Hoop Dreams

Earlier this week I made my first attempt at creating an interactive basketball hoop.  I went into the lab with Bill Turkel to do some preliminary testing to see what we could do.  My initial idea for this hoop came back in January, and now I’ve finally made some headway on this project.  As a hoop I am using a mini Baden glow-in-the dark basketball hoop.  The brand or the fact that it glows in the dark doesn’t matter for this project, but it’s a durable little hoop, and the ball is made of a synthetic, leather-like material, stuffed with synthetic cotton, like unto what you would find in a stuffed toy.

Baden glow-in-the-dark mini basketball hoop

Baden glow-in-the-dark mini basketball hoop

In order for it to be interactive, we are also involving the use of the MakeyMakey, an easy-to-use invention kit that allows users to send keyboard and mouse messages using arcade buttons and joysticks, and unconventional items such as Play-Doh, fruit, and tin foil.  For this project, I am not using any unconventional items.  The idea is simply that when the basketball goes through the hoop, it makes contact with an arcade button, triggering a sound effect and a score tally.  The MakeyMakey is connected to the laptop via USB cable, and the arcade buttons are connected to the MakeyMakey using wires with alligator clips on each end.  Each button requires two wires to function, one to ground the circuit, and the other to transmit the keyboard or mouse message (see the images below).  In order to keep score and store sound effects, I am also using Max 6 programming software which I will talk about later.


Back of MakeyMakey and Alligator Clips

Back of MakeyMakey and Alligator Clips

Front of MakeyMakey

Front of MakeyMakey

The first challenge I came across was that when the ball goes through the hoop, it doesn’t go straight down.  Especially, if it goes straight through (swish), the mesh doesn’t offer much resistance and cannot force the ball straight down.  As you can see in the images above and below, we initially tried to create a cardboard receptacle to receive the ball, but the ball would completely miss the receptacle.  We also found that the receptacle was a little flimsy and the plastic clip we were using to hang the receptacle wasn’t strong enough to handle the pummeling of multiple shots.

Cardboard receptacle with arcade buttons inside

Cardboard receptacle with arcade buttons inside

To resolve the waywardness of the ball, I purchased a simple food storage container from the dollar store with a similar circumference to the basketball rim,  and cut off the base using a Japanese saw.  I then cut three holes in the top rim of the container and attached the container to the basketball rim using cable ties.

Container and Japanese saw

Container and Japanese saw

I am now at a point now where when the ball goes into the hoop, it pretty well funnels down into the same place.  The challenge is to place the buttons in such a way that the ball will strike them every time it goes through the hoop.




Banting House National Historic Site: A Sanctuary for Diabetes Sufferers

Last night in my Museology course, we had a very good discussion about how museum professionals can not only engage their communities, but how they can facilitate an “affective response” from their community.  I define the term “affective response” as the emotion that visitors feel when they have an experience that impacts them on a deep, personal level.  In other words, an exhibit at a museum they saw mattered to them personally.  For example, I love roller coasters, but I wouldn’t miss it if Canada’s Wonderland suddenly closed their doors, I have not really had an affective response there.  On the other hand, if the powers that be shut down the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, I would be devastated  since I am such a huge hockey fan, and because my visit there in 1997 was a memorable day spent with my parents and younger brother.

I have had the privilege of visiting many heritage sites like art galleries, museums, and historic sites.  I find that historic sites have a particular ability to evoke an affective response from its visitors.  I believe it is because there is something inherently special about historic sites because an important person lived there, a special event occurred there, or the site represents something important to the visitor.

One recent experience I had was my latest visit to Banting House National Historic Site in London, Ontario.  For those of you who are not aware, on October 30th, 1920 Dr. Frederick Banting, was preparing a lecture on the pancreas to be given at the University of Western Ontario.  That night at 2:00 am on October 31, he had an epiphany which he wrote down, “Diabetus Ligate pancreatic ducts of dogs. Keep dogs alive till acini degenerate leaving Islets. Try to isolate the internal secretion of these to relieve glycosurea.”  I don’t know what that means exactly, I’m not in medical school, but it was that idea that eventually led to the discovery of insulin, the saving grace of millions of diabetes sufferers around the world.

