Books You Should Read: Designing Reality

These days, budget CNC builds are mainstream. Homebrew 3D printers and even laser cutters are old hats. Now I find myself constantly asking: “where’s it all going?” In the book, Designing Reality, Prof Neil Gershenfeld and his two brothers, Alan and Joel, team up to answer that question. In 250 pages, they forecast a future where digital fabrication tools become accessible to everyone on the planet, a planet where people now thrive in networked communities focused on learning and making.

Designing Reality asks us to look forward to the next implications of the word “digital”. On its surface, digital  means discretized, but the implications for this property are extreme. How extreme? Imagine a time where cnc-based fabrication tools are as common as laptops, where fab labs and hackerspaces are as accepted as libraries, and where cities are self-sufficient. The Gershenfelds invite us to open our eyes into a time where digital has vastly reshaped our world and will only continue to do so. Continue reading “Books You Should Read: Designing Reality”

Hacking for Learning and Laughs: The Makers of Oakwood School

The tagline of Bay Area Maker Faire is “Inspire the Future” and there was plenty of inspiration for our future generation. We have exhibits encouraging children to get hands-on making projects to call their own, and we have many schools exhibiting their student projects telling stories of what they’ve done. Then we have exhibitors like Oakwood School STEAM Council who have earned a little extra recognition for masterfully accomplishing both simultaneously.

[Marcos Arias], chair of the council, explained that each exhibit on display have two layers. Casual booth visitors will see inviting hands-on activities designed to delight kids. Less obvious is that each of these experiences are a culmination of work by Oakwood 7th to 12th grade students. Some students are present to staff activities and they were proud to talk about their work leading up to Maker Faire with any visitors who expressed interest.

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Card Reader Lockout Keeps Unauthorized Tool Users at Bay

It’s a problem common to every hackerspace, university machine shop, or even the home shops of parents with serious control issues: how do you make sure that only trained personnel are running the machines? There are all kinds of ways to tackle the problem, but why not throw a little tech at it with something like this magnetic card-reader machine lockout?

[OnyxEpoch] does not reveal which of the above categories he falls into, if any, but we’ll go out on a limb and guess that it’s a hackerspace because it would work really well in such an environment. Built into a sturdy steel enclosure, the guts are pretty simple — an Arduino Uno with shields for USB, an SD card, and a data logger, along with an LCD display and various buttons and switches. The heart of the thing is a USB magnetic card reader, mounted to the front of the enclosure.

To unlock the machine, a user swipes his or her card, and if an administrator has previously added them to the list, a relay powers the tool up. There’s a key switch for local override, of course, and an administrative mode for programming at the point of use. Tool use is logged by date, time, and user, which should make it easy to identify mess-makers and other scofflaws.

We find it impressively complete, but imagine having a session timeout in the middle of a machine operation would be annoying at the least, and potentially dangerous at worst. Maybe the solution is a very visible alert as the timeout approaches — a cherry top would do the trick!

There’s more reading if you’re one seeking good ideas for hackerspace. We’ve covered the basics of hackerspace safety before, as well as insurance for hackerspaces.

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Detoured: Caltech’s Hackerspace

Over the last few months, the folks over at the SupplyFrame Design Lab, home to Hackaday meetups, the Hackaday Superconference, and far, far too many interesting tools, have been spending their time visiting workshops and hackerspaces to see how they tick. Staff Designer of the Design Lab, [Majenta Strongheart], recently took a trip down the road to Caltech to check out their hackerspace. Actually, it’s a rapid prototyping lab, but a rose by any other name…

The prototyping lab at Caltech exists for a few reasons. The first, and most important, are the graduate students. This is a research facility, after all, and with research comes the need to make stuff. Whether that’s parts for biomechanical fixtures, seismology experiments, or parts for a radio telescope, there’s always going to be a need to make mechanical parts. The rapid prototyping lab is also available to undergraduates. Many of the courses at Caltech allow students to build robots. For example, when the DesignLab staff was filming, the students in Mechanical Engineering 72 were taking part in Tank Wars, a robot competition. Here, students built little rovers built to climb over obstacles and traverse terrain.

As far as tech goes, this is a real shop. There are vintage knee mills, manual lathes, but also fancy CNC lathes, Tormach mills, and laser cutters galore. The amount of tooling in this lab has slowly accumulated over decades, and it shows. Right next to the bright white Tormach, you’ll find drill presses that are just that shade of industrial green. It’s a wonderful space, and we’re happy the faculty and students at Caltech allowed us to take a look.

You can check out the video below.

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When Hackerspace Directors Burn Out

A friend of mine once suggested that there should be a support group for burned-out former hackerspace directors. We could have our own Village of the Damned at summer camps, where we’d sit moodily in the gathering twilight sipping our bourbon and Club Mate and decrying whatever misfortunes came to our space to leave such visible mental scars, or gazing hollow-eyed into the laser-tinged haze and moving gently to the pulse of the chiptune music. “See that’s Jenny over there, she don’t say much“. Hackerspace noir, where the only entry criterion is being crazy enough to stand for election to your space’s board.

