Thursday, October 8, 2015

Makey Makey Floor Piano

If you are looking for a short, low cost project to do with your Makey Makeys, this one is sure to be a big hit. It's a great small group project as well as an eye catching interactive display in some noisy area of the library (as long as you can keep library staff sane). This was made as part of our Tinkering Tuesdays lab. We had low tech cardboard construction, 3D printing, and the Makey floor piano going on simultaneously. It took us about 1.5 hours with 3 teens helping.

Materials List:
Aluminum Tape $12
Duct Tape (any color) $2
Makey Makey $50
CAT cable (there's one lying around your library trust me) or just use regular wire
Wire strippers
12 x 12 x 1.5 in puzzle piece exercise mat $12
white 6 x 8 tarp (but could be smaller) $12
Computer with internet running Scratch

This video shows a demonstration with step by step picture instructions and a more detailed video explanation. I got the idea from two sites that I used for consult: Ed Tech Junkies & Make It At Your Library.  BIG THANK YOU!

Makey Makey Floor Piano from Duxbury Free Library on Vimeo.

Your BARE feet or hands must be touching both layers of the aluminum tape to connect the notes so make sure you give a good amount of border between each layer.  Hitting the center of the keys works best. It can be anything conductive really to complete the circuit not just body parts. We used a screw driver to play each note too.

The best part of this project was since the ground wires were built in there was no need for the person touching the notes to hold onto a separate ground wire while playing. This is why there are two aluminum tape layers with a duct tape (non conductive) layer in the middle.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Attending the World Maker Faire in NYC

As I was already on New York on family business, I decided to swing by the World Maker Faire at the New York State Hall of Science in Queens on Sunday. It was fun!

Lots of corporate booths and lots of small start-ups were present. One nice thing about it was that there was a lot for all ages of kids to do. There was a construction area for very young children and lots of small venues for talks, which weren't going on when I was there.

The corporate presence was very heavy: Google, Intel, Microsoft, Little Bits, Lego Mindstorm and a host of 3D printer companies all had big tents.

The funny thing is, I feel that we have already done a bunch of the stuff the World Maker Faire was touting: learning to solder, exploring Arduino, building with cardboard, making marble shoots and slides... we'll continue to do these things here in Duxbury, but I'm just as happy that we focused on attending the Cape Cod Maker Faire each year as opposed to making the huge investment of time and money to attend the World Maker Faire as a group.

There were high schools, local fab labs, and tech clubs in the mix as well which was fun to see.

Demonstrations included robotics and lots and lots of drones.

This last photo shows a fun aspect of the Faire, though: circus technology. This demo showed how levers and pulleys work and the Big Apple Circus had some inventive group bicycles zooming around. This shows the creative range of marrying technology with the arts - something we are especially interested in.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Inventions to Make Cardboard Construction Easier

I have come across two products that would make cardboard/recyclable construction creations (especially for younger kids) much easier without all that scotch tape, staples, and box cutters.

Strawbees securely connect to straws to allow them to move and build crazy contraptions. After watching the video, I was sold. The opportunities are endless: bridges, masks, even a lantern fish that actually works! They come in sets ranging from $20-$80 through their store with a $15 standard flat rate shipping. I bought the $40 box which includes 368 connector pieces.  Could I have printed out my own on a 3D printer? Possibly. I'll have to see when the kit comes in. We have LOTS of straws at the library that I discovered after cleaning the craft closet.  They could be left out on a makerspace cart for students to explore on their own time or built into an already designed program. This will be used in our Tinkering Tuesday STEM programs as well as our drop in building programs (which have integrated Lego club and STEM together by leaving out K-NEX, KEVA planks and other building materials in addition to Legos for wider appeal).  A case for strawbees is it could easily eliminate the need for building with food (think the marshmallow challenge, spaghetti challenge or toothpick challenges whatever you call them) while still learning design principles.


The next one, shamefully, we have had in our craft closet for a while now and just rediscovered, Makedos. Makedo are "strawbees" for cardboard. Makedos also include tools like a safe cutter for cardboard (although a bit jagged finish). They got a makeover since we purchased them, with a new screw capability and a screwdriver tool.  The older models are being sold in kits on amazon or you can purchase the new screw kits through their store which range from $12.50-$480 as they are marketed to classrooms. They are also testing a free 3D printing gallery to make hinges and other items. Most of the programs I did this summer involving cardboard could have incorporated these. I could have had real working hinges on the car doors to swing shut in my Superhero Cardboard Drive In or "Lair" building project.

As part of the Global Cardboard Challenge, participants came together using Makedos to make a maze.  The challenge occurs every fall. It is set for October 10th this year, same as Star Wars Reads Day.

