Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Searching for the Long Lost Idea

So today is my last post for my school project. I want to thank all of those people who checked on my blog often. This was a great experience, and I hope I helped you. I am not sure if I am going to continue this and keep updating it, or not. It probably will not be updated until after the summer either way though, because I am heading to the University of Georgia. But I thought I would leave you all with some helpful advice and links about projects. We all can have times where we just have no ideas. These are great places for you to get inspiration, and make something awesome.
Probably the handiest piece of updated information for a maker is MAKE: Magazine. They are the Wall Street Journal of the Maker Movement, and constantly have pages upon pages of great projects, ideas, and tips for makers. I cannot stress how great this magazine is. Here is the link to their website, with their blog, and forums. These are also great places to look, because you get much more stuff on the blog, and you have a ton of support from people on the forums.

Another great website is This site has millions of user submitted pages in all sorts of categories, teaching you how to make and do things. From tying a bowtie to making a fire-breathing jack o’ lantern, you can find anything on there, and it is a great place to browse for ideas and solutions. Instructables does a great job of meeting a lot of interests, while supplying a great community and a way to make your projects worldwide.

Another great place to get ideas, help, equipment, and projects is a makerspace. These places constantly have people coming in working on projects, looking for help, or looking to help you. It is a great support system to any maker. If you are looking for a place to show off what you have made, or see what other people have, one of the best places is Maker Faire. These places are the official meetups for makers, and have so many people from all over the country, and world, showing off what they have done. I have gotten ideas for a bunch of projects just wandering around and bumping into people at Maker Faire.

Something that was put on by Make last summer was the Google+Make Summer Camp; which, though directed at kids, is a great resource of a bunch of different projects and ideas. It was on Google+, but all of the videos and projects have been moved onto the Make YouTube channel.

The best way to come up with ideas and solve problems is collaboration, and the Maker Movement has no lack of that. Everybody is looking to help each other, and that is what is truly magical about all of this. There is competition, but not so much that you withhold secrets. I have started conversations with random people I have never met before at Maker Faire, and we talked like we knew each other our entire lives. With technology and the internet, it has become easier and easier for us to reach out to the world. I live in Dallas, Texas, and my blog has been read by people as far as Russia. Right now, a total of 1,168 people have read this blog. This kind of reach and collaboration will change the world forever. There are going to be entire textbooks dedicated to this time period, and we need to make our stamp in those books. Thank you so much for reading my blog and being with me on this journey. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Crafting New Knowledge

About a week ago, I went down to the Dallas Makerspace, and was able to attend a class on Blacksmithing.  We started with railroad spikes, and, by hammering away, created a nail forming tool. It was mostly an accident that we even attended the class at all. My dad was looking into the Makerspace to see if he wanted to become a member, and just happened upon a schedule of events that the makerspace was putting on. We saw the blacksmithing class and thought it would be a fun way to learn more about the Makerspace. This was right before I had my interview with the President of the Dallas Makerspace, Andrew LeCody, and was what gave me the idea to interview him.

The class was not a one-time deal though; they have classes every weekend to learn how to make different items. Nor was this the only class the Makerspace offered. In my interview with Andrew LeCody, he mentioned some of the classes, let me mention some others. They have a python programming class every week, as well as classes about 3D printers, lock picking, laser cutters, 3D modeling, and other assorted special classes. Members of the space are constantly setting up new and exciting classes.

The experience was a lot of fun, and I learned a lot about metalworking, and myself. I realized that I was nowhere near strong enough to do it. My hardest hit with a hammer would hardly leave a dent, while the instructor could easily work the metal into the shape he needed. I really developed a respect for the skill and precision it takes to make these things with this craft.