Due to my own ignorance, I didn’t realize the impact of Dr. Banting’s revelation and subsequent work.  Prior to the discovery of insulin, diabetics would be advised to go on a strict diet to prolong their lives for a couple of years, but would eventually succumb to starvation.  Banting’s discovery enabled millions of people to live full lives.  The impact of insulin was almost immediate for diabetes sufferers. Check out this page from the Vanderbilt Medical Center which displays a picture of a three year-old diabetic before and after his insulin treatment (on the right-hand side).  After just a few weeks, the boy went from looking sickly skinny to having a seemingly normal weight for his age.  Incredible!

What affected me personally though, was not that before and after image of the child, or hearing about Dr. Banting’s numerous military accomplishments as a medic, or the fact that he became the first Canadian to win the Nobel Prize.  It was that Banting House has become a sort of “Mecca” for those who suffer from diabetes.  People from all around the world come to Banting House to pay their respects to Banting and his selfless work in developing insulin.  Upstairs in the bedroom, the bed where Banting woke up and had his epiphany still stand. People are free to sit on it to pay their respects or pour out their hearts out to him.

Banting's Bed

Banting’s Bed (courtesy of TripAdvisor)

I don’t suffer from diabetes, but I have a few friends that do.  I am sure most people know someone that is affected by diabetes in some way or another.  As I wrote the previous paragraph I began to remember how I felt during the guided tour, and began to get a little choked up again.  I know that insulin is not a cure for diabetes, and researchers are still working awfully hard to find one, but I still feel compelled to say, “Dear Dr. Banting, Thank you for rescuing my friends.”

Postscript: Some Questions to Consider

What makes your heritage site sacred?

How can you help your visitors have an affective response?

How does a visit to your site change lives?

I don’t have the answers to those questions, but in my opinion, affective response is not always borne out of sad stories or groundbreaking historical events. Affective response can occur in a variety of ways.  Maybe your institution’s strength is programming, facilitating social opportunities, or a special artifact.  My affective response at the Hockey Hall of Fame occurred under different circumstances than my experience at Banting House.  I loved the HHOF because of an artifact (the Stanley Cup), and because the Museum facilitated a wonderful family experience.  It is imperative that heritage institutions figure out how they facilitate affective response because it lends significance to the work of their institution, and demonstrates to the community why they matter, and gives the community a reason to support and patronize the Museum.


Summary of Elly Gotz’s talk, “Surviving the first two weeks of war, the Ghetto and Dachau,” March 6, 2014

About 10 days ago, I had the privilege of listening to Mr. Elly Gotz, a Lithuanian Jew who survived living in the Dachau concentration camp.  I thought I would share some of the points from his talk and then give my own response.

Introduction to Lithuania

Gotz started his talk by sharing some background on Lithuania.  When the Germans invaded Lithuania in 1941, Lithuania’s elected government was disbanded, leaving Lithuania in a state of anarchy.  Quickly a group called the Lithuanian Activist Front, nicknamed the “White Armbanders” declared that Jews were stripped of their rights, including the right to live, and went door to door massacring every Jew in their path.  Quickly, a provisional government (Soviet puppet government) was established encouraging the execution of Jews, just not in public.  There were three general opinions inside the provisional government regarding Jews:

1. “We must kill them all, every last one,”

2. “They must expiate for the sins they have committed against the Lithuanian people” (Gotz asked, “What sins?”)

