PCMI and the micro:bit

PCMI kits being made
Ian Girvan and Brian Howard updating & testing each micro:bit before packaging.

With the Putnam County Microcomputer Initiative (PCMI) roll out and distributions, October has been a blur and our blog has fallen behind. A lot still happened, like Putt Putnam County and the PCPL annual Halloween party, but we’ll cover it in future blog posts.

The PCMI started in 2018 from internal discussions about the technology gap in rural communities and how to get more folks interested in technology and coding, especially youth. PCMI was born after seeing a demo of the BBC micro:bit at the 2018 Hackathon in Indy – it seemed like a potential solution! Thought why not put a simple-to-use single board computer, in this case a micro:bit, into the hands of Putnam County youth so they could learn and use them?

We set up an assembly line to put together all the parts for over 500 PCMI kits.

After researching the micro:bit further and writing a Techpoint Foundation for Youth grant to get 10 for first hand experience in our CoderDojo, we decided to use a variation of what was done in the United Kingdom. We would give them directly to all 6th graders in Putnam County. The device is already being used in some US school systems, including NYC’s Computer Science for All and some Project Lead the Way classes, but with Indiana’s computer science curriculum under revision we were hoping for a quicker jump start so folks could recognize the significance of physical computing and that it doesn’t have to be difficult!

micro:bit / PCMI kits being distributed at North Putnam Middle School
Matt Couch goes over the micro:bit /PCMI kits in his North Putnam science class. 3 other Putnam County schools helped.

Luckily for us the Putnam County Community Foundation understood the importance and was willing to fund our idea. All four school systems were also willing to help – so we’ve been rolling out micro:bit kits to the 6th graders in Putnam County during October. Our last distribution, to home school kids at Putnam County Public Library, is on 11/4 and we’ll also be having a community session for parents and anyone else interested at Ivy Tech Community College in Greencastle on Monday November 4th at 6:30 pm. Seeing the excitement of the 6th graders getting and exploring their devices has been a real treat!

Circuit Board Collaboration

PCB prototype for a micro:bit accessory.

It started at our Intro to 3D Printing class – Ian who had found us through an Internet search, was interested in makerspaces & signed up for the class. Since he hadn’t seen the makerspace before, gave him a tour afterwards. When showing him our desktop CNC machine, discussed how it was possible to do a printed circuit boards (PCB) but we hadn’t yet tried it. His eyes lit up as he mentioned creating some circuit boards that were sent away to get made. It wasn’t hard to quickly come up with a project.

With a lot of micro:bit work at Castlemakers because of the Putnam County Microcomputer Initiative (PCMI) lately, creating a micro:bit accessory board seemed like a great choice. At our model rocket class in August we tried to launch a micro:bit board to measure acceleration, but the lack of a small battery & SD card prevented it. 

After talking through the features wanted on a board, Ian quickly did a PCB design that became our first test of using the desktop CNC to make an electronic component circuit board. It machined great, but we also learned there had been some assumptions and spacing errors we hadn’t thought of. That’s when DIY makerspace mentality paid off – instead of waiting 10-12 days for another firm to make a new circuit board, after the design change we made the new design in less than 15 minutes! The desktop CNC is really a great tool for testing and making prototypes.

August Events

Estes Alpha rockets built in the Castlemakers model rocket clas
Model Rockets from the class lined up before launch.

Two bigger events this month: a model rocket launch locally & Makevention in Bloomington. After the model rocket building class in late July, we had a good crew come out for the August rocket launch at Big Walnut Sports Park. Like last time, after the first few launches from the class participants, some of the older ‘rocketeers’ started pulling pretty interesting designs to shoot skyward. Hopefully Nick eventually gets his rocket back.

Also always enjoy participating in Makevention at the Monroe County Convention Center, we had a good crew to help at the booth. It seemed bigger than ever, heard an estimated 1200-1500 people; do know all day there was a steady stream of folks playing our Putt Putnam County mini-golf holes.