The class was an amazing example of how Makerspaces reach out and help their members by teaching them new skills. It is important for Makerspaces to foster this kind of collaborative learning, because it will help many people learn more about different skills. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Space of Making

So you’ve become a maker. You have this great idea for a project, but don’t have the knowledge or resources to pursue it. You could spend hours researching on the internet trying to find out how to do something, but you still wouldn’t have the 3D printer or laser cutter or whatever thousand dollar tool needed to build your project. There is salvation. Makerspaces are large workspaces owned and operated by a group of makers.  Members can come in at any time to work on whatever they like. It takes the mindset from the 1950’s of having a workshop in your garage, and moves it to a more modern scale, working with many different people’s needs.  Since members pool resources, they can afford expensive equipment and provide it for many different needs. Also, with all of the makers working there, you will be able to get fresh new ideas for your project, and be able to learn new techniques that you might have had to go to college to learn otherwise.  A couple of days ago, I had the great pleasure of talking with the President of the Dallas Makerspace, Andrew LeCody. I would like to thank Andrew for talking with me, and I wish the Makerspace well. Here is our conversation:

For those people who do not know what a Makerspace is, how would you define it?
“A makerspace is a place to find other people who like making things. Some spaces are focused on particular fields (such as BioTech) while others are more general purpose. Often times a Makerspace will have tools and equipment that are difficult for one person to acquire, but to me the biggest asset is always the community.”

Could you tell me a little more about the Dallas Makerspace? i.e. how long has it been around and how was it started?
The Dallas Makerspace has been around since 2010; we started out as a group of people meeting in public places but quickly gained enough members to lease our first space. Within a year we were already outgrowing our initial 1,600 sq ft space, and chose to move to our current 4000 sq ft location. Just last week we have signed a new lease, expanding our current space into a newly vacant office directly adjacent to us, which brings us up to 6,200 sq ft total.
I love the Dallas Makerspace; no matter what you are interested in you can always find someone else who wants to talk about it. I have made some great friends since joining the Makerspace. The members are a great resource, just from talking with other people I went from knowing almost nothing about electronics to designing my own circuit boards.

How many active members does the Makerspace have?             
Just over 150 as of right now, we’re hoping to have over 200 by the end of the year so that we can afford an even larger location.

What type of facilities and equipment do you have available for people?
I couldn’t list out everything, we have rooms filled with tools and dedicated to various purposes such as: Electronics and Robotics, 3D printing and laser cutting, Drone Aircraft, Crafts and various types of arts, Film photography (working darkroom), Woodworking and Metalworking. We also have a classroom that can hold nearly 30 people, with more classroom space on the way.

Does the Dallas Makerspace focus on one area, or do you have a broad spectrum of projects?
The Dallas Makerspace has always had an incredibly broad spectrum of interests. We welcome any and all projects at the space.

What kind of projects has the Makerspace worked on?
We have built a supersonic ping pong ball cannon (It was able to dent metal!) and competed in a 72 hour Red Bull Creation challenge, where we made the Dizzy Fling, a game of skill that pits two dizzy people against each other to see who can score the most points.
We are currently working on projects for another Red Bull Creation challenge as well as building a car for the PowerWheel Racing league.

Are the projects worked on in the Makerspace more individual, or collaborative?
Most of the projects people work on are individual, but we [have] plenty of collaborative projects as well. If someone is working on a project you find interesting, it’s likely that they would love to have additional help.

Does the Makerspace help members develop new skills?
We offer classes on a wide range of topics, as well as sponsor meetups so that people can meet others in their field of interest. Example meetups include: Foto Fridays (for photography), Electronics night (usually Wednesdays), Robot Builder’s Night Out (Tuesdays), Blacksmithing (every other Sunday), Python, Blender, and more.

Do you offer any programs for younger makers?
                Currently we don’t offer any programs specifically for young makers.

For anybody interested I the Makerspace, where are you located, when are your meetings, and how can someone join?
I always recommend checking out the makerspace on Thursday nights, which is when we have our weekly meetings. There are always tons of people to give tours and talk about projects. Joining the makerspace is really easy, you just need to sign up on our website then show up in person to fill out the liability waiver and get your RFID tag (for 24/7 access to the space). Our dues are currently $50/mo or $35/mo for “starving hackers” (i.e. students, unemployed, and retired), with slight discounts given for anyone who pays for a year upfront.

Once again, Thanks to Andrew LeCody for talking with me. Makerspaces are great places that foster ideas and innovation. I would highly recommend visiting one. Even just talking with different people about your projects and ideas can do so much good for your problem solving and thought process. It gives you a way to relay ideas and get a better sense of what you are trying to do. Your mind can quickly get set in a certain direction, and hamper you from solving problems. It is a great thing for people to get a fresh, new opinion on their projects. Makerspaces are spreading all across the nation, and I hope you join your local one.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

City Planning? No Problem!

