Wednesday, December 12, 2012

November & December meetings

Catching up—we've all been busy, but the meetings continue, and The Towel builds are slowly progressing.

The props, servos, and controllers arrived. Motor mounts were cut at the November meeting.
photo by Sabrina Granados
photo by Laurie Becker
photo by Laurie Becker
Last night was our December meeting. We had a guest, a teacher who has started a Young Makers group at her charter high school in Sacramento. We also had two new Young Makers joining us for the first time. Doug explained mounting the servos, which will be done at home to save time.
And we scheduled a special afternoon meeting for year's end. Maybe the combination of daylight and a break from school will get the planes to near completion.

Monday, October 8, 2012

October meeting

With Doug's guidance, our Young Makers began working on The Towel, a radio control airplane project originally from Brooklyn Aerodrome, published in the Make Volume 30, and now sold as a kit in the Maker Shed.

The kit, however, is quite expensive, whereas the parts themselves can be had for a fraction of the  cost, particularly when sourced in bulk as Doug was able to do.

Sharing straight edges and blades, it took most of the meeting for everyone to be able to cut out the basic shape of the deck.
Next time we will mount the servos and begin the motor mounts.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

September Meeting

We're starting off our club a little differently this year. In addition to providing support for the kids as they work on their projects, we are all going to do the same project together. Doug (holding the magazine, above) has offered to guide the kids through making their own RC stunt plane as featured in Make: 30. Jim will provide workshop space for any soldering, and no doubt we will rely on both men's expertise and experience.

We'll plan to post the progress of the builds to this space.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Working at Lawrence Berkeley Labs

by Doug Van Camp

This last week I started a new job at Lawrence Berkeley Labs. It is pretty much an ideal job for a Maker type person. Overall, LBL is practically a maker’s paradise, considering the amazing array of stuff that they make and work on there. Their projects run the gamut from biology to energy.

Incidentally, they are having an Open House October 13 that is open to the public. I highly recommend you all go. See the details at:

My first major task will be to help remove one experiment from a beam line of their cyclotron and install a new experiment in its place. Part of the installation process involves designing many of the components used in the system and then fabricating them; primarily by machining the parts using mills and lathes. Some welding maybe involved as well.

The new experiment we are installing is part of the development work of the next generation of micro-processors and is being paid for by a consortium of companies such as Intel. As microprocessors, become more powerful and densely packed, their components become smaller and smaller; to the point that, the circuit paths may only be a few atoms wide. Consequently, new techniques need to be developed to reliably build the new processors. The new experiment is exploring ways to make those circuits smaller and to check that they are built properly. The specific process we are working with is called X-Ray Lithography. That process has been around for decades, we are just refining it so the details are finer and finer.

Above, I mentioned ‘from a beam line of their cyclotron’ and that probably needs some explanation. Mind you all the explanations here are very general. I highly encourage you to do your own deeper research and/or to ask me questions. Anyway, the general concept of the cyclotron is to accelerate electrons to speeds near light speed by using very strong electromagnetic fields and forcing the electrons into a spiral path where they start at relatively slow speeds in the center and then move outward as they speed up.

Keeping the electrons spinning inside the cyclotron at near light speed requires enormous magnetic fields and complex controls. After all, like all things in motion, electrons would move in a straight line unless acted on by some force. So there are many electro-magnets placed around the circumference of the cyclotron to help ‘steer’ the electrons on the desired path.

Now every time the electron is ‘steered’ in this system, energy is added to the electron and to compensate for that additional energy, the laws of physics say something has to happen. Under the conditions in the cyclotron, that something is that the electron emits a packet of energy in the form of a photon, otherwise known as light. This light is not visible and is, in fact, and X-ray. But from a physics stand point, visible light and x-rays are just different points on the electromagnetic wave scale and the only differences between the two are their wave length and energy level.

So essentially, at every magnet around the ring of the cyclotron there is a ‘window’ or port that allows, and directs, the x-rays out into a large number of different experiments. Each of these ports is referred to as a beam line. Each beam line is directed thru a series of pipes, valves, shutters, chambers, mirrors, windows and other paraphernalia to perform whatever task is desired for a particular experiment.

Below are a few photos from the Lawrence Berkeley labs property, including some from inside the Cyclotron building.
Somebody built a sterling engine to run on top of the coffee maker in our break room.
The building on the left with the domed roof is where the cyclotron is located. The brown building to the right of the domed building is where my workspace is.
In the distance is the SF Bay including both the Bay bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge (although they are very difficult to see in the photo).
Here is some of the type of equipment that I will be working on.
This is part of the top of the cyclotron assembly. The big grey thing above was a huge electromagnet.
Here are a few of the many, many racks of equipment that are part of the facility.
Now that electromagnet is a support for the crane. My coworker is standing there to give some scale to the size.
That thing in the back ground is a machine used for winding electromagnets.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Hangar Tour

What do airplanes have to do with making things?

A lot, as it turns out. All airplanes are still essentially handbuilt, and the experts who know how to restore and rebuilt vintage planes are rapidly dwindling in number.

These are some of the things we learned today at a visit to Jimmy Rollison's hangar in the Yolo County Airport. Jimmy is a veritable wikipedia site when it comes to aircraft and aviation history. He showed us his collection of vintage airplanes in various stages of restoration, giving us details of how each one was made and what its historical significance was. We learned about traditional and modern materials, about Henry Ford's contribution to aircraft manufacturing, and about how private airplanes were once priced in the same range as a luxury car.

