Meet the Makers – Dom Amato

Dom Amato

Tell us about yourself.
I was raised in the north suburbs of Milwaukee and went to school at UW-Milwaukee for a BFA in Interdisciplinary Art & Technology with a Minor in Japanese. I also took Computer Science classes and acted as Research Assistant while in school. During that time I also begun helping the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum as a contractor for its exhibit development. Recently I moved to Chicago to pursue a Masters Degree in Human Computer Interaction and I will continue on for my PhD once I determine the school I want to attend. In my spare time, what little there is to it, I like to cook, bike, and work with my hands building contraptions. I really enjoy computer science and electrical engineering because it is like a big puzzle that has some small victories when you match parts together and then a sense of accomplishment when you finish. I believe strongly in open source cooperation and recently became one of the chief contributors to the Windows development team at openFrameworks which is the primary development framework I use in my own software.

What are you presenting at Maker Faire Milwaukee?
My booth at the Maker Faire is a little bit of an inside joke that stemmed from my work at Betty Brinn. I never had a desk or an office since I was never an employee though I took over a few closets and empty desks now and again. One of the closets became Brinn Labs as I worked there as it was far away from everyone else in the museum. The actual things I am presenting are just simple programs that I have made in collaboration with the museum and have shared with the public. Some of these are meant to be cost effective replacements for expensive hardware like piDAR, the tiny light wand, and the tiny moisture sensor. Others are meant as learning tools to make prototyping easier like gooeyPI, the Create2 OI spec 2, and Robust Firmata. Meanwhile a few are just fun projects like BAMplot or the DIY laser cutter.

Teaching Kids

Why is making important to you?
Making is important to me because it allows me to be creative in very uncreative industries. Designing exhibits may be an exception but most computer science is very dry/dull experiences that can be very unrewarding outside of a small community. No one appreciates software that runs properly or efficiently, they expect it to be so. Making on the other hand can be rough and inefficient and not even work properly but it still captures people’s imaginations and can be fascinating. A laser cutter is so much more interesting to people than the software that runs it, same with a 3D printer. I think making allows me to extend skills that are often overlooked and put them at the forefront. I also just like being physical when I create things, ever since I was little I have always made things and it was only recently that I have made digital things. I think it can be a very cathartic activity to make things but its also a great hobby that leads to greater appreciation and understanding of our digital ecosystem. When my screen breaks I can fix it myself, when I find broken electronics I can usually fix them, its an extremely useful skill to have in the 21st century.

Light Wand

What was the first thing you remember making?
When I was in elementary school me and my brother had bunk beds but sometime before 5th grade we got separate rooms. Instead of buying a new bed I just took the top bunk off the bottom one. The problem was the bed was really high off the ground so no normal end table would work as a night stand. I ended up building a collapsable tray that hooked into the bed frame that could be extended up and locked in place. My dad helped me make it but we had all sorts of tools in our garage and I would help him when we did house renovations. I have known how to use tools since I was very young and it allowed me to make all sorts of useless things.

What have you made that you are most proud of?
I’m pretty proud of everything I make, even when it doesn’t work. There have been some pretty great failures that I have learned a lot from, specifically there was an art installation I collaborated with multiple people on and it never worked once, at multiple venues. That was actually pretty common when I was in art school as I was so overly ambitious that so many of my artworks were never finished when it came to present them. One time in the middle of a gallery showing one of the transformers for the piece melted so I had to quickly redo all the circuitry. Maybe its weird to be proud of failures but it taught me a lot about what could go wrong and how to prevent it and I was never in doubt that I could have done it. Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of my successes too. The performance I did at the art museum went really well, though that artwork was sadly lost to a hard drive failure some years later. I am pretty proud of a lot of the projects I have done for the Be A Maker program at the museum. Creating the exhibits is fun but making one off random projects is a change of pace that can have really rewarding results.

Light Painting

Given an unlimited budget, what would you make?
This is a tricky question because most things I make don’t cost me a lot of money anyways. I think what would be more useful to me is having unlimited time since that is honestly what I have the least of nowadays. With unlimited time I think I would make everything on my to do list first. Originally I was supposed to make a robotic knitting machine for Maker Faire but I never had the time to re-engineer the original design, and I have a lot of interest in doing that. As a backup plan I was supposed to make a painting robot but only the firmware has been made for that. I really hate not finishing a project, it weighs on me and bothers me when it sits on my white board and stares me down. I guess if I had to pick something to make with an unlimited budget it would be either a time machine, a clone, or a robot assistant so that I could get more work done in a day.