Imagine the possibilities together? Storm trooper cardboard costumes? Deathstar maze? Make your own Podracer? Then add electronics littleBits or arduino to make something light up or make noise? Say R2-D2 perhaps?

The one drawback to either of these items is what happens when the kids want to take their creations home? Based on the price, do we let them? If you had a ten kid program and gave them their own $12.50 Makedo kits it's only $125.00 for the entire program with the idea that kids could explore and create more at home. The alternative idea could be a $12.50 supply charge from the patron to fund the program. I'm going to say no for now but promise to display them somewhere prominently until I see sad faces that I cannot resist anyway. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

3D scan and print yourself

Posted by our talented Simmons Graduate School intern, Tyler Kenney:

3D scanning has come to the library, and with it the ability to 3D print yourself.  By using an Xbox 360 Kinect and simply spinning in a chair, you can scan and print a bust of yourself.

To get started, make sure the Kinect is plugged in (into the computer and into the wall) and launch Skanect, which should be located on the iMac's desktop.  With Skanect launched just click 'new' (the default settings will work fine), and then 'start' - shown below:

After clicking 'start' it will bring you to this screen:

Now is when you want to correctly position yourself.  The white box outline shows the area that will be recorded.  Grab the mouse (you will need it later) and position yourself accordingly.  With the mouse on your lap, click the record button (the red button with a black center).  Once it starts recording, stay as still as possible and slowly rotate the chair with your feet 2-3 times.  When you are done rotating, click the button again to stop recording.  It will now mesh the scan together, and once it finishes doing that go to the 'Process' tab.  From there you can use 'Fill Holes' to fill in the gaps and holes that would otherwise make printing your scan impossible.  

As shown below:

After selecting 'Fill Holes', make sure 'Watertight' and 'Very Low' are selected, and then click run.  You can select a higher 'Smoothing' setting if you wish, just know that the more it is smoothed the more detail you will lose.  After filling in the holes and gaps, go to the 'Share' tab and select 'Export Model'.  Export it as an .stl, make sure the 'Scale' is set to millimeters or inches, save it to the desktop, and then you can import it into Tinkercad and clean it up.  Note: the scans will import at an extremely large size, when importing into Tinkercad scale it down to 15-20%.  It can be further scaled down and printed within the Cura software.

Have an Xbox 360 Kinect of your own?
Want to set up your own 3D scanner?

What you need:
Xbox 360 Kinect
360 Kinect AC adapter

For Windows users it is incredibly easy.  Download the Microsoft Kinect SDK 1.8 and the latest version of Skanect.  After that, plug the kinect into the wall and into your computer.  The computer should download the rest of drivers automatically.  Launch Skanect and start scanning.

Mac users will have somewhat trickier time.  The Mac will not automatically download the drivers, and the Microsoft SDK will not work within the Mac operating system.  You can, however, follow online tutorials for setting up drivers that will work.  Tutorials for setting them up can be found here and, under 'Build Intructions', here.  These are instructions for setting up libfreenect, also known as OpenKinect, a set of open source Kinect drivers.  
Alternatively, users can try to set up their Kinect by following this tutorial.  
If libfreenect or the blog post instructions by themselves do not work (Skanect will be unable to detect a scanner/sensor), complete both of them.  The iMac at the library completed both (Mac OS 10.10) and it works.

You may also want to update your GPU drivers, just follow the links from the Skanect site.  
Shown below:

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Using Tinkerplay app for 3D printing action figures

In just 15 minutes (besides the fight I had with our laptops not having a .zip file extractor) I was able to create a 3D action figure using AutoCad's Tinkerplay app for the iPad. That's the easiest part.

Tinkerplay, from the makers of Tinkercad, comes with already made parts that anyone can select to build a customized action figure in minutes. Although the options are a bit limited, tinkerplay could be a jumping off point for kids interested in designing their own toys with connectable parts.

Once the app is opened,you are brought to a blank plane. The top right corner allows you to select each part. The outer line of the wheel are the available options, while the wheel before displays the location of the part (head, chest, feet, hands).
Once the grey part is selected merely drag it with your finger onto the plane.
A simple tap of your finger on the part will bring up deleting or moving options.

Once you have built your figure, press the bright green button on the bottom to turn it into parts that can be printed.
From here, you can downscale your print with the plus and minus buttons. By adding your printer to the blue gear on the left, it will estimate your total print time (incorrectly in our case) and show presets for downloading files. We have a library Dropbox account, so we allowed tinkerplay to work with our Dropbox and it deposited the file in .zip format. Press the green button again to download it. Once the .stl files were extracted from our desktop computer, we put them into Cura (our Ultimaker software) as two large print jobs for the first try. One print job with half of the pieces (including torso parts which were the most intricate) would take 10 hours to print with supports, longer than we're allowed to print since we'd have to leave it on overnight. I know there must be some advanced settings in Cura that I'm missing which might have shortened the time. Email me if so! 