Jimmy uses a combination of tools, from a vintage lathe to create specialty parts to an English wheel for curving metal skin. I didn't get any pictures of them, but below are some of the planes we learned about today:
read the history of this deHavilland Dragon Rapide here

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Maker Faire Bay Area 2012

"Make what you desire. Make what you have to make. Make what you can't not make, because it will make the world a better place." ~Adam Savage 
It's hard to believe that a full week has passed since Maker Faire already. That means only 51 weeks until the next one.

Possibly the best part of exhibiting is being able to see the Maker Faire being set up on Saturday morning.  My phone snapshot hardly captures the sense of Expo Hall coming to life, but it was in stark contrast to the crowded, bustling lineup of booths just a couple hours later.
The trolley, now with pedal power and painted blue, was unloaded.
And we were free to walk around the fair for the day.

It's near impossible to explain Maker Faire to someone who hasn't been there. There is truly a little bit of something for everyone: anything that fits under the umbrella of creative life has a place here: robots and vehicles, food and sustainability, costuming and gemstones. This year there seemed to be a special focus on education and developing the natural maker sensibilities of young people. Dale Dougherty spoke on several occasions about this idea, particularly in regard to his launch of the Maker Education Initiative.
There were several talks going on at any one time, so that even if all one did was visit speakers, it was impossible to hear everything (not to mention that many of the venues were packed). Fortunately, several talks were filmed and can be seen here.

3D printers were also noticeably in abundance this year.
Perhaps the most impressive sight this year was the gigantic firebreathing dragon bus called Gon Kirin.
Our group's exhibit slot was at 6pm, just as the fair was winding down. For better or worse, this meant that fewer visitors stopped by. But all the kids got to talk to a few people about their projects and how they were made.
photo by Laurie Becker
photo by Laurie Becker
photo by Laurie Becker
On our way out, we all picked up this special summer edition of Make (in 3D!) aimed at Young Makers.
Do we have plans for summer fun? You bet we do.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Maker Faire Here We Come

Another year, another Maker Faire. We gathered on Tuesday night to show the projects, practice talking about them, and to celebrate the kids' vision, creativity and persistence. All of them started with one idea and switched to another. All of them made modifications along the way. All of them ran into snags which needed troubleshooting, analysis and rethinking.

The five projects going this year are the work of 6 kids who went through the long, sometimes frustrating process of seeing an idea to completion.They woke early once a month to make the long drive to the Exploratorium. They scoured the internet and searched out mentorship. This is an amazing group of young people.
Matthew built a Minecraft creeper from specially-selected Lego parts, then decided he wanted it to do something. He built a speaker from some wire, an amplifier, and a Dixie cup, installed it in the head, and attached it all to an mp3 file of music from the game—which he made a point of securing permission to use. As a final touch, his sister painted his iPod green and added a creeper face. I wish I'd gotten a picture of it.
Ken and his dad Doug are working on a pedal-powered trolley with a wooden frame, the bottom bracket and extra gears from a bicycle, and flanged wheels which will eventually fit on a track. Even on a dolly and with a milk crate for a seat, the trolley was a hit going up and down the big warehouse aisles.

Sebastian's project is an arduino-based light box which plays in pattern to midi files. He had been thinking about lights hooked up to his bass, then ultimately decided he didn't want to transport his instrument to and from the Maker Faire so altered the project to be more portable.
We have all enjoyed seeing Leo and Drew's claymore project evolve from a mousetrap-based catapult to a rat trap, to a claymore with motion sensor response and a camouflage paint job. The parts were all found at the hardware store, with the exception of the motion sensor—repurposed from an air freshener unit.

Our other Young Maker was not present at the meeting, but John is making a full headmask of his World of Warcraft character. We look forward to seeing it this weekend.

If you are going to Bay Area Maker Faire 2012, please stop by the Young Makers area. Our group will be exhibiting Saturday evening, but Young Makers from up and down the west coast will be showing projects all weekend long.

Here's to all young makers!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

KDRT Interview

Last Friday Leo, Sebastian, Sabrina and Suzie went to the KDRT studios and sat for an interview with Beth and Katie Post's Road Scholars radio show. Road Scholars explores different aspects of homeschooling in the Yolo County area, and on this day they spoke to us about Young Makers and the Maker Faire.

Listen to the full (hourlong) show here. It's the March 16th, 2012 show.

Thanks, Beth and Katie—we all had fun.

Monday, March 12, 2012

March Meeting

Leo and Jim talk about design
We're now two months away from the Maker Faire. It's time to start thinking about reserving accommodations (the main options can be found here), buying additional tickets (here) and of course, moving forward with projects.

The 4 projects we heard about this evening are all at the very beginning stages still, but everyone seemed to have a clear idea of their next step, whether it be drawing up plans, sourcing materials or setting up a meeting with a mentor.
Doug explains SolidWorks
After the informal project presentations, Doug demonstrated the use of SolidWorks 3D modeling software. He also introduced us to JourneyEd, an academic discount site where the educational version of SolidWorks can be licensed for a fraction of its msrp.

Other options recommended by both Doug and Jim are Alibre and Autocad, both also found on JourneyEd in academic editions. But when pressed to name the simplest design software, their answers were surprising: pencil and graph paper, straightedges, calipers, compasses, protractors, triangles, templates and cardboard.

Have fun working on your designs!