crossbeams, building, making, maker

Building Fun with Crossbeams

Crossbeams – Building Made Easy (and Fun!)

We caught up with Charles Sharman, creator of the most-excellent building toy, Crossbeams. His story is exactly what we’re all about at Maker Bolder – seeing an opportunity and making something to meet the need.  Here’s his story.

The Aim of Crossbeams

“Dad, can we make a maglev train?” This question, posed by my five-year-old son, sparked the beginning of Crossbeams.  Whether it’s a spaceship, a skyscraper, an animal, or a maglev train, all of us want to make and create.  It’s in our blood.  But when it comes to actually doing it, the task can be overwhelming.  You may have to know trigonometry, algebra, mechanics, thermodynamics, electronics, art, drafting, machining, and more.  I designed Crossbeams to simplify the building task.  You dream, and Crossbeams helps you create.

Many creative platforms exist for younger ages.  Yet many younger active creators become passive consumers as they age, immersed in video games, social media, smart phones, and television.  I designed Crossbeams to hold the interest of older and advanced creators.

Dreams to Reality

Making Crossbeams’ a reality wasn’t easy, particularly with a full-time job and family.  First, I had to enhance my knowledge. During late nights and early mornings, I taught myself mechanics, gear design, and machining.  I studied the limitations of current building systems and identified enhancements.  A plethora of piece-types limits some building systems.  According to Mark Changizi and others building system’s creativity is enhanced by minimizing piece-types an maximizing the ways pieces connect.  Delicacy limits some building systems.  I wanted a model car that could crash into the wall without disintegrating.  Finally, straight lines and boxiness limits some building systems.  I wanted to accurately replicate lines and surfaces.

Next, I needed a way to try out pieces in a complete model without blowing the bank on prototyping costs.  I wanted to ensure models
looked appealing and the piece-types were minimal.  I created the Crossbeams Modeller, a software tool to virtually connect Crossbeams pieces.
I started with three core models:

I believed a building toy that could closely replicate these models could closely replicate many more.  Initially, the models took more than 160 piece-types.  After much work, I narrowed it to the 47 piece-types used today.

crossbeams, engineering, maker, making, STEAM, boulder

Crossbeams can be assembled to support great weights and pressures.

Finally, I needed a sturdy joint that locks pieces much more strongly than the joints in children’s building toys.  Children’s building toys use friction-based joints; the force to connect is equal to the force to disconnect.  That causes an inherent trade-off.  If you make it stronger, you make it harder to assemble.  Instead, I based my joint on a cotter pin two-motion joint.  A two-motion joint unrelates the join force and separation force.  I started with a cotter pin, and it evolved into our patented, simple slide-and-twist joint.

The Future of Crossbeams

While Crossbeams has captured much of its original intent, we still have far to go.  Ages 10-12 and 20+ make our largest customer base. We haven’t captured the hearts of young adults, for whom the system was intended.

We designed Crossbeams from the ground up to handle electronics but later tabled electronics to maintain our debt-free principle.  Most of the electronics package is designed and ready.  Once sales grow, we can make my son’s maglev.

Success won’t be judged by money in the bank but by a sampling of society.  Whether it’s Crossbeams, musical compositions, stories, or painting, once young adults are known for their creating instead of their consuming, our work is done.

Brainy, improv, laughter

The Brainy Benefits of Improvising!

In the world of brainy research, play is getting a pretty good rap right now. Scientists are actively studying the benefits of play on brain development. Let’s not forget about one of the best benefits of Improv – laughing!  Laughter not only exercises our muscles and makes us breathe, it also decreases stress hormones and improves our immune systems!  Here are some of the other amazing benefits of “brainy play!”

Putting the Brakes on Perfectionism

For those of us who suffer from perfectionism and it’s unpleasant manifestations (over-thinking, mental paralysis, undershooting, self-criticism) there is hope!

Charles Limb is a surgeon who studies creativity at John Hopkins University. Using fMRI technology, Limb looked at the brains of musicians while playing a memorized piece of music and compared it to their brain while improvising off the same music. Limb discovered that improvising activated the self-expression portion of the brain while simultaneously deactivating the self-censoring part of the brain.

