Monday, March 23, 2015

Getting comfortable with our 3D printers

Group of 3D enthusiasts meet on a Saturday morning at the DFL.
Having been lucky enough to have won the 3DSystems national competition for the 2 Cube 2 3D printers, we also had an Ultimaker 2 in the pipeline, so now we are the proud owners of 3 3D printers for public use.

The Cube2s are small, a little finicky and do not have a heated build plate, which makes the end product a little rougher than the outcomes rom the Ultimaker 2.

Basically, though, operating the two different kinds of 3D printers is fairly similar.

Charlotte makes sure her designs sits flat on the workspace.
The most difficulty we have had has been getting the build plates to be level and the nozzle-build plate distance optimal.

We had old friend, Kevin Osborn, from Newton, come to give us a complete overview of how the Ultimaker 2 works and give us some tips & tricks.

Amy keeps an eye on the latest project.
The LED screen in the front is the control panel for running it. Projects are loaded up from either TinkerCad or AutoDesk Inventor, through the freeware program called CURA, which actually translated the CAD image into the instructions for the 3D printer to follow.

We're planning to run some CAD classes with our volunteer instructor, Paul Harhen, and then have some open studio time eventually whereby folks can come in to try their hand at designing and printing out projects.

Costs for filament are still being discussed. We don't want to charge too much for material, but want to be able to sustain materials costs for general public use.

As Kevin speaks, Dmriti and Andrew choose interlocking shapes.
We are hoping that the attraction of making actual objects will be a draw for girls and get them excited about modeling and coding for this exciting new technology.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Visit to PAX East: Part 2: Lending Libraries and 3D Printing

One of the coolest things about PAX East from a librarian standpoint was the amount of pop up libraries. There was a Table Top Gaming Library where anyone could check out and demo a board game. There were also reserved rooms with a Free Play Console Library, Retro Console Library, and Handheld Gaming Library where anyone could check out a video game and play with their friends on provided consoles. These rooms were filled with people, so much so after the exhibit hall closed that I didn't even get a chance to get in. What about taking those old working gaming consoles from home and building retro kits to circulate at the library? Who doesn't miss playing GoldenEye for the N64 on multiplayer? Does your library host a game night for adults not just teens? Trust me the demographic at PAX East was mostly game obsessed adults 30 + yrs old.
Most libraries have board games available to play, usually in the Teen Area but when is the last time they were updated? or actually allowed to circulate at home? Highly involved board games are not cheap these days with price tags well into the $50-$100. Where else but a game store can people try out games before they buy? We have a board game night for adults one Thursday night a month here at the library. What I love most about the program is people bring their favorite games from home (in some cases, games that they finally have enough enthusiastic people to play) which is how I learned to play Kings of Tokyo, Timeline and a new favorite, Libertalia. The sheer amount of board games have exploded these days and some of that is attributed to websites like Kickstarter and the consumer 3D Printer. 
I attended an interesting PAX panel on 3D Printing and Gaming.  3D Printing will affect many aspects of production and careers not just engineers. The talk opened highlighting artists on Etsy who can design and sell their own board games with customized pieces. Even companies represented in the panel like Cool Mini or Not  3D print all their initial pieces to their tabletop games in house to check for design issues then send them to China for resin molding which saves them time and money.  This could become the industry standard. Design software companies are jumping on board as well. Nervous System designs software to generate beautiful patterns based on natural mathematic computations to use in clothing, jewelry and more. This dress is printed entirely as one piece from a 3D printer using that software. Like the Oculus, this is another field where the sky is the limit.  Stereolythographic printers like Form Labs will allow intense detail and quality with a multitude of printing materials.
A few interesting names were dropped during the presentation like MIT's Skylar Tibbits on 4D Printing and artist Cosmo Wenman who 3D prints recreations of famous sculptures from art museums. I cannot wait to see the 3D printer that will be made in the next 2 years with how quickly technology advances these days. It all begins with learning CAD software, which any library can host right now using Lynda tutorials and free programs like AutoDesk apps or Tinkercad.  Patrons of the library could use a library 3D printer to create the next successful table top game or a fashion statement.

Visiting PAX East Part 1: Oculus Booth

Growing up in a generation that has seen so much technological change in one lifetime it takes alot to impress me these days but a visit to the Oculus Booth at the PAX East Convention yesterday was well worth the ticket price. I left the demo feeling awestruck and humbled to live in such a technologically rich lifetime. Seriously, we will probably see Skynet.