3. God decides the fate of all mankind.

So there was no proactive protection of Jews, just proactive extermination, or lackadaisical indifference.  Luckily, Gotz was able to hide away in his home and avoid extermination.  Between July and December 1941, Lithuania murdered 137,346 of its Jews, roughly 75% of the Jewish population, marking Lithuania as the only country to murder its own Jews prior to German forces starting an extermination program.  Note that these murders, though they occurred while under Nazi occupation, were not conducted by the Nazis since the Wannsee Conference that concocted the Final Solution did not occur until 1942.

In the Kovno Ghetto

Gotz and his family were then cast into the Kovno Ghetto,  part Kaunas much like Polish Jews were sent to ghettos in Warsaw and Kraków.  At that point, Gotz and his family were stripped of all their valuables, they were also instructed to dump their books in the middle of town.  This upset Gotz’s father because he had brought a rather extensive library to the ghetto.  At first, he only took some lesser books that he didn’t care for much in a wheelbarrow.  When they arrived for the first time at the book dump, Gotz and his father noticed that were no guards supervising the area.  They found a lot of beautiful books that were just being thrown away including the complete works of Alexander Pushkin, one of the great Russian poets.  Gotz and his father decided to dump the books they had brought and gather up the masterpieces that they did not have and take them back to their home, disguising them by covering their wheelbarrow with newspaper.  And they did that seven times.  In order to hide the books, Gotz hid them in the rafters of a shed near their home in the ghetto, that way if the books were discovered by the Nazis, the collection couldn’t be traced back to them.  So, for the three years he was in the ghetto, Gotz had a magnificent library to read from.

Concerned individuals got permission to start a school in the Ghetto and Gotz did very well in metal shop and eventually became an instructor the following year at just age 15.  When Gotz was 16, he was thrown onto a train from Kaunas to Dachau, the infamous concentration camp, in southern Germany.  According to Gotz, everyone in Europe knew the word “Dachau” since it was originally built to hold Hitler’s political prisoners captive.  It was amazing that he even got on the train since he and his family had gone into hiding in the cellar of the building in which they lived since Nazis were walking up and down this streets mercilessly killing Jews.

At Dachau

During the War, German engineers were having a difficult time building fighter jets because of the constant bombings of Germany’s industrial centers.  Around 1943, the German powers that be decided to build a gigantic underground bunker-factory at Dachau to build these jets that could withstand an allied bombing campaign.  Gotz was ordered to assist in building this factory by operating one of the pumps that powered the cement mixers.  His responsibility was to repair the pump each time it malfunctioned so as to keep the construction moving.  He quick to point out that though many of the camp guards would get angry at him every time the pump broke down, his direct supervisor–presumably an S.S. guard himself–was actually kind to him, and even took the rap for some of Elly’s mistakes.  The unfortunate thing about the construction of this factory was that many Jews involved in the construction actually fell into the cement and drowned in it because no one would stop to save them.  Today, those bodies still lay in the walls of that building.

At the close of the war, the Commandant at Dachau Martin Gottfried Weiss was ordered to level the concentration camp as Germany surrendered the War. Weiss decided not to do so, saving many Jewish lives in the process.  He was still executed for the other war crimes he committed.

In one of the days after the close of the War, Elly’s sick father requested a bowl of soup.  As Elly went to retrieve the soup for his father, Americans arrived to liberate Dachau.  As Elly returned to his father’s side, he joyfully mentioned the American arrival.  Elly’s father response was “have you got the bread?”  Elly described this moment as his father’s “moment of liberation.”

When the Americans arrived, the first thing that the Jewish prisoners asked for was obviously food.  The soldiers distributed tins of beef to the prisoners.  Gotz’s father advised Elly not to eat the beef because they would die since their digestive systems were so weak that the beef would overwhelm them.  Elly and his father weighed 70 and 65 pounds respectively. Instead, they boiled the beef with some water over a fire and drank the broth that emerged and survived until the next day.  All of the Jews who did eat the beef straight out of the can, according to Gotz, died the next day, proving his father prophetic.

