This last Saturday we had 2 events going on in 2 different cities, a bit of a landmark for Castlemakers. In Greencastle we had our first STEAM class for the Girl Scouts of Central Indiana. 15 girl scouts and parents from Indianapolis learned about sensors and coding using Circuit Playground Arduino based boards.
At the same time, in Bloomington, we had a booth at Makevention, our 2nd year there. Makevention is a little harder to describe. If you’ve ever been to a Maker Faire that’s close, especially this year since they added workshops and presentations. Makevention is a celebration of the Maker Movement, you can learn about all kinds of DIY/making – from robotics to soap to swords/knifes to lock picking to…
At our booth we had some of the PuttCode robots which we used on the CoderDojo mini-golf hole, although several other holes from previous Putt Putnam County events were there also. The other booths were also interesting, it’s a great event for seeing what other groups in the area are doing and making. It’s usually the last Saturday in August and definitely worth attending.
One of the community efforts that we perhaps promote enough is the local CoderDojo. The Castlemakers CoderDojo was one the early ones in Indiana, starting in 2016, and now going on it’s 3rd year.
What’s a CoderDojo? Simply it’s a club where youth, ages 7-17, learn programming from volunteers – including professional programmers. The kids/ninjas bring in projects that they are working on or are interested in… or the mentors have some structured & unstructured exercises to help them learn more about coding.
This is the second year we’ve taken kids to the CoderDojo Hackathon sponsored by CoderDojo Indiana / Techpoint Foundation for Youth. Both years we’ve had teams that won trophies, something to be very proud of!
For the June Castlemakers Kids meeting we built an emergency radio antenna out of coax cable. Since it was ARRL’s Field Day, an annual ‘dust off the radios & get on the air’ event, we relocated our meeting to Putnam County’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC), where some local amateur radio operators were seeing how many radio contacts they could make. It also gave everyone a chance to see amateur radio operators making on air radio contacts and then try out the built antennas.
The design uses a short piece of coax cable with a connector on the end, you can see the instruction sheet we made and an example antenna. It’s a simple design that works quite well by cutting a different cable length for different transmission frequencies. Just strip the wire and twist the coax braid then you’re done. The antennas were then hooked up to a radio, and with a licensed radio operator supervision, they tried their antenna, some inside the building and others in the parking lot, to talk to each other.
Of course making antennas and watching radio operators ‘work the grid’ raised lots of questions. Thanks to George Edenfield (KB9RZK) and the rest of the PCAUXComm crew for hosting us. And special thanks to Dave Costin for giving us a behind the scenes tour of the Putnam County EOC – lot going on there many don’t realize.
Since last summer Castlemakers has been teaching more STEM/STEAM/Making classes for anyone interested in our community. If attendance and topics can be a judge, then our effort has been a success! Our March Introduction to Laser Cutting class, which we wanted to limit to 8 people, had 10 people (squeezed a few more in at the last minute) including folks that drove from Kokomo & Whiteland, IN to attend.
In April, we took on a very challenging current topic – Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT class allowed people to not only learn about IoT & but also build an IoT device that they could take home. We’ve already had additional requests to learn about it and will repeat the class again in the future.
In May (5/24) we’re starting a new class series called Design to Product. We’ll begin by teaching folks how to use 3D software (like Fusion 360) to design a product, then in subsequent months you’ll learn how to make them using a 3D printer, laser cutter, or even a desktop CNC machine.
If you’d like first hand experience in building a kinetic art piece, Volunteers are needed through 3/31 with a new sculpture created by Phillip Beesley and the Living Architecture Systems Group in Bloomington. “Amatria” is a sentient architecture installation on the 4th floor of Luddy Hall just off 10th street that will be visible within the campus.
The new sculpture is composed of polymer & metal scaffolding structures that hold glass vessels (including vinegar batteries) that power the LED lighting & kinetic mechanisms responding to motion & sound. Most makers will recognize many of the components, from Adafruit circuit boards to laser cut acrylic components being made on location. The delicate mechanical moving structures alone are amazing, but with the network wiring/sensors/circuitry and software add another whole level of complexity. It’s not running yet, but will be by the new building’s grand opening April 9-13.
Check it out sometime or better yet volunteer by 3/31 for great hands-on experience with an extremely complex Internet Of Things (IOT) sculpture. A flyer is posted on our Makerspace window with more details or you can simply visit the 4th floor of Luddy Hall in Bloomington between 10am & 7pm through 3/31 to volunteer. We’re also offering an IOT class on 4/26 at the Makerspace, although for beginners, not anywhere near this level!
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 (email@example.com) 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!