So we broke up the jobs, it took over 10 hours to print the 15 separate pieces for an overall height of 6.5 inches (160 mm). I also tried doing much smaller parts shown in red (.75 in /20mm tall for each legs) as opposed to 1.5 in/40 mm tall and without supports the job didn't finish properly for a total of 3 hours for half of the robot to complete. The parts were really hard to put together due to size and I began to break pieces trying to attach them.

If you had a class of 4 or 5 kids using Tinkerplay instead of previously mentioned Tinkercad, they could easily be finished in 10-15 minutes, with limited design learning, and you are spending 40 hours printing parts. So in a class setting, I wouldn't recommend using Tinkerplay although the end product is pretty neat I have to admit. Perhaps it would be more efficient to print out a multitude of torsos, legs, and arms beforehand and have the kids design the heads in tinkercad? Or maybe only print 2 arms and leg pieces instead of 4?  Our next project is trying to use the X-Box Kinect to scan our heads and we'd have mini mes! 

head 52 minutes
torso (2 parts) 4 hrs 10 minutes
small arms (4) 21 minutes each
legs (4) 38 minutes each
hands (2) 23 minutes each
feet (2) 30 minutes

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The marriage of art and technology

We finally had our Grand Reveal for our Arduino Garden Wall last Thursday and it was fun seeing the reaction from youth and adults alike. Some found the Garden Wall perplexing, "What is this doing here?" Some found it delightful, "You had youth, an artist, and an engineer working together on this?"

Bringing over our Ultimaker2 and having it running a loop of bracelet-making was also a big hit.

Because the artwork is on a rolling partition, bringing it up to the Reference floor was not a huge problem. We had made sure there were no delicate wires dragging and no reason why we couldn't fold it up fairly close to get it into the elevator.

Because it is so colorful and the visuals Sally Dean created are so delightful, it can hold up to being turned off most of the time and still be a visually pleasant addition to the surroundings.

We will keep it in its current location for a few weeks and then move it back against a wall near to the Digital Media Lab where so much of the on-going creation happens.

Inviting the local community cable TV crew in to cover the event as fun as well.  They totally understood what we are trying to do and were very enthusiastic about spreading the word.

Kevin Osborn came fully tricked out on his LED glory and gave the philosophical underpinnings of why Tinkering is an important All-American pastime to be encouraged by schools, libraries, parents, clubs, etc.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

3D Printing Etsy Store: Empowering Local Crafters

Looking for a fun way to empower the local crafter? Check out Etsy, an internet based shopping website that allows anyone to buy and sell their hand made merchandise. 3D printed materials still count in the "hand made" universe. All you need to do is set up a shop and take pictures of your work. If someone were to print with our $1 an hour charge, they could make earrings for a product cost to them of $1-3 (based on size), use a dremel or small drill to make a hole, and go to Michaels, or another local craft store, for the stainless steel earring hooks and you are in business for profit! (beware of copyright infringement such as printing items from Nintendo, Disney, etc.)

This is from Fish3Ddesigns, which prints using a Makerbot Replicator 3D printer in PLA. It sells for $22.00 on Etsy plus shipping.

I'd be interested to hear from an Etsy shop owner how good business is but with such a low start up cost it would be worth a try anyway.  Just another way to show libraries helping to empower local entrepreneurs and crafters!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

3D Printing: The New Reference Interview?

If you are thinking about implementing a pay to print service with the 3D printer for kids, it won't be something simple as dropping off a file and walking away at least for the first few prints. It is as much a trial and error process for us as it is for the designer.  In library school, they teach us the importance of the reference interview, how to properly cull what a person really wants out of a simple question. If they were looking for architecture books, do they want photography? how to build? famous builders throughout the centuries? Is it a school project or just a hobby?

When a student comes to drop off a 3D print job, questions need to be asked. The librarian will have to look at the design as a .stl file and open it into the propriety software of the 3D printer they have before printing. Cura in the case of the Ultimaker for us, or Cube for our Cube 2D printers.  Once the file is saved as a Cube file, it cannot be edited so always saving the original .stl file is important too.  This way the librarian can decide if they want to make slight edits without having to call or email the patron asking them to come back in or do they because it is a teachable moment? You'll have to decide.