The mini-golf holes were popular with kids at Makevention.

Makevention is an event where people show off things they’ve made, demonstrations of creative making, hands-on exhibits, and workshops. This year for example you could learn how to make chainmail, try your hand at soap-making, learn how to pick locks, and make reusable shopping bags out of old clothing. This year there seemed to be more puzzles and puzzle making; the traditional amateur radio crowd was there of course, along with quite a few robots and robotic devices.

Makevention Castlemakers Area.

Besides the mini-golf holes Castlemakers had model rockets, Raspberry Pi projects, and some micro:bit things we’ve been making. We got lots of questions about the makerspace and Greencastle. Thanks to Bloominglabs for the good location, their volunteers, and of course Jonathan, Brian, Alice, Bella, & Rebecca for the booth help.

2019 Coderdojo Hackathon

2019 CoderDojo Hqckathon opening session at Developertown

July 20th we participated in the 3rd Annual Indiana Youth Hackathon in Indianapolis. This was the 3rd year our CoderDojo attended and this time, several of us were volunteers also. The 2019 event was bigger than ever, even people from the CoderDojo and Raspberry Pi Foundation flew in from California to attend. The CoderDojo movement, which started in Ireland, is now in 102 countries and is an international organization. Many people don’t realize Indiana has more CoderDojos than any other state in the US!

Castlemakers CoderDojo Participants Rebecca, Hunter & Ty at the 2019 Hackathon (Alice & Mason not pictured).

Attending a ‘hackathon’ might sound a little intimidating to some, but it’s really a fun event where kids can meet, work with other kids (and adults) to learn and show off their computer coding skills. While there are judges and trophies involved, most of it is a non-competitive event where you can learn and ‘show off your stuff’ to others. Giveaways (and there were a LOT), t-shirts & stickers, free food… no wonder there was a waitlist to attend this year.

MoonHack activity in the afternoon session.

There were three programming tracks this year: Javascript, Python, and Scratch. Youth worked on a series of challenges and received points for completing the task & for the best solution. Trophies were awarded to those with the most points. The kids did not need to know their chosen programming language in advance; many were there to just learn more about the language. Along with the programming challenges there was also a project expo this year, where people could show off what they have done.

CoderDojo for Parents session was led by Chris Hebb with help from Christina Foust from the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

There were also drop in sessions – for example a morning session for adults wanting to learn more (CoderDojo 101 for Parents) and an afternoon session called Moonhack. Moonhack was a challenge/task to program a lunar buggy to travel across a lunar surface (that day was the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing after all) in Scratch or Python with lots of volunteers there to help them complete the coding. Parents 101 was as it sounds, a session to explain CoderDojos and answer questions. We even had a few that were interested in starting one where they lived.

What happens at Castlemakers

We often get questions about when to visit Castlemakers; the best place to start is our events webpage. You can drop in during Open Shop or also attend one of the events listed.

4th Graders from North Putnam learn coding on a micro:bit
Putnam County Kids Count catapult design testing with fruit, candy and marshmallows.
Kids test their designs with different size & weight projectiles.

For people not familiar with makerspaces, they may not realize everything going on. For example, limited ‘retail’ hours (what we and other makerspaces often call Open Shop time) reflect the volunteer nature of them. There are lots of passionate people and activities going on outside those times, often working individually and with other organizations.

Attaching bridal to tetrahedral kite before testing at Putnam County Kids Count.
Two teams combined efforts to build a 10 cell tetrahedral kite.

For example, in the last 2 months Castlemakers worked on a number of youth-oriented events not listed on the webpage or on social media. Just a few weeks ago we were out at Heritage Lake working with over 50 kids at Putnam County Kids Count helping younger kids build and test catapults, then the older ones build and fly tetrahedral kites!

Another outreach event involved 2 other organizations in early May: Castle Arts and Putnam County 4H. Thirty North Putnam School Corporation 4th graders came to downtown Greencastle to learn about computer coding. While one group learned and used a robot at the 4H office to sort and count chips, the other group was at the Makerspace.

