Maker Mania #2: Tessa iPad Stand, Threshold School, AnomalyCon, Precision Machining Technology

The Faire is upon us, dear Boulderites, Boulderinos and various surrounding Boulderphillics! Or at least it will be upon us come Jan 31 – Feb 1 at the Boulder County Fairgrounds. And that means MAKERS galore! Join us here in the next few weeks as we preview the awesomeness that will be at the core of the Faire.

Tessa iPad Stand: The Tessa Stand is the most complete tablet stand invented, period. Pick it up, hold it, try it, and you will be asking where you can get one for yourself.

Threshold School: a project- based, independent 6th–12th grade school opening in Centennial, August 2015. At the heart of the Threshold program are large-scale, highly collaborative pursuits. Whether students are restoring wildlife habitats or producing feature films, they will use real tools and real materials under authentic conditions. The pursuits will genuinely matter to the young people; their purpose will not be a letter grade or a trophy.

AnomalyCon: AnomalyCon is Colorado’s premier steampunk, sci-fi, and alternate history. We aim to educate, baffle the mind, and entertain! We cover everything from sewing to engineering, to mad science.

Precision Machining Technology: Advanced Manufacturing is an exciting career choice for students who love making things and solving problems. Come investigate the world of precision machining at Front Range Community College.

 

Maker Mania #1: Usborne Books, pcDUINO, Parametric POLOC, Edify Technologies

The Faire is upon us, dear Boulderites, Boulderinos and various surrounding Boulderphillics! Or at least it will be upon us come Jan 31 – Feb 1 at the Boulder County Fairgrounds (tickets HERE). And that means MAKERS galore! More makers than you can count. More than you can imagine. More than you can shake a stick at, though we can’t imagine why you would want to shake sticks at makers. Hey, what is it with you anyway? Threatening defenseless little makers with a stick. Sheesh.

In any case, we’re going to do our best to give mad props via shout-outs to all our intrepid makers between now and the Faire. Barring that, we’ll write about them here at this blog. All the makers previewed here between now and the Faire will be AT the Faire, confirmed in blood, spittle and ink. Or sometimes just with ink. And sometimes not *actually* with ink, but with, you know, an email. So if you see things you like, put them on your list. And then come check ’em out at the Faire! Which, we should point out, is the perfect distraction from a Broncos-less Super Bowl…

Without further ado, away we go:

Usborne Books: Usborne Books & More publishes high quality books that allow people to expand their knowledge and travel to new places through the pages of a book. We have many hand on books that allow you to create new projects or experiments. Come try making a paper airplane!

pcDUino: pcDUino is a $39 DIY computer that is compatible with Arduino ecosystem.

Parametric POLOC: Parametric POLOC – Plops, O (drops), Lines On Canvas is a machine for creating large size abstract expressionist paintings in the style of Jackson Pollock. The mechanical machine tries to replicate the mechanics of drip painting, while the software tries to make rich, detailed, pleasing abstract art accessible to decorate your home. The exhibit allows visitors to take direct control of the painting process. This project is my introduction to physical computing.

Edify Technologies: Teaching kids to love and understand music through composition, with the app Sketch a Song.

 

23rd Studios Does Everything Graphics for Startups and Beyond

23rd.Studios.LogoAre you a maker, a hacker, a tinkerer with the next big thing sitting there brand spanking new on your workbench? If so, it might be time to, you know, show it to people. And if you’re gonna do that, you’re going to need a way to show it. That’s where Paul Talbot and his 23rd Studios comes in. In addition to graciously fulfilling all the photo and video needs for the Boulder Mini Maker Faire, Jan 31 – Feb 1, 2015, 23rd Studios is a one-stop shop for all of a business’s graphic and web design needs.

“One of the exciting things about working with maker and startup people is the energy associated with solving a problem or figuring out something new to solve a problem,” Paul says. It’s like that in the photo business, says Paul, who got his start in video while working as a photographer in New York City when producers realized that new DSLR technology meant he had video capability built into that camera he was carrying.