Hey, one of my friends saw my most recent post and reminded me of another game like Minecraft. This one is a little more structured, but makes you think a lot more. This game, SimCity, is a live action puzzle game, where you are the mayor of a city, and in charge of its construction, services, profit, and population. You make choices about how your city makes money; whether it is from oil, commercial companies, trade, or electronics. You also have to provide your city with waste management, public transportation, police, water, electricity, and fire protection. One of the major elements you have to deal with in your city is traffic, which if it becomes too great, can cause people to move out and you to lose money. This game teaches you a lot about dealing with money and a budget, and also varying city planning ideas.

In the game you have a budget. You have the current amount of money you made, and the amount you make or lose in a game hour. Services and buildings you place cost money not only to build, but to maintain. This makes players think through how they build things, and gives them a better sense of handling actual money.  The game also deals a lot about health and the environment. When you have oil mines, they generate a lot of ground pollution, which brings down the value of the land and makes people sick. Also with oil, you can have an oil power plant, which burns the oil for power and generates a lot of air pollution.  Also, you can burn away your trash too, instead of piling it up into dumps; you can just burn it away, with the only by-product a ton of air pollution.  With sewage, there is a easy versus right choice. For very little money you could have a sewage outflow pipe that pipes out all of the waste into the surrounding forest, generating the highest amount of ground pollution in the game. Or you could use a sewage treatment plant and filter your waste into fresh water, but for much more money. The game provides the player with many choices that affect the success of their city, and this really teaches people how to best manage money, time, and people’s welfare.

Virtual Making

Making is a fluid concept. It is not all material things. Making on a digital plane is just as innovative and inspiring as on the physical plane. In the never ending quest of getting kids interested in making, some of our most valuable assets are video games. Yes, the same things that parents and teachers claim rot children’s brains and make them less creative. But I am not talking about the needless violence and destruction of games like Halo and Call of Duty. I mean the revolutionary indie (and sometimes not so indie) games that make us think and give us the option to experiment and create in a no-loss world. A world where you can always just hit re-start, never lose anything, and just gain more knowledge on what to do next time.

One of my favorite type of games like this is a game called Minecraft. I have talked about it before, but for those who have not heard of it, it is a sandbox game developed by the game developer Mojang.  A sandbox game is a game that does not have a direct storyline, and gives you the ability to manipulate all of your surroundings. One of the best things about Minecraft is the two different game modes it has; Survival and Creative.  In Survival mode, resources are finite, and once you take something, it is gone. In the game you have to build tools to find new materials and fight monsters. It is much like real life. Creative mode, on the other hand, is completely different. You have unlimited supplies of any material you could want. You can fly, and are essentially a god. This freedom has given players of Minecraft the ability to make some amazing structures. People have made scale model versions of entire cities, or even the planet. Since the player does not need to worry about supplies, materials or health, they are able to focus on creating. This is ground-breaking because if this same principle was applied to the actual world, imagine what we would be able to accomplish. No one could have predicted some of the things made in Creative mode in Minecraft, and the same would apply for real-world innovations if the same limitless and worriless idea was applied to the real world.

Another large aspect of Minecraft is a material called redstone. Redstone is said to be an electrical conductor, and is used to create machines and self operating tasks in Minecraft. It, along with all of the different parts that work alongside redstone, gives players the ability to create even more things in-game, but this time the creations are interactive. People have made giant versions of pong, interactive stories told around and with the player, even entire computers inside of the game. This just shows the creative potential Minecraft has.

Another amazing aspect of Minecraft is the programming community that makes modifications, “mods”hw for short, to the game. Some simply add different features to the mechanics to fix it, while others add whole new storylines for you to adventure in. Still more create “Minecraft for geniuses”, with machines, pipes, programmable computers, and so much more for you to stretch the limits of Minecraft to see what you can create. Minecraft completely supports these mods, and is completely open with its source code, allowing for easy modding.