This robot was coded to put each color chip in a different bin.

Christian Destremps did a fabulous job teaching them algorithms/coding around the corner at the 4H office using Lego EV3 kits built into a color chip sorting robot. Castlemakers helped with assembling his robot design and 3D printing bins to catch the different colored chips.

Learning how G-code is used in 3D printing.

At the Makerspace we showed them how coding is used in 3D printing, laser cutter/engraving, and CNC machines. One section saw the coding (G-code) in action with our makerspace fabrication tools. At the same time the other section programmed a micro:bit, a small micro-computer board, using a block-based coding editor.

It really demonstrates what can happen in our community when different organizations pool their resources together. You’ll be hearing a lot more about the micro:bit board in the next few months here in Putnam County.

Greencastle First Friday Events

With this month's Laua theme we had a palm tree & create-your-own Tiki head out front.
First Friday project to color/create a Tiki head out in front of Castlemakers.

Our downtown location gives us a great opportunity each month to participate in Main Street Greencastle’s First Friday. Each month we not only have ‘open shop’ to share what’s going on inside the Makerspace, but also try to have some themed making events that folks can see / participate in.

This month Main Street was promoting a luau theme – so making a carpet tube palm tree and some Tiki heads were naturals. The Moai head printed on our Rostock Max 3D printer inside was so big that it took nearly 11 hours to finish; although started at noon I’m fairly sure no one else saw the finished print Friday night.

Moai Head printed on delta 3D printer.
Moai head print that is over 35 cm (14″) tall.

Then there was the ukulele playing Lego Mindstorm robot that Jacob built for the event. Thanks to Putnam County 4H we’ve had some EV3 robotic kits on loan for a while, using them in our CoderDojo, projects like our PuttCode, and getting kids & adults interested in robotics.

Thanks to Jacob & the rest of the Hale family for helping out – not only the things they made but with running this great family oriented monthly event.

Solar Energy Class

Presentation on installing & using solar power to reduce your electric bill.

Saturday we had the 2nd of two adult classes this month, the first a week earlier was an updated Photogrammetry class like what we taught in the fall. Great class, Rebecca Kerns did an excellent job where we showed folks about using Agisoft’s Metashape (formerly Photoscan) & 3DFlow’s Zephyr. A few folks hung around afterwards, we did a cellphone video of a model car that was converted into a computer 3D model.

A solar survey tool can determine percentage of direct light during the day & year.

The second class, on installing and using Solar Power, was taught by Ed Kirkpatrick – who had more experience than all of us realized! He offered to talk about his experiences with installing the solar panel system on his house, but it turns out he’s been working with different solar systems for years! Starting with R-values and how they save energy, he then covered some of the passive systems he’s built, including heating rocks/walls and solar water heaters.

Ed discusses recent solar panel cost trends.

But most of the talk was on photovoltaic panels. Ed has a 3000 watt system at home he’s upgrading to 6000 watts this summer. And is involved in ETA‘s solar installer certification program. He not only covered the correct way to survey for and install panels, but also different kinds and cost trends. We even got into batteries and storage systems. The group had lots of questions which were answered, then finished up by going outside and using a Solar Pathfinder to do a solar site survey in front of Castlemakers. Thanks for the great class Ed!!

2019 Midwest RepRap Festival

MRRF2019-tables
A lot of folks don’t realize that world’s largest 3D printing meetup is held right here in Indiana. This year several of us went to the 2019 Midwest RepRap Festival (MRRF) in Goshen Indiana – and it exceeded expectations. It was impressive in a number of different ways, from the 3D printing ‘names’ and prototypes that were there to the number of innovative ideas that people were trying and showing off. You could describe it as a Maker Faire just focused on 3D printing.