Limb’s work stresses that as we allow the self-monitoring part of the brain to rest and the self-expressive part of the brain to come to the forefront, we open the door to the creative mind. So not only to we get a rest from the judge in our head, we invite the muse to play.

For Charles Limb’s TedTalk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MkRJG510CKo

Brainy Play Creativity and Creative Problem Solving

In addition to Limb’s work, researchers have been studying the benefits of imaginative play, which really is another form of improvisation, on a child’s ability to creatively solve problems. The following studies all focus on children.

Wyver and Spence (1999) examined two types of problems: I’ll call them simple and complex (really convergent and divergent problem solving)  and the effects that play had on the ability to solve these types of problems.  Among other things, this study revealed a significant relationship between pretend play and complex (divergent) problem solving.

Most problems in life require complex thinking so enhancing the ability to use creative problem-solving is as intuitive as it gets.

Family fun with Improv!

Family fun with Improv!

Improves Language Skills

Studies have demonstrated a connection between imaginative or pretend play and language skill acquisition.

One psychologist, Edward Fisher (1992) reviewed 46 studies on the cognitive benefits of brainy play. This mega-analysis (aka meta-analysis) revealed that children who participate in dramatic play improve their performance both from a cognitive-linguistic as well as a social affective perspective.

Sounds pretty technical but I think you get it. While language acquisition is clearly important to children, it’s usefulness is with us our whole lives. Being able to express and communicate effectively with others is at the center of most of our interactions and relationships.

Improves Self Regulation and Reasoning

As we continue to see the importance that emotional intelligence (EQ) has on future career and relationship success, it only makes sense that understanding how to activate and develop this in individuals is super critical.

Scientists studying the effects of imaginative play on self-regulation and the ability to reason discovered that the frequency of pretend play in children was correlated with their ability to self regulate. Self-regulation includes managing emotions, impulses and focusing attention – all important aspects to the development of emotional intelligence. I am convinced we would all be happier if we were better self-regulators.

More about the research at: http://www.parentingscience.com/benefits-of play.html#sthash.iFJsLPzZ.dpuf or http://ecrp.uiuc.edu/v4n1/bergen.html

More Improv Please!

Hopefully you are convinced that practicing and doing improvisation/imaginative play can have some pretty great side effects. If this article has peaked your interest, I will venture to make some suggestions. Keep in mind, I am not a scientist (ok- maybe at heart).

First off, life is an improvisation, so in some ways you are activating all these part of your brain everyday. But if you are wanting to increase your creativity, problem-solving, self-regulation, etc. while putting the brakes on your inner critic it makes sense to me that finding a way to improvise could be the ticket.

So if you’re a musician, you can spend more time improvising as opposed to playing memorized pieces.

Otherwise, taking an improv comedy class is a great way to access the imaginative side of your brain. You will play brainy games that get you out of your head and access your creative side. The more you do it, the more you will experience that sense of creative self-expression flowing from you. Plus, you will probably laugh more than you have in months – seriously – and we all know the benefits of laughter on the body, but that’s a whole other blog.

About Pam Farone

Pam Farone is a career satisfaction coach and improv instructor focused on creating joyful careers and cheerful work environments.

www.pamfarone.com

Resources

Buchsbaum D, Bridgers S, Skolnick Weisberg D, Gopnik A. 2012. The power of possibility: causal learning, counterfactual reasoning, and pretend play. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 367(1599):2202-12. – See more at: http://www.parentingscience.com/benefits-of-play.html#sthash.iFJsLPzZ.dpuf

Fisher, Edward P. (1992). The impact of play on development: A meta-analysis. Play and Culture, 5(2), 159-181.

Limb CJ, Braun AR. Neural substrates of spontaneous musical performance: an FMRI study of jazz improvisation. PLoS One. 2008; 3(2):e1679. PMID: 18301756; PMCID: PMC2244806.

