Saturday May 03, 2008

Maker Faire Tips

We are just back from another great Maker Faire (photos to be posted next week, I'm too tired now). If you are planning to go tomorrow (and if you live in the Bay Area and you enjoy making things, then you really should), then as a three year veteran, let me give you some tips.

  • Try to arrive as soon as it opens. The Faire is getting bigger every year. We were there about thirty minutes after it started and we had to walk from the far side of the huge car park.

  • One of the first halls you go into is jam packed with things you can buy. I suggest spending some time here, and buying stuff. If you spend over $50.00, you can take your recipt over to another counter and get a free t-shirt. We also got a free tote bag. I wasn't sure if every order got one, or you had to spend >$50.00. Either way, I strongly suggest bringing an empty tote bag for all the stuff you are going to make, and all the handouts that you are going to collect.

  • The service in the cafeteria is appalling. I recommend eating lunch about 11:30am and/or just getting a sandwich or salad from the glass containers against one wall. If you try to eat after midday, your wait will feel like you're in line for one of the more popular Disney rides. There were also more "fast food" stands around the fairgrounds this year, so it's less of a problem. It is nice to sit down in the cafeteria though.

  • There are lots of special things happening during the day. Be sure to plan ahead and read the schedule of events. It'll will avoid any disappointments.





Thursday Mar 27, 2008

Origami Samples

One of the most popular torrents on mininova yesterday was origami zip, which contains a collection of PDF's for various Origami models.

I've just downloaded it and am working on the badger. I think I've got a little way to go until I can master the dragon pictured above.


Thursday Oct 25, 2007


Howtoons are one of the first articles we read when a new MAKE magazine arrives. We've visited the website and we met a couple of the authors at the MAKE Faire earlier this year, and made the infamous marsh mellow shooter.

The book is now out. Our copy arrived from Amazon last night. It's packed with fun science projects (several of them new to us), for kids 8-12 and created in gorgeous full color comic book style. It interleaves projects, with pages describing various types of tools and how to use them. I also appreciate that safety comes first (one of the early projects describes how to build safety glasses from a large plastic soda bottle).

Duncan and I highly recommend it. My wife also ordered two extra copies of the book, and will be donating them to Duncan's school library this week so others can know just how much fun science can be.




Tuesday May 29, 2007

Herbie the Mousebot

Yesterday, I finished the Herbie the Mousebot kit that I'd bought at the Maker Faire about a week ago. It was fairly straight forward. The instructions are excellent. I only made three mistakes and I was easily able to correct each one. My only advice here is to read the instructions all the way through two or three times and walk through all the steps beforehand, to make sure you completely understand them. My excuse is lack of sleep.

Herbie has two IR sensors in its head. These work well. In a dimly lit room, you can shine a flash night around on the floor, and Herbie will follow the light very closely. There is also circuitry in it's "tail" and "whiskers" to reverse the motors and backup, if it touches something. That seems to nicely get it out of most blocking situations.

Herbie is based upon a robot designed by Randy Sargent for the 1996 Seattle Robothon "Line Follower" contest. It didn't win (it came last), but Randy released the "Herbie" circuit onto the Internet, and it was picked up and built by a lot of people around the world.

There is a version of Herbie (Project #3: The Herbie Photovore) in Junkbots, Bugbots and Bots on Wheels, an excellent book for those who would like to build simple robots, mostly from spare or scrap computer and electronics parts.

Also, if you don't want to buy the kit, consider the Mousey the Junkbot article that appeared in edition #2 of the Make magazine. The link to the sample PDF on that page is broken, but you can easily find it via the Wayback machine.

There is an optional step you can do with Herbie. You can solder an IR LED and resistor into its butt and then, as it's moving around, it'll be shining a light for other mice to follow. Hopefully the Herbie Photovore and/or Mousey the Junkbot will be able to follow that. If that's the case, it's time to try to make one of those.



Friday May 25, 2007

Maker Faire 2007 - Part 5

Final images from the Maker Faire from last weekend.

It's the special car gallery today. From a narrow car, through a techno retro to Art cars. Duncan enjoyed glueing a marker pen to the Pen Guys merc (Pen Guy is the one wearing the red safety helmet). That car also came with an external music system that you had to paddle to get working.

There was also a stand showing off a 100mpg Toyota Prius car (forgot to take a picture of that).

That's it for another year. We all came away with a bag of goodies. I've got yet another robotic kit that I need to put together some time. The wife got some craft stuff and Duncan ended up spending his money on a Nintendo game (the Radioshack stand at the Faire ran out of Hex Bugs Robots that he really wanted, when we went back their mid-afternoon).





