If you missed the Indiana Vex Robotics State Championship in Indianapolis last Saturday, you missed a great event. This was the first time it’s been held at Lucas Oil Stadium and despite stadium size with over 300 teams participating on 6 stages it seemed like the right choice!
With over 900 teams in Indiana, I was unable to find anyone that made it to the event from our area. Should Castlemakers help organize a local event to encourage more teams? Comment or send us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you think we should!
Last night PCAUXCOM, the local Amateur Radio emergency communications group, began a FCC Amateur Radio operator’s license class at Castlemakers. It’s a great way to study for the test – although you can self-learn the material to get a license.
What they’re doing however embodies what often happens with vocations and hobbies – people practicing and learning with other people. Not only to learn quicker, but for enjoyment too. It can help make challenging things easier; in some cases even provide focus and accountability. In today’s noisy world with more opportunities than time that’s often difficult.
Makerspaces, and one of Castlemakers’ goals in particular, can bring communities of people together to share knowledge and skills by providing a space, events, equipment, and even just a reason for people to share something. Whether it be a CoderDojo (bringing kids and programmers together to explore programing languages), folks interested in 3D Printing (which also met last night to see printers in use at a high school classroom), or Amateur Radio operators and emergency volunteers assisting others to get a communications equipment operating license.
The PCAUXCOM group is meeting every Monday evenings from 6:30 to 8 pm at Castlemakers, it’s free and open to all, and still not too late to join in. They will also be offering a licensing test locally here in Greencastle just after the course is finished, contact George Edenfield for more information.
This last Sunday, for our first Castlemakers Kids meeting of the year, eight kids (and a few adults) learned about the electronic circuit called the “Joule Thief.” It’s a fun circuit that has gained some popularity in hacker circles, yet a lot of people don’t know about. Two factors make it a good kids project: The simplicity of the circuit and you don’t need to understand the electronics behind it. For inquiring minds it can challenging because it’s not immediately obvious how it works.
The name is based on getting extra energy (joules) out of dead batteries. Or at least batteries that most people think are dead. The circuit, with only 4 components, can use as little as .5 volts from a single dead cell AA battery and boost it up over 3 volts – more than enough to light up a white or blue LED. Even a brand new 1.5 volt AA battery won’t do that! For the more technically minded it’s a simple blocking oscillator (IMHO not an Armstrong since there’s no capacitor) that pulses higher voltage using a inductor, resistor, and a transistor.
There are lots of different ways to make the circuit, which turned out to be part of the fun. We tore apart computer power supplies to get the toroid coils, but also experimented using parts from burned out Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs too. We found out the CFL parts worked great & possibly how we’ll do it in the future – although it can be tough to wind the toroid from some of the newer CFL bulbs. One future experiment – the Joule Thief circuit can charge dead rechargeable batteries, another great way to get energy out of supposedly dead batteries!
So much happened at Castlemakers in 2017 it’s been a challenge to keep the blog current. This entry started in December, but had to be finished in 2018 – which I guess highlights 2017’s theme of expansion and growth! 2017 growth included:
Thanks to several generous gifts, Castlemakers added more equipment in 2017. Perhaps the most notable was our desktop CNC (Computer Numerical Control machine, a Nomad 883) which we’ve now put into use and will be offering the first class in January. Techpoint Foundation for Youth also gave us 10 Chromebooks, which are getting heavy use in our Castlemakers CoderDojo (a youth coding club) and the gift helped with our classes.
Since last June we’ve had general public STEAM oriented classes essentially every month for the old and young. From 3D printing & Arduinos to lasercuttering, they provide practical learning using technology where the participants take home something they make. What a great way to learn!
With a new Makerspace soft opening in December 2016, memberships now offer 24/7 access to the physical space and equipment. ‘Open shop’ times offer anyone a chance to use/try the equipment for their own projects. But the real value is the associated people/members and their knowledge. Plus it’s a great way to try/use an expensive piece of equipment that you can’t justify for yourself.