MRRF2019-spireThis is not a Midwestern or even just a USA event. I talked with firms from Britain, China, Czech Republic, Israel, and I’m sure other places I don’t remember. You could learn about products directly from the manufacturers present, then walk over a couple of aisles to someone that was using their parts in a 3D printer they had built.

Folks spent most of the day gluing this massive 3D printed light up alien.
Folks spent most of the day gluing this massive 3D printed light up alien.

And the really exciting part was being able to network with all of the interesting people and the things they brought. From a school built/designed concrete printer to a home-built printer designed to print outdoor 4-5’ tall artistic spires (which lit up from internal LEDs), innovation was everywhere with tables of folks showing off what they had made. Filament mixers to create multicolor prints? Stopped counting, too many. Continuous 3D printing on a belt? There & being open-sourced. Even someone rebuilding 3D printers & shipping them to underdeveloped countries.

It was actually hard to get around, between the massive crowd and number of Youtubers that were there making segments for their online channels. Sure many printers & prints were complex and daunting. But there were also tons of simple ideas like an enclosed 3D printer case using a food dehydrator to keep things warm & humidity low.

3D printed R/C car racing was held next to the "Livestock Potty Area" at the 4H Fairgrounds.
3D printed R/C car racing was held next to the “Livestock Potty Area” at the 4H Fairgrounds.

Definitely won’t miss next year & started planning our table for the annual event. We’re discussing 3D printed R/C cars for the race & perhaps Rob will bring out one of his 3D printer designs for next year…

Pi Makers Meetup

Some of the different Raspberry Pi models at the Makerspace.
Some of the different Raspberry Pi models at the Makerspace.

Many of our posts are youth related, that’s certainly a big part of our mission, but we also encourage adults to get involved in learning and making things. Our meetups are a good example, one of the first we started was our 3DPO (3D Printer Owner’s) Meetup which first began as a group of adults but it wasn’t long before there were some teenagers involved.

Raspberry Pi with arcade buttons & joystick running RetroPie.
Raspberry Pi with arcade buttons & joystick running RetroPie.

The Pi Maker’s Meetup started last November when we got a group together to share information about Raspberry Pi’s. It also turns out we’ve got a group build of MAME system/cabinets going on at the Makerspace that will be running using a RetroPie to emulate various arcade games.

The group is still developing and like most meetups, anyone is invited to drop in on our group. We usually meet the 3rd Thursday of each month, check our events webpage for the next meeting. Please join us then or stop by during our open shop times and we’ll fill you in! You can also sign up for our events newsletter here, be sure to check the Pi Makers meetup box.

Holiday Light String Theory

Mini holiday incandescent light experimentation.
Mini holiday incandescent light experimentation.

Raising questions and seeking answers can be great learning. When given a trash bag full incandescent holiday mini-lights last year, it raised the question “when one bulb burns out the string stays lit, but why do they all go out when you remove it?” That led to a lot of learning about holiday light strings and the bulbs they use, more than can be covered in this blog post!

Resistance is not futile, it's a feature of circuits.
Resistance is not futile, it’s a feature in circuits.

And resulted in the topics for the last 2 months at  the Castlemakers Kids meetings. We started with simple electrical circuit diagrams, schematic components, and voltage/resistance in November. With a volt-ohm meter we were troubleshooting incandescent light strings pretty quickly. By December’s meeting we got into diodes and LED’s, along with Ohm’s law, to make our own LED lights for packages. And learned why lithium batteries can power an LED, but alkaline batteries can burn them out!

Removing piezo from candle lighter.
Removing piezo sparker from candle lighter.

It’s safe to say everyone there learned something, including the adults. Few of the adults for example had heard of anti-fuse’s, one of the features of those small incandescent bulbs that let them burn out yet still keep the rest of the string lit. Who would have guessed that the piezo sparker from a butane candle lighter or gas grill could restore a burned out light string to identify the bad bulb? Too much to cover here, will try to write a longer blog post later detailing some of the experiments and what we found. In January’s meeting we’ll be continuing experimenting with LED’s and components – join us!