Now this game is great, but why is it good for kids? It teaches them tactics, geometry, and gives them a canvas to paint on for their future. People are just now realizing it. Many schools across the U.S. are implementing Minecraft into their curriculum, and some Makerspaces are offering classes on construction and redstone in Minecraft. With Minecraft, building houses is working with geometry and area, and enchanting weapons is calculating probability.  Teachers can even create custom adventures through worlds for kids to explore, learn, and have fun doing it. This is a better way to teach; take something popular, that every kid enjoys, and use it to teach them while they still enjoy themselves doing it. More schools need to use this idea. It doesn’t have to be a game like Minecraft; they just have to let the kids have fun while they learn. Offer them chances to look more into what they are interested in, and they will work much harder, and learn much more.  Humans are incredible things, and if we unlock their full potential by interesting them, the sky is nowhere near the limit for what they can create.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Getting the Kids Making

A reoccurring theme that people will find in my blog is the importance of working with kids and inspiring them to get into making. Well today I want to tell you about two companies that are making great leaps forward in helping kids get into making and become more independent people.

The first, PiggyBackr, is a crowd funding site much like Kickstarter, except it focuses on kids. It is a completely kid-friendly open crowd funding site where kids, as long as they are over 13 or have parent’s supervision, can put up any kind of project they have and get funding for it. I have already talked about the great possibilities of crowd funding sites in the Maker Movement, but let’s re-cap. Crowd funding allows people from all over the world to put their ideas out to the world and the world to decide whether they think it is a good idea or not by investing. This gives anybody the potential to create a groundbreaking new company.

 The one problem I have found with PiggyBackr is that it is mainly directed at school athletic teams and individual advancement, like scholarships.  I believe that those are still excellent uses of the crowd funding platform, but I believe that the true potential lies with kid makers. Now whenever kids have an idea to build a go-cart, or a tree-house, or any other project that the incredibly creative minds of kids can come up with, and they can’t do it because of money problems, they can go onto PiggyBackr, and raise the money themselves, teaching them a lot about technology and economics. Most importantly though, it shows them that in this day and age, we are at the perfect perch to gain whatever we need to make even our most spectacularly impossible ideas reality. We need to create an environment where kids will keep that ingenious and creative way of thinking into adulthood, so that we will have technological advances far surpassing the ones that we have already made.

The second company is run in Boston by a MIT graduate, Henry Hough, called Einstein’s Workshop. This initially was a FIRST LEGO League team run by Hough, but quickly grew and transformed into a full time Makerspace for people of all ages. The Makerspace runs camps that vary from 3D-Printing jewelry, to FIRST Robotics Teams, to how to use redstone in Minecraft. These classes are open to a wide range of ages and have multiple spin offs for lower and higher complexity for different age and skill sets. The goal is to have an environment where kids of all ages are working and learning together, and being inspired by each other to keep working forward and learning more.

Kids are the future. They are the future bloggers, presidents, inventors, writers, artists, poets, workshop creators, everything. Whatever we do in life, we need to make sure we leave a great legacy for our kids to follow in, and give them the tools and the mind set to change the world. We need to leave the earth as a stage, set for whatever their great imaginations can come up with. Nothing is impossible; it just hasn’t been done yet. They will have great problems to face, but so do we. Each time we make a step towards equality, unity and peace, we are creating a better platform for our kids to build a new world. This new world is the stepping stone for the next generation, and on goes the human races ascent into new ideas that we cannot even comprehend.  Yes, kids are the future, but our kids are nothing without all of us supporting them every step of the way. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Interview with BusyBotz Head Mitchell Leben

Staying on track with my experience at the Houston Mini Maker Faire, heer is an interview with Mitchell Leben, owner of BusyBotz 3D Printing, which provides 3D printing parts and services.  I would like to thank Mr. Leben if he is reading this for working with me for this interview.

From your website and YouTube channel, it seems that you have turned your passion for 3D printing into a business.  Is this correct and do you do this full time?
Yes, I have started a business in 3D printing.  I provide printing services, as well as consulting, support, and RepRap building services.  This is not full time, I still have my regular job.

How many Maker Faires have you attended, and what was one thing you saw that you really enjoyed?
One so far, where I met you and your father.  I was so busy at my booth that I didn’t have any time to walk around.  I did see R2D2 and was able to get a picture with him, that was pretty cool.

Do you think that participating in Maker Faires has helped you business?
Yes.  I met many people there, and was able to see the other 3D printing exhibits.
 [There were four other exhibitors with 3D printers, including my dad and I.  One company had made their own printer and was selling them, and another had a business selling 3D printed action figures.]