“I kind of fell into what I’m doing now,” says Paul. Now 23rd Studios has worked with everything from mapping images from Apollo, to graphic design for the Boulder Green Streets program, to food photography for Rueben’s Burger Bistro.

“On a photo or video shoot, you’re always solving problems to get the lighting just right, or work around that noisy air conditioner, or then after the shoot to use footage in creative and useful ways. I can’t wait to see the problem solving going on at the Faire,” Paul says.

Got a new gimbal device or wiring harness you’re showing at the faire? Or maybe a new photo drone technology? Be sure to track down Paul, ’cause he’d love to see it. He’ll be the one with the big camera clicking pictures and shooting vids.

Play With Modular Robotics at the Boulder Mini Maker Faire!

Not long after opening its doors in an unassuming industrial park building just off Bluff Street in downtown Boulder, Modular Robotics found itself in crisis: every Friday an employee had been running to the suspiciously close Boulder Beer for a pair of six-packs, but now the company had expanded and not only was there no room in the fridge, but, “the six-packs went incredibly fast,” says Christie Veitch, the company’s Education Director.

In the early life of a tech startup, desperate times call for decisive action and now, almost five years after their 2010 founding, a Kegerator sits in the corner. Just before the holidays it was nearly buried in cardboard boxes and tupperwares full of plastic pieces. Down a tight hallway where the Mod Robotics team had recently cut through the wall and into a vacated next-door space are the smashed-together bench style desks of the administrative and marketing team. After our meeting, Christie decided to avoid the hallway by going outside with me and then back into the building via another door.

Chip.Elf

Chip is a Level VI Modular Robotics elf.

But the real work of Mod Robotics is done the old-fashioned way: by elves working with screwdrivers and soldering irons. Here is Chip. He is a level VI elf. They’re no longer baking circuit boards in a fry pan, as did CEO Eric Schweikardt for his PhD project that became the company’s prototype. But after the boards are printed and the plastic pieces molded, the elves snap, screw and solder these pieces into Cubelets and MOSS robot building systems.

That’s the genius of Mod Robotics: the elves do the heavy building so that you don’t have to. Cublets are self-contained inputs and outputs that you and yours can magnet together into robots as big or small as your imagination. The black ones are sensors, the clear ones do things, and the colored ones think, or, you know, at least provide the backbone of logic.

The newer, MOSS system adds the structures of panels, wheels and various other connective bendy bits to Cubelet-like backbones, allowing you to make cars, creatures and other creations that look like real or imagined awesomeness. If you’re an educator or an education-minded parent, Mod Robotics also hosts free, downloadable lesson plans like 10 Cool Things to Do With Cubelets, 10 More Cool Things to Do With Cubelets, and the comprehensive MOSS Instroduction to Robotics Unit.

Christie says that in addition to demonstrating the basics of robotics – sensors, effectors, logic – Mod Robotics hopes to show the power of emergent behavior.

“Each one of these things is just a thing,” says Christie, eloquently, “but when you put them together, you can see how they create complex behaviors – a robot lighthouse that knows to come on in the dark or a steering robot that knows to slow down before it crashing into stuff.”

My experience of chucking my kids (8 and 6) into a pile of Cubelets is that offspring tend to be immediately engaged in a way that creates their own emergent understanding. At first my kids snapped stuff together randomly and semi-noticed what happened, and then their ideas got more goal-directed.

“I want to make a car,” said Leif, 8, and with some experimentation, he was eventually able to do just that.

“I want to make a robot dinosaur that breathes fire at daddy’s butt,” said Kestrel, 6, and now a couple weeks later she remains steadfastly undeterred.

If you want to play with Cubelets or Moss yourself, stop by the Mod Robotics booth at the Boulder Mini Maker Faire, January 31 – February 1, 2015 at the Boulder County Fairgrounds! For more on the Modular Robotics manifesto of simple pieces from whence arise complex behaviors, check out CEO Eric Schweikardt’s talk at TedX Front Range, here:

Dancing LEDs Promise Merriment at the Boulder Mini Maker Faire!

