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.

DIY Paper Engineering, Die/Vinyl cutters

I’m traveling on the mainland this week. Just spent a couple daze in Salt Lake City and off to NYC tomorrow.  Mostly this trip is for family purposes but on Saturday I’m going to be at NYCResistor taking a class in DIY Paper Engineering.  I am jazzed to be able to take a class at this hackerspace – both to learn paper engineering and to check out a class at an established hackerspace.  The topic came to my attention back when I posted to the Google for Maui discussion.  I later found a really cool post/video on Tangible learning in 21st century Digging a bit further I found the author Shaunna Smith is at U. Houston and giving a tutorial about this on Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education (SITE) on this (link to preview).  Both of these talk about using a computer die cutting system like the Craft Robo and Silhouette both of which are under $300.  NYC Resistor has one (more?) of these and I’m thinking it would be a really inexpensive bit of hardware for MauiMakers.  I’ll post more after the class and let you know.

Btw, I’ll be on island tween April 23-30 and would love to get together with folks.  Drop me an email if you want to suggest a time/place.

jerry at mauimakers dot com

Desktop Fab, Basic Machining and CNC

Desktop fabrication, as discussed in Gersenfeld’s book (Fab: The Coming Revolution on your desktop), and the related Fab Labs pretty much stick to the new small devices – laser cutters, small CNC routers, etc. However manufacturing has long used computers for fabrication on larger machines. CNC (Computer Numeric Control) has been around for a few decades, with Numeric Control predating it by a few more. The underlying machines (lathes, mills, etc) have been around for quite a bit longer.

As I got started on my path to Maui Makers in ernest last summer, I found a local adult school here in So Cal had classes in welding, basic machinist and CNC operation/programming. The welding class is highly regarded and has a 6mo waiting list. I put my name on the list and then turned to the CNC classes. The school (Simi Valley Adult School) requires new students to start with the Basic Machinist class unless they have significant experience and can test out of the class. Since I had minimal experience, I signed up and started the class. It was a great experience learning to use a metal lathe, surface grinder, vertical milling machine, etc. The class has print reading and math components as well as hands on creation of 8 projects. The projects lead you through the basics of using the machines -turning, boring, drilling, milling, tapping, threading, tapers, etc. The print reading was pretty simple for me – thanks to that drafting class way back in high school, before the age of CAD.

The math was very basic review… Odd tidbit here. The instructor (Oygar, great guy) told me american students have a much easier time with the math than europeans and others who grow up with the metric system. Much of the math involves fractions – basic add/subtract/multiply/divide, as well as conversion to/from decimals. This is very important when using SAE/English measurements (inches, feet), since those regularly use 1/4, 1/32, 1/64 etc. People in metric based countries apparently dont do a lot of work with fractions in regular schooling. Anyway, i had no problems with the math portion.

The Basic Machinist section took me a bit over 6 calendar months to complete, mostly because I took off from mid-Nov till end of January. It was very instructive and FUN to learn the bridgeport mill and metal lathes. I got clothes reeking of machine oil now, and a few more scars on my hands. It was a lot of good fun – and I developed a whole new level of respect and understanding of the basic manufacturing biz. Now I’m on to the CNC class – which is pretty trivial basic cartesian coords plus manually creating G-code to run the big Haas CNC machines the facility has. Manually writing cnc code is a pain and nearly archaic approach since there are lots of good CAD/CAM tools that eliminate the need to work in the machine code. However, just like knowing computer assembler (machine code) is (IMHO) essential for software engineers to understand the computer, it is important for CAM designers to understand.  I’ve also been learning g-code as my Makerbot runs on it. The Haas has a much more elaborate set of commands it understands, but essentially its all g-code. pretty cool.

I’ve also started the welding class at SVAS. I think these basic manufacturing skills are essential and am considering including a mill and lathe in the equipment I put in my workshop.  There are some nice small CNC bots as noted on the CrashSpace wiki.  Having one of these would be a great compliment to a laser cutter. A big Haas CNC would be nice, but they are quite a bit more expensive!

Google Fiber for Maui – Digital Fabrication, Fab Lab, Physical Computing, Hackerspaces

Here is some preliminary prose I wrote for the Google Fiber For Maui initiative. It could also be considered the seeds of a business plan for Maui Makers.

The benefits of broadband are not limited to online experiences. Digital fabrication and physical computing are two areas that draw on internet connections, especially when combined with social interaction and education.

Digital Fabrication combines computing and manufacturing technologies to create physical objects directly from computer models. Tools include laser /plasma/water cutters, CNC (Computer Numeric Controlled) mills/lathes, 3D Printers (aka Rapid Prototypers), and electronics workstations.

Physical Computing refers to the use of sensors and actuators with micro-controllers to interact with the physical world, and especially people. It is often used as a way to teach computing technologies to non-engineers such as artists, architects, and designers.

Fab Labs are small scale, high tech workshops providing the basic digital fabrication tools to “make almost anything” (furniture, electronics, replacement parts, etc). While Fab Labs began at MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, they have expanded to over 40 locations in over 16 countries. MIT is now developing the Fab Academy program to provide instruction and supervision to Fab Labs around the world, using video collaboration and lectures from global faculty. Combining local facilities with remote instructors creates distributed rather than distance education.

Yet Fab Labs are a large scale, academic enterprise, requiring tens of thousands of dollars of capital investment, often requiring support of an established college. Hackerspaces are an alternative form of collaboration and education in digital fabrication and computing arising from a community of interested people – sometimes known as Makers. There are hundreds of such spaces around the world. They meet in local spaces, sharing ideas, projects, tools, and often collaborate with other spaces.

Makers at hackerspaces, fab labs and independently use the net to collaborate and share. Sites such as Thingiverse, Instructables, WonderHowTo, VideoJug provide archives of instructional videos and downloadable designs. Make Magazine has its web with very active blog and a growing list of local Maker Faires, where people come together to share their creations.

A community connected with broadband fiber, and a center for digital fabrication could provide an official Fab Academy, as well as an active contributing member of the international Hackerspace and Maker communities.

A Maui based, broadband supported, fab center would also provide an excellent host for workshops and conferences. Maui already is a prime destination for vacations and conferences, with excellent resources such as hotels, excursions, family activities, etc.