Boing Boing Meetup Tues Jun 7

June 1st, 2011 by uptownmaker

Boing Boing meetup day!

Minneapolis’ own Happy Mutant and resident science blogger extraordinaire, Maggie Koerth-Baker, is putting together a local wing of Boing-Boing’s first International BB Meetup Day. This is of particular interest to us because of the theme: “Wonderful Things”:

On June 7, bring your favorite significant object, coveted curiosity, conversation piece, or mysterious item to the Meetup (Don’t bring something that has a lot of intrinsic value). Then tell the other happy mutants about it!

While you’re at the Meetup, share your thoughts on the items that you see, and if you are so inclined, offer up a swap! Don’t forget to tweet your photos, videos, and details on any exciting swaps using hashtag #BoingBoingMUP.

Check in on the page for the event– there are already 8 names on the list and I don’t recognize any of them! This is a great chance to meet some makers from outside the group and see some neat stuff.

The Great Global Hackerspace Challenge has ended!

May 4th, 2011 by uptownmaker

Well, after five weeks, many late nights and not a little bit of craziness, the Great Global Hackerspace Challenge has ended.

Jude, Karin and I were at the shop until contest’s end at 2am Central time this morning. We generated a lot of content and I think we have a good shot at going to Maker Faire.

Here’s a little more about the project…

The Hack Factory Big Board project has a simple goal: make it as easy as possible for students to get the electronics bug. To that end, we have created a 10x scale breadboard, with components to match, to allow instructors to demonstrate the construction of a circuit to students in a round-table or lecture type setting, especially settings where demonstrations involving a projection screen and computer are infeasible due to lack of infrastructure or funding.

Those with a passion for electronics likely have a clear memory of when they first developed the obsession, and many of us will also recognize that following that passion has afforded us a good career doing something we love. The hope here is that by providing an inexpensive tool to allow an instructor to expose low-income students to the wonders of electronics, some of those students may find themselves motivated to pursue this topic through college and into a better life.

By allowing students to build a circuit without first having to make the big conceptual leaps from schematic to real-life realization, the instructor can introduce concepts to students through living, breathing circuits that do interesting things (we have used an optical theremin, for instance). Building a functional circuit fosters a sense of accomplishment which is absent from many school curricula surrounding introduction to concepts in electricity.

For younger students, the act of building the outsize components can be a good introduction. The tangible experience of shaping a resistor or capacitor imprints the name for that object in the student’s mind, providing a framework for the uses and function of that component to later be added.

Most of our content is on the main Hack Factory Element14 blog



Components (resistors, caps, diode)

Components (LEDs)

Components (ICs)

Components (Others)

Board design



There are a few other germane posts, worth viewing, Flickr stream, Jude’s post about the Minne-faire and more board details from Jude, the primary on that part.

Thanks to the Agent Silverfox team and Element 14 for putting on this wonderful event, and congratulations to all the teams!

GGHC Project Introduction

March 25th, 2011 by uptownmaker

Our GHC project actually has its roots in a class in the basement of the Hack Factory. Member Mike Hord (that’s me!) teaches semi-regular introduction to electronics courses, and the syllabus is daunting: take a complete neophyte and explain current, voltage, ohms, breadboards, and circuit diagrams well enough for them to build a simple circuit.

One of the bigger problems is making the leap from circuit diagram to breadboarded circuit. Those of us who’ve been working with electronics for a long time forget how what it’s like to not intrinsically understand the ins and outs of schematic representation of a circuit. It’s like reading- chances are, you can’t remember what it was like before you could read every word you saw (taking a trip in a country with a completely foreign alphabet- for instance, predominantly Arabic- can be a revelatory experience in this regard!).

Enter the 10x breadboard- a 2’x5′ scaled-up breadboard with similarly sized components (fully functional, of course!).

With a tool like this on the wall (or table), an instructor can easily and visibly demonstrate EXACTLY which connections the students are expected to make. The benefit of this is clear- it gives the students a jumpstart past the frustrating and awkward “why isn’t this working” phase straight into the “hey, a blinking LED!” phase.

The major benefit of it is that it can be constructed out of very cheap, very crude materials. The most expensive parts are the actual electronic components themselves, which get hidden away inside the scaled-up components- and even those are relatively cheap (the assortment of parts that I provide to my introductory students runs to about $10 if purchased in bulk). The breadboard itself can be constructed of plywood with holes drilled in it, pegboard, foamcore, disused cardboard scrap, or any other relatively flat and sturdy substrate, and the contacts can be aluminum foil, cut-down pop cans, bean and vegetable cans, or thin sheet steel. For wire, solid or stranded copper wire, baling wire, or even bent coat hangers with the paint scraped off the end can be put to the job.