Imagine with us the following holiday utopia – call it a holopia: You hang LED holiday lights on your house or tree or mother-in-law. You snap a picture with your phone. An app recognizes the distribution of bulbs. And now you can map anything you want onto this imperfect LED grid, from sound sync that pulses along with your thumping holiday tunes, to groovy smooth fades through the rainbow, to scrolling holiday messages, to – be still my beating heart! – a never-ending repeat of Nyan Cat!

That’s the promise of Jarrod Eliason’s Dancing LEDs. Among other projects, Jarrod programmed his home tree to sing along in Santa face to his family’s recording of “We wish you a maker Christmas and a hacker New Year” (above). In fact, this is more than a utopia — at the Boulder Mini Maker Faire, Jan 31-Feb 1 Jarrod will be in Colorado making this utopia a reality. Seriously: stop by the Dancing LEDs booth, download the free app, and you too can drive strings of LEDs as they and you make merriment for all.

“What we’re doing is taking any video or animated GIF, running it through a Windows program to turn it into a light sequence, and then remapping it from the video onto lights,” Eliason says.

He says the current prototype is based on a triangular display, because he didn’t have a good rectangular space on the side of his house. Eliason imagines cities leaving the displays up year-round and changing the colors based on the season. And plugging in a floor display of Dancing LEDs still in their boxes – customers download a free app and right there in the store can interact with the LEDs or project a picture of their face onto the display. And businesses using them to replace existing, four-sided LED displays.

For now, “It’s kind of in the beginning stages,” Eliason says. “I’ve got prototypes on my desk, developers working on the app. But we expect to have things to put in people’s hands in the next week.”

Eliason runs it with a Teensy board and once he gets schematics and code, he plans to open-source the whole thing. And he’s looking for comments, suggestions, tweaks and hacks. In other words: Makers needed!

 

Computer Science Education Week Kickoff, Dec 8!

Design an app, program a robot, learn computer thinking outside the box and more at Computer Science Education Week in Boulder, CO, Monday, December 8 – Saturday the 13th! Best yet, swing by Boulder co-working and tech connection juggernaut Galvanize on Monday for a kickoff with Maker Boulder, co-sponsored by local startup 911 Labs Inc (which does development and operations for early startups). We’ll be running a radical computer scavenger hunt, all ages welcome.

“Computers are a part of everything these days. Not only in obvious places like laptops and phones, but in thermostats, traffic lights, and washing machines,” says Daniel Zacek, CEO of 911 Labs says. “Our display will show examples of how computer science is involved in everything from farming to flying, and include a scavenger hunt for computer science in and around Galvanize.”

You’re reading this on a computer. You depend on the computers in your car to transport you to places where you can buy food sources like kale and Slurpees. Computers are shaping the very folds of your grey matter in ways we’re just now starting to understand. Don’t you think it’d be kinda good to know just a little bit about how these computers work? Here’s your chance to get edumacated without the terribly painful process of actually studying.

“We are working together to inspire the next generation of coders, makers, and innovators to think about how computing is part of their lives today, and their future through a groundbreaking and town-wide week of programs,” says Galvanize.

Come on down to Computer Science Education Week events next week and have a good time! Full list of events at www.csed.co. (And while you’re at it, if you want to stay up to date with Maker-ish events and news in Boulder, please consider following us on Facebook!)

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!

Can Soldering Teach Emotional Regulation?

Dr. Kristi Pikiewicz originally wrote this for SparkFun and gave us permission to repost — it’s a small town here in Boulder! In this post she shares a nontraditional use for soldering, namely to teach emotional regulation in a therapy setting. What’s your soldering experience? Calming and meditative or infuriating and awkward?

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Images as Communication: Logos, Icons, Infographics, Oh My!

We remember things better when we anchor them to images. We see this in the mnemonics of memory competitions and we also it with the recent info-graphic craze, in which artists illustrate the driest data, bringing it to life in a way that makes it both more digestible and also easier to remember.

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