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:

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Dance the Night Away

I have been meaning to talk to you guys more about more of my dad's and my projects. So today I think I will tell you about our Dance Dance Revolution board.

My dad was on Kickstarter last fall when he saw a popular project called Makey Makey and donated to it. When it arrived, we toyed around with different projects and ideas that we could use for my school’s Halloween Carnival. The Makey Makey is a circuit board that connects to your computer, and takes electrical signals from specific output spots connecting back to it, and transforms them into different key strokes. You can have up to six different keys, the arrow keys, the space bar, and a mouse click. You can run wires from the outputs for each separate key on the board to anything that can conduct electricity. By connecting yourself to ground, whenever you touch it the key will be “pressed.” This has a lot of potential. The first project idea for the Makey Makey that we had was to use pumpkins to make a drum set that kids could play on. They would wear a wristband that connected to the ground on the Makey Makey, and each pumpkin would be hooked up to a different key depending on the program we used. The first problem we had was finding a program. When we finally did and got a working prototype, we realized that it would not be a good activity for the kids at the carnival.

While searching for a drum program, we found this Dance Dance Revolution knockoff with a bunch of songs you could use. After we decided not to do the drums, we went back to that program and started playing around with it. The biggest challenge we faced was how could we use the Makey Makey to create the foot-pad buttons used on Dance Dance revolution boards? We looked back into how the Makey Makey really worked, and found the answer. We were too focused on making it a button, instead of how the Makey Makey actually works - transferring electricity and connecting circuits. We would create pads of conducting surfaces that would be connected to the arrow keys through the Makey Makey. Then when the player wearing the wire wristband connecting to the unit would step on the pads, they would complete the circuit and activate the keys. We decided to use aluminum tape as our conductive surface, and attach it onto a plywood board as a base. We just made squares of tape instead of arrows to make sure that the player would have enough surface area to step on and complete the circuit. We bought telephone wire from Lowe’s, because it had five different, color-coded wires we could use. We took four of them, connected them to each of the arrow key inputs on the Makey Makey using alligator clips, and stuck an exposed end in between layers of aluminum tape on the board.

We wanted to test the board under different circumstances to get a better idea of how to use it at the carnival, so we set it up at my birthday party and tried it there. It was a huge success, and all of the kids at the party had a lot of fun. We learned that the tape pads were very conductive, and players could even wear socks and run it, and it would still work. The most finicky part of the set up was the alligator clips, because they would move around and get unplugged. At the carnival we ended up taping down all of the wires, and moving the board farther away from the computer so that the wires would not be disturbed.

It was a huge success at the carnival as well. The one thing that surprised me the most about people’s reactions to it was the amazement at how complicated it was and how I actually did it. This made me realize why people can have a hard time starting projects - because they over think it and say to themselves, “that’s way too complicated, I would never be able to make it work” where instead they should go ahead and try. They do not take risks and start projects, therefore they never find out if they can do something or not. The moral of this story is that risks are necessary in life, and that failure is always an option, because even then you are learning how you can do better.