Thursday May 24, 2007

Maker Faire 2007 - Part 4

Yet more images from the Maker Faire from last weekend.

Here's Mark Frauenfelder, one of the co-founders of BoingBoing, and editor-in-chief of Make: magazine. He's even on the cover of this quarters issue. Isn't he a cute cupcake!

The guy in the red jacket is using a theremin. This is the first time I've seen one used in a band.

This machine gives hugs. Something everybody needs from time to time.

Powered skateboard.

A variety of constructed guitars.

A "robotic" band. Lead guitar, keyboard and drums. They were playing some music that I took to be composed by the guy who put this lot together, as I didn't recognize it and it didn't seem to contain all the usual qualities I associate with music, like a melody or harmony or a tune.

Two images from the carnivorous plant greenhouse. The little guys are Venus Fly Traps (almost all of which have just recently been fed and are closed). I'm not sure what the big guy is. It didn't eat anybody while I was there though.





Wednesday May 23, 2007

Maker Faire 2007 - Part 3

More images from the Maker Faire from last weekend.

Power-tool drag-racing. This was well organized, loud and was attracting quite a crowd.

Here's the other ride I mentioned yesterday, where four people pedalled and another four people enjoyed the ride.

Two of the alien life form exhibits in the Silicon Death Valley hall.

Creative animated props for your next Halloween party or to scare the bejesus out of all the little kids as they trick-or-treat.

Mini Tesla coilJacob's Ladder (thanks Brian). There was also a huge Tesla coil in the main Expo room, but we didn't see it turned on. Probably dims all the lights in San Mateo when they do, so it had to have strict viewing times.

This gentleman gave a demonstration of how to make glass fish beads. Very interesting. The plastic shielding is there to prevent flying glass hurting anybody. He demonstrated that as well. Be sure to check out his website. He also had the best "business card" at the show. Little glass vials containing all the information.

Faux knights in mock combat.

Beside one of the outdoor stands, somebody had placed a chair with a piece of paper that said something like "Please don't stand on Danny Gopher". You can just see little Danny poking his head out. Then he'd pop back in, then back out again and so on. Continuously. Didn't seem to be intimidated by the crowds at all.

Once I'd taken a picture, everybody else wanted one too.





Tuesday May 22, 2007

Maker Faire 2007 - Part 2

More images from the Maker Faire from last weekend

Duncan playing with a chaotic pendulum.

The new Sony book reader. The Sony Librie has been out in Japan for quite a while. I was expecting a US equivalent very soon after that. Seems they went back and redesigned it to be much simpler. More like a book. I like the electronic ink technology. I was underwhelmed by the size and the (small) amount of information you got on each page. The sales critter was gushing on about all the classics you could instantly get for it. Well duh. Just go to places like Project Gutenburg and they are available to anyone. Oh, and while you are there, check out the Project Gutenberg Science Fiction CD.

Virtual Volleyball and Virtual Art. Something you can really throw yourself into.

What to do with all those K'nex on a dreary weekend.

A self-pedal-powered carnival ride. There was another where four people pedalled and another four people enjoyed the ride.

A small collection of LEGO Mindstorms NXT robots.

A wireframe-coated papier mache dragon.

Here's the Bent Objects guy I blogged about last Friday.

Some Doom variant being played on a top-of-the-line Dell gaming PC in the Microsoft hall with a special keyboard. The guy was good. I've never really watched any of these one-person shooter games being played by an expert before. Yes I know. I need to get out more.





Monday May 21, 2007

Maker Faire 2007 - Part 1

The family went up to San Mateo on Saturday for Maker Faire 2007. It was much bigger than last year, completely taking over the fairgrounds. The word had got out. Much larger crowds than last year. We arrived a few minutes after they opened and we had to park several rows further back and get in line for tickets and admittance.

The Faire last year showed the makers from O'Reilly's Make: magazine. This year, there were also the crafters from their sister Craft: magazine. A lot more stands and exhibits.

There was numerous other things going on. Bands were performing on two different stages. Plus catapulting, power-tool drag-racing, rockets launching, etc. Another wonderful day.

I took a load of camera phone pictures. They are my usual level of quality. Some better than others. Hopefully they'll give you an idea of what went on. I've probably got enough to do several posts, so I'll bunch 'em in groups of ten and send them out.

Here's the first set, plus a few notes.

The metal sculpture that greeted you as you enter the Fiesta (Robotics) hall.

Hack your Roomba! Here you see the versatile vacuum cleaner doing it's impersonation of an Etch-a-Sketch. There's also a Hacking Roomba book to help you with your hacking.

The robotic "giraffe" was back. This time we got up close'n'personal with it. It's snout has touch sensors. If you touch one, it say "ooh that tickles!". If you touch several, it gives a loud chuckle. Or something like that. It might have been a direction thing. The little boy wasn't quite sure what to make of it.

