Sunday, July 10, 2016

Milling TurtleArt Designs

I was lucky enough to borrow an Othermachine Othermill from a friend. My first project with it was to etch and carve TurtleArt designs into linoleum to use as stamps. It was a remarkably easy process!

I started with a design I programmed in TurtleArt. I converted the image from .png format to .svg format so I could prepare the image in Inkscape for use with the Otherplan software. I used the original Mac version of Otherplan (not the cross-platform beta) on my old iMac that I upgraded to OS X 10.8 specifically so I could run Otherplan and use the Othermill.

After sizing the .svg in Inkscape, I imported the image into Otherplan, sized the stock I was going to use in the software, and loaded the 1/32" bit into the mill.

The milling was surprisingly quiet despite the high speed at which the bits spun and etched and carved the material. The process was very interesting to watch.

It took about 45 minutes for the design to be etched and the outline to be carved. I stopped the Othermill using the software when the 1/8" bit was about halfway through the stock. I finished the stamp with a manual jig saw and a piece of Scotch Bright scouring pad.

The resolution of the finished stamp is surprisingly detailed. This stamp is about 2 inches wide. The next designs on this small a piece of linoleum should probably not use as fine a line, as some of the detail is lost at the edges. However, this stamp was a beautiful first effort and an exciting new tool with which to create.

I look forward to teaching my friend how to etch and carve his own stamps when I return his Othermill!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Playful LEGO Tinkering

As part of my Horizon's LEGO Grant Coordinator position I was invited to a couple of the sites for teacher professional development of skills with LEGO, tinkering, and learning through play.

For these sessions I defined tinkering as working with materials to learn how materials work.

I brought along three LEGO Tinkering machines that I constructed. Each was built around the Tinkering Studio's pegboard. Participants were encouraged to play with the machines, remix them, and to think about the simple technologies that combine to make complex projects.

The first machine was the perennial favorite, the spin art machine. It combined a motor, a platform, and recycled paper. Instead of paint, we used markers and crayons.


We noticed how different the ink or crayon looks while the machine spins versus how the completed art looks. The art informed us how to use the pens and crayons differently and the necessity, perhaps, or building a more robust platform so the artist can put more pressure on the paper as it spins.

The second machine I brought was an iteration of a sound machine. It uses a shaker on an arm that moves thanks to a cam. It also included a couple of the 3D printed LEGO Set Screw Pen Holders. I included some baby toys that made sounds and some upcycled containers.

With the machine hooked to the Power Functions battery pack, the motor turns quite fast.

The third machine was a storytelling machine. It used motion of the LEGO model, animation on the screen in the LEGO WeDo software, light, and shadows to tell a short story about a duck and a wolf. Part of the model is housed in a cardboard box so there is enough darkness for the light and shadows to work properly.

I really had fun with the simplicity and potential for creativity with this machine.

The participants had a good time using the machines. There were a few great remixes. 

One group used watercolors with a spin art machine they constructed.

One participant used the spin art to create more art.

This piece was incorporated in a large dry erase board portrait that I neglected to photograph, unfortunately.

This group made great use of different materials with the sound machine to tinker with sound.

Overall, the sessions with three different Horizons sites were exceptionally fun! After warming up a little with the materials the participants truly played with the machines. They were free from the constraints of following directions. The sessions focused on learning different methods of connecting LEGO, utilizing LEGO with other materials, and using LEGO to create work that they would otherwise be incapable of producing. I look forward to the work the students are able to produce!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Hiraku Dorodango

I crafted a hiraku dorodango over the course of about three weeks using the directions from Craft Magazine (RIP) and

I started with sifted dirt from my own yard. I felt that this project would be more meaningful with soil with which I had a connection rather than going and buying a bag of dirt.

It was easier than I thought to get the initial sphere formed and to work much of the water towards the surface through repetitive tumbling in my hands.


I did not use a refrigerator for the "sweats" between adding more layers of fine dirt and tumbling. At first I tried to hurry the process but realized that was futile.

The transformation of the dorodango from a ball of dull dirt was amazing. The act of adding fine dirt to further draw out the moisture temporarily transformed the appearance until continued tumbling restored its rich, leathery luster. 

My hiraku dorodango's final appearance was different than I expected: less uniform (I can see three different types of soil that make up the dirt in that part of my yard), splintered with cracks from drying out (there must be a good amount of clay) but stable. It is truly an otherworldly artifact from this world.

I would describe the process of crafting a hiraku dorodango as mindless mindfulness. I cannot wait to make another with soil from another meaningful location.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Cybernetic Forest

"Cybernetic Forest" is a nod to Richard Brautigan and an electronically enhanced ink drawing. I programmed the Logo routines for the parts of the drawing and the LogoTurtle drew them for me. Once the drawing was completed I created a circuit using conductive copper tape. Chibitronics electronic stickers make the magic happen.