How did you get into 3D printing?
I learned about it online, and was instantly hooked.  I ordered a Makerbot Replicator as soon as they were announced, and read everything I could find online while I awaited delivery.

Do you have any tips for people new to 3D printing?
Two main things:
1. A willingness to lean
2. Patience
 This is a rapidly developing technology, and the machines require a bit of tender love and care to operate properly.  The initial learning curve is steep, but if you get beyond that, a properly set up printer requires very little maintenance.  Patience is required because print times often stretch into several hours, or even a full day.
[When my dad and I got ours, it took us a little more than a month of tweaking with it, but now we can print basically whatever we want whenever we want.]

What are your thoughts on schools integrating 3D printing and modeling into their curriculum?
3D modeling skills will become increasingly valuable.  I would encourage any student to add it to their skill set.  I live in a major city, and when I called around a few years ago, none of the universities had courses in 3D modeling for printing.
[I have done a lot of research into this, and schools are slowly adding 3D modeling and printing courses.  The high school I will be going to next year actually has a Makerbot Replicator, just like ours!]

Why do you think we need to expose more kids to the Maker Movement?
It is fun, interesting, fulfilling and useful.  The Makers themselves tend to be great people, so it is a good experience all around.

What is your favorite thing that you have printed?
Tough call.  My favorite print to show off is the Exploded Planetary Gear Set  by Thingiverse user Thing-O-Fun.

What are your thoughts on all the new technologies coming from 3D printing now, like 3D scanning and the resin based printers like the Form 1?
The developments are fantastic, and coming at a rapid pace.  They are difficult to keep up with.  I have learned that early releases of new products in 3D printing tend to be rough around the edges, because everyone is rushing to bring their products to market.  The more material choices, the better.

Last question: What do you think of my blog and what I’m doing?
Your blog looks great!  I like how you include lots of photos – I think it makes for more interesting reading.  Keep up the good work.

Here are some pictures from the BusyBotz booth at the Houston Mini Maker Faire and some of the 3D printed objects Mr. Leben displayed.

It was great to meet and talk with Mitchell Leben, and I hope BusyBotz continues to succeed.  This is just one example of how makers can take what they love to do, and make the most of it.  Your interest doesn’t have to become a profitable venture. You just have to pursue it and enjoy whatever you do to the fullest.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Houston Experience

Earlier this year, my dad and I had the great opportunity to be able to go to the Houston Mini Maker Faire in Texas as registered makers. We showcased our MakerBot Replicator 3D-Printer. There were many great makers there, including, an upstart 3D-printer company, a makerspace-like group for kids of all ages, a car covered in singing trout, and a couple of R2-D2’s. There were a lot of great people that I learned a lot from.  Also, I think that I helped and impacted the people who visited my booth.

One thing that I was really proud of was all of the kids that came to our booth. We had set up a bunch of little toys and trinkets we found on Thingiverse.  The kids would all rush up to play with the trinkets and then be quickly amazed by the 3-D printer working, asking me a lot of questions about it. I find that is a great representation of how people get interested in making. We start for some cool toy, or project, or event, or whatever, but we slowly start discovering more, and stay in it because of our curiosity to figure out what makes things happen.  I still feel so proud of what I did at the Houston Maker Faire because I believe that I helped start many kids interests in making.  These kids could grow up to change the world. This is why I think that it is so important for people to sign up to present at Maker Faires.  And when you do go to Maker Faires, bring your kids. We need to show kids how much fun it is to make and to get them interested in learning and figuring things out. If we do that, we will create a legacy of great innovators for years to come.

This is a great segue into one of my favorite presenters at the Houston Maker Faire. It was a group called Techno-Chaos, and they had child members aged 5 to 16 years old. They showed a bunch of their projects, which ranged from LED setups to LEGO Mindstorm sets to 3D-printed objects to the 16 year olds with large robots that played basketball. This is what the future should look like. Not only are kids prompted to make whatever they want and are given the tools, but they work together with many different age groups. This way the older kids get to help the younger kids, and the younger kids have role models to look up to. I remember when I was young and I would see kids much older than me walking to class, I would feel excitement knowing that someday I would be like them.

Now for something much less serious, but still really cool. There was a car covered in those singing trout and lobster things. They would actually move in synchronization, and sing different songs. I could not get the video I had of it working, but here is a picture of it: