Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Bicycle-Powered Sewing Machine

"The handlebar was kind of touching the machine. They appeared to be looking at each other...The spark was there between the wheels."
 ~Laura & Jaime, casa peSeta

Is there a need for this device? The treadle sewing machine is already human powered. Splitting the work between two people requires communication and coordination, and even has the potential to be dangerous. Moreover, unless sewing machines are used differently in Spain, she is running her machine from the back instead of the front. (This may be for photographic ease.) The entire sewing process is slowed down.

Watch the video, though, and there's a charming story here.

The Bicycle Cap by peSeta for the New Museum from casa peSeta on Vimeo.

Sometimes the things we make may seem foolish to others. They may make no inherent sense to anyone but those involved. Laura and Jaime understood that the bicycle wanted to be with the sewing machine, and that is reason enough to make it happen.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

On Being Wrong

Although it costs several thousand dollars to attend a TED conference, the talks are available to watch online for free. It can be a heady experience searching or browsing the site; nearly anything you can think of is up there in some way. The presenters tend to be the best in their fields and great public speakers, to boot.

Make's own Dale Dougherty can be found here, for example.

And this talk, by Kathryn Schulz, was uploaded just a day or two ago. Schulz reminds her audience that being wrong is something we should expect, that it is a measure of our unique way of seeing the world, an element which gives life variety and flavor. By the same token, being overly attached to being right often leads to colossal mistakes.

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Open Make Session 4: Wood

"People go, "Why are you building this stuff?" But...why not?"
~Scott Weaver, toothpick artist
Saturday at the Palace of Fine Arts, we learned some of the ways in which wood can be used—including, as shown above, gluing toothpicks into a model of the Palace of Fine Arts itself. This is only one small element in Scott Weaver's incredible kinetic sculpture of San Francisco, a work he has been building for 37 years. A photo is not sufficient—you really have to see it in action:

There were woodworkers, luthiers, a table display of Japanese saws. Once again, there was much to see and do, and not enough time to take it all in before the plussing session began.

This was the last Open Make before next month's Maker Faire in San Mateo. Accordingly, the focus was shifted from working on projects to the process of exhibiting.
Dale reminded everyone about the tight parking situation at the Faire and suggested arriving an hour before one's exhibit slot. It looks like about two dozen projects have been submitted to the Young Makers exhibit this year. Here are a few of them:

The Follow-Me Car uses an arduino program to recognize and steer toward the circular paper plate.
Johnavi's ocean-themed roller coaster, shown here as a scale model:
Isabella's kinetic horse:
The pizza was quickly consumed. Thank you, Tony, Michelle, Dale and Sherry, for feeding everyone.
In the McBean Theater, Scott Weaver spoke at length about his toothpick building techniques; Bernie Lubell introduced us to Jules Marey, the inspiration for many of his wooden pneumatic machines; Jessica Hobbs emphasized the importance of collaboration in building last year's Burning Man Temple; and Saul Griffith talked about his software program to aid in designing objects from any material. This gorilla is one such example:
Using the same software, Saul had also created large inflatable robotic animals, which were onstage with him. The brontosaurus and elephant, he told us, could be ridden by a child.

The complete webcast can be seen here.

Now it's back to fine-tuning the projects until we meet up again at—

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Open Make Session 3: Metal

"You learn how to do things by screwing up—so don't be afraid. If you've got something you want to make and you don't really know what you're doing, just do it; you learn by making mistakes." 
 ~Jay Broemmel, art bike creator
One of the first things encountered in walking through the Exploratorium was this reindeer bicycle:
The same artist, Jay Broemmel, had also made the Golden Gate
—and a red fiberglass dragon with rotating light-up eyes.
You can see more of Jay's bike creations at the Meet the Makers talk webcast here. Other speakers included Tim HunkinDavid Cole, and experienced Young Makers Sam and Alex. All of these speakers are hard to define in a phrase, as they are each and every one people of diverse interests and abilities.

The theme of how everyone began to make things was particularly strong this month, as Jay showed his childhood model of an Imperial Walker from Star Wars and Tim demonstrated Gladys, the Burglar Catcher, a robot he made at age 11 (the first machine shown in the video link). Sam and Alex showed a number of their previous projects, which they expressly chose with the aim of learning a new skill each year.