You can tell [Dr. Seuss] is thinking about his next volume: <em>How The Grinch Stole Whoville Hackspace</em>. Al Ravenna, World Telegram [Public domain].
You can tell [Dr. Seuss] is thinking about his next volume: How The Grinch Stole Whoville Hackspace. Al Ravenna, World Telegram [Public domain].
There must be spaces somewhere that live in such perfect harmony, in which a happy membership support a board for whom everything falls into place. Maybe the makerspace in [Dr. Seuss]’s Whoville would have that kind of atmosphere, but the reality of life is that every group is made up of both Grinch and Who. Keeping a diverse group of people harmonious is a huge challenge, but that’s what hackerspaces are really about — the people make the space.

There are several defined periods in the gestation of a hackerspace, and at least from where I’m sitting they relate to its member count. Some spaces pass through them all as they grow, while others are lucky enough to reach an equilibrium and spare themselves some of the drama.

If you recognise yourselves in some of the following then you have my commiserations, while if your space hasn’t got there yet or has managed to dodge some of the bullets then consider yourselves lucky.

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Dublin Knows How to Bring-a-Hack

When on the road, we love to stop by a local hackerspace and connect with the hacker community. On Friday, TOG Hackerspace in Dublin, Ireland opened their doors to host a Bring-a-Hack with Hackaday and Tindie.

The city center of Dublin is anything but a grid. The cobblestone roads meander every which way and are a puzzle of one-way and surprise construction, none of which seemed to faze Google’s navigation algorithms. I was happy to be operating the smartphone instead of the rental vehicle. A big thanks goes to Jenny List for taking on the stress of driving on our refreshments run without coming in contact with people or cars.

You’re likely wondering why the street layout of the city deserves such attention. I’m used to centrally-located Hackerspaces being tight on space, and indeed the members of TOG cautioned us that 50 people would feel cramped. Much the opposite, the pubs, restaurants, hotels, and performing arts centers are not small, nor winding, nor made of cobblestones. Dublin is a fantastic place to party, with plenty of space for us hardware geeks to congregate. TOG itself, which about 20 minutes walk from the central Temple Bar area (where this image was taken), even has a small parking lot which made our beer drop off and pizza delivery a breeze.

A Tour of TOG Hackerspace

TOG is a Gaelic word which loosely translates as “to make”. Declan met us for the beer drop and gave us a tour when we returned for the evening event. The building is divided into several different spaces, starting with an entry area that serves as a meeting space, gaming room, and showcase of projects.

Where you might see prayer flags strung up on an apartment building, we see floppy disks (both the hard and soft variety) strung around the meeting area. Declan has a shamrock of K’nex parts wired up with a microphone controlled RGB LED strip — it’s like a test your strength game to see who can shout the coolest colors.

I also really enjoyed the fabric anatomy display that has snaps on each organ and only lights up the labels if you complete the circuits in the correct locations.

These are just the tip of the iceberg. There’s much more after the break so join me for the rest of the tour, and some of the notable hacks that showed up on Friday evening.

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Detoured: RF And Film

The technology behind capturing aerial video is so unbearably cool. Not only do you have fancy cameras that cost as much as a car, you also have remote control camera mounts on helicopters and amazing microwave links going to the ground. This isn’t your typical FPV setup on a quadcopter; there are jet turbines and S-band transmitters here.

One of the people behind these amazing aerial shots is [Greg Johnson] of RF Film based out of Whiteman airport in sunny southern California. He’s done work for Black Panther, several fo the Fast & Furious films, Marvel movies, and is working on the new Top Gun reboot. As part of the Supplyframe Design Lab’s Detoured series, lead Staff Designer [Majenta Strongheart] visited RF Film to take a look at what goes into getting high-quality images from aerial video platforms.

[Greg] got his start at a helicopter company in Michigan, and eventually moved up to working for ESPN, shooting video of offshore speedboat races. There’s no other way to do this than by the air, but there are problems. You need to get video to the ground somehow, and that means microwave transmitters. [Greg] learned all of this by simply doing it, demonstrating some hacker cred. In fact, some of the first remote control systems he built were built around sprinkler systems.

Now, [Greg]’s work is significantly more advanced than modified sprinkler systems. He’s making custom hardware for 1080 cameras worn in a hat for drag racing. There are gimbals that roll a camera around its axis, and all of this is custom made in [Greg]’s shop.

There’s a lot of work that goes into producing video for aerial photography, and it’s much more complex than sticking a runcam on a quad. There’s antenna design, FCC regs, and custom robots that point the camera where it needs to be. RF Films is one of the best in the business, and we’d like to thank them for giving us a glimpse into their shop and workflow.

You can check out the video tour of the shop below.

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