Letters from Fab Academy

The MIT Fab Lab has a distributed learning component (Fab Academy) where people located at other Fab Labs around the world can connect in via video conferencing systems for class lectures, etc. The remote participants then use their local equipment to do the lab exercises.  The academy basically followed the MIT course “How To build (almost) Anything)” over the last 9 months.  Students earned Certificates as they completed the 1-2wk segments on various digital fabrication tech, which combine to form the Diploma at the end of class. The first academy just completed with participants from

  • Barcelona
  • Amsterdam,
  • India
  • Ohio
  • COEP India
  • Iceland
  • Kenya
  • Rhode Island.
  • Shawn Wallace, member of AS220, the Providence, RI location (a community space like Maui Makers) has been posting “Letters From Fab Academy” to the Make Magazine blog.  They make very interesting and inspiring reading.  It is my hope that someday we can have a Maui Fab Lab participating in the Fab Academy.  Here are links to the 6 letters on Make:

  • Letters From the Fab Academy, Part 1 Make a Press-fit Construction Kit
  • Letters From the Fab Academy, Part 2 Making and programming circuit boards
  • Letters From the Fab Academy, Part 3 Mold making and casting
  • Letters from the Fab Academy, Part 4 3D Scanning
  • Letters from the Fab Academy, Part 5 Interfacing microcontrollers and applications
  • Letters From the Fab Academy, Part 6 Machine Design (DIY CNC bot)
  • Laser up and running again!

    The new HP desktop seems to be working fine, although it has to stop and think sometimes.  Amazing that with such great increases in computing and graphics power, the user experience is still pretty much what it was 20 years ago.

    Yesterday I burned some more flooring samples. I had to recreate (again) the artwork, since previous versions are stuck on my dead laptop – or the two host machines I used back in California for earlier tests (if owners havent deleted em yet.) The turtle logo is pretty easy now as I have some good starting art and know the basics of converting bitmap to outline objects in Corel Draw.  I havent tried that EngraveLab yet. The manufacturer’s web site touts “Free 1 Hour training for ALL new customers”, but when you go to sign up, it says “not available in conjunction with promotional package pricing”. They did say on Monday they would send me a PIN to take the training, but have yet to send it. Grrr. Another learning cliff to scale.

    Minwax stain pens in Red Mahogany and Ebony on bamboo flooring.

    Anyway, as I was wandering thru Home Depot on an unrelated excursion, I passed the MinWax stain display and decided to pick up some things to test.  They have some pens that hold stain – expensive for amount, but ease of application may count here.  I bought an ebony and a red mahogany  used them on the earlier floor samples with url. They worked pretty well. The text was too small to get the pen into but running it across the surface got enough into the etched portion, and the rest wiped off very easily.  I think the black ebony stands out a bit better. Not sure about the red on bamboo.

    Minwax stain and poly shades on bamboo.

    I also picked up a couple small cans of the regular Minwax stain. I got a regular stain/sealer in ebony and a PolyShades in Red Mahogany. I picked up some small artist brushes – not much selection at Home Depot! These worked pretty well, although some still got on the top surface.  This time it didnt wipe off as easily, but a little mineral spirits on a cloth and it looks pretty clean.  The polyshades should dry with a satin finish. Alas it seems I got some dust in it from somewhere – probably hay dust, given the four bales of alfalfa sitting less than 10 feet away. I gotta build a real workshop – and a horse shelter.

    Darker solid wood with logos and stain

    Next up I scanned the Wisteria Lane logo from a brochure they gave me. Thats the place from which I purchased my bamboo floor. They gave me a bunch of samples of different types of wood. This time Corel was not so forgiving with its outline creation.  It came out ok but its got the jaggies – not pixel aliasing, but weird bumpy curves.  I burned it and the turtle into a sample of solid darker wood, and then used the red mahogany polyshade stain on it.  Both of them came out looking pretty good – however I would rather have line art for starting point with the logo, especially if we want to make it any bigger.

