Last weekend we had our advanced micro:bit class that was cancelled last year due to Covid. Ian Girvan, one of our members, taught the class & everyone there learned a thing or two about the more advanced features of this IoT like device. The class was taught using v1.6 of the micro:bit, v2’s released last November are still almost impossible to find; versions are similar enough it doesn’t make a real difference.
Participants learned how to use a breakout board to connect lights, sound, & control a DC motor with a micro:bit. They even got the chance to use a light sensor & variable resistor as input to control a LED.
Our next class, coming up on May 29th, will be a ‘learning to solder’ class where folks make a little jitterbug robot that starts moving when the light sensor detects darkness. We’ll soon be adding a lot more light/solar projects and classes with some upcoming makerspace additions in the next few months.
Now we’re able to have classes at the Makerspace again, last Saturday there was a free ‘Intro to micro:bit’ class for anyone interested. It went well, with several attendees liking it so much they signed up on the spot for our next micro:bit class which will cover the device in even more detail.
This coming Saturday, May1st at 1 pm, we’ll cover using external devices with a micro:bit, including hooking up light strings, switches, and even a motor to the single board computer given to all 6th graders in Putnam County. This will be an all ages class however, the simple and powerful IoT like device can be programmed by anyone from 8 to 80. We’ll have everything you need for the hands-on class where you’ll learn to control a string of neopixel lights and no previous experience is needed. Learn more about it on our classes webpage.
It’s exciting to be able to offer classes again, even though with a reduced size and constraints due to Covid. Introduction to 3D Printing will be offered on January 23rd at 1 pm and our popular Introduction to Laser Cutting/Engraving on February 20th. We’re hoping there’s also interest in some micro:bit classes, refer to our classes page for more information.
We’ve continued to experiment, a lot, with the micro:bit since giving them away to youth in the fall of 2019. The micro:bit capability is still impressive for a device that size. In the window of our Franklin Street location you can see several micro:bit projects, including some that have been written about before.
One of the more mysterious window projects uses the micro:bit’s internal bluetooth radio. There’s been a micro:bit for some time that sends scrolling text and can control a string of lights and a rather loud alarm bell if the right text is sent wirelessly from another micro:bit to the window unit.
Hint: the words to send are obvious, it’s easy to program in MakeCode, and use Radio Set Group 1. It even works from outside! I’ll link later to some more detailed additional help.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.