Sunday, May 29, 2016

LightLogo Fresnel Jig

During the course of the Wilton Young Makers workshop I ran for a few months two students worked on LightLogo procedures that we projected through a fresnel lens. The beta release of the jig worked well, particularly the focusing function. However, you could really only project onto walls, not the ceiling, and the entire jig was a little fragile.

I asked a friend for some help with using his school's laser cutter to build a better jig. He created the shapes in Illustrator using my design input. We cut them from cardboard first.

Next, we used 1/4 inch plywood as our stock and cut the same shapes.

We cut two of the open "frame" shapes for the lens and one of the solid pieces for the base. The fresnel lens is sandwiched in the frame. The parts are connected with 1/4 inch threaded rods, lock washers, washers, and nuts.

Were I to make another, I would cut some of the wood from the base just for aesthetics. 

Once focused the jig projects both on the ceiling and, tipped on its side, on walls.

The red light in the image above is the power light on the Metro Mini being magnified. I ended up covering the lights on the microcontroller with a piece of electrician's tape so they would not affect the programmed designs.

I really like how this jig turned out. It is very portable, lightweight, and simple. It can still be focused quite easily. I like how it can easily change the atmosphere of a room depending on the procedure running on the Metro Mini. Right now I have my Lopez Sky procedure running on it and it is beautiful.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Approximating Perfection

The most amazing work to grow out of the Logo after school club I facilitated this school year in a Bridgeport charter school is the willingness of the students to iterate on the designs they program for the LogoTurtle to draw. I have been asking anyone who will look at the art and listen, "How many times do you see a student willing to work on a math problem that he or she thinks the solution to is 'wrong,' and will go back on his or her own four, five, even six times to work on until he or she reaches a perfect 'solution'?"

Every time I work with the LogoTurtle with these students on a design that they generate, they inevitably find a fault in the drawing. However, instead of looking at the fault as a problem of the LogoTurtle that could be solved with a better "tool," they willingly undertake an exploration of the math or engineering that might go into "improving" the design and capturing the perfection for which the student is striving. This is exactly the "mucking around" Brian Silverman imagined might happen with programming the LogoTurtle!

A student who dropped out of Logo club returned last week and worked with my constant club member to catch up on five months work! After starting her on Turtle Blocks, she quickly built a small tool that could be used to make a more complex design.

The other student helped her translate the block programming into LogoTurtle text.

Both students were unhappy with the "lash" and the dot that happened when the LogoTurtle turned: the pen moves slightly from its ray and the dot happens when the ink seeps into the paper. We tried scaling the design up 50% to see if that helped with the lash.

The longer ray did help a little, but they still did not like the dot at the turns. I suggested lifting the pen before the LogoTurtle turned then putting it back down after it turns.

The results were stunning!

Loading the procedure on a different LogoTurtle meant we needed to muck with the math.

It was fascinating to see this girl, who had some experience with Logo programming in Turtle Blocks, approach the LogoTurtle angle and degree problem the same way I have seen other students, determined to repeat a design from the screen and willing to muck with the math to program and create an approximation of perfection.

The same tenacity played out this week as the long-time student worked on a flower design that he developed a couple weeks ago. He wondered if he could use the pen up and wait commands so he could change pen colors during the drawing. He was able to easily accomplish this goal but swapping pens produced a gap in the drawing despite using the wait command. He could not tolerate this gap!

We decided if we could get the LogoTurtle to draw a little line towards the stem we would be happy with the design. This led to a careful observation of the state in which the turtle ends the procedure so we knew what additional commands we would have to give it. It turns out a simple "back 5" was the solution!

He ran the procedure a second time with the exact same results!

This student has learned much about angles, degrees, debugging, design, and iteration. I have done very little direct instruction besides helping him with the LogoTurtle syntax. His desire to iterate on the mathematics required of the design is motivated by his own aesthetic choices and sensibilities, something my graduate work uncovered the importance of in any learning situation. I am extremely proud of this student and the progress he made during the course of this club!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

"The Burker" 3D Printed Sculpture

After I tweeted about the organic beauty of some of Fred Bartels' Sketchup experiments, he designed one for me that he affectionately called "The Burker."

