All posts by chris

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!

Photogrammetry and 3D Printing

roman lamp made using photogrammetry
Image of a Roman lamp unearthed this summer in Italy created from photos & then 3D printed.

Castlemakers offered our first class on photogrammetry, or using photographs to create 3D objects, in October. But the more interesting story to me was how we got there. It began just before our Intro to 3D Printing class last spring, when a couple of folks wanted to learn about 3D printing so they could hopefully print things from an archeological dig in Italy in the summer. While I had experimented some with earlier software, this was mostly new territory.

Italian dig site near Umbria being printed. Pillars are the flooring in a Roman bath house.
Italian dig site near Umbria being printed. Pillars are the flooring in a Roman bath house.

But Rebecca, one of the students in the class, took it to another level. She was able to get a copy of a professional program, Agisoft, then take pictures at a Roman dig site in Italy this last summer. Using the program, she generated 3D images of artifacts they found and even took photos of the excavation at the site (a Roman bath house) which she was able to turn into a 3D image. When she got back in August, in a little over a week she was able to 3D print not only artifacts but also make a model of the dig site using the 3D printers at Castlemakers.

As we prepared for the Castlemakers class to show others how to do it, we discovered what may be an even better solution – a program called 3D Zephyr. We decided to cover both, especially since 3D Zephyr has a way of extracting photos from video to make the 3D image – a pretty amazing feature! The experiments will continue with local landmarks and we’ll be doing the class again this spring.

Skull Making

Shrinking Mill Jugs to skullsThis one was a little too fun not to post. At our last Castlemakers Kids meeting we used a heat gun and a skull to shrink the plastic milk jugs. It also helps to have a wet sponge available to cool the plastic and prevent shrinkage from pulling the plastic back out of the eye sockets when cooling. Special thanks to JJL for the great skull to use!

milk jug skull
The finished milk container skull.

Besides making milk jug skulls, the kids created ghostly looking limbs using plastic wrap & packing tape. We did made ghostly limbs several years ago; it’s still fun and even spookier with an LED inside at night. Need an extra hand? For now you can look in the Makerspace window…

Putt Putnam County Wrapup

Putt-Putnam-FranklinOur 3rd Annual Putt Putnam County, held on Main Street Greencastle’s October First Friday, became our largest yet. This year anyone in the area was encouraged to create/build a mini-golf hole for everyone to play. The end result: we ended up with a course that ran from Indiana Street down Franklin to Vine Street!

The community built mini-golf holes really added to the diversity, from the Kirsch Dental chomping teeth to South Putnam School Corporation’s football hole. It also included an impressive arduino-powered hole from Tenzer Center and Wasser Brewing’s final hole led up to their outdoor serving area & music.

Putt-Putnam-NightAnd of course the Castlemakers built holes were impressive as always with a Skee golf-ball hole,  mini-golf bowling alley, Horcrux hole, and a Candyland hole that had a chocolate river (maybe using chocolate pudding was a bad idea). But will cover those and the other mini-golf holes in a later post.

Special thanks to all the organizations that brought mini-golf holes and Main Street Greencastle for helping with the city to block off Franklin Street for us. It’s not too early to start thinking about an entry for the 4th Annual Putt Putnam County in October 2019!