Walker CM and Gopnik A. 2013. Pretense and possibility–a theoretical proposal about the effects of pretend play on development: comment on Lillard et al. (2013). Psychol Bull. 139(1):40-4.

Wyver, Shirley R., & Spence, Susan H. (1999). Play and divergent problem solving: Evidence supporting a reciprocal relationship. Early Education and Development, 10(4), 419-444. EJ 593 718.

Meet a Maker: Arieann with Kitables

Arieann has a long standing passion for taking ideas and running with them. Graduating with a Bachelor’s in Cell Science and a minor and Chemistry, she spent the next five years wandering the world of academic research, before starting a company of her own. She is now Founder/CEO of Kitables and Executive Director of Spark Boulder. A fan of perpetual learning and exploration, as well as an entrepreneur by nature, she loves building whether that’s an actual project, a company, or helping strengthen the amazing entrepreneurial community of Boulder.

What do you make?
I make companies and communities, and I used to get to do cool chemistry side projects but not for a while… (running 2 companies doesn’t leave a lot of r IMG_8056oom for tinkering.)

How did you get started making and why?
Ever since I can remember, I’ve always been a builder. Although I was never a ”let’s take the remote apart” kinda kid. I was more “ok I have 2 pieces of plywood, an ice cube, and a piece of broccoli” I’m just gonna build something kind of kid. I cleared a 3rd grade class because I refused to read the directions on my chemistry kit and just threw some stuff together that started smoking and the teacher freaked out.

The “why” actually has a lot to do with my upbringing. My father was a fixer and a contractor professionally and my mother was very into crafts so I grew up thinking that’s just how things were done. Also I was a massively independent person from a young age and you learn how to get “it” done when you are like that.

What part of STEAM Fest are you most excited for?
Showing off Kitables new offerings, we’ve got a really cool kit coming out!

What will you be demo’ing, hacking, making, playing with at your STEAM Fest booth?

Our Kits:
Including the repeat appearance Rubiks cube solving robot kit the RubiSolver. Our new Bismuth Crystal kit and our newest offering the Mini Origami Quad Copter! It’s the cutest coolest thing you have ever seen!

What’s the most amazing, unusual (craziest) Rubisolver-wood-1-e1437500319344thing anyone has ever done with or told you about what you make?

Someone wanted me to make them a life size sword out of aerogel, they were being dead serious. I started specking out what it would take but it was crazy expensive to build the machine. But I would have built it, given the money.

What is your advice to creators looking to do what you do or make what you make?
Never stop moving or learning, complacency is the death of everything. Also Boulder’s entrepreneurial community is unique and we have a “Give First” mentality. This town is crazy welcoming as long as you contribute. Funny story – Mary Anne the co-founder of Maker Boulder was the first person to get me started on my networking journey. We had coffee one morning during my first Kickstarter campaign she told me about the give first thing and I was like how do I give back I know nothing right now, she simply replied “your time.” So my advice would be to go out there and help and it comes back 10 fold, even if you think you have nothing but your time to give!

What is your favorite part about the maker movement?
The people, I know that sounds really corny but it’s true. The fact that a community like this exists is amazing to me. Makers are everywhere from your backyard auto-enthusiast to leading technology entrepreneurs. Makers love to build, they are creatives, the movers and shakers of our generation seeing opportunity where others see none. It is for these reasons the world needs more of them, and I am proud to call myself one.

Where do you see your making going in the next 3 to 5 years?
I hope to make Kitables a national household name, and really help empower the maker movement, both for those looking to do projects and the project creators. As far as Spark I hope to solidify our position as the one stop shop for young entrepreneurial talent and expand what young people think of when they hear the word entrepreneurship, it’s not just tech (although tech is awesome).

What do you wish you could make but don’t know how to (yet)?
The Forbes 30 under 30 list
But in all seriousness.. I actually don’t know how to code at all, I hope to learn at least front end web dev from our class at Spark this fall.