But the real growth is with the makerspace community & people. It’s the December CoderDojo with 10 kids spending their Saturday afternoon practicing computer coding along with showing and sharing what they were working on. You could see kids programming a tablet to adults there teaching robot navigation and a 12 year old coding a humanoid walking in an online landscape he designed.
It’s also listening to a member take what he learned in our laser class to create a wooden 3D map of his farm. It’s a 3DPO regular showing off the 3D printer he designed or seeing the cable supported 3D printer in which the print size is only limited by the room’s walls.
2018 looks very promising indeed…
Our December class was something new for many of us, learning about electronic/vinyl cutters. There are several different brands available; we were given a desktop Cricut and there’s some local expertise so that’s what we used! But the basics apply to all of them. The Cricut Explore we have in the Makerspace will cuts and draw using different color pens on a variety of different thickness material including paper, foil, vinyl, cardboard, fabric iron-on, magnets, and even emboss leather.
Laurie Hardwick, who has several Cricut machines, taught the class & did a fabulous job. After showing some great examples, she then covered the design software. With a 2 hour time limit folks chose to modify existing designs, but it is possible to import images into the software (and perhaps a later class). It was amazing how such a professional looking product could be made in such a short time!
Several folks wanted to come back and try more. Our machine is available for anyone to use during open shop times or even by special arrangements. Castlemakers also offered to host a meetup for Cricut or Silhouette users, just get in touch with one of us. Last year we had one girl come in and create letters for her 4H project, it certainly makes it easier that using stencils or cutting out your own!
Earlier this month we had our 2nd annual ‘build a mini-golf hole’ competition, which was held at new location at the Makerspace downtown. Well, sort of… too many holes to have it inside, so we lined them up on Franklin Street sidewalk in front of the Makerspace the first Friday of November. And what perfect weather it was for playing a round!
Always love to see creative mini-golf holes and this year’s build was no exception. The guidelines are on our Putt Putnam County webpage, but the basic idea is simple: get together a group of folks and build a hole. We provide materials, create/add you to a team & mentors if you need it, plus a time/place to play when done. And of course those cute little pencils and a scorecard.
This year there were a few more family built holes, but it was a mix of different team entries. Of the eight holes there, a personal favorite was Antigravity – you can view a video here of this creative hole in action. This year there were a lot more moving part entries, a category we added this year. Under the Sea’s motion was impressive (and it’s assembly/disassembly capability) and the steam punk look of Time Turner’s entry turned out even better than the builder’s thought.
Our goal next year is having an earlier completion date at a First Friday event downtown and more community organization built holes. Start coming up with your ideas now; you don’t need to be involved in Castlemakers to participate & have fun!
Thanks to all the participants that built holes, mentors that coached the younger teams, and everyone that came out Friday evening to enjoy the fun. And to Headley Hardware for donating some of the project materials.
Join us this Friday, 11/3, from 5:30-7:30 pm for our 2nd Annual Putt Putnam County competition. We’ll have the mini-golf holes outside the Makerspace on the Franklin Street sidewalks. Try your skill at these home-built miniature golf holes and vote on your favorites. Pre-competition intelligence is indicating there is a lot more motion designed into this year’s holes…
And of course our monthly CoderDojo is Saturday 11/4 from 1-4 pm at the Makerspace where youth are always invited to learn more about computer coding from professional programs and other kids!
If you walked by the Makerspace this summer and looked in the window, you may have noticed a very large model rocket. It was the first stage of a creation that Nick Adams, who taught our ‘build a model rocket’ class, built last year and launched. Several people have stuck their head in since it left and asked us where the rocket went. The short answer is he prepping it for an even higher/faster launch this Labor Day weekend in Kansas.
Earlier this year Nick asked if we could make something that would plug the air intake holes, the kind of project we love! When you go supersonic a flat surfaces creates even more turbulence, so for his upcoming flight he wanted a more streamlined version. Plugging 4 intake holes on the side of the rocket would help.
