Friday, December 25, 2015

Wind Tube

For Christmas I built my son (and my wife and myself!) an Exploratorium Wind Tube. My friend Joseph helped me build the Exploratorium's Marble Machine, one of my favorite low floor/high ceiling learning adventure tools for young and adults alike. Jay Silver and I played with his Wind Tube and it was instantly engaging. He told me the hardest part to track down was the acetate and shared his source.

My son, wife and I found it instantly engaging and fun to play with. I included a pack of feathers, some chenille pipe cleaners, and a piece of lightweight felt to get us started. There was also an empty tomato container and an empty Cool Whip container as well.

The chenille pipe cleaners, when chained together, could potentially spend minutes in the vortex inside the tube.

They would ball up and as they slowed down extend only to speed back up and ball up again!

The Wind Tube encourages you to quickly iterate on a design and to try new things. Unlike the Marble Machine, which takes some time to set up, the Wind Tube is pretty instantaneous in its feedback of whether the object drops, floats, or shoots out of the top of the tube. We ended up with many feathers stuck on the wide blades of the ceiling fan and were treated to a fantastic shower of feathers when we turned on the fan to retrieve them!

I also enjoy how the Wind Tube encourages you to experiment with different materials and configurations. I created a bird from a piece of soda rings, feathers, pipe cleaners, and a short section of 22 gauge wire.

After a couple of tries I added a little weight in the head by using two layers of cardboard from the pipe cleaner packaging. That was too heavy so I used one layer.

The bird was pretty buoyant but needs more work. So fun!

The Wind Tube is well worth constructing and will provide you or a workshop with hours of hard fun! The challenges one can construct around the Wind Tube are endless, while it is fun to aimless noodle with as well. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Makey Go Xmas Tree

I am very excited my Makey Go arrived in time for Christmas! I programmed a Scratch project to make my Christmas tree play "Oh Christmas Tree" note by note each time I touch the tree.

Configure your Makey Go to use the "space" bar when it receives a touch. You might need to additionally configure the Makey Go to be "extra sensitive." Make sure you clip the alligator clip onto a nice green branch.

I used the List function in Scratch with this project, something I have been using more often.

A helpful 10 year old transcribed "Oh Christmas Tree" into the notes, and I transcribed the notes into Scratch numbers.

In order to reduce the size of the list and the amount of work I needed to do, I created a variable called verse and a variable called note. This way I could count notes and use that variable to set the verse. Setting the verse in turn allowed me to repeat parts of the list instead of needing to enter the data multiple times in the list. Tricky but not difficult.

What a whimsical first project! I enjoyed using the list function and the programming challenges that presented me. I look forward to this new programming paradigm with the Makey Go.


I was excited to see @prakashlab and their ingenious Foldscope featured in a New Yorker article and rushed to assemble my own.

I was intimidated when I first received my Foldscope a month or so ago, thinking it was going to be fragile and difficult to construct. The author of the article stated that it took her about 15 minutes to assemble hers, which relieved me. Additionally, the material from which the Foldscope is constructed, some type of "plasticized" paper(?), resisted tearing yet allowed for easy creasing where it needed to be folded. Laser cut with minute tabs keeping it together as a sheet, all the parts as well as parts to assemble slides are easily removed intact. I love that they did not skimp on aesthetics: the illustration on the top of the Foldscope captures the idea of magnification beautifully.

Indeed, it did not take long to assemble the Foldscope. The lens was a little difficult to keep in place and although the instructions did not say to do so, I held my lens in place with a piece of cellophane tape so I did not knock it loose each time I inserted a slide.

I still need to register my Foldscope. I am going to use my old iPhone with the magnets in order to take photos of what I am magnifying. So far I have tried to magnify things too large: a pine needle and a carrot peel. It is time to go much smaller! Perhaps on my next walk I will find some good samples.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Rolling Rubber Stamp

Influenced by both Natalie Freed and Bryon Gysin, this project used a Turtle Blocks design and an Epilog laser to etch the design in a sheet of rubber. The rubber was contact cemented to a piece of PVC tubing. I designed and 3D printed caps that fit in 3/4" PVC tubing with a hole the right size for a welding rod, like Ms. Freed's design. You can download and 3D print them, too.

I used Speedball ink and a hard rubber brayer to spread the ink on an old magazine cover, an easy to clean up technique I learned while volunteering at the Center for Contemporary Printmaking. The rubber roller stamp was then rolled over the spread ink.

It took a little practice to learn how far I could roll on the paper before needing to re-ink, the correct pressure to use so the roller rotated freely, and realizing I needed to remove the binder clip "handles" so they did not interfere with rolling. I got some good prints, though.

I intend to use the paper as wrapping paper for the holidays.

The design is etched 1mm tall and needs to be taller yet to help keep the "base" from being inked and transferring to the paper, though that does add to the design. It would be interesting, perhaps, to go back over the design with a second color ink, perhaps at an angle. As I cleaned the brayer and stamp I played a bit with the idea of rolling at different overlapping angles.

If you can find some time on a laser cutter/etcher, this is an easy to accomplish, fun project. By combining Logo programming and fabrication, this project explores the transition from bits to atoms and creates a tool that allows for increasingly complex artifacts to be produced.