Where do ideas come from? I know I can't be the first person to think about making lights turn on when something happens. Actually there are tons of projects like that. But I was disappointed that none of them (that I could find) focused on space. So much happens in space that we don't notice here on the ground. Eventually this vague frustration became my ISS-Notify lamp — now being funded on kickstarter.
Just the idea isn't enough; follow-through is important. One of the best ways to make an idea a reality is to get a bunch of like minded people together to encourage each other and to help make something. For sci/tech types a science hack day is perfect! The first science hack day was in London last year and was a big success. It spawned another one in San Francisco a few months later. That's where I got the inspiration and the encouragement that eventually turned became this ISS lamp project.
I was at the first science hack day in SF looking for a project that I could help with. That's when Ariel Waldman suggested that someone make a lamp light up when an Asteroid passed by Earth. What a fantastic idea! I had some electronics with me, a few wires, a microcontroller, LED's. I had lots of help from the other people at the hack day. Because there was a community and a time limit lots of wonderful things got made in a very short amount of time.
I was able to make a sort of working version of the asteroid lamp. But after my experience at NASA this winter I wanted to highlight human space flight. And that's when I made the ISS lamp. I actually used many of the same parts and the same ideas from Science Hack Day SF. I encourage other science geeks to get out and make something — physical or not. And think about starting a science hack day in your area!