A few common themes have evolved from all the speakers over the last three months: Just start, even if you're not sure what you're doing. Expect to make mistakes and learn from them. And have fun. Good advice for almost any endeavor, really.

Back at the plussing session, projects were in various stages:
marshmallow gun
plans for scale model house
a go kart
drawings for the Rubens' Tube
homemade vacuum former to make pieces for the Metroid costume
Tony emphasized that projects should be more or less display-ready at next month's Open Make. He talked about the lull that one experiences after the initial excitement of starting something new. Tony's advice? Expect it, and keep going. Tell yourself you'll only work for 10 minutes—that 10 minutes may turn into an hour before you know it. Michelle also emphasized that a project can be modified or scaled down if it helps you to finish it.

Open Make Session 2: Cardboard

"It's really about how well we can play together."
~Josh Short from Cardboard Institute of Technology

What can you make with cardboard?

You can make miniature buildings, adding paint and architectural features, even scaled photos of actual doors and windows.
 Stack the buildings, and you get something else altogether:
You can make masks and props:
Full-sized medieval gates:
You can even make yourself into a giant robot:
Saturday's Open Make session was all about cardboard. Cardboard feels like the most egalitarian material, being both abundant and intuitive to work with. There probably isn't a child alive who hasn't cut apart a box and taped it back together to make something or another. Cardboard is both pliable and sturdy, lightweight and solid, flat and textural. It is easy to glue and paint, to cut down or build up to any size.

The speaker session included this cardboard stop-motion video:
If you want to listen to the hourlong speaker session in its entirety, the webcast is here.

Just as inspiring was the plussing session. Young Makers from the Bay Area presented their projects in whatever stages they were in. Sometimes this meant printouts from the web, sometimes there were drawings or wiring diagrams, and a few were in the first stage of creation.

John and Alex (and also Sam, who was skiing) plan to make a Ruben's Tube.
Isabella is working on a K'nex horse which will accurately show the motion of a running horse by turning a single crank.
Joseph is refining his Halloween Metroid costume.
And Savannah, along with her mentor Sara, were making a music visualizer.
There were also plans for go karts, a secret-knock gumball machine, and a power-saving mechanism to turn off electrical power to appliances when the room is unoccupied.

Open Make Session 1: Plastic

"Behind this is just a natural curiosity in what's around us."
~Dale Dougherty

The focus of this year's Open Make sessions have been on materiality, and the January 15th session was all about plastic. Each session has three parts: the Open Make at the Tinkering Studio, plussing sessions with Tony DeRose, and Maker Interviews held with Dale Dougherty in the McBean Theater.

In the Tinkering Studio, one could use a film canister, a piece of pvc pipe and a latex glove to make a membranophone, a diy instrument with a surprisingly good sound.
Later at the plussing session, Tony described a rough timetable for projects: exploring ideas in January, narrowing them down by February, having a pretty clear project plan by March, and making good progress on the project by April.

Every Young Maker at the plussing session received a Maker's Notebook in which to track their project. The notebook is like a Moleskine with graph-paper pages, a sleeve in back containing two sheets of maker-oriented stickers, and a short reference section which encompasses everything from common technical abbreviations to adhesive charts to lists of Mercury Retrogrades and best places to dumpster dive. The kids were all over these.
January Makers were CJ Huang, Virginia Fleck, Lanny Smoot and Shawn Lani. The tiny auditorium was packed; you can actually get a better view via the webcast here.
At the end, the floor was opened for questions for the Makers, among which were:

1. What is your favorite tool?
  • Answers: wire stripper, vise grip pliers, hot glue gun, my fingers.
2. What inspires you?
  • Two of the makers were quick to mention their dads.
3. Have you ever made a working miniature car?
  • —which drew laughs from the audience, until two of the makers answered 'yes' and a third mentioned his Beagle Chariot.
4. . What's the biggest creative challenge and how did you overcome it?
  • Shawn talked about the importance of iteration, meaning you do the project as many times as necessary, acquiring new information and reworking after each attempt.
5. What is your success-to-failure ratio?
  • Lanny: "The iterative process means you never fail. One hundred per cent success rate!"
Future Open Make sessions focus on the following materials: cardboard in February, metal in March, and wood in April.