Wednesday, February 24, 2010

While We Wait

Today we had our weekly meeting. We’re waiting on two replacement parts—a filament guide that cracked during assembly (image), and a replacement Kapton. The filament guide cracked when we attached the screws—I’ve surmised that the screw was over-tightened, which put too much stress on the part. Alex can respond to this post if I have it wrong. The Kapton we either lost or didn’t receive; we’re not quite sure.

UPDATE: So we didn't know what the heck Kapton was. It's " polyimide film developed by DuPont which can remain stable in a wide range of temperatures" (thanks Wikipedia). The picture in the instructions makes it look like the washer with three holes in it is called a "Kapton" because there's an arrow point to the washer that says in huge letters: KAPTON. So we ordered kapton and we should have ordered a washer. Metrix Create: Space saved the day; Matt gave us a spare. Hero.

Since we can’t move forward without the replacement parts, we spent the meeting discussing data collection and potential grants for this project. Beth asked us to articulate how our project connects with HCDE, so you may see a few blog posts exploring this topic.

Also, the MakerBot group has agreed to present a poster at the College of Engineering’s open house, “Discovery Days,” on April 23rd and 24th ( Come check us out!

Here's a picture I took of the broken (middle) filament guide, because pictures are fun:

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Making the makerbot week 3

Making the makerbot week 3

After a small debacle/confusion last week over the assembly of the x-y axis, Bre emailed us and informed us that we had a 9th batch makerbot. This was very important because in the 10th batch many parts were changed. Today we discovered that, contrary to popular belief, the kit we had, as I termed it, was a frankenbot. As Darivanh assembled the z-axis, she discovered that she was missing the proper plates to support the z-stage on the 4 threaded rods. After searching high and low for the proper pieces, someone happened to change the assembly instructions to the 10th batch page, and lo and behold, the instructions for the 10th batch worked for our makerbot. We quickly found the parts that we needed and Darivanh, Kate, and Cristina quickly assembled the z-axis for the “frankenbot”. While this was all going on, I was wrestling with assembling the plastruder. Alex had soldered together the temp sensor and after Darivanh’s run to the AA wind tunnel (her friend who works there had a multi-meter) we were able to cut the Nichrome heating wire and solder it leads. After Alex soldered the these two items, we discovered that even though we had most of the correct parts for the 9th batch, we were missing a bolt for x y assembly, thusly we sent him on a quest for the bolt.

While he was out, and Darivanh and Katie were assembling the z-stage Katie had a question about the stepper controller. This was because the instructions for called for the installation of the z-stage caused a great deal of confusion. The instructions described the stepper controller using 2 different names. The other confusing part in the instructions was that the orientation in the following pictures was changed and the devices did not look the same. However, it only took a few moments to decipher the image and the image and help Kate on her way.

This week the makerbot made a significant amount of progress, and it looks more like a working product than ever before. Hopefully everything will continue fairly smoothly and we’ll have a working machine in no time.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Intro to Electronics at Metrix

Alexis and I signed up for an Intro to Electronics class. I'll have to tell you that electronics has always scared the hell out of me. Mostly due to my fear that I somehow make an LED explode in my face.

Morgan was our instructor that evening. He introduced himself as an EE graduate at the UW (Yay!) and loved teaching and it shows. Morgan was able to place all knowledge based material on a level agreed by the class. He made it a point to ask if anyone had questions about the material discussed. More importantly when he answered it was in a manner that was encouraging and comforting. Although this was an introductory class he did not speak down to us and tried to walk us through any trouble we might have.

The class progressed by simple configures on a bread board (using a tool kit provided by Metrix, including wires, resistors, etc...) to a more complex structure. 4 or 5 electronic configurations total.

Some of the students had trouble lighting the LED and Morgan, with his understanding tone, ensured us that we would personally receive help from him. I had the toughest time with my last configuration. Alexis, another classmate, and Morgan were assisting. Keeping the other classmates in mind, and without rushing me, he was able to walk me through each step without a demeaning tone/manner.

Metrix, yet again, has surprised me (in a good way). Morgan was an EE "nerd" and he was so personable. Morgan, if you ever read this... You're awesome! Electronics has always been an inaccessible realm of knowledge for me and this class has definitely squelched my fear of learning more. Though I'm almost positive I'll still have some form of electronics blow up in face.