Meet a Maker: Cooper with Outchasers

Meet Cooper with Outchasers! We’re so unbelievably excited to have the opportunity to play the Outchasers card game at Rocky Mountain STEAM Fest!

iLMsLBUk_400x400My name is Cooper Heinrichs. I’m currently a computer science student at CSU. I’m working on starting my own game development studio with our first game Outchasers, where players get to battle each other with giant robots.

What do you make?

I make games, specifically strategy card games right now.

How did you get started making and why?

Game development has been a passion of mine for my whole life. I kept applying for jobs and getting denied. I got tired of waiting for someone to let me do it, and decided to just do it! After I had made up my mind,

I found a good friend to work with and the rest haIMG_4733s been nothing but hard work and a dream coming true.

What part of STEAM Fest are you most excited for?

I’m most excited to show off what I’ve made, and see all of the amazing things other makers have brought.

What will you be demo’ing, hacking, making, playing with at your STEAM Fest booth?

I’m going to be demoing my card game Outchasers at my STEAM Fest booth. I’m going to give people the opportunity to get into a giant robot and beat their friends up, metaphorically at least!

What’s the most amazing, unusual (craziest) thing anyone has ever done with or told you about what you make?

I really love to see people get into a game design mindset when they play my game. I’ve been working on it for two years, and everyone is always willing to give advice, but I enjoy it most when they come up with a fun way to play that is outside of our rules. I feel like I’ve made a playground and now people just get to enjoy it however they choose.

IMG_5043What is your advice to creators looking to do what you do or make what you make?

My advice to creators who are looking to get going is just that – get going! Every little step you can make will get you closer to your dream, but you have to take one step at a time and keep pushing. That leads me to my favorite lyric by Hey Rosetta – “It’s just a dream until you see it happening.”

What is your favorite part about the maker movement?

My favorite part of the movement is the empowerment. Makers don’t sit back and wait for someone to solve their problems, they get innovative and make their own solution.

Where do you see your making going in the next 3 to 5 years?

I see myself moving into a digital space so that I can reach a broader market and shed some of the limitations that physicals goods force upon us. I know our game will be even more fun once it’s created in a digital space.

What do you wish you could make but don’t know how to (yet)?

I always admire makers who can work with electronics. I haven’t had time to learn, but I am always so impressed by what those guys and gals can make!

Meet a Maker: HyPars

denny and elliotMeet Denny, Isaac and Mitzi Newland, The startup team for HyPars LLC. We are two dads, a mom, a husband and wife team, a semi-retired nuclear engineer, a very retired customer service manager, a tech support specialist and soon, professional toymakers!isaac and mitzi

What do you make?

HyPars, the cool name for hyperbolic paraboloids. They are geometry based building toys that we hope the world will soon come to love.

How did you get started making and why?

Denny invented the toys and needed a lot of help getting them to market. Mitzi got involved with the technical writing and Isaac pitched in. We’ve just been taking on more roles as they come up. Turns out there are a lot of hats to wear.

bloom bouquetWhat’s the most amazing, unusual (craziest) thing anyone has ever done with or told you about what you make?

When Denny started, he thought he had put together every type of creation possible with HyPars. As soon as we showed them to new people, the ideas began flooding in! It’s great to see that everyone has amazing ideas and we’re happy to share in them. Mitzi’s favorite so far is the Helical Coil that a future geneticist made. Love it!

What is your advice to creators looking to do what you do or make what you make?

Perseverance is required

What is your favorite part about the maker movement?

Seeing the ideas that people have come to life firsthand!

Where do you see your making going in the next 3 to 5 years?twisted

Hopefully, we will be creating our toys in our brand new building in Longmont, Colorado. We’ve secured land just east of Sandstone Ranch and should be breaking ground on the building within the next year!

What do you wish you could make but don’t know how to (yet)?

Hyperbolic paraboloids do not always lend themselves to creating the exact shapes you want. We still haven’t found a good way to make a cube shaped box, but we’re working on it.

Bonus question: Who would you like to see answer these questions?

The owners of Zometools! We’re huge fans.

