pants and Powdered Wigs”

(Response to There Are No Electrons: Electronics for Earthlings by Kenn Amdahl)

There are two points made in this reading that I really like (in truth, I like more than just a couple, but this is a short response, so I’ll compromise).

I like the notion of early experiments in static electricity as parlor tricks, because this is what we’ll do with technology as applied to art. We create (hopefully) impressive parlor tricks. But, this said, the next sentence by Amdhal is crucial: “In order to create even neater tricks, people wanted to understand what was actually going on inside that pith ball (p. 12)”, aka how electricity works. This is an aspect of the course that I appreciate: learning how to make cool stuff, but also wanting to learn the basics of how said cool stuff works.

Secondly, I respect Amdahl’s constant reminder that scientific theories are, indeed, theories and not absolute truths. I’m going off on a bit of a tangent here, but given the centuries-old rivalries between science, philosophy, and religion, it’s worth keeping in mind that they all rely on faith at some level. In the end, despite their predilection for empiricism and exactitude, the hard sciences also rely on highly intelligent guesses, which – yes, though intelligent – are guesses nevertheless (Benjamin Franklin’s flow of electricity from positive to negative serving as one of Amdahl’s examples).

Response: There are No Electrons // Electrons for Earthlings

I enjoyed the approach to this book about understanding a complex topic with a more simplified approach. Electricity has been studied for a long time, and the theories and ideas have changed and will continue to change since it is a complex and abstract phenomenon that required advanced technology and knowledge beyond what we currently have.
My favorite analogy was the voltage analogy in the Little Greenie Theory described as the Greenies need to party, or the E for Enthusiasm. It is a good way to imagine and remember what the definition of voltage is. I think it was particularly good to explain the analogy, then explain the theory in terms of ‘Electron Theory’ jargon because I was then able to understand it and make a creative mental association with what voltage is. I had a similar experience with the explanation of current as traffic.
The book also allowed me to think more critically about the models and images often used to represent topics in science. Models are a way of understanding an occurrence or natural phenomenon, and there is no reason that we shouldn’t come up with other models, such as ‘The Little Greenie Theory’ to help us visualize complex concepts. As long as we keep in mind that this is not actually the way things work, and make the distinctions between reality and the model, it is a great way to learn and work with electricity.
In fact, it may be more effective to have a model such as ‘The Greenie Theory’ in order to keep in mind that a theory is just that, a theory, and until we have concrete proof of what is correct and what is not correct, we should take other models with a grain of salt. A prime example of a mistake that has been made because a theory was taken to be truth too soon is the direction in which current flows. Although we now know that current flows from negative charge to positive charge, it was once believed that the current flows from positive to negative. A lot of written documentation has it this way, and for the sake of convenience, the incorrect flow is actually labeled as conventional current although we know it not to be accurate.
Needless to say, as I work with electricity and learn more about how to manipulate it for my projects I will certainly be imagining Little Greenies in my circuits.

Electric Heart

The goal of this project was to create a creative switch that turns on the LED light without using your hand. The light is controlled by the broken felt heart coming together, and your hand is only used to move the zipper back and forth.

On the back of the device, there are attached two pieces of aluminum foil with the ends of the yellow wire attached to act as the conductors. When the two pieces of aluminum foil touch (the two pieces of the broken heart come together), the light illuminates.

The device is also symbolic of finding ‘the other half of your heart’. This can be interpreted in many different ways, whatever the story means to you.  When the pieces are apart, the light turns off. When the pieces come together, the light turns on.

Reading Response

Kenn Amdahl’s There are no Electrons: Electronics for Earthlings is a fun, interesting and engaging read for anyone, whether they are interested in learning about electrons and electricity. Even though I could recall having learnt most of the concepts he talks about in school, the way he explained them was entirely new and I believe even if a person who knows absolutely nothing about electricity,  were to read it, they would enjoy and learn a lot from the book.

I understood the text to be much more than simply about the workings of electricity because not only Ken Amdahl explain the science behind electricity, he also talks about and makes us question the truth or validity of this science and the nature of the methods that we use. I really like and agree with the part where he talks about how the overuse of analogies and ‘models’ to explain complicated phenomena leads to the distortion of the actual scientific truth. I believe that science often uses logically imperfect methods, approximations and inductions to form theories and I think that is necessary since we need to have these theories. However, when we learn these theories in school, we are never told about the imperfect methods used to get to those theories, which can very easily lead to the belief that they are absolute truths.

Look mom, no hands!

When designing a switch that wouldn’t require the use of hands in order to turn on the LED light, I considered several ideas as the initial idea didn’t work out as well as planned. That’s what I found the most challenging and the most useful about this assignment – going through phases of something not working but then detecting the weaknesses and trying to improve them with the use of different materials and a slightly different setup.

Initially, because I have long hair, I thought of making a switch which would use my hair to turn on the LED. Knowing the fact that water conducts electricity, I thought that it would be an interesting idea to create a switch that lights up the LED only if the hair is wet. However, after several attempts of making the circuit, I came to a conclusion that the water in the hair was not enough to ensure a sufficient flow of electricity in the circuit. It worked well with using a dampened paper towel instead of my hair in the circuit, but, because it was not what I was looking for, I had to keep trying different ideas.

That’s how I eventually came up with using a hair pin that’s pinned in my hair as it is made out of metal and therefore conducts electricity. The way how my switch works is that there are crocodile wires attached from the breadboard to a metal pin in my hair. There are also crocodile wires attached from the breadboard to a piece of aluminum foil which, however, is attached to a pocket of my shirt. As the hair with the pin touches the piece of foil, the circuit is complete and the LED lights up. The reason for using the aluminum foil is because it increases the area that the hair can touch in order to turn on the LED. Down below you can see a picture of the circuit, but the LED is not yet lit up, because the hair doesn’t touch the aluminum foil attached to the pocket.

This is the circuit from my perspective:

In these pictures you can see that as the hair with the pin touches the foil, the LED lights up:

There is also a short video of the process of using the switch (no hands used!):

Finally, you can see the whole circuit without being attached to my shirt:

Luize Rieksta

Response to “There Are No Electrons: Electronics for Earthlings”

30 January 2017

Response 1

Kenn Amdahl’s “There Are No Electrons: Electronics for Earthlings” is a perfect read for anybody who thinks that they are not interested in electricity. Early on in the book, he makes a point about jargon and how it makes rather simple concepts seem as though they are hard to understand for the common person. In this book, Amdahl eliminates most jargon, explaining to the readers the theories and models surrounding modern electricity studies in a simple, succint and humorous manner.

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