After 3D printing a smaller version, I loaded natural ABS filament into the Thing-O-Matic and printed the model as large as I could with no infill.

It printed beautifully and needed minimal cleanup just along the top.

I revised a design I played with previously by creating a base in Tinkercad that included a space for the LED Torch Light model. I drilled holes in the base and sculpture for the LED as well as two 8mm M3 screws to hold the base to the sculpture.

One version I built has a color changing LED.

I am fascinated by the idea of 3D printable art. Once the artist creates the model it is possible to scale it to any size, fabricate it in different materials (or perhaps even with a different technique, such as laser cutting or casting), and remix it like I did by illuminating it from inside. I was very honored to be the recipient of this gift from Fred, and I have shared it with friends and family.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Thoughts on Balls

My friend asked for my opinion on the New Yorker article about the Sphero. Here is what I wrote.

A few thoughts: first, I felt the author failed to realize the importance of Logo as the predecessor to educational robotics and dismissed it as a dreary exercise that a few of us adults vaguely remember. My work with the LogoTurtle my friends Brian, Erik, and I invented has been revolutionary, in my mind, of how a minority student can make use of powerful tools that do not attempt to simplify themselves in the name of being "friendly." Please see here:

The Sphero is definitely a toy and its company and Disney have found a unique niche in the education market because clever teachers have found ways to incorporate them in mundane to very, very clever ways to improve their curriculum and to make the learning more student driven. Sphero has helped by providing curriculum, worksheets (ugh), and actual robots to schools. But in the end they are a toy company and need to carefully balance education and profit.

I was very intrigued by the hint of their future project and bots that interact with you: I have been thinking about this quite a bit on the software level as of late.

For my money with middle schoolers on up to adults I would have them build LogoTurtles. However, as we know, I operate on an "easy is for wimps" level. I think the Sphero is a harmless addition to the classroom. It gets students programming, is engaging, and if the teachers get out of the way the students can do some truly wonderful things because of its polished package.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Mixtape Project

I got it in my head to produce a mix tape of music to share with friends. There were a couple of obstacles: nobody, including myself, has a cassette player any more and audio tapes are difficult to get hold of nowadays.

I found a tested cassette deck at Goodwill ReStore for $20. 

I ordered blank cassette tapes from Amazon. High bias tapes are about $8 each, so I opted for seven normal bias tapes for about $15.

I also purchased a cassette player that would transfer audio over USB. It turned out to be a piece of junk that did not work: the Play button did not stay down. Fortunately I still had my wife's ruggedized Sony Sports Walkman.

The mixtape was built from my vinyl record collection. It was eclectic but flowed very nicely. It was a trip making a mix tape again: cueing up the records, adjusting the recording levels to get a high enough level without saturating the tape, trying to put together a narrative with the songs.

I built a google form and asked my friends who wanted to hear the tape to fill out their shipping information. Eight people responded!

The Walkman tape and covers were packaged in a cigar box that was sanded and repainted. There is an inch of egg carton foam above and below the contents, firmly sandwiching them in place and protecting them from shock during shipment.

The project was shipped to the first recipient today.

Each recipient is asked to reflect upon the songs and experiences in another google form either as they listen to the tape or afterwards. The reflections will be posted later as part of the documentation of this project.

This interactive art piece combined a low-tech approach to file sharing with the intimacy of listening to a bespoke mixtape on headphones. Although our technology has progressed to the point where we can fit thousands of songs on our ever-present digital devices, this project's low tech approach kindles nostalgia and reveals the limitations in what was once a widespread convenient media format, the audio cassette tape. Lossy, hissy, prone to tangles and bound to wear out, the cassette tape is an artifact of times past when we shared our music in a more intimate and personal manner.