The end result is a teaching aid that can bring electronics instruction ANYWHERE- mountaintop villages, inner city schools, refugee camps. Certainly there are other options for demonstrating these things to students but nothing that has the same tangible quality, or the same visual clarity. This can be used in places where a printer is unavailble, where the idea of a laptop and projector are laughable because there isn’t even electricity.

While it may seem trivial to think of instructing people in extreme poverty in electronics, the goal isn’t to create hobbyists in a Brazilian favela- it’s to plant the itch in those kids that says “I need to find out more about this”. Electronics is one of those things that, to the right person, becomes a mad, consuming passion. Hopefully, this project will provide a means to reach out to kids who would otherwise never get a chance to discover that passion and maybe, just maybe, that passion will lift a few of them out of poverty.

GGHC Post number 2

March 22nd, 2011 by uptownmaker

Okay, here’s the latest update:

A few of us sat down to talk through some early details last night- nothing earthshaking, just starting the process.
– We came up with a preliminary list of organizations that may be interested in working with us on this project as educational entities.
– We’ve identified a need for a person or people who can be present to videotape meetings, construction, etc, as well as take photographs of what is happening, so we can post a reasonable amount of documentation on the Element 14 site. In the near future, too, we need to prepare an introductory video.
– We need ideas for specifics on the project.
– We established a Google group for the primary communication channel for this project. This serves several purposes: providing a single, canonical location and channel through which ALL discussion on the project takes place; keeping said content mildly protected until we can release a “pretty” version for public consumption; avoiding the possibility of important messages getting lost in the S/N ratio of the normal Google group or forum traffic; and streamlining message delivery into e-mail inboxes rather than requiring people to visit a special website to get updates.
– Meeting notices and build day announcements will be posted on the blog, and probably the forum and normal Google group as well.

Please sign up for the Google group if you are interested in helping with the project! I will post what information I have on that group tonight.

Tomorrow night from 8:00 to 8:45 there will be a call with the coordinators of the event (the good people of Silverfox to answer questions and get more details. We’ll get together at the Hack Factory for the usual jibber-jabber and then repair to the drawing room in the basement a bit before 8 for the call. Or, if there is enough of a critical mass, we’ll push the unbelievers out of the classroom and have the call in there.

The Great Global Hackerspace Challenge

March 21st, 2011 by uptownmaker

It’s official- Twin Cities Maker has been selected to field an entry into the Great Global Hackerspace Challenge sponsored by Element-14 and curated by Mitch Altman!

In a nutshell-

– Your hackerspace will create a project to help with education, using US$900 (or equivalent) provided by Element14. The project must use a microcontroller and a portable power source.
– You have 6 weeks to complete your project, documenting your project as you go. All spaces that complete their project will receive 10 soldering setups.
– Three hackerspaces’ projects will be chosen as finalists to present at the Grand Finale at the San Francisco Maker Faire. All three of these spaces will receive some really nice electronic test equipment. One person from each space will be flown out to present their project at the San Francisco Maker Faire over the weekend of 21-May & 22-May.

Week 1
– Introduce your team (video would be a great way to do this), explain your hackerspace’s philosophy, and provide a top level summary of your first week
Week 2
– Provide a basic outline of the materials you will be using in your build and any key challenges you anticipate
Week 3
– Provide an update on the status of your build and quick summary of obstacles encountered and how they are being addressed
Week 4
– Is everything going to plan? Perhaps provide footage of a visit to an educational institution you’re working with
Week 5
– In your penultimate week provide a review of the challenge to date. Is the pressure on? What have you learned?
Week 6
– This is the time to really showcase your build, why it works and what features make it stand out.

So, time to kick it in gear. The project that has been selected is the 10x scale breadboard that Jude and I have been talking about. Jude, John B and myself are all excited to be involved with this- anyone else who wants to contribute ideas, time, and anything else is welcome to do so. Because of the short timetable we need to get started post haste and probably have multiple work events per week- with the first meeting being tonight at 8pm.

There’s a post for this in the “Group projects” section of the forum; we’ll talk tonight about how we want to coordinate our efforts (new Google group, new forum category, or something else) for this project.

Let’s show ’em what we can do!

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