It's Only the Beginning

Cristina and I arrived at the DDI Lab at 3:30 greeted by Alex who informed us that there were endstops that needed soldering. Cristina jumped at the chance to do some soldering. She was a novice in the true sense of the word when it came to soldering. Alex was able to walk her through the process, but it was difficult for her to grasp. She asked Alex to physically show her how to solder. With some practice I think Cristina could solder. There seems to be a need for “the right touch”, knowing a good ratio of electronics solder and heat/pressure/timing.

I put neodymium magnets into the wooden building platform and the Y Stage pieces using the allen wrench and pushed the magnets into square holes within the pieces. The magnets are cube shaped and golden in color. Not on the “shopping list” was super glue. It is used to keep the magnet in the holes.

Alex has assigned Cristina to pull parts together in an organized fashion; gathering the materials of certain parts of the Makerbot. The pieces are laser cut onto wooden boards and we take them apart by pulling them up from the board, like a jigsaw puzzle.

As I was helping Cristina gather the materials, we were having a hard time distinguishing the difference between the different nuts and bolts. Would be great to have them all labeled without having the time consuming task of looking it up online.

Alex gave me the assignment of putting the body together. I used the wiki for instructions and the parts list. The parts of the pictures list were different and only afterward did I read the note that stated the pictures were from an earlier batch and may be different. We marked the nuts and bolts bags, because they were not clearly marked.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Looking back at this week with the makerbot, we have made significant progress with it's construction. This week I finalized the soldering of the endstops. Last week we assembled the endstops and gave everyone the opportunity to build the endstops and learn to solder. Last week Alex, Alexis, Cristina, Kate, myself, and even Beth! assembled them. After that Alexis, Kate, and I soldered our boards together, but didn't have side cutters to trim the excess leads off. When I arrived to the research group this week, it Cristina had already soldered the other 3 endstops. Everyone did a great job soldering and I was fairly impressed since everyone stated that it had either never soldered before, or it had been a while since they had soldered. After clipping off the excess leads and ensuring that all the solder joints were solid I moved over to help Alex assemble the plastruder.
While I was working on the end stops Alex commented that he had reversed the polarity of some of magnets that hold the Y-axis plate on to the x axis base. Since the magnets were installed using super-glue, we were worried that we wouldn't be able to remove them, however using an allen wrench we were able to remove the magnets. Alex finished the y-axis platform, then we began working on the plastruder. Since the entire plastruder is constructed of the acrylic we had to peal all the protective paper off the plastic. This process took a significantly longer than I had expected.
Darivanh was a little tired that night, but she did an excellent job creating the makerbot body. She had one problem attaching the bottom to the side of the body. However it was a simple fix and she was able to do a lot of work on it. Alexis and Cristina worked on the x axis of the platform. They encountered some problems when they were attaching a pulley to the stepper motor. They needed to sand down the shaft of the stepper motor before the pulley fit, since we didn't have any sandpaper in the workshop, we had to improvise, hence they used an emory board to make the shaft a little bit smaller.
After working on the makerbot for several hours, Alexis, Christina, and I went to the Dorkbot meeting. I had never heard of this even before, but doing some research I found out that it had been around for a while. Since I'm still not quite in tune with Seattle geek culture I don't have the contacts to tell me when things like this happen. This nights Dorkbot meeting was focused around several key speakers, since I couldn't stay the entire time, I only saw 3 different talks, but there may have been more. While there, we saw first hand a home built version of the makerbot, and Matt's Metrix counterpart the RepRap. The talk was interesting and provided much insight into the other technologies that were being implemented to help the community gain the ability to build 3D models. One of the more intriguing things I had heard that night was the use of flower and glue as a method of 3D modeling. There is a lot of work going into making 3D modeling even cheaper and more available for the general public and the next couple years we should be seeing these machines become more widely accessible for the general public.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Building, and getting sentimental about it.

This afternoon we began day two of Makerbot construction.

As I sat and chatted with one of my teammates--at the same time trying to carefully follow some online documentation for the Makerbot--I realized that I was feeling much more more relaxed and willing to enjoy the process of collaboration than last week. No time for social anxieties here--Christina and I had a very concrete and shared goal: construct the X stage. Alex and Kevin worked on building the Y stage, and Darivanh (after being kind enough to set up a computer in the corner to help the rest of us record our data) built the outer frame of our Cupcake. By the end of today's build session, we all looked pretty damn proud of ourselves.