A radio-controlled "robot". It did great sideways cartwheels.

A radio controlled blimp. The maze construction below it was for another robot that was demonstrated later that could find a small fire and put it out.

Several steam-powered constructions.

A steam-powered R2D2.

A marble clock.

A model airplane with a radio-controlled camera attached, driven by LEGO Mindstorms NXT parts. The PC was showing a video of an actual flight.





Tuesday Oct 24, 2006

O'Reilly Craft Magazine

O'Reilly have already been publishing their Make magazine for almost two years. Over the weekend, in a Borders store in Santa Clara, we saw (and bought) the premier issue of their Craft magazine.

I see that Amazon are selling it too, although I had to look in the Books section (not the Magazines). They call it a paperback. Must be something to do with the size, format and price. Somebody did tell me this once, but I've forgotten.

It's in a similar style to the Make magazines, but more focused on "transforming traditional crafts" rather then hacking hardware. There are a handful of in-depth projects in this issue. One-pagers on several more projects, plus mini articles on lots of other things. There is a very small overlap with the other magazine. There was some electronics work in one of the articles on how to light up your clothing.

The magazine also has a blog and the start of an online projects area, which includes tutorials.



Wednesday May 24, 2006

Highlight Messages Addressed to you in Thunderbird

Now for a Lifehacker hack that useful to everybody. From the March 2006 LH archives, I found a post that points to the blog of Carl Evankovich, where he uses Thunderbird's labelling and filters to "gray out" all email messages not specifically addressed to him.

I'm using Thunderbird 1.5, so I had to look under Edit > Preferences > Display > Labels to find where to set the gray color for my "Later" email.

The other thing that perhaps should be added to Carl's post, that might not be obvious to the average Thunderbird user, is that after you've setup the filter, you need to run Tools > Run Filters on Folder for it to take effect on your current mail folder.

It's a wonderful tip. Very useful to get to exactly the emails that you need to deal with first. Thanks Carl (and LH).



Monday Apr 24, 2006

Maker Faire

Or Geeks in Paradise.

Or Big Kids, and the people who love them.

Or a truly amazing day out for all the family.

On Saturday, we all went along to the Maker Faire at the San Mateo Fairgrounds, here in California. Organised by O'Reilly, the publishers of Make magazine, and with numerous major sponsors, this was the place to be if you like to make things, or see the incredible things that others have made.

It was a showcase for lots of the makers who have been featured in various issues of the Make magazine or on the associated blog.

After getting our free O'Reilly Makezine tote bag (which we were going to really need for all the handouts we collected,) we headed into the main exhibition hall. We filled in the subscription to get the next four issues of Make magazine and bought Duncan a T-shirt.

One of the first things to catch my eye (on the same stand as an automatic Etch-A-Sketch), was a machine drawing a complicated pattern on an egg. The whole day was just like that. Loads and loads of extremely cool stuff.

Duncan got to try out two kinds of robotic arm. The first one was radio controlled via a huge handheld with two joy sticks and buttons. The second one was via a glove, in the Sun booth, manned by Sun Labs personnel, showing off their new Sun SPOT technology (which I'd love to try programming myself - hint, hint, if there's anybody from the Sun SPOT team reading this). This one proved a little tricky to master until Booth Guy turned the robotic arm, to match the orientation of Duncan and the glove, then it because straight forward.

There were so many things to go wow! at that you tended to get sensory overload after a while. If I had to pick one booth that was my favorite, it would be the work of Bathsheba Grossman. Check out her Maker entry for more details.

In one of the "smaller" halls, makers young and old could get hands-on, and build things out of craft and scrap materials, intermingled with recycled motors and computer parts. This hall also included Lady Ada's stand, the maker of the blinky stuff that I learnt how to build and microprogram earlier in the year.

Lego Mindstorms had an exhibit and they were showing off the up-n-coming new Mindstorms NXT, which will be available to buy later in the year. Ooh, I want one. Just under three months to wait.

Winner in the category of Best-Use-Of-An-Ikea-Shopping-Cart, was this entry.

Heading outside, we saw the rich folk playing Segway Polo. Yes, that is Woz there in the middle.

One of Duncan's favorites was The Crucible, which let off huge jets of flame every now and then with a loud boom (usually when you were least expecting it).

I'm going to stop there, even though I've barely scratched the surface of what was on show. I took over 60 camera phone shots. I'll try to post a few more entries in the future on some of the other truly cool stuff.

If this doesn't inspire you to go out and make something, I don't know what will.





