Completed Stairs with Laser Etch, Photo Etching

A long-in-process project here at home has been laser etching the stairs in my home.  I had new bamboo flooring put in, and that included the stairs to the loft.  The project took several months because I was commuting back and forth between Maui and So Cal.  Last visit I got all the panels etched and painted.  Yesterday the installer came out and completed the job.  It looks great!

Completed stairs with laser etched turtles

My dogs made it to Maui too.

The flooring is actually a composite product called Solid Bamboo Flooring from Wisteria Lane Flooring.  The bamboo fibers are woven and sealed with resin and 7 layers of finish.  The result is a hard durable floor that resists dings and scratches much better than regular bamboo floors. The snap-together pieces made installing very quick – except for cutting around odd corners, etc.

The turtle is a petroglyph commonly seen here on the island.  I imported an image and tweaked it a bit in photoshop/corel paint.  Then I used my Epilog Helix 24 40watt laser to burn the image into the panels using 40% speed and 100% power raster settings.  I ran the burn twice on each to increase the depth.  One thing I learned on this exercise was to be careful to remove all the ‘white’ areas.  Early tests had some slightly less white and this caused a light bit of the finish to be etched, giving a hazy or scuffed look.  The risers are about 38 inches wide, which made them too big to fit inside the 24″wx18″d workspace of the Helix.  The front door of the laser opens and there are two small magnetic safety switches inside. Putting magnets on these defeated the safety overides (with a bit of fiddling).  (insert disclaimer – dont do this at home).

Bottom and top steps have turtles on each end. Other steps alternate left/right.

After etching, I painted two coats of Minwax Ebony satin finish stain into the etched area to give it much darker look. I put a coat of Minwax polyurethane on top of that to seal it.  The excess stain and sealer that got on the non-etched surface simply wiped away when wet.  If it dried, a bit of mineral spirits on a cloth wiped it away.  There was some bleeding of the ebony stain into the surrounding bamboo by capillary action, but it was minimal.

When I started I thought I’d put the etchings on both sides, but then realized that might look a bit too busy.  So we compromised with putting two etchings on the top and bottom risers and alternating left and right for the intermediate steps.  I think the effect works quite well.  I am glad to have finally completed the job!

Other Laser Tests – Photo Etching

Photo etched on baltic birch. iPhone pic so not best quality image.

A while back I also tried doing some more tests with photographs.  We snapped a quick shot of my step-son and his girlfriend, who were visiting. Some photo manipulation to make it a simple gray scale image and then a light burn into 1/8″ baltic birch plywood.  The result was very satisfying!  Fine grained wood like baltic birch seems to be best for photos like this.  The bamboo was far too large grained, and pine was ver very uneven in density.

Art-Science Education Hackers and Govt Support

There are some interesting movements going on over on the mainland that I caught wind of this week:

First – Arts, Science and Makerspaces

The National Endowment For Arts (NEA) blog has a post up on Alt.Art-Sci: We Need New Ways of Linking Arts and Sciences.

“A recent National Science Foundation (NSF)-National Endowment for the Arts workshop sought to re-think the ways that the arts and sciences are being linked today and how the agencies might jointly promote new emerging areas of research and cultural development. Participants included artists, scientists, and research engineers, but also university deans and directors of alternative art-science spaces.”

There are more workshops in the works, including one next year on  “Art as a Way of Knowing”.  Part of the article is on how arts and science/technology have supported each other in the past (Leonardo DV, Gothe, etc.) and sometimes been opposed (artists rejecting tech and technologists not being into art).  Another part is on learning and teaching in non-conventional places (eg maker spaces/community groups vs university).

Personally, I have little artistic skills myself but I greatly enjoy collaborating with artists. I think most of the best projects I’ve worked on were such collaborations.  Tech by itself can be rather stale and lacking.  Artists can add creative vision, pushing the envelope and brining life to a project. Computer animation before Pixar tended to be this way.  There were some very good artists in the biz, but most of the work tended to be flat and unemotional.  Then came that little bouncy lamp, brining in all sorts of classical animation techniques, and Yahoo! it was fun.

I very much look forward to working with artists in our makerspace.  I hope we can establish some good working relations with various existing art communities around the island, like Hui No`eau Visual Arts Center and the Lahaina Arts Society.    Chime in! Refer your friends!

Second – National Fab Lab Network Act of 2010

A bill is working its way through US congress “To provide for the establishment of the National Fab Lab Network to build out a network of community based, networked Fabrication Laboratories across the United States to foster a new generation with scientific and engineering skills and to provide a work force capable of producing world class individualized and traditional manufactured goods.

Full text:

The bill has been referred to the Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation. No Hawaiian reps sit on this subcommittee.

I dont know how much I really want a federally sponsored bureaucracy directing Fab Labs and similar spaces.  They want to set one up for each 700,000 people, which is a lot larger than our island. Maybe if its like NEA and NSF giving out grants without jerking the strings, but I dont want to be stuck with their curriculum and testing.   It probably wont get out of committee this year but its something to note.