After finishing up all of that, Christina, Kevin and I decided to go to this month's Dorkbot meeting--conveniently held on the University of Washington campus. There were some interesting speakers tonight: Dominic Muren (an industrial design professor at UW), Willow Brugh (director of Jigsaw Renaissance, a makerspace in West Seattle), and Matt Westervelt (who we met a couple weeks ago on our field trip to Metrix: Create Space). The three of them talked about 3d fabrication, makerspaces, and the do-it-with-others (as opposed to DIY) ethic. At the ten minute break, one of the organizers mentioned that there were five times more people in attendance than usual. I felt like I was witnessing the seeds of some sort of revolution.

I'd heard about Dorkbot before, but was always too afraid to go. Meeting new people--especially those who strike me as particularly intelligent and creative--has always been kind of scary for me. But, aided by the presence of my teammates, I managed to work up the courage to check it out tonight--and I'm glad I did. The overwhelming sense of warmth, community and excitement I experienced at Dorkbot soothed any remaining nerves I might have had on the way there. The values that everyone in the (extremely crowded) room seemed to share were infectious and inspiring. I left thinking about the importance of cultivating sustainable and creative communities, making learning fun, and taking time to enjoy the process of creation as much as the product.

My fear of going to Dorkbot sort of brings me to what I hope to get out of participating in this project. Obviously, the goal is to learn how to build a Makerbot. But it's also a little more than that. For me, it is about learning to be fearless, both in terms of my interactions with other people and the things I choose to learn and do. I'm tired of being too scared to engage with the world in the way I want to, and this project seemed like a great way to kickstart the process of reversing that fear. I want to be able to be a part of the community of learners and doers that exists right around me. So that--and getting to play around with some seriously cool technology--is what motivates me to come to this little windowless lab every week and sort through nuts and bolts of various sizes.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


It's the middle of the quarter and I'm starting to get snowed under with other teaching responsibilities, so I didn't read the blog for a bit, and I have been providing absolutely zero leadership for this project -- mostly by design, but now also by necessity. My big accomplishment this past week: registering a mailing list for the group. We meet at 4.30 on Wednesdays in our labspace, and by 3 (while I was with another group), there was one student looking for access. Another appeared around 3.30. When I wandered into the lab a little after 4.30, all 5 of them (one is sick) were at work. I'm staring around the room, watching them focused on building, researching, collaborating, and it's delightful.

I also know they'll all read this at some point.

Hang on. I'm going to ask them a question.

"Raise your hand if you're having fun!"

5 hands raised. Actually four. One responds, "Me! I can't raise my hand because I'm twisting." Twisting wire, that is.

Now I'm going to stop writing about them. Because let's face it -- it's kind of weird.

But we've got data collection processes in place, lots of photographs uploaded, and multiple collaborative workspaces in the cloud. It's interesting to see the need for new collaborative tools emerge as our work processes change.

Undoing the World, One Resistor at a Time

This week, I've really been thinking about something rather remarkable about what we're doing.

We're on the cusp of completely destabilizing the world's economy as it exists today. Seriously, it's ridiculous, and yet completely enthralling. And it's happening now, all over the country, in cafes and garages. In research groups and basements.... one soldiered OptiSensor at a time. It's incredible, and yet even I can have a hand in this new Industrial Revolution of sorts.

It didn't really hit me until we got the components, a rather intimidating assortment of odds and ends to be quite honest. Each in their own bags, the future awaiting to be assembled. Immediately, I wanted to dive in! To grab a bag and have at it, some may say this is evidence of a vein of recklessness in me, I'd like to call it a Spirit of Adventure, but regardless of my personal inhibitions there was also the group to consider. I guess I realized in that moment that we're all trying to learn, and to accommodate each of our goals is going to be tricky but necessary.

Huzzah to the builders of tomorrow's builders! =)


Monday, February 1, 2010

Collaboration, Rumination, Goal-Formation

Our last meeting reminded me of a reality TV show: This is the true story of six strangers picked to inhabit a windowless room and have their lives taped to find out what happens when people stop being polite, and start building a MakerBot.

It’s one thing to order a MakerBot kit, unpack it, and decide for yourself how you want to proceed. It’s quite another to negotiate building a long-ish term project with six other people.

A couple group members wanted to dive right in—that is, grab whatever parcels they fancied and set to work immediately. Other group members objected to this method, on the grounds that the goal was for each of us to gain literacy (of a sort) with each component of the MakerBot.

In the midst of it all, surrounded by plastic-wrapped bundles of hardware, I realized I wasn’t sure what my own