Thursday, April 30, 2015

Constructing Cardboard Automata

I wrote an instructional article for Make Magazine's online edition. Head over and learn to build your own simple automata.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Marble Machine

The Marble Machine is one of the best MakerEd projects you could hope to unleash upon a group of students or adults. It does not plug into the wall or need recharging, does not connect to wifi or the Internet, and can be used by young and old alike. It takes less than one minute of direct instruction on the nature of the challenge and a showcase of the parts. After that, a primal instinct takes over to get the marble to the bottom of the board, no matter the amount of frustration that ensues, and hard fun is had by all.

My friend Joseph helped me build my Marble Machine using plans from The Exploratorium. The pegboard surface is rugged but lightweight, solidly constructed.

After Joseph and I finished constructing it, I took it home and turned my three year old loose on it.


In addition to some of the parts The Exploratorium suggests, I upcycled an egg carton into a spinning cup contraption.

Next, I brought it to school. The students quickly devised a way to get the marble from the top to the bottom, but it traveled very fast. The Maker Club played with it on several occasions, and it was sometimes available during rainy indoor recess.

The faculty liked playing with it once, too. Notice that they are timing themselves on the iPhone.



The faculty also tinkered a new use for the clothes pins that drastically slowed the marble's descent down the chutes.

The faculty set a record of a little over 6 seconds for the marble to travel top to bottom.


Next, I unleashed the Marble Machine at the Westport Library's Teen Maker Monday workshop. All but one of the five students arrived late, so I only had to teach one person how to use it. Four of the five students were completely engaged for an hour and twenty minutes, refining the design, tinkering, engineering, and persisting without any assistance from me.

Clothes pins helped keep the marble from overshooting the elbow joint.

The level of cooperation of collaboration was impressive.

Here is their first record-breaking run, at 7.54 seconds!

Afterwards, the students were challenged to break the 10 second mark.

The final good hack for the evening was using some of the split foam tube as a marble chute.

Their final run took nearly 9 seconds!

Build a Marble Machine today! It is a great hand-on activity that absorbs everyone in the room. People are naturally drawn to the challenge because there is no learning curve. People stay with the challenge because though it seems simple, it is devilishly difficult! Perfect hard fun.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

3D Printed Silhouettes

I remember sitting at Disneyland between rides, a compromise to sit still long enough to have a paper silhouette cut. My grandparents had them of my mom and uncles, and my mom was determined to continue this crafty, beautiful tradition.

While brainstorming ideas for a 3D design and 3D printing five day workshop for elementary and middle school students I facilitated, I came up with the idea of creating 3D printed silhouettes like the ones I sat for at Disneyland. However, instead of paper the students would use laptops, software, and a 3D printer to create their silhouettes.

The classroom was near a white stairwell door with bright, natural light streaming in during the afternoon when the class met. We set up a stool for the students to sit in front of the door in profile. The laptop was set on a cart. We captured the images in Photo Booth, imported them to iPhoto to adjust the contrast, then converted the files to .svg in Inkscape.

The test model was printed on my MakerBot Thing-O-Matic. I added a small frame and a little hoop to hang the silhouette in a window.

The students' sihouettes were printed on a MakerBot Replicator 2. The first model was printed larger than subsequent models because of time considerations.

The silhouettes worked best if the girls pinned back their hair, or at least had it back over their shoulders: otherwise, the silhouette might have too little detail.

This is a great starter 3D printing project to encourage you to use your powerful new tool to create, rather than just printing things from Thingiverse. With a few simple steps (I outline the details of the Inkscape process here) you have a unique keepsake that would make a great Mother's Day present.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Laser Etched TurtleArt Rubber Stamps

I am thrilled by the reaction to my 3D Printed TurtleArt Stamps project. Sarah Barclay and a group of teachers and students at UCC Prep ICT also programmed TurtleArt procedures to turn into clay containers! I love to see how people remix my projects: it inspires me to revisit my own work and change it in some way. A characteristic of a good maker is to always be updating your projects, observing how people use them, misuse them, or find new uses for them and modifying your work to make it easier to build, more durable, more remixable.

Recently I was invited to a friend's school to try out some rubber he purchased to use with the maker space's Epilog Laser.

This amazing tool is incredibly expensive. It is also incredibly easy to use, as it turns out.

I programmed a couple of simple TurtleArt procedures and cropped one of my TurtleArt procedures I created for the clay tile project. We converted the .png files to .eps files in Illustrator, removed the background color, then sent them to the Epilog to engrave the rubber. The laser cutter uses a driver that is just like a print driver interface. Consulting the manual, my friend made the necessary adjustments for engraving rubber rather than cutting wood. With that we sent the job to the printer. We wanted it to etch a 4 inch square design. The rubber comes in 8 1/2 inch X 11 inch sheets. The laser started etching. I think it took less than ten minutes to complete one stamp.

My friend repositioned the laser head and we were able to print three more designs on a single sheet of rubber.

I cut the stamps apart with a ruler and an X-Acto knife. 

Once home I designed a handle in Tinkercad. I 3D printed the handle on my Thing-O-Matic, then used a machine screw to attach the handle to a 4 inch by four inch block of wood that I had sunk a screw hole in, so the screw head would sit below the rubber stamp.

I found oversized ink pads on Amazon. They allow me to coat the stamp in one good press.

My son enjoys coloring in the patterns that the stamp makes. With a little math and a ruler one could create beautiful wrapping paper or even decorate the walls of a room.