Lastly – The Atlantic on Hackers

The Atlantic has two related articles up on Hackers and education.  In the September issue Gabriella Coleman’s “The Anthropology of Hackers” talks about the various aspects and influences on the computer hacker culture.  Ms Coleman teaches a class at NYU on the topic and the article reviews her syllabus with links to source material the class reads.  It is well worth the read to help distinguish between types of hackers, and gain insight into origins and influences. However, she only touches on the joy of making and leaves out the entire world of crafting and makers… for now.

The October issue article “School for Hackers” by Mark Frauenfelder (Make Magazine, picks up where Ms Coleman left off.   Mark talks about the DIY movement and educational changes…

“When a kid builds a model rocket, or a kite, or a birdhouse, she not only picks up math, physics, and chemistry along the way, she also develops her creativity, resourcefulness, planning abilities, curiosity, and engagement with the world around her. But since these things can’t be measured on a standardized test, schools no longer focus on them. As our public educational institutions continue down this grim road, they’ll lose value as places of learning. That may seem like a shame, but to the members of the growing DIY schooling movement, it’s an irresistible opportunity to roll up their sleeves.”

Yeah Mark!! He’s my hero.

The Open Manufacturing discussion list has picked up on Mark’s article with a lively conversation.

Update: Two more articles in this vein…

Ten people at First Maui Maker Meeting

We had a meetup at Ben’s house yesterday (Sept 16, 2010) – our first real Maui Maker specific meetup!  There were 10 people there (not counting Ben’s two boys and visitor).  Ben and Hiro provided pizza and fish tacos, and drinks.  The meeting started about 7:30pm and the last of us left at about 11:45pm – sorry it was so late Ben/Hiro!

First Maui Makers Meeting: L2R Jerry I (me), JerryB, BrianT, ColeS, Dave, Wayne,BenW, Garret, Crystal, and Hiro

We had a lot of good round table discussion as well as introductions.  It was very encouraging to see all the people with enthusiasm for the space.  We are working on getting the biz aspects established and looking at physical spaces.  There are a few different spaces available at Hali’imaile in the Maui Land and Pineapple Co buildings.  Some are huge quonset huts, some open sheds and perhaps a few smaller closed office type space.  The range offers options for expansion if/when we grow and/or need larger project spaces.  We dont yet know what the ML&P folks think but we’re pursuing it from several angles.   Stay Toon’d!

Building the Solarbotics Beetlebot

In mid-August I received a Solarbotics Beetlebot robot kit for review.  According to my friend at Evergreen Solar, this is a beginners, no-solder kit featuring a simple bump-and-turn robot that looks kinda like a beetle, especially when you add the stickers Solarbotics includes:

Beetlebot With Cover

Beetlebot cover removed

Connor and Shion show off Bot in bag before build

Since this is a simple, no solder kit intended for young kids, I figured it would not be fully fair to build and review it by myself.  I recruited my friend Ben who volunteered his son Shion (8yo, 3rd grade).  We set up for a sunday afternoon build and dinner.  Shion’s brother Hugh, and Shion’s friend Connor (4th grade) were both there and excited about the robot.  We unpacked the kit, putting the screws and other small parts into small bowls so they didnt get lost.

Shion building the bot

The other boys helped a bit at first, reading directions and helping with screws, but enthusiasm waned a bit when it became apparent this is really a one-person project.  Shion kept at it, with a bit of help from myself and his dad on occasion and was able to complete the build in about 1hr 45min. He said it was lots of fun. The best part was figuring out the wiring and hooking it up.  (wait till we try the arduino breadboard kits on him!) He thought the BeetleBot would be a good kit to do with his fellow scouts. He also thought it should have a solar cell on it since the company is called “Solarbotics”.  Sounds like a lesson in hacking is due!

Shion with finished bot

I’d recommend having a kit for each kid, and having a few parents hanging around to help out.  However, parents need to be careful about jumping in and doing too much!  Enthusiastic dads need to curb their enthusiasm and remember its the kid’s project. (not that Ben and I jumped in too much… just general advice).

The instructions that come with the kit need a bit of work for this level of audience.  Perhaps some drawings instead of photographs to illustrate some steps. Step 5 was misprinted in our kit and an errata page was included.  Some of the screw holes were very tight and hard for kids to handle. Other holes seemed quite loose.  Running the screws through holes first may help thread the holes.  Some other review sites have recommended hot glue to hold loose screws.

Testing the wall bouncing

Kitten checking out the Bot

Ground clearance was an issue for us on first tests, causing the bot to not move or to move in a tight circle. This wasn’t mentioned in the instructions, but we found the battery case and some other underside items may contact the ground. Having a flat surface (table) with light behind it allows you to look between and find contact points that can be adjusted around.  Tightening screws and setting the tail drag height fixed these.

Overall I found it to be a pretty decent kit for kids of about this age (7-9) with adult supervision.  Check out some of the other reviews for additional info and hints:

Catalog, instructions and finished beetlebot