Inventions we Love! Matrix Flare

We had so much fun at Denver Mini Maker Faire!  We saw tons of great new things, and met interesting people that are working on creative and wonder-inducing new inventions.

One of our favorites is Matrix Flare (and they’ve signed up to exhibit at the upcoming STEAM Fest – so be sure to join us and check them out!)

We interviewed Tasha Bingman and learned more about Matrix Flare.  We hope you’ll support her Kickstarter campaign.  We think you’ll be inspired by her story.

An idea is born

Matrix Flare cubes show off their creative animations and artwork created in the Pixel Maker App.

Tasha initially created this project for her 7 year old so he could learn about circuits, programming, graphical user interfaces (GUI), and still be able to create art quickly.  He enjoys it so much she thought it would be a fantastic Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM) project.  After they’d created a couple of them, they realized that they were playing with the animations so much they figured others would enjoy them as well. Read more

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, 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 – 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!

We Built This (Cardboard) City…


Cardboard City Bridge is a success!

05/28/2015 – Eric Gundersen

Balance, patience, and plenty of coffee are indispensable when it comes to constructing a 16’ x 16’ city out of cardboard in about 16 hours.  That is the mission before us at the second annual Denver Mini Maker Faire (coming up on June 13 and 14).  Eight of us gathered on a cold and rainy day in May for our first preparation/prototyping session and learned much during those four swift hours.

Lesson #1: Safety, safety, safety

Two finger tips were lost in the first 30 minutes – fortunately they only belonged to a glove while the hand inside was left unscathed.  Cardboard is dense and even with sharp knives it requires a fair amount of strength to cut.  Always keep your blade sharp.  If cutting becomes a challenge dispose of the blade properly and replace it with a fresh one.  Retract your blade or store safely between cutting sessions.  I had a friend who required multiple stitches after stepping on an X-Acto blade stored in a coffee mug, blade up, on the ground.


At work on the prototype Cardboard City

We used hot glue to affix cardboard to cardboard which takes time to set.  The glue can get up to 380⁰ F.  Instead of risking burns use binder clips to hold your pieces as they cool.  Also, remember to unplug your glue gun immediately after use.

Lesson #2: Cutting

A straight edge or L-square is beneficial for making long cuts.  Make two passes on the cut so you don’t have to use as much pressure.  To make a clean corner for a fold, score the interior of your piece by making a shallow, straight cut.

Lesson #3: Creature Comforts

Working on your hands and knees can get uncomfortable.  Consider using knee pads or gardening kneeling pads.  Coffee also hits the spot.

Lesson #4: Balance

Our prototype in progress!

Our team is fairly diverse with a variety of skillsets.  Some of us are more technical and some more artistic and everyone has strengths & weaknesses.  We organically broke up into three smaller groups to tackle infrastructure (base plates), landmark pieces (a skyscraper and suspension bridge), and “greebling”/”gingerbread” details in parallel.

It… was… sloooow.  After four hours (nearly 25% of our allotted time) we had:

  • 8 houses
  • 1 swing set w/ slide
  • 5 trees
  • 1 classy above ground swimming pool
  • 2 base plate platforms
  • 1 skyscraper w/ water tower
  • 1 bridge that took 10 minutes to make
  • ½ a bridge that took 2 hours to make

We learned that a bargain must be struck between quality and speed.  Work too fast and it looks like junk, while painstakingly obsessing over getting all the details right takes way too long.

As we made ready to leave and looked across all the modest structures we realized that it’s the city that we’re making; not the house or tree or skyscraper.  The flaws are absorbed by the scope, variety and whimsy of the landscape.  These pieces make up the whole just as your companions’ participation make up the experience.

We’re going to create an assembly line process to accelerate building the building of 144 houses, our goal.  We’re going to separate into groups for mass production (speed) and unique landmark pieces (quality).  Perhaps you’ll visit us at the Denver Mini Maker Faire on June 13th & 14th, or better yet roll up your sleeves and give us a hand.

If one day you find yourself building a city out of cardboard remember to be creative, be patient, encourage your partners and have fun!

Editor’s Note: See the Cardboard City, and many other curiosities (you can even build your own cardboard creation), at the Denver Mini Maker Faire on Saturday June 13 and Sunday June 14 at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.  Join MakerBoulder and Level(3) in some maker magic!