Questions to ask before they leave:

Does it need supports? If you are building anything vertical, say a house, supports may need to be made (for example: where my finger is pointing) since the printer prints the entire project horizontally layer by layer  (think like a house foundation). When it got to the roof layer in this instance, it would have had nothing except the columns to build off (which don't go over the entire area) and it would just spray 3D filament into the air. Supports happen after the .stl file is made because most printer software creates their own supports that are easier to take off.  These supports weren't too much fun cutting out later (it made jagged edges over the house door) but it would just be a matter of some light sanding or wire cutters to make smooth. They are very thinly printed and usually can be broken off by hand.

Can we print it hollow? Printing anything hollow takes up much less time because if you print solid, every inch (except where you made room for the holes) will be filled with filament. Printing in solid (or even strong), will prevent fragile thin items from breaking but it is usually not necessary for most simple print jobs.

Are you sure this is the right size? The concept of MM is foreign to most students which is when I break out the digital caliper and show them the actual size. Most of the time the kids say, "Oh I didn't realize it was that large".  If someone just drops off a file, there can be no back and forth.  The print will be done before there's a conversation (and may need to reprint).

Is the base level with the work plane? I've talked about this before. It's crucial! If the base is floating off the work plane in tinkercad even 1mm the entire print won't work.  You can check in tinkercad by clicking on the black cone (IT TURNS RED). It should say 0.0mm. I can't see any easy way to do this in the Cube software.


Monday, August 10, 2015

Mad Science Mondays come to a close

Another round of weekly summer Mad Science Mondays comes to a close. These were drop in science & art based programs for grades K and up with an adult taking place in the children's room for a 2 hour drop in. We did this for the first time last summer. It was so successful we decided to do it again. Our schedule was as follows: (keeping in mind Superheroes as our summer reading theme)

Superhero Gadgets-Use littleBits to make your own gadgets for your hero tool belt
Superhero Lairs- Make your own secret hideout
Superhero Traps-Make Rube Goldberg inspired designs to capture your enemies
Superhero Minions- Build and program your own Lego robot to do your bidding

We were fortunate enough to get a donation of refrigerator boxes from a local appliance store to help us with lairs (think about where you can store these before the program. In our case we had a delivery of boxes two months before and things got tight!).  If lairs would be too big to store, I suggest making superhero cars out of smaller boxes. We had a superhero drive in as another separate program and the kids loved it. I had the custodial staff save all the big paper towel boxes and they were a good fit.  I pre-cut windshields and doors with an exacto blade and left the decorations up to them. Once construction was over, we watched 2 Pixar shorts: Mike's Car (Monster's Inc.) and Jack Jack Attack (from The Incredibles).  The small size of the cardboard cars also fit in most of the parents cars afterward for take home!
One reflective thought after the series was Superhero Minions was during the same week as the Minion movie release. Some of the parents thought that we were actually making Minions based on the movie. The program turnout for this was the biggest Monday I had and I'm wondering if the word "Minion" drew them in.  Do librarians go through all this effort to think up catchy titles and end up confusing or alluring our patrons (it worked out in this instance)? It is a constant debate for me.
These Monday programs required a bit of prep work for example collecting cardboard and recyclables, making sure all littleBits or Legos are in the right boxes, testing the batteries, double checking flash is up to date on the computers, etc but well worth it.  I ran the programs mostly hands off explaining what their challenge was for that Monday and showing them the cart of supplies and an example. The exception was Lego Robotics which required some troubleshooting once they began programming in the WeDo software. WeDo software comes with guided instructions on a few different robots but leaves the programming part to less guided experimentation. My one concern in something like Lego Robotics as a drop in is when everyone isn't working on the same construction it is very hard to see where things went wrong in the design. WeDo is recommended for ages 8 and up but I was surprised to see many 5 year olds (with the help of a parent) succeeding in their constructions. It was a great day to be a librarian when I saw how proud they were as soon as their parent's camera phones came out.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

What to Do When the 3DPrinter Breaks?

After 6 months, our 3D printers have had some hiccups. Any library must take into consideration troubleshooting and repair when purchasing a printer. Who is going to fix the printer when it goes down? When the photocopier or printer is busted, we have servicemen we can call. Depending on if you are using 3D printers solely for programs or as a "service," the immediacy of the fix might be more than one librarian can handle.  When purchasing a 3D printer, be sure to ask what kind of support will be given by the company.  When our Cube printers were clogged, we received an email with step by step instructions (with pictures) on how to fix the jam. But what if you're someone that has no experience taking machines apart? How do you overcome the hurdle of taking that leap? The commitment from the staff, and more than just one person, is one of the biggest obstacles I can see to libraries thinking about a printer.  We were very fortunate to have a brave soul on staff that took it apart and was willing to get the rest of us up to speed.  It turns out we weren't using a tool that came with the printer inbetween color reel changes! Where was that in our instructions?