    Boo Boo Zoo image on pine cutting board

    Then I scanned some artwork from a flyer from the Boo Boo Zoo (aka East Maui Animal Rescue). It converted pretty well with Corel, except it had a lot of white islands making up details.  The laser uses gray scale to determine power/cutting depth.  Earlier experiments showed that sometimes ‘white’ is not the same as Dont Etch. So I spent a bit of time removing the white objects.  I burned the image into a piece of white pine we had lying around.  It used to be a cutting board until my wife put it through the dish washer.  Do not put wood things in dishwasher – i keep telling her. Now she has an example of why.  The result looks pretty good, even before I try to remove the scorch marks.

    Turtle on pine cutting board pieces

    Last up is a test with the turtle on some of that cutting board pine.  I had to use two pieces of the board as the turtle is about 5 inches tall.  The upper piece was cleaned with a wet cloth and still shows some scorch/resin stains.  Dennis took some light sand paper to the lower piece and it removed all the marks very nicely.

    Thats about it for this round.  I only have another two days on island so I wont get around to finishing off the stairs this trip.  I need to figure out the alignment on those too.  The wood is already cut so I’d rather not make mistakes.  I also need to get some magnets so I can fool the door interlocks to operate the laser with larger pieces sticking out the front.

    Lasers In Maui!

    We now have a Laser Cutter/Etcher!!

    delivery van

    Laser gets delivered by Delivery People

    Crated Epilog Laser in my garage

    This afternoon (6/24/10) my Epilog Helix 24, 40 watt laser cutter finally arrived at my home in Haiku, HI (Maui).  The laser can do a variety of cutting and etching.  The manufacturer provides a good reference page that shows the types of materials that can be cut and/or etched.
    The laser shipped a week ago from Golden Colorado, via Los Angeles, Honolulu and finally to Maui.

    So far I’ve unboxed it (as you see in pictures) and realized I need the 4″ exhaust hoses to connect to the Harbor Freight ‘dust collector’ I brought over last week as my luggage. Its a noisy little beast but it will do for now.  I initially bought some basic vinyl dryer hose but the instructions say to use only metal hose.  Thats probably a good idea aside from the heat issues – the vinyl hose tends to collapse under the vacuum pulled by the dust collector.  The hose crushes into the fan inlet and stops sucking.

    Here are some pics from the unboxing:

    Unboxing the Epilog Laser

    Paper Carton Removed

    Air Assist Pump included, unboxed

    Palette has ramps with hooks that fit in slots.

    Ready To Roll off. Additional boards added at lip of garage.

    Ready to roll, waiting on Dennis to assist.

    Opened hood - etching software app included!

    Next level - Goodies!!

    Manuals, cables, pump, etc

    Sample materials, catalogs, etc

    Rotary attachment for round stuff (bottles, glasses, flashlights, etc)

    Next layer - honeycomb cutting table

    Bottom layer - z table to hold targets

    Off the palette - time to set up

    Laser Setup in Garage

    Opened right side to look around, Z table mechanism with air inlet on upper right

    Back side, air inlet in upper left, laser along top, exhaust at bottom center

    Ben Ward came to help and play

    My new island friend Ben Ward came over to help me set it up and play.  He brought the beer!

    First Burn!! Logo in two sizes

    Our first burn is the Maui Makers logo – turtle with URL. We did it in two sizes using Corel Draw.

    I’ve got a lot of reading and testing to do. The stairs in my house are the first big project.  Meanwhile the flooring people asked if they could have some more samples for a Home Expo today down at the Maui War Memorial Gymnasium. And of course, The Wife arrives today so I gotta clean the house first. Laser will have to wait.  But it is here and we have burned stuff!!

    Any Maui artists out there who would like to experiment with some new medium, drop me a line: jerry@mauiMakers.com  The primary software I have is Corel Draw, although they shipped me Engrave Lab.  We can start with any image – bitmap or line art – and then chose the target (wood, acrylic, metal) and try it.

    Me and My Laser!!

    Silhouette SD paper and vinyl cutter

    Paper Fabrication with Silhouette and ModelMaker

    Silhouette SD paper and vinyl cutter

    Silhouette (aka Craft Robo) paper and vinyl cutter

    I recently stumbled upon a great web site for teaching with paper crafting – DigitalFabrication.org is from the Curry Center for Technology and Teacher Education at U. Virginia. The site is mostly about using a Silhouette (aka Craft Robo), a desktop paper/vinyl cutting machine about the size of a small inkjet printer.