If you haven't heard of the Oculus Rift, it's a stereoscopic (you can see full 360 degrees) virtual reality headset that is going to be affordable for consumers. If you signed up for the PAX East App, you were able to schedule in advance a short time with the Oculus Cresent Bay demo. After experiencing the satisfaction of cutting the 2 hour line, you were taken to a dark room with the headset, a mat to stand on, and of course someone to guide you through the process.  The demo plays highly detailed example scenes from as a beautiful Minecraft-ish meadow full of animals to a realistic Jurassic Park like scene with a T-Rex charging towards you. Anytime during the simulation you were encouraged to look all the way around you and change your position from standing to sitting etc.  Besides being able to peak at a very small section below me (which worked out so I didn't fall off the mat), the entire world was virtual. The scene that really got me was the high platform on a skyscraper overlooking a city. I literally backed up as my stomach dropped from the soaring height between me and the "ground". I found myself many times reaching out to touch and interact with the environment but there's nothing you can do during the demo.  The finale, which convinced me I could actually get into video games again, was a scene from an alien invasion where you are part of the police team trying to take them down. Bullets, glass, lasers and even a car fly all around you as you move closer and closer to the target with bullet time right out of a Wachowski brothers movie.
Samsung VR Net Gear Demo

Right now it's only available as a developer's kit for game designers (and the quite tech savvy librarians like those over at Ames Free Library in Easton where I had my first demo) to have a chance at testing/improving the tech and designing games for the Oculus.

Many big name companies are trying to create their own head sets for virtual gaming. In the Oculus booth was the Samsung VR Net Gear (another very long line to wait for) which had a controller to play a few demo games.

If there was an interest, I would love to add this to a Makerspace like Easton did. Imagine budding game developers getting a chance to come down to the library to program and later when the consumer device debuts library patrons can play what they have designed.  Libraries can certainly get on the ground floor of this awe-inspiring technological development. Buyers beware on this one though it does take alot of work to set them up and configure which Jed Phillips over in Easton can attest to. Also after the initial set up, just to demo already made games requires a very robust computer and money for games but imagine if people would wait 2 hours outside the library to demo the Oculus?


Starting a new format for Tinkering

Yesterday, we began a new format for running our Tinkering Tuesday sessions.

It's drop-in, it's open to 6th grade and up.

We have three activities with three librarians running them and people can stay with one and dig deep, or move from station to station to try things out.

This week we had our two new Cube2 3D printers with a bunch of laptops open to TinkerCad online. We started out printing some pre-designed forms we got with the printers, but the teens jumped right into  teaching themselves Tinkercad basics and turning out their own models.

We had an area devoted to Lego Mindstorm and WeDo where a group built some robotic vehicles and a Ferris Wheel.

The last area was a soldering station where people could put the Makerbot badges together. This table will change next week to a more non-electronic craft activity and we feel it might be fun to cross pollinate the high and low tech projects to see what might come of it down the road!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


We have a 3Doodler! This nifty pen is a hand held 3D printing pen, check out the possibilities.

  First, an explanation: The 3Doodler works very similarly to a hot glue gun. The plastic filament feeds in through the back, passes through a heating element, and comes out of the tip at one of two speeds, fast, and slow. The now pliable plastic comes out in a thin string which quickly cools in the air and becomes solid again. You can draw flat on a piece of paper, freehand or by tracing a stencil, or draw up and into the air to create free form 3D sculptures. It is easy to build off of your own projects as newly extruded plastic will easily bond with existing plastic. There are two types of plastic that can be used with the 3Doodler, ABS and PLA. ABS is a #7 recyclable plastic that is recommended for drawing up, bendable pieces, tracing onto paper where you want to remove it later, and welding two pieces of plastic together. PLA is a biodegradable plastic, made from corn, which is better for drawing onto surfaces where you want the plastic to stay there permanently (like fabric, paper, ceramics or metals). PLA is also moldable for a few seconds after it is released from the pen giving you more creation options. For this test I used ABS.

Now for the review: it is a lot more difficult to master than I expected (but isn’t everything?)
Pros: Extremely fun and challenging. With practice I imaging that I could become proficient and create things I can be pleased with. It is an interesting art tool that expands the options of an artist to include 3D. Practically I can see it being very useful as part of a tinkering lab. The heated plastic can be used to bond other items together which would be very useful for making small repairs or even designing an object or device. To test it out I tried three techniques; a stencil to be traced, free hand 3D drawing, and a folded paper scaffold.

This was by far the easiest technique. Using a design printed on regular printing paper I traced the design using black filament and then carefully popped it off of the paper. I then used blue filament to add some color and stability to the bird.

