Learn to Build Scribot With Dr. Karl Wendt at Boulder Mini Maker Faire!

Scribot

This is Scribot. Gaze upon the vertically inserted pen, its tiny programmable board in the front/left, the wheels, the batteries, the breadboards. Can you guess what it does? Don’t worry, at the end of this post you’ll see it in action. For now, you may notice that Scribot doesn’t come with a flashy exoskeleton branded with characters from your child’s favorite television program. That’s because Scribot is not a consumer product, but a tool created by Dr. Karl Wendt to teach design thinking in classrooms. If his name sounds familiar, that’s because Wendt was Khan Academy’s “Maker in Chief”, where his projects include Spider Bot, and Spout Bot, and Bit-zee Bot.

You may by now be noticing a pattern. Karl builds robots. Not only does Karl build robots, but he wants to teach you and yours how to build robots. And even beyond teaching you and yours to build robots, Karl wants to teach teachers how the principles of design thinking can be used in classrooms to help students build robots. That was his mission at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and that’s the mission of his Nashville-based nonprofit, Discover Create Advance.

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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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Calculating the Effort to Spend on Thanksgiving

A couple years ago today, I was baking muffins with my son’s preschool class and set fire to the school. Okay, technically I didn’t set it on fire—it was only butter smoke from the tin that set off the alarm, necessitating the entire school of a couple hundred kids filing out to the basketball courts while the fire department arrived en mass.

After that, my wife took over the Wednesday cooking class and it was never NEARLY so exciting. Besides, Leif was line leader that day, and he was really, very proud to lead the class evacuation. (I remember standing there with my large metal bowl and wooden spoon, smelling of smoke and trying to look innocent.)

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Best. Animal Shadow Puppets. Ever.

Oh we think we’re so slick, sitting here in the present and looking back at the follies of the past. But the pace of innovation in which newness steamrolls oldness means that sometimes we lose things we really should have kept. Like astronaut ice cream. We really don’t eat nearly as much astronaut ice cream as we should. And what ever happened to the band INXS? Another great historical cultural achievement that seems lost or at least marginalized in the modern era is the art of hand shadow puppets. Today is the day we change this. Join Maker Boulder in bringing back the art of the shadow puppet. These should get you started:

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Homemade Halloween: Gizmo is More Than a Costume

At your school, how many kids will be dressed as ninjas? How many will be Star Wars or Harry Potter or superhero characters? How many animals or vampires or witches? How many will be dressed as Gizmo? No, not the adorable fuzzball from the 1984 blockbuster film Gremlins, but Gizmo the robot as conceived in the brain of Maker Boulder co-founder Martha’s 9-year-old son, Coulter. The answer is exactly one, that is if you go to Coulter’s school. See, Gizmo is one of a kind and the process of one-of-a-kind costume creation makes more than a costume — the process of making creates an emotional connection between the builder and the product that no trip to Target can recreate. Check out what Coulter wrote about his design process:

“First, I drew a picture of the robot. I didn’t know his name, then, we had to make him to name him. This picture is our plan:

Gizmo.Plan

I showed my mom the plan and she had some ideas for how to create his legs – the problem was how could I bend my elbows and knees? So we cut strips of cardboard and used duct tape to keep them together. We went to EcoCycle’s Charm area to select boxes that were the perfect shape. Well, one box was leftover from Mom’s new computer. We painted the boxes with chalkboard paint. Then we painted the legs and arms with silver paint. It was a long day, and here is what he looks like now that he is done. We had to spray him with fixing spray so the chalk wouldn’t smear. After he was done, I named him Gizmo.”

GizmoPersonally, I remember the time I dressed up as a jukebox; when people put candy in a slot I would sing a song. And I remember how hard it was to bend chicken wire into the shape of Nightcrawler’s shoulder pads. About all those other store-bought costumes I wore all those other years? Meh, I can’t recall. It was the process of making that burned the now-slightly-mortifying memory of the jukebox into my brain. Let’s be honest: it’s the Tuesday before Halloween and so your child probably has his or her costume already made or picked out. And let’s also be honest about something else: some years you have the time and some years you just don’t. But memories built on making don’t have to limited to Halloween. Next weekend, when that ninja costume is shoved in the dress-up box never to be seen again, what could you build? Maybe it’s sugar rockets, built on Saturday and launched Sunday afternoon? Maybe it’s a trebuchet? But I’ll bet you this: if you build for Halloween, your kids will remember it. And if you build something — anything! — the weekend after Halloween, it’s that home-built project your kids will remember, far beyond any experience that can be bought in a store.