    Costume CampBells Soup Can

    Matt's costume Campbells Soup Can

    I have one of these machines and it is currently on-loan to CrashSpace. It does a good job cutting card-stock and vinyl.  One of the Crashers (Matt Pinner) used it to make a Campbell’s Soup costume with vinyl decals. Matt gave a class on using it back in May. I made some simple vinyl stickers for a car window.

    Back to the Digital Fab site … they have some good videos and FAQ on the site about using it for teaching kids using paper cutting/folding (aka Kirigami).  One really cool video is this one showing the creation of a rack and pinion system from card stock.

    They use a combination of Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw and a neat tool called fablab ModelMaker. The latter piece is a fairly low cost 3d modeler that drives the Silhouette and is targeted at schools/educational market.  They have a nice video showing kids from Punahou School (Oahu) using the machine with an inkjet printer to create ‘cereal boxes’ to learn math (although they may not know it.

    I emailed the creators of ModelMaker and learned they are working on a program to roll the software out to a few more Hawaiian schools.  Also the software can create STL files to output to the Fab@School 3D printer.  Since this is the same format used by Makerbot, I’m going to have to experiment with it for both of my machines!

    Mark Frauenfelder “Made By Hand” on Colbert Report

    Last night Mark Frauenfelder, editor in chief of Make Magazine and editor of BoingBoing, was on Colbert Report promoting his new book Made By Hand (published by Portfolio/Penguin).    cover of Made By Hand, by Mark Frauenfelder

    Its a fairly short interview (under 6min with intro) but fun to see.  Mark talks a bit about the joys of making things by hand, growing & raising animals, and demo’s a couple neat projects. One project is my friend and fellow Crasher Tod Kurt‘s TweetM – a wireless device that blinks its multi-colored LED when selected keywords are entered on Twitter.  Another is the world’s most useless machine – its only function is to turn itself off.   The book sounds like a great read – it doesnt have instructions (ala Make and Instructables) but rather tells the story behind the instructions, the why and experience of learning.

    I’ve been planning to get a copy at Mark’s long-planned visit to CrashSpace but alas it is scheduled for Wed June 30th – I’ll be on Maui that day.  We have had two way video feeds from CrashSpace with other spaces (notably Singapore last night), and the usual uStream channel.  Perhaps we can get something set up from a semi-public area in Maui and have a Maui Makers gathering?  It would be about 5pm Maui time since the LA event starts at 8pm.  Interested?

    Update June 15: Dangerous Minds posted longer interview with Mark (25min!).

    Robots And Dinosaurs — A Hackerspace Documentary (Sydney)

    Robots and Dinosaurs is a Sydney Australia hackerspace and recently a student filmmakers team made a sweet little documentary on the space. Its been covered over on Make:Online and on R&D’s own blog.  I’m including the YouTube embed here for easier viewing (and experience with embedding.)   Its a very nice short piece about the community of a hackerspace – what I’m hoping we can get at Maui Makers.  They do note that most spaces have an electronics focus.  While that will be a big part of Maui Makers, I am planning we will be more of a Fab Lab with additive (3d printing) and subtractive (cnc milling) manufacturing projects.  Over Memorial Weekend I attended the Tin Man Tech 4 Day Original Metalworking Intensive. on metal working. I’ll get a blog post on that up soon… shaping and welding sheet metal (Al & steel) is a lot of fun too!  Enjoy!!

    Desktop 3D Printing – Makerbot, RepRap et al

    One tech of the Fab Lab/Hackerspace is the 3D printer, where an object is created by adding successive layers of material. There are a wide range of materials used – from frosting and clay, to various plastics, ceramics and even metals. Professional 3D printers started back in late ’80s with 3D Systems Stereo Lithography, which uses a laser to harden layers of liquid plastic. Today there are multiple vendors selling machines (StratasysObjet, Z-Corp, Dimension), with various technologies (laser sintering powders, etc).  All of these start with a 3D computer model of the part, slice it up into layers and then draw the layers with or onto the medium.   Sometimes the medium is a homogenous layer on which the machine draws (eg laser sinter metal/plastic, laser plastic curing, etc.)   other times the machine extrudes the medium.  The part takes shape as successive layers are created.  Some tech allows for ‘support material’ that supports overhangs and small parts while higher layers are built. The support material is removed later using a solvent wash or mechanical means (cutting).