Free Hand
This was very difficult. I started by drawing a base and then working my way up. Even on the slow setting the plastic comes out quickly and you need to be ready. Unfortunately the machine pauses often so that it can draw in more filament and heat it making it difficult to achieve a flow of movement with the pen. I'm really not sure what I was going for with the black and red Burton-esque tree...

Origami Scaffold
This was fun. I folded a simple paper crane using lined paper and then traced it with the 3Doodler. After it had set I carefully tore away all of the paper to leave just the outline. This was very tricky. I wish I had had something to hold the crane with so that I could more easily manipulate the crane without risking burning my fingers. In case you’re wondering I had to make quite a few repairs after removing the paper. 


Cons: The pen is very bulky and to work it you must hold down one of two buttons the entire time. The device frequently has to stop to pull more filament in which leaves you hanging in midair waiting for more plastic to come out. This makes flow a real issue and can sometimes really mess with your design. The tip that is included with the 3Doodler is very narrow resulting in a very thin string of plastic to work with. It is very difficult to make a smooth line but I imagine that with practice this could get easier. 

Conclusion: A very fun and useful addition to any tinkering lab, but no substitute for a 3D printer. I look forward to more testing and would love to play around with some of the other tips available for the pen.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Tips on Lego Mindstorm

Thanks to the Duxbury High School Lego Robotics Team for allowing me to observe their Lego Mindstorm Class for Alden students in Grades 3-5 as part of Engineering Week.  They taught me a valuable lesson, you don't have to use the instructions! I was so caught up with building the official robots that I forgot that the whole point to Legos is the individualized creativity with the pieces. Now this type of learning isn't for everyone but I've always hated instructions and doing step by step Lego instructions was a huge set back for me.  I'd rather trial and error free build and problem solve throughout the process. That's closer to tinkering anyway.

In a 3 day consecutive after school class, each team built their own robots for battle.  The first day was a lot of experimenting with the parts. The students immediately delved into the kits asking questions about sensors or just building something with gears that physically moved without electricity.  The second day was building their robots for battle, and the third day was the actual battle where the winning robot needed to be pushed out of the circle ring.

I was so excited after the 2 classes I attended that I came immediately back to the library, threw the instructions aside and actually looked at the pieces themselves to build a car. I suggest building first and to have a plan of what sensors to use (that way if you have kids that just want to program they can get started while you build). I knew that I wanted the two large motors to drive the car and a motion sensor. From there I just built the housing to keep it in place being mindful that one side of the EV3 Block (the Gameboy looking piece) has alphabet ports for the motors while the other side includes the number ports for the sensors. Once you start programming on the computer, you have to make sure the letters/numbers on the top of the blocks below match the ports that you used on the EV3 block.  (Motors were connected to port B + C while motion sensor was connected to port 1).  My goal was that the car would keep driving until the motion sensor is set off and then it will back up, turn and play a note.

My Program
For a brief programming explanation this is my sequence of events, after the green triangle I built a loop where the main motors go forward until the motion sensor is hit (first green and orange block). Outside the loop is another main motor command green block where both wheels are going backward (hence -50 under the speed dial) then the third block is turning with one motor rotating -50 and the other 50 under the speed dial to make the wheels turn. The last green block is the music note which can upload sounds or just play a note.
My Robot

I had the car built and the program running in under 2 hours but I'd suggest a longer class so the students have time to build their own custom bots while others are programming the bot or everyone has time to build a few bots (first hour) and then program them (2nd hour). It does require the computer software so you'll need sufficient laptops. I think ideally 4 or 5 kids per Mindstorm set so they can all stay engaged.  I'm still learning so from here maybe I'll watch an actual Lego Mindstorm programming tutorial video or two or maybe I'll just keep experimenting. Look for updates soon! I just found some great tutorials online for programming the bots with sensor explanations.

Lego Mindstorm Robotics Test 1 from Duxbury Free Library on Vimeo.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Getting our feet wet with 3D printers

We were lucky enough to win a grant from 3D Systems and the ALA for two 3D desktop printers and now we are digging in to learn the ins and outs of how they work and what can be done with them. They come with 25 pre-set projects with which we can start.

With young people and adults alike chomping at the bit to get their hands on 3D printing, we feel it is important to make access to them and the programs that support them easy and democratic.

Matthew Scorza, a Duxbury resident and recent engineering grad, came in to see them and immediately got a hankering to use AutoDesk Inventor to create some cool designs to be printed.  In the interest of  getting comfortable with the machines, the filament, the printer designs, we had printed a Rook on Saturday. Matt added to that a simple map of Duxbury just to see how it handles detail.

There is much to be learned about how to design a successful project in terms of getting the changes of filament layers to shift gradually enough to adhere to each other.