Friday Apr 21, 2006

Making Things From Tin and Soda Cans

Last week, as expected, once I showed Duncan the video of the Incredible Machines, he wanted to build one.

We fully utilised his Lego, Brio, Dominoes, plastic marble machine pieces and chutes made from cardboard, and got some sequences going one evening. I was fully expecting to be extending the machine the following evening, so I started looking around for other effects we could use.

This led me to the Bearing Trampoline Game blog on Blogspot. Any of you oldies remember the Bing Bang Boing game? Well, the blog shows you how to create something similar using tin cans and balloons.

I had everything ready, but Duncan had lost interest. I wonder how many other dads have had that feeling. You want to keep working on your special project together, but your child wants to do something else. Oh well.

While I was looking around, I found several other useful pages containing things you can make out of tin and soda (aluminum) cans.

I've also got most of the October 1952 edition of the Model Maker magazine (had it since I was a small child). There is an article in there showing you how to make a really cool looking "Electrically Driven Dellow" trial/sports car from tin cans. Someday...



Tuesday Nov 29, 2005

LEGO Mindstorms

Recently James Gosling has been looking at the BlueJ IDE with his seven year old daughter. I want to get my seven year old son interested in programming but I've taken a different approach.

When Duncan was 3 or 4, we went down to LEGOLAND in Southern California and spent the day there having a fun time. As we were leaving at the end of the day, I bought a set of LEGO Mindstorms, primarily for myself, but I also knew that my son would be interested in playing with some of the things that I'd create with it. That was v1.0 of the LEGO set.

Between then and now, we've done exactly that. Initially I'd create the "robot" and program it and he'd play with it. As he got older, he could follow the steps in the Constructopedia and build the models and I'd just do the programming.

A couple years ago, as part of a mentoring project here at Sun, I even built my own infrared sensor to go with the Mindstorms kit. I've also recently bought a rotation sensor and v2.0 of the Mindstorms CDROM.

Over the Thanksgiving break (the Friday after to be exact), Duncan wanted to build another Mindstorms creation. I'd recently bought a copy of the Robotics Invasion book, so we decided to build the first project in there; a cargo pushing bot. We successfully built the vehicle. We also created the special track out of foam and construction paper. It was now time to program it.

By that time, I had something else I wanted to do so I suggested that we should return to the project the next day, but if Duncan wanted to continue with the LEGO Mindstorms that day, he should fire up their CDROM, and have a go at the training missions instead. These show you such things as how to download your code to the RCX brick, how to setup motors and sensors and how to program them. All the things that I'd always done for us upto now. They also have a programming environment that's very visual. The construction of the programs for the RCX is very much like playing with LEGO, where you plug the bricks together to achieve the desired effect.

I fully expected Duncan to get stuck pretty quickly and come looking for me to help him out. Alternatively, I expected him to get fedup because it was too hard and wander off and do something else. Neither of these things happened. The training missions enthralled him for 2-3 hours. By the time he's finished them, he'd even got to the point where he'd constructed his own "My Blocks" (the equivalent of a subroutine) and worked out how to plug them into his program.

I was quite amazed. More for how good a job Lego had now done to make this interesting and intuitive. I'd played with the graphical programming environment with v1.0 and I could now see that they've really improved it with v2.0. It's something that young kids can pick up and easily learn. Of course, experienced programmers are probably going to program their bots with one of the other programming languages such as NQC or Java.

We never did get around to programming the cargo bot. Duncan had taken it apart in order to complete some of the training missions. He's now going to try the various challenges that the CDROM provides.

While I was googling around for Lego Mindstorms and Robototics websites that might have interesting projects we could do in the future, I came across these three links that others might find useful [1] [2] [3].

Anyway, because he's really got into this, we are planning to buy him his own set of LEGO Mindstorms for Christmas. He said it's what he wants. He suggested that we just ask Santa to get it for him, then we wouldn't have to pay for it ourselves. Ahh, right. Why didn't I think of that?




Monday Jun 06, 2005

Origamic Architecture

While I was reading the September 1989 Omni magazine last week in order to do the Where Are They Now post, I found a couple of paragraphs in the Scott Morris Games column on a new kind of Origami (new in 1989 that is) by Masahiro Chatani of the Tokyo Institute.

As you know, origami is the art of paper folding, and what Chatani does is folding and cutting, so it's not true origami. Nowadays, his art form is known as Origamic Architecture. The object is to design something from a single sheet of paper that can fold flat, but when opened (popped) up represents a 3D shape.

Chatani has several books available on the subject. Here's three of them [1] [2] [3],

I also thought I'd look around on the web to see what I could find. There are several sites that have good details on how to get started, wonderful galleries of the art form and examples that you can download, print out and cut up yourselves. These include:





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