    All those neat commercial machines cost a fair chunk of money.  The ‘low priced’ HP branded DesignJet sells for about $17,500 (in europe). High end machines run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Not what small shops can afford!! There are a variety of service companies (eg Shapeways, RAPID Tech HI) to which you can upload designs and they will send you completed parts.  There is at least one directory of such service companies Rapid Today to help locate one nearby. (RAPID Technologies is our closest in Honolulu.)

    On the other hand, there is the whole world of DIY hackers.  The granddaddy of the DIY 3D Printer is the RepRap – self replicating rapid prototyper.  They are currently on their 2nd generation design (Mendel) and are completely free and open source.  All designs and software are downloadable from the web.  There are a variety of child projects such as Fab@Home and Makerbot CNC.   I own a Makerbot Cupcake CNC, known as Goldbot.  It was built during a 3 day ‘Make-In” at CrashSpace in December 2009.  It will be one of the first machines available at Maui Makers.  The advent of these DIY tinkerer boxes was recently reported by the LA Times in the May 29 “These ‘printers’ make 3-D stuff” by Nathan Olivarez-Giles.  The article opens with Jay Leno’s use of a commercial machine to create parts for his antique car collection, and then moves quickly on to Sean Bonner of CrashSpace and Bre Pretis from Makerbot.  It closes with a quote from yours truly!  It also includes photos from Nathan’s visit to CrashSpace.

    GoldBot and friends, (Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times / February 23, 2010)

    At present I am not the best evangelist for DIY 3D Printers. The current batch are definitely a tinkerers machine.  They take a lot of care and fussing to get good consistent results.  Some people have lots of success and I know some who actually make commercial parts with their machines. Alas, I am not in that category.  Goldbot suffers from a common malady of Makerbots – poor plastic feed.  The Makerbot uses a plastic wire (ABS or PLA) that it pushes down into a heat chamber and out a nozzle (a Plastruder).  One of the common failure modes is for the drive wheel to fail to properly grip the wire and slip, stopping the feed.  There are several reasons this happens and the Makerbot designers are all over the problem.  The new MK5 Plastruder has a new drive wheel that can be used in a MK4 Plastruder.  This, along with the redesigned heater and barrel of the MK5 should greatly reduce errors.  I am looking forward to installing one on Goldbot later this year, after I complete the move to Maui.

    Design of parts is also an issue for all 3d printing.  You need some type of 3D CAD program – and these can be very expensive.  There are low cost/free alternatives, such as Google SketchUp and Blender, but all of them carry a learning curve – sometimes its pretty steep, more of a learning cliff.  3D Scanners exist (including DIY ones!) that can scan an existing object to create a 3d model.  After creating the raw model, the objects must be converted to proper format for the 3D printer.  This includes cutting it in layers and designing the tool path (speeds, geometry, etc).   The Makerbot tool chain includes several alternatives that are free.  The primary tool is SkeinForge which is really more of a collection of tools that handle various steps in the process.  SkeinFox is a Mac OSX application that simplifies control of SkeinForge.  There are LOTS of parameters to consider – some of which make a big difference in printing success, others dont seem to have much effect at all.  It takes a fair bit of experience to know what to tweak.  Then again, I have been fairly successful using some of the pre-canned parameter sets.

    3D Printing will be a feature of Maui Makers.  Goldbot will be available for tinkerers. I plan to get some more experience with it myself so I can help others learn about the process and create.  There will, in time, be a wiki page tree for using our 3D printer.  I’ll update this post with links then.

    Maui Techies Dinner 4/29/10

    Last night the Maui Techies from TechHui.com gathered for a dinner at Asian Star in Wailuku.  It was a nice venue – quiet, open and good food (Vietnamese) – but lacked WiFi.  I had never been to this part of the island before – its a more industrialized area with auto body shops, small business offices, etc.  Quite a contrast from the usual image of our island – but a welcome one.  We do have small industry here.

    There were probably between 15-20 people there, with some leaving a bit early and some arriving fairly late.  I got there about 6:20 and found about 6 people at a big table. It was obvious who they were.  People trickled in for then next half hour as we ordered up some family style grub & drinks.  Reichart showed off his iPad and apps. We all ohh’d and ahhh’d and exchanged comments on John Stewart’s recent rant about Apple and Gizmodo… and views on development for apple platforms etc.  (btw check out Mr Jalopy’s rework of S. Job’s anti-flash statement) As more people came in the table filled up and conversation volume increased. I got lost in talking with Larry McCarty about education, Garrett Lisi about theoretical physics, etc.  After food I moved around a bit and met Doug Nelson and his wife Susan and a few more folks.

    Susan was quite interesting.  She (and Doug) are involved with South Maui Sustainability, and she pointed me at the related Upcountry Sustainability group.  Both are working on projects to encourage sutainability (balancing human activity in our ecosystem for long term futures).  The South Maui site has a good thread on “What is Sustainability.”  As the owner of a couple acres in Ha’iku and a long time garden putterer (aside from being a hard core Geek), I look forward to exploring these in the future.  There are lots of opportunity for hacking and making in this area. Its a lot of what the Fab Labs around the world work on for local projects!

    I am sure there will be many more meetings of the Maui Techies. You might consider signing up on TechHui. The site sends notices of forum updates, but doesnt include the text, forcing you to go to the web site to read them. I’ll try and post notices before hand here and maybe someday get a mail list working for maui makers.

    More later – I’ve got carpet to rip out so we can paint and get flooring in before The Wife arrives.

    23b Shop sign

    Visit to 23b Shop in Fullerton, CA

    On Saturday April 17, The hackerspace 23b Shop in Fullerton CA had an open house and giant birthday party for Amber.  I had read up on the space a while back and wanted to check them out, so I drove down mid-afternoon.  I should have checked sigalert before driving, as the I-5 had some serious delays and it wound up taking me almost 2.5hr to drive 70miles.  The space is tucked away in an alley of an industrial park, with little to distinguish it from the more commercial neighbors.   They do have a rather unique sign in their window…

    23b Shop sign

    Sign in window for 23b Shop - Dolphins with flamethrowers vs Unicorns with guns!!

    Anyway, 23B Shop is different from many other places I’ve seen.  It was formed by a group of friends who wanted a place to hang out and setup their machines.  Unlike many hackerspaces, 23B has welding and machine tools in its inventory – perfect for making the odd killamajig and gunsmithing.  It s a fairly small space – about 1000 sq ft not including the ‘storage’ loft.  The most prominent feature is the UV curtained off welding area – those orange curtains do stand out!  It holds a small bench with Oxy/Acetylene, MIG and TIG welders.  Behind this are a good sized lathe, a Smithy mill, drill press, horizontal & vertical band saws, grinders, etc.  They have a sand blasting glove box chamber, and a kitchen oven modified for powder coating outsized objects.  They’ve also got a small electronics bench, and a foundry, etc.  Quite a bit to cram into a small space.  The space had a storage loft in the back when they moved in.  They scrounged up some cool honeycomb composite flooring and made it serviceable for people – creating a lounge with a couch, tables and small liquor cabinet upstairs along with the overflow storage.

    View from doorway into 23b Shop

    View from doorway into 23b Shop

    Some of the machine tools on back wall

    Another view of the machine tool corner

    Electronics bench in back corner

    The 23b Shop folks are true hackers of the old school.  They are long time attendees of Defcon and several are Security Goons.  These are definitely folks I’d prefer to have on my side.  They were quite a likable and friendly bunch.  They had set up a small inflatable pool in the drive way, complete with air bubbler – unfortunately using the bubbler kicked off the air compressor completely overwhelming any conversation.  They also had a decent outdoor dj/music rig setup complete with flashing lights.  I had to leave about 8:30pm, just as the party was getting rolling.   It was a good time and I enjoyed meeting the 23b Shop people.  They are welcome to visit us at Maui Makers – when we have a space!

    23b Shop crew chillin outside

    Chicks, rollerskates, automatic (airsoft) weapons and alcohol - Yeah! Thats Amber the b-day girl in green.

    A Visit to NYC Resistor

    A week ago I posted that I was going to visit NYCResistor and take a class on April 10 2010. Sorry it has taken a week to update but life intervened.

    I took the subway out from midtown Manhattan where I was staying and arrived about a half hour early.  NYCResistor is located a short walk from the subway station in a non-descript brick building on a not too busy/not too quiet street. The doorway is barely marked and might be easily missed. Visitors may need to call to get the front door unlocked.  Once inside there is a cool LED light directing you up four flights of well worn wooden stairs to the space.  The space itself is has nice high ceilings and is HUGE.  I briefly visited their previous digs back in December and this new space is much bigger. They have a big open room up front for classes, a couple side offices (one is home to their Epilog laser cutter), and another even bigger room back through the arches that houses ongoing projects. There were a few folks working on projects in the back room when I arrived, and some others puttering about, doing improvements on the space, etc.  The coolest project in this back room at the time I visited was a pair of Makerbot Plastruder Mark 5 prototypes undergoing stress tests.  Zach et al had set up a pair of laser cut acrylic boxes into which the plastuders were oozing out a steady stream of black ABS plastic.  I got to meet Zach briefly – quite a pleasure for me, he (like the rest of the folks there) was friendly and fun to chat with.  He said the plastruders had been running continuously for 24-48+hours!  That beats the heck out of the 20 min or so I get out of the Mark 4 on Goldbot (my Makerbot Cupcake).  They still have some issues to work out but I am excited to see this development.

    Front Room of NYCResistor

    I was at NYCResistor to take Shelby Arnold’s class in Paper Engineering.  Basically this is paper folding to make popup cards and books.  Shelby passed around a nice tutorial book – Elements of Pop up: A Pop Up Book For Aspiring Paper Engineers. It is loaded with how-tos and examples. I ordered myself  a copy from amazon after the class. Shelby then showed us how to make a number of basic popups for simple cards. I made a half dozen or so in the hour+ of the class.  Mine were plain white with no decorations – simple engineering prototypes.  Others in the class (about 14 total) were much more artistic – tacking on decorative flourishes.  One person even made a pair of popup cards showing robots walking in a city – second card showed the flaming aftermath.  It was a fun introduction to the craft. I wish there was time to go deeper and try out their CraftRobo machine, but alas there wasnt time. (also the machine was not set up.)  I’ll just have to wait till I have some time to experiment on my own.

    Simple popup card I made during class

    After the Paper Engineering class, Raphael Abrams was teaching a Soft Circuit class.  It was listed as sold out so I had not pre-registered. It was also scheduled to end about 5:30 which I initially thought would be too late for me to make it back to Manhattan for the party my wife was expecting me to attend.  However, Raphael said he would gladly let me take the class for cash payment and since subway travel was quick, I dropped $30.  It was quite fun although it ran long and I had to bug out well before the end.  Raphael had us make a simple LED circuit with a battery pouch.  The conductive thread is really hard to work with. You need to cut it with a sharp knife to avoid any dangling bits that could cause shorts, etc. It is fat and not easy to thread into a needle (dang these aging eyes!), and then easily slips out.  It also tangles and knots itself quite easily so hand sewing is tricky.  I did manage to get a pair of white LEDs wired up properly (in parallel).  Raphael had some conductive tape which I put down over a coil of thread on one end of the circuit. The other end was attached to half of a metal snap that I sewed onto a small piece of felt that was then attached over the tape creating a pocket. Inserting the battery into the pocket in the correct orientation closed the circuit and lights up the LEDs.  Raphael had some more advanced projects planned, but by the time I got mine working, it was 5:45 and I had to bug out for the train. I wish I had stayed longer – the party was delayed an hour!  I am looking forward to working with more soft circuits in the future.  There is talk CrashSpace might host a class, which would be great… if I’m still here on mainland.  Otherwise, we will have to do ourselves in Maui!

    Soft Circuit class at NYCResistor

    My simple LED soft circuit works! Next step is to add the battery pocket.

    My simple LED soft circuit - before battery pocket.