The Lessons of Lock Picking

maxresdefaultAt the Boulder Mini Maker Faire, we hosted a lock picking table.  Adults and children alike sat for hours experimenting with locks and practicing their lock picking skills.  One of the parents at the event questioned our judgement stating that lockpicking is promoting illegal behavior.

That really got us to thinking.  Is she right?  Why would we encourage illegal behavior?

We sat down and examined the sport of lock picking (called locksport – see http://locksport.com/), and the value and virtue of lock picking as an activity.  Here are the reasons that we love lockpicking and why we’ll have it again at The Rocky Mountain STEAM Fest in September.

Criminals don’t take time to pick locks.  Statistics show that crooks don’t pick locks (technically “non-destructive entry”), they break windows, kick doors, or cut padlock hasps (“destructive entry”). The criminals don’t have the patience to learn a skill which will slow them down in the act of stealing things.

Locksmithing is a legitimate profession.  Locksmithing — the art of fixing locks, which often means picking them — is a legitimate, sometimes profitable, legal profession.  One of the goals of our STEAM Fest is to connect young people that are exploring their career options – or adults that are looking for a new career, to possible professions.

A lock is a complex mechanical device. Really, a lock is a puzzle. Our lockpicking exhibit has “open sided” locks that allow participants to see the insides of a lock. Participants have an opportunity to see how the tumblers and locking mechanisms actually work — this familiarizes them with the functionality, and gives them insight into why these devices protect their belongings and property.  It might also help them to identify locks that are not as secure, as well as those that are.

Because locks are complex mechanical devices (puzzles), they require problem solving skills to both open, and close.  A younger child will enjoy closing and opening a lock with a key (which was also provided at the table), while his or her older sibling, (or any one of the dozens of adults that were interested in the locks), will enjoy multiple approaches to solving the puzzle at their fingertips.  Problem solving is a critical skill (in life), and a skill that has been identified by dozens of career success reports as lacking in American adults.

It’s important to learn persistence.  Part of being a proficient problem solver (and of being a productive member of society), is the skill of failing, and learning to persist and to try again. If you visit a lock picking exhibit, you will observe all of the participants are failing many times, until they find a solution that works — and then they’ll do that two or three times (often with an expression of delight on their faces).  This determination and persistence is important to learning outcomes, and lock picking is a terrific way to give kids (and adults), a taste of it, without being so frustrating that they are angry.

Everyone likes the joy of accomplishment. Because lock picking exhibits typically include some relatively easy locks to pick, most people got to enjoy success with the task — giving them a sense of pride, joy, and accomplishment — as great event-planners, we want folks to get as many of these opportunities as possible.

There is a large contingent of people around the world that participate in the sport of lock picking — check out http://locksport.com/ – they have competitions around the globe — these are all sporting and professional men and women who love the challenge of a good puzzle — they are not criminals, nor are they advocating or participating in destroying security, privacy, or personal property.

Activities like lock picking can stimulate great conversations. Any child (or adult), that is concerned about the illegal uses of lock picking, can facilitate a great conversation about “good” activities and “bad” ones — some lock picking is illegal and NOT OK — but that same activity, in a legal and constructive environment, can be a fantastic learning tool. We’re also excited to provide activities like this that get people talking about important and complex issues.

Join us at Rocky Mountain STEAM Fest and try your hand at a lock or two yourself!

Catapult in to Fun, At-Home Activity!

7bec1ae57a5e19277834222ff4122b40We are honored to attend events all around the Front Range where we get to interact with adults and children alike and talk about our mission.

Most recently, we were at the Frank Shorter Kids Fun Run for Health where we met several amazing inventors that created unique designs for desktop catapults.  This fun activity is best when you simply put the materials out, and let kids go wild.  They will invent, iterate and problem solve.  You can set up your own targets using cups and bowls, or the sink – or your mom (as long as the ammo is a marshmallow or a nice, soft pom pom!)

Materials:
  • Popsicle stickscandy-corn-catapult-1
  • Rubber bands
  • Plastic spoons or plastic water bottle lids

Yep, that’s it.  If you want to get fancy, you could add:

  • Alligator Clips
  • Clothes pins

You can also visit our Pinterest page to see more complicated designs.