After the War

Gotz was fortunate to have both his parents survive the War.  Gotz felt extreme guilt and embarrassment overt his since many of his friends and associates were left with only one, or no parents at all.

After the close of the war, Gotz and his father–like many other Lithuanian Jews–were hesitant to return to Lithuania because the violence toward the Jews that had occurred previously.  He travelled to many places (Norway, South Africa, Rhodesia, and Canada) obtaining an education and gaining experience, eventually ending up pursuing a career as an electrical engineer and entrepreneur.

My Response

After the war was over, he became extremely embittered toward the German people and said that all he wanted to do was “kill Germans.”  Over time, and at the urging of his family and peers, he was able to forgive his captors and persecutors, and not blame a whole nation for his hardships. He described holding a grudge as “drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” I can’t overstate how remarkable those words were to hear from someone who had every right to be bitter.  I was also impressed by Gotz with how he was able to recognize good people among his enemies, like his supervisor at the concentration camp.

Toward the end of his talk he shared a message of both tolerance and forgiveness.  He spoke out against the hunt for Nazi SS members since many of them would now be in their 90s and not have the mental capacity to legally defend themselves.  Besides, what will jail time do to a man in their 90s?  What lessons could he possibly learn?  On a related note, he spoke out against a bill that is being discussed in German parliament that could make individual members of the S.S. guilty by just being at the concentration camps (guilty by association).  Gotz asked, referring to some members of the SS, “what if he’s a good guy? What if he didn’t kill anybody?”  He felt strongly that people needed to be tried on an individual basis in court with solid evidence against them prior to being convicted, and warned against what a scary legal precedent that could set.

He finished his talk hypothesizing how genocide could occur.  He figured that three things needed to come happen:

  1. Personal prejudice for a minority;
  2. A government that encourages hatred and prejudice; and,
  3. A political leader that supports prejudice and encourages hatred.

I count it a great privilege to have heard this man speak.  It gave me a unique perspective of the Holocaust and challenged some of my preconceptions of the War in general.

If these walls could speak | The London Free Press

James Reaney of the London Free Press published an opinion column about the Heritage Home Designation Project of Western’s Public History Program, in conjunction with the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario and the London Advisory Council on Heritage.  Here’s the link:

If these walls could speak | The London Free Press.

Smack Talk

The progress on my interactive basketball hoop is very slow due to weather conditions in Pennsylvania that have delayed the shipment of the hoop I plan to use for this project.  In the meantime, I did some research on basketball-reference.com since I want the hoop to “trash talk” the user if he/she misses a shot, or encourage the user if he/she makes a basket. I wanted these messages to reflect on basketball players in both the present and the past, hence the use of basketball-reference.  These messages will be communicated on the computer screen that accompanies the basketball hoop using Max 6.  The messages that I have come up with follow.

Encouraging Messages

1. I didn’t know Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash was playing this game, dang! Career 90% free throw shooter.

2. With the way you’re shooting, you’re well on your way to beating 76ers Wilt Chamberlain’s single game scoring record (100 points).

3. Holy clutch!  You’re shooting like Ray Allen in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals!

4. Your form is as smooth as Michael Jordan’s fade-away

5. Reggie Miller hit 68-straight free throws, have you hit more?

Trash Talk

1. Houston Rockets Center Hakeem Olajuwon had over 3800 blocks in his career, is he guarding you?

2. Shaquille O’Neal of the Los Angeles Lakers shot 53% from the free throw line in his career, are you trying to be worse?

3. Golden State Warriors guard Rick Barry shot his free throws underhand.  Maybe give that a try…

4. Orlando Magic guard Nick Anderson choked and missed four consecutive in the 1995 NBA Finals. Don’t feel too bad about yourself…

5. Clank! Are we in Detroit? Is Andre Drummond in the house?

I don’t expect this product to be highly educational, I just want it to be fun for both hoop fans, and non-hoop fans.  In my next post I hope to let you know of the actual progress of the hoop itself and the programming that will go along with it.