We initially fabricated a plug out of foam, using a hot wire cutter at the Makerspace, then scanned the piece so it could be 3D printed. Creating the styrofoam piece was easy, scanning… well the Makerbot Replicator we have wasn’t quite up to the task initially. Learned that covering the foam with masking tape helps (the foam color and irregular surface created problems), but it was still less than a satisfactory design.
Then one of our younger makers, Ephraim, helped by creating by creating a quick model in Autodesk’s Inventor. That design came closer, but we missed measuring a few key dimensions like the chamfer where the plug goes into the rocket. We finally ended up redrawing with Fusion 360, which turned out to be the best solution. Although the program has a steep learning curve, it allowed us to make several more design changes quickly & easily to get the 4 pieces printed out last month.
This weekend Nick’s letting Castlemakers take the rocket to show off at Makevention in Bloomington, Indiana – an annual celebration of making things. Located at the Monroe County Convention Center, it’s open to the public and a great event! Stop by and see the assembled 12.5 foot tall rocket and also stay tuned to Nick’s YouTube channel. I’m sure he’ll have a video of the launch posted not long after the launch on August 30th!
As Castlemakers moves from a youth oriented makergroup to an all ages Makerspace, we’re not neglecting our roots – offering kids interesting hands-on STEAM activities. Last month, for on one of our ‘un-making’ events, we used weed whackers to expose kids to internal combustion engines. It seems like small 2-cycle engines are a throw-away commodity anymore, so after collecting 8-10 weed whackers (and one lawnmower engine) we had everyone tear them apart to see what’s inside.
Tear down days are always popular, and surprisingly the girls outnumbered the boys for this one. With everyone being warned in advance to wear old clothes we threw down several pieces of plywood and cardboard out back, put a bunch of tools out to help, then let them go at it with some occasional supervision & suggestions.
These single cylinder engines seem to be the perfect size for kids. We began by removing the pulley and clutch off the engine. After explaining how the piston pulls fuel into the cylinder, you can explain how an engine is a controlled fuel explosion. Centrifugal clutches & carburetors were another whole discussion. After piston removal everyone seemed fascinated by how the crankshaft/rod converts the linear piston motion into rotation. A few of the piston/rod/crankshaft mechanisms were saved (although several went home), it’s a good tie into the paper mechatronics we did last year.
Special thanks to Doug Salter, a 25+ year mechanic at Ryder Truck, who donated at least half of the weed whackers and also helped by coaching the kids on disassembly and how the parts inside worked. And another nod to Jerry Hecko, our makerspace automotive repair shop neighbor, who gave us the 4 cycle lawnmower engine for comparison and often has the right tool when we don’t have one.
One of our main goals as a non-profit is providing educational opportunities to the community. Like our Learning to Solder class in May and our upcoming Introduction to 3D Printing Design July 8th (2-4 pm at the makerspace).
In May participants built an LED Chaser (or Larson Scanner), to get first hand experience soldering electronic components, LEDs, and an integrated circuit on a circuit board. Thanks to George Edenfield of Putnam County Auxiliary Communications (local Amateur Radio group) for leading the class.
For the Intro to 3D Printing Design class, we did a prototype class last December when we had kids design & print holiday ornaments. Everyone had fun and we learned that too many people trying to print 3D parts at once can take a long time! We’ve added 2 more 3D printers in the makerspace, more laptops, and changed to a quickly printing basic design that offers more learning.
In the upcoming class (for both old and young) you’ll be designing a custom ring to fit your finger and adding an adornment on top. It’s a great way to learn the basics in Tinkercad and prints in 4-5 minutes per ring depending how elaborate you get. Special thanks to the Maker Lab at Chicago Public Library for the idea – like almost all makerspaces they willingly exchange information and share ideas to help the maker movement!