Because of the creative outcomes of the 3D printers, we are hoping that making unique pieces and objects that are stand alone or may even fit together will entice girls into our Tinkering Tuesday program!

Jessica, Suzanne, and I are planning to have at least three stations of projects available on Tuesday afternoons - simple robotics with We-Dos and Minecraft, 3D printing design, and electronic crafts starting out with simple soldering skills.

We are excited to have been invited back to host a table at the Cape Cod Mini Maker Faire in Barnstable on Saturday, May 30th so if you're in the area, swing on by!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Our 3D Cube Printers Came In!!

With a collaborative grant writing effort from community members and library staff, we are proud to announce that we won 2 Cube 3D Printers from the Maker Lab Club in collaboration with the American Library Association, American Makes, and the Association of Science and Technology Centers.

We cannot believe how easy these were to set up.  The first one took some extra time as we had to navigate around the new website to find the software, activate the printers, and calibrate it but we were able to figure it out in an hour. The 2nd printer took about 15 minutes! With the 25 free designs already preset for the Cube, we printed a chess piece Rook. It took an hour and a half to print. It even had a staircase inside, what great detail! The Cube has it's own software and design file name (not the standard .stl) so files designed elsewhere will have to go through their software before printing. Once it is ready, file transfer is done over a flash drive that is plugged in directly to the printer.

The printer isn't very noisy (about as noisey as our computer printers) and the smell of plastic was only prevalent when we were sitting pretty close to it at the desk. The only thing to check before printing is that the special glue was applied to the plate before printing. We love that they are lightweight, easy to transport, and we can buy the print cartridges at Staples if we need to.  Hopefully the bright pink Cube will encourage girls to design.

There will be many program opportunities in the future for patrons of all ages to be able to come in and see the printer in action or attend a program to design their own pieces to print.

Check out our video to see the printing in real time.

3D Cube Printers Unboxed from Duxbury Free Library on Vimeo.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Podcasting with teens

Radiofaces groups reading through script in teen lounge
Our teen podcasting group, the Radiofaces, has been re-constituted from a few years ago, and now meets weekly or bi-weekly, depending on the high school drama department schedule, all school year.

Lately we have enjoyed reading short folk tales adapted by Aaron Shepard, in his excellent book, Folktales on Stage: Scripts for Reader's Theater.

Set-up for podcasting
The teens are making these their own by adopting kind of crazy accents and affectations that they find goofy. The only reservation I have for this is that the result has to be intelligible!

What do we use for recording? Why, the Blue Yeti multi-directional mic, of course! This powerhouse of a mic can be adjusted to mono-directional, bi-directional, and omnidirectional. We use it plugged into one of our Mac laptops running Garageband. This makes it super easy to edit, add opening and closing music, save to iTunes and send it off to our podcasting host service, Liberated Syndication, which publishes it in the iTunes catalog (search in the podcast catalog under the name: diffle presents), on the LibSyn web site and out onto RSS feeds such as Feedly! You can subscribe via email or RSS. We also have it publish out to the library podcast blog here.

We don't have our own LibSyn account yet, so we're piggybacking on the library podcast service now but we hope to be able to become independent in the future!

How it appears in iTunes catalog

Our latest effort is the American tall tale, Slappy Hooper. Check it out!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Lego WeDo Robotics in Action

What I love about Lego WeDo kits as opposed to Lego Mindstorms is how "out of the box ready" they are.  Keep in mind LegoWeDos are geared for lower elementary school students but they can still serve as an introductory lesson for middle school students.

In February, we are conducting a 4 week, 1 hour Lego Robotics program for the Middle School DIY Club. We decided for the first lesson, we would introduce the concept of Lego Robotics with the WeDo kits. Even before we turned on the computers, they were off and running. Once the software was installed, it was literally plug and play.

A note about software: if you do not have Apple laptops with CD/DVD drivers, it takes a bit of computer know-how to trick the mac into thinking the CD is there (our windows laptops were no problem!).

WeDo projects can be made in under an hour, unlike the Mindstorms Gyro robot I've spent about 6 hours building only to find out that I must have missed a step somewhere and need to take it all apart (there was lots of silent screaming).  Not to mention, I've spent so much time building it I haven't even gotten to the coding part yet. It could take an entire semester to build the robot and program it. As I was struggling on the desk putting my Mindstorm robot together, one of the elementary school students came up to me and said,
"You know on YouTube there are a lot easier projects"
"Oh where were you a few hours ago?" I replied.
"I was in school of course"

Lego Robotics from Duxbury Free Library on Vimeo.