Monday, October 17, 2016

Circuit Bending

Emily Sticco and I just finished a four week course on Circuit Bending as part of her "Bits of Music" mini course at The School at Columbia University. Twelve students worked in small groups to hack a variety of children's instruments and to make them create strange, crazy sounds.

It turns out that most children's toys nowadays use Surface Mount Components, which are incredibly tiny and difficult to solder to. The students were not deterred, however, and spent much time probing the circuit boards looking for strange bends.

One of the easier hacks we accomplished was adding headphone jacks to the instruments. This also involved using a power drill to put a hole in the case for the jack to be mounted.

Many of the circuit bends the students found and used made use of skin contact pads they built using wire and sheet metal screws. The wires were soldered to the appropriate resistor or capacitor on the circuit board on one end and to the screws on the other end.

All in all, this project was pretty difficult because of the small size of the components. With a steady hand we were able to perform a few circuit bends, but not without destroying a few toys in the process. 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Sidewalk Chalk Geometric Art

I built a cardboard octagon template to play with math and sidewalk chalk during The School's weekly recess in the park.

I used three pieces of cardboard for this template. The Skil cardboard cutter made quick and easy cuts, though its speed was a little intimidating and young students would need supervision using them. The pieces were glued together with Elmer's glue.

The 3D printed rivets are one of my favorite go-to 3D printed tools. They work best in ABS because they need to be a little flexible. They are optional but do provide a good means to attach the handle. 

I wrapped the edges in masking tape since the glue did not extend to the edges and I wanted something slightly more durable than cardboard for the chalk to come in contact with.

I took the template to recess and drew a couple designs. The template was easy to work with and it was fun to replicate some TurtleArt designs with which I was familiar. 

The students enjoyed playing with the template, too.

 My son had fun with it as well.

I worked on a more complex design at home. Using different color chalk in the shapes created by overlapping shapes brings complexity to the design.

Next, I built a circle template. I used a Home Despot bucket lid as my template and cut it with a box cutter and a new blade. This time I used two pieces of heavy duty cardboard. 

The cardboard was too thick for the rivets to go through both layers, so the washer end of the rivet is sandwiched between the layers. 

I used duct tape to cover the edge and help attach the handle over the rivets.

Using the edge of the sidewalk helped me arrange the first row.

I filled the overlapping shapes with different color chalk. You don't need to draw too hard to create the fill: try not to burn through your chalk by gorilla'ing it into the ground.

People have suggested different materials from MDF to laser cut acrylic and I encourage them to pursue these materials. However, I felt strongly about stopping at cardboard and iterating on details like cardboard heaviness, tapes, and whether the 3D printed rivets were necessary because I wanted this project to scale. Most people do not yet have ready access to laser cutting, while cardboard is nearly ubiquitous. 

@tieandjeans asked what other shapes might be a good "starter kit." Circle, Square, and Triangle, of course, and whatever other polygon tickles your fancy.

Build some templates for yourself and share the shapes you and your students create.

Friday, September 23, 2016

OLPC Harvest Moon

The harvest moon of September, 2016 was spectacular! I wanted to take a photo of the moon to remember it, especially after I noticed the amount of detail I could view through a pair of binoculars. My phone was useless as it only captured a big white blob. 

Enter the OLPC, with its fixed focus camera and the Telescope activity, which lets you adjust the gain, exposure, brightness, and offers 2x digital zoom.

My friend in Paraguay admired the photograph on Facebook and I suggested he use his OLPC to capture some pictures, too. Here are the ones he shared!

What an awesome reminder that we all see the same moon, no matter who we are or where we live!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

3D Printed Bird's Nest

I found a really well preserved bird's nest and decided to 3D scan it using a Structure scanner and my iPhone 5s. The new version of the scanner app captures a great resolution model. I did no cleanup in Meshmixer but I did run it through Netfabb online to make the model water tight.

I printed it with a raft and full supports because of the overhangs. It was worth the extra time and plastic.

Even with the raft and supports attached it looked pretty amazing.

The model was easy to clean up and looks fantastic, like a futuristic relic. Do androids dream of 3D printed nests?

It will be fun to decorate the Christmas tree with a few of these and the realistic bird ornaments that my wife has from her grandparent's tree.