I started by programming the trees. 

Some trees have foliage, but the big gray one lived out its life.

There are multiple layers of grasses.

The circuit was built on polyester. It was rough traced first with a dry erase pen.

The circuit uses the Chibitronics light sensor sticker and twinkle effect sticker to control the circuit.

LEDs are connected so they alternate and do not all twinkle in unison.

I cut two mats, one for the front and one for the back. This way if I take the frame down from the wall I can show people the circuitry.

A 3D printed battery holder is connected to the circuit.

The light sensor sticker detects brightness and gradually turns on the LED as the room dims.

Here is the complete set of photos.

Cybernetic Forest

Sunday, May 29, 2016

LightLogo Fresnel Jig

During the course of the Wilton Young Makers workshop I ran for a few months two students worked on LightLogo procedures that we projected through a fresnel lens. The beta release of the jig worked well, particularly the focusing function. However, you could really only project onto walls, not the ceiling, and the entire jig was a little fragile.

I asked a friend for some help with using his school's laser cutter to build a better jig. He created the shapes in Illustrator using my design input. We cut them from cardboard first.

Next, we used 1/4 inch plywood as our stock and cut the same shapes.

We cut two of the open "frame" shapes for the lens and one of the solid pieces for the base. The fresnel lens is sandwiched in the frame. The parts are connected with 1/4 inch threaded rods, lock washers, washers, and nuts.

Were I to make another, I would cut some of the wood from the base just for aesthetics. 

Once focused the jig projects both on the ceiling and, tipped on its side, on walls.

The red light in the image above is the power light on the Metro Mini being magnified. I ended up covering the lights on the microcontroller with a piece of electrician's tape so they would not affect the programmed designs.

I really like how this jig turned out. It is very portable, lightweight, and simple. It can still be focused quite easily. I like how it can easily change the atmosphere of a room depending on the procedure running on the Metro Mini. Right now I have my Lopez Sky procedure running on it and it is beautiful.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Approximating Perfection

The most amazing work to grow out of the Logo after school club I facilitated this school year in a Bridgeport charter school is the willingness of the students to iterate on the designs they program for the LogoTurtle to draw. I have been asking anyone who will look at the art and listen, "How many times do you see a student willing to work on a math problem that he or she thinks the solution to is 'wrong,' and will go back on his or her own four, five, even six times to work on until he or she reaches a perfect 'solution'?"

Every time I work with the LogoTurtle with these students on a design that they generate, they inevitably find a fault in the drawing. However, instead of looking at the fault as a problem of the LogoTurtle that could be solved with a better "tool," they willingly undertake an exploration of the math or engineering that might go into "improving" the design and capturing the perfection for which the student is striving. This is exactly the "mucking around" Brian Silverman imagined might happen with programming the LogoTurtle!

A student who dropped out of Logo club returned last week and worked with my constant club member to catch up on five months work! After starting her on Turtle Blocks, she quickly built a small tool that could be used to make a more complex design.

The other student helped her translate the block programming into LogoTurtle text.

Both students were unhappy with the "lash" and the dot that happened when the LogoTurtle turned: the pen moves slightly from its ray and the dot happens when the ink seeps into the paper. We tried scaling the design up 50% to see if that helped with the lash.

The longer ray did help a little, but they still did not like the dot at the turns. I suggested lifting the pen before the LogoTurtle turned then putting it back down after it turns.

The results were stunning!

Loading the procedure on a different LogoTurtle meant we needed to muck with the math.

It was fascinating to see this girl, who had some experience with Logo programming in Turtle Blocks, approach the LogoTurtle angle and degree problem the same way I have seen other students, determined to repeat a design from the screen and willing to muck with the math to program and create an approximation of perfection.

The same tenacity played out this week as the long-time student worked on a flower design that he developed a couple weeks ago. He wondered if he could use the pen up and wait commands so he could change pen colors during the drawing. He was able to easily accomplish this goal but swapping pens produced a gap in the drawing despite using the wait command. He could not tolerate this gap!

We decided if we could get the LogoTurtle to draw a little line towards the stem we would be happy with the design. This led to a careful observation of the state in which the turtle ends the procedure so we knew what additional commands we would have to give it. It turns out a simple "back 5" was the solution!

He ran the procedure a second time with the exact same results!

This student has learned much about angles, degrees, debugging, design, and iteration. I have done very little direct instruction besides helping him with the LogoTurtle syntax. His desire to iterate on the mathematics required of the design is motivated by his own aesthetic choices and sensibilities, something my graduate work uncovered the importance of in any learning situation. I am extremely proud of this student and the progress he made during the course of this club!