Archive for November, 2013

It’s an Exciting Time to Tell Maker Stories

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

In the Globe and Mail today there is a feature article called Remaking the way children learn and play. Reading articles like this one reminds me why I wanted to do the Working Hands media project in the first place. The research I have being doing for the past two and a half years has shown me this topic is both timely and fascinating. I have learned about the serious problems we are facing:

  • the shortages of people in skilled trades that we have now and will increasingly have in the future
  • the disconnect with our objects where disposal, not repair, is often the preferred option
  • the removal of industrial arts from schools
  • the overwhelming amount of content available and the great ease we have in consuming it
  • the disparity between how our bodies have evolved and the lifestyle we live

I have also learned about many positive initiatives. Ever since the first one in 1950 in Madrid, Spain, there have been hundreds of competition events for those who are starting off in skill trades. In addition to national competitions, every two years the best from the each country compete in a WorldSkills Competition. In 2011 I had a chance to visit and film at the 17th Skills Canada National Competition in Québec City. It was quite inspiring to see young people so passionate and dedicated to their trade.

It started in 2006 in the Bay area. It is now happening all over the world. Maker Faires are gatherings for all-ages of tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science clubs, authors, artists, students, and commercial exhibitors. In 2012 I attended New York City’s Maker Faire. It was very COOL.

There are now opportunities and places for kids and adults to do hands-on activities year round. Makers Spaces are popping up everywhere including libraries. The Globe and Mail article talks about MakerKids which is a makerspace for youth in Toronto. In Oakland California there is The Crucible where forges roar, sparks fly, glass bends, neon glows, and creativity explodes. There are websites like iFixit which wants to build a global community of people helping each other repair things. We have toys now like GoldieBlox that want to disrupt the pink aisle and get girls building.

There have been scientific studies done to show the positive benefit of using hands in a complex manner and the effect on learning and our sense of well-being. In a complex manner, which does not include the use of the keyboard, refers to activities like handwriting, building, repairing and even repetitive tasks like knitting. Even using a tablet has been shown to be more effective for children’s learning compared to using a laptop. It is no accident that Montessori schools have designed their flash cards to have the letters made with sandpaper.

Yes it is an exciting time to tell these stories. The world is changing rapidly; the state of our environment, economics, technology. Some of the answers to moving forward, I believe, rest in our hands.

UPDATE: I just read another great article on the Makezine website. How to Remake the World by Making with Kids gives you the point of view of the Co-Executive Director of MakerKids.

INVENTING- Amateur Style

Friday, November 8th, 2013

A Saskatchewan man with no formal training in engineering or computer science has invented a 3D printer that sells for just $100. WOW! that is something. Then the article goes onto to say that he has been a tinkerer all his life.

With the growth of Maker Faires and Maker Spaces tinkering has taken on new importance. It is especially encouraging to see Maker Spaces popping up in universities where science and engineering students can apply and test out what they are learning. In this case Ryan Grayston, 28, from Yorkton wanted to use a 3D printer but couldn’t afford to buy one. His idea to convert the digital data to sound waves was quite clever. Maybe limited formal education opened his mind to consider the less obvious. The reactions are interesting, here are some quotes:

There are many many people who make home made cheap 3D printers that can print a small blob of resin. …Their commercial version will not be very good compared to more expansive machines in terms of details and size of the printed object. A mere potential cost reduction that is happening elsewhere anyway doesn’t make an inventor or a genius. …they are glorified hobbyists who were able to create buzz.

I think people are missing out on the fact that this 3D printer works in a way that it totally different than the normal X-Y-Z plotter that squirts material out in layers – designs are limited by gravity-supportable structure or the need to print little supports into the design – He is selectively hardening a floating layer of resin which means a far more flexibility in design as it is refined. He has also eliminated the vast majority of the moving parts, creating something that is simpler than a CD player

 the process of lowering a bath of resin as you cure it with a laser oriented by step motors is nothing novel. Sorry, I saw it over 10 years ago.

For this media project I don’t care if the idea is revolutionary or not. What interest me is the process that goes on when you tinker, try things out, experiment. I have had a experience as well where I wanted to have a device that was either commercially expensive or not adequate for my needs. A number of years ago when I got my first HD camera I had problems holding it steady and mounting accessories such as wireless microphone receivers. The camera was lighter and smaller but that was the problem. I decided to design and make my own camera plate. Originally I was going to make just one but eventually I decided to sell them commercially. Life got in the way but I did sell 8 units for a ‘work in progress price’. I have been using the plate myself for all my camera jobs and had some hesitation to get back into selling the unit commercially. While it worked fine for me there were a few design features that would not go over well to potential buyers. I have overcome most of those so I may get back on the selling track.

The point of my story is that I am an amateur but as a camera plate user I have had time to tinker the invention into a half-decent design. I know there are better camera support systems designed by professionals and better 3D printers. But it is amazing what can be made in basements with basic tools and off-the-shelf or recycled parts. Here is a story about another inventor you may find interesting.