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Muriel Green on Invention, Being an Artist, and Coding

By Rebecca Gould, Kansas State University 

Figure 1:  Muriel Green 

Muriel Green, SIDLIT Keynoter, sat down for an interview via Zoom on July 9. The following includes her responses to questions posed by Rebecca Gould.

Gould:  Would you provide us with a description of your background and your current position?

Green:  I started programming at age five when my Dad inherited a computer from my grandfather and the two of us played with it together, telling DOS to run different programs.

I grew up in rural Kansas in the 1980's, and there weren't opportunities to do computer programming until college. I did play with camcorders a lot and edited home movies by connecting two VCRs together.  My mom helped me think through the need for two VCRs for editing movies. It made me think that you can alter “things” to make them useful. You don’t have to use them the way they were given to you. 

When I got to college, I took some computer science classes, and I really enjoyed writing code... but when I realized how many math classes were required for a computer science major, I opted to get a film degree instead. While I enjoyed geometry and functions, I didn’t enjoy the more abstract types of math (The computer science majors I interacted with, tended to double major in math.)

I was happy working in the arts until my two younger sons were born and I returned to school to get a library science degree while I was working in libraries.

When my middle son was diagnosed with autism, we bought him an Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) device. That's when I understood the need for open source assistive technology and set my mind to inventing an affordable speech therapy device rugged and inexpensive enough to be treated like a toy.

Gould:  What is your current position?

Green:  My current job is stay-at-home mom and hardware hacker. I recently finished a contract working on a Django app for the insurance industry. When my kids go back to school in the fall, I will start up work again as a software developer.


Gould:  What degrees do you hold?

Green:  Bachelor of General Studies in film from the University of Kansas.  Masters of Library Science from Emporia State University.  


Gould:  You refer to yourself as an artist, what did you work on?

Green:  I worked as a camera operator on independent films, commercials and reality TV shows here in KS. I loved the work but twelve hour days are the norm for on-set work and with two little kids at home, I made the decision to transition to library work. 

My first SIDLIT presentation was Documinutes – how to make extremely short documentaries.

Gould:  What is the title of your Keynote? Can you share the abstract for your presentation?

Green:  Title: "We Will All be Inventors"

Abstract: In the future, more people are going to be inventors. Tech start-ups are attracting venture capital not just in Silicon Valley but also right here in Kansas City. Because of the way the Federal Communication Commission regulates electronics, unsoldered modules are exempt from many certifications and therefore relatively easy to manufacture, market, and sell legally. Online communities of makers are incubating new inventor talent in people of all ages. These forces are combining to create what may be a new golden age of inventing in America.

If you work in a library, K-12 school, or higher education institution you have probably heard of “makerspaces”. You might not realize that for every person actively using a makerspace, many others work in isolation. I know I did. Inventors might not ever set foot in a makerspace, but they will be coming to you for advice. There are a few concrete things you can do to support inventors. This talk will describe those steps.

Gould:  You appear to be a "mother of invention."  What is your impetus or what or who inspires you to create? 

Green:  Everything inspires me. I don't see a separation between being an artist and being an inventor.

I am always asking "How can I help?" And that is what leads me to ideas of things to create. One of the goals of my talk is to inspire people involved in disability rights to become inventors. My other goal is to encourage people in software and hardware engineering to turn their attention to assistive technology.

Gould:  William H. Johnsen said, "If it is to be, it is up to me". How would you encourage others to believe that they can create?

Green:  I could write a book about this topic!

My best advice is to 1) Get a sketchbook small enough to carry everywhere. Make drawings and diagrams and lists and descriptions of what you envision. Especially drawings! 2) Aggressively seek feedback. Show your inventing book to everyone who will listen. Show them your drawings while you describe your vision. Then listen to what they say. Some people are going to be naysayers – all you can do with people like that is smile and nod politely then move on to the next person. If you do this enough you will get some tidbits of good advice.

Gould:  I worry that many of us lose our curiosity.  What spurs your curiosity?

Green:  One of my favorite quotes is: "Boredom is the dream bird that hatches the egg of experience. A rustling in the leaves drives him away." - Walter Benjamin

The concept of "flowtime" from the book Peopleware by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister is explained in this article.  We need chunks of unstructured time where we can be bored. This (thinking time) allows us to solve problems creatively and pushes back from the trends of meetings every hour on the hour. I am a big fan of that (unscheduled time).

I create time by removing things from my life and have turned creating time into a game for someone who is raising kids and has adult responsibilities including:

  • purchasing a retro style cell phone that doesn’t allow me to run apps or is very difficult to text
  • taking a break from all social media.

While social media such as Linked In, etc. is important for job hunting.  The time is more valuable.

Gould:  What's next for you?  What will be your next invention? 

Green:  A robot that drives around libraries and searches for misplaced books. A makeup applicator like in The Fifth Element. Those two will be open source, so the code and schematics will be freely available online. I am also working on a closed source project that I hope to patent.


Figure 2:  Animated GIF of Character Having Eyeshadow Put on via a Device (in The Fifth Element)

Gould:  Anything else you would like to share?

Green:  Without giving much a way, my keynote will profile six different women inventors. All role models. Come to the keynote to hear the rest of the story.

Note: Green will be giving two other presentations at SIDLIT 2018 including the OSHIOT {Open Source Hardware Internet of Things} Door Counter and How I Made My Own AAC {Augmentative Alternative Communication} for under $150

About the Author 

Rebecca Gould is Director of the Information Technology Assistance Center (iTAC) and a faculty member at Kansas State University.  Her email is  

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