 

(Thanks to FrugalFun4Boys.com for the example here.)

 

Build With 10,000 Keva Planks at the Boulder Mini Maker Faire!

Keva.CastleKeva planks seem simple: they’re 1/4-inch by 3/4-inch by 4 1/2-inch wooden blocks. But like Lego, from these unassuming pieces, wondrous creations arise. For example, take a look at Keva founder Ken Schel building this structure for Dreamworks to resemble the Shrek Castle. Look even closer and you’ll see that every piece is a simple, rectangular plank. There’s not a lot of complex rules here, just, “No glue, no connectors,” says Schel.

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Kitables Kickstarts Automatic Rubik’s Cube Solver


The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that without the addition of work, the entropy of a system will increase. In other words, left alone a system becomes more disordered: molecules disperse, heat homogenizes, and if you drop a Rubik’s Cube, it ain’t real likely to solve itself. Instead, random processes applied to this best selling toy of all time tend to increase its disorder. Of the 350 million Rubik’s Cubes sold to date, how many do you think are sitting at the bottom of the toy box or even on the kitchen counter, unsolved? According to this lovely 2nd Law, the correct answer is lots.

The Boulder startup Kitables is out to change that. Currently being Kickstarted is its snap-together kit that in conjunction with a little Arduino board allows you and yours to put a Rubik’s Cube in a slot and watch the automatic arm solve the puzzle for you. They call it “every nerd’s dream machine.” And I don’t know about you, but the idea will definitely keep us here at Maker Boulder up at night.

The company is the brainchild of Arieann DeFazio, research scientist at CU Boulder using x-ray crystallography to study Alzheimer’s disease.

“I always had it in my head to create the perfect job, somewhere I could have a business and do science too,” says Arieann, escapee from a biomedical sciences PhD program in Florida. “After five or six years of searching and not finding it, I finally decided to make it myself.”

Arieann was surfing Instructables.com when she realized, “Here are all these great ideas, but nobody’s got the parts!” When she looked deeper, Arieann says she found that most existing DIY kits were just electronics or just mechanics or just science kits, “Most of what you get from Radioshack, is you do like five steps and you have a robot,” she says.

Arieann’s goal was to combine mediums to create a fully integrated home science experience. Working at CU and with another Boulder startup, Arieann started formatting her kits on the side. Eventually she hopes to have Kitables kits across STEM fields.

For now, there’s the Rubik’s solver. God’s Algorithm already existed for the Cube — the optimal path of action from any given state to the solution state. Arieann brought a friend with mechanical engineering experience into the business to work the machine side. And they’re hoping that Kickstarter will help take care of the business side.

“We have two Kickstarter goals,” she says. “The first is to make sure people actually want this thing. And the second is to provide a little seed funding, or I guess it would be micro-seed funding.”

Here’s a little editorial: as awesome as the solver most certainly is, you gotta visit the Kickstarter for the video’s comedic genius, which taps into the place within us all that knows what it’s like to obsess over Rubik’s. Be warned: the soundtrack for the solver video will make you want to get your Kojak on.

Consider this: by pledging for Kitables you can do you part to fight entropy and bring just a little more order into the world. Let this forever be known as the day that entropy was beaten back from the gate!

Roller Coaster Thought Experiment

You know those thoughts you have in the shower? No, not those thoughts…but the mind-wandering flashes of observation or brilliant insight that you can’t seem to get any other way? I was thinking last night about a trip we took last year to Knott’s Berry Farm, where Leif — then 48 1/4 inches tall — was just tall enough for the radical roller coasters. There were absolutely no lines and so Leif and I strolled through the gates and directly onto Ghostrider, where we seated ourselves in the last car of the train. With my continued assurances of a fairly mellow ride, we clicked toward the top of the first hill. And long before we crested, Leif and I were whipped over the top and down many hundreds of feet toward the cold, hard ground, pulled over by the gravity already working on the front seats. Now in hindsight and in the shower, I recognize a couple thoughts that went through my head at the time. Here they are in no particular order:

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