Calculate Best Bucket Size for Halloween Haul

Want a real Halloween nightmare? Imagine filling your child’s too-small bucket in the first three houses and going home with only a small slice of your kid’s potential rake. But if you allow your little monster (or in my case, blue whale with pink and purple barnacles), to carry a big bag, you should be prepared to spend the hours and hours (and hours) needed to fill it. Bad news: there are nightmares on both ends of the bag guesstimation spectrum.

So instead of playing the equivalent of Russian roulette with your child’s Halloween bag size, use the equation below to calculate—with the power of absolute mathematical certainty (wink, wink)—the bag size that’s best for you and yours.

•  T= Total time in hours you plan to spend trick-or-treating

•  A= Trick-or-treater’s age. If over 20 (or below zero…), shame on you. You’re stealing my kid’s goodies.

•  Hc= Hours spent on costume. If store-bought translate into hours at $20/hr.

•  Pd= Population density in trick-or-treat neighborhood. Enter 1 for “rural”, 2 for “open suburban”, 3 for “tight suburban”, or 4 for “Apt or dorm”

•  Ma= Estimated median age in neighborhood. For comparison, median age in the Gaza Strip is about 15 and in Japan about 41.

•  X= Your child’s ineffable, illogical, but very real lust for candy. Enter 1-10 with 10 being “has strategized since last Halloween”

Interpretation Key:

If Bckt is less than 1, your pockets are more than enough

If 1<7, use small-size, plastic jack-’o-lantern bucket

If 7<Bckt<15, use the standard trick-or-treating bucket

If 15<Bckt<25, use a grocery bag

If 25<Bckt, use a trash bag


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Alice Shi Kembel’s Take on Captivity vs. Freedom for Mice & Mini Makers

Our former pet mouse, Snowflake, started out as snake food.  He and two other mice had been purchased by our son’s friend to use as bait for snake traps in the field next to his house in Park City.  When we returned to his house after a five day excursion to Yellowstone National Park, we found three mice in a colorful plastic cage, complete with a climbing tunnel, loft, and running wheel.  My three boys fell in love immediately, and spent hours playing with the mice, who they named Snowflake, Brownie, and Ribbon.

When our son Jonah’s friend and his mother returned to the house two days later, the mice had become pets in the boys’ minds, so it was a shock to them when Tyler announced, “I’m going to use the mice in my snake traps now.”

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DIY Bionic Rock Climbing Hand (c.o. MIT’s Hugh Herr)

Here in Boulder, we actually know who Hugh Herr is: the climber who lost his legs to frostbite on Mt. Washington, designed his own climbing prostheses, and used bionic feet to send the world’s hardest thin cracks. Herr now runs a biomechatronics group at MIT’s famed Media Lab. I talked with Herr for a book I wrote and, in addition to working on balance mechanics for “real” prostheses, Herr was deep into the creation of what he called a “spider suit” — basically, the elastic-like suit holds your arms and fingers in the flexed position, augmenting your pulling strength. With elastic help, climbers will appreciate the extra pep in their pull. Or…they would if the thing actually existed commercially. Until then, I offer this (moderately harebrained) prototype, which my kids and I actually product tested one afternoon up at Flag.

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Researchers Say Stochastisaurus Has “High Probability” of Being New Species

Paleontologists recently unearthed bones, likely in Montana or Wyoming, of a new dinosaur species dubbed Stochastisaurus. “Based on surrounding species and the fossils themselves, there’s an approximately 88 percent chance that Stochastisaurus was an herbivore,” says the lead researcher. The new species of dinosaur more likely than not had something interesting about its head, perhaps heavy bone plating like Pachycephalosaurus, a frill like Styracosaurus, a crest like Corythosaurus, or a hollow series of tubes like Parasaurolophus. This interesting head feature is almost exactly equally likely to have been used for defense, reproductive competition, or as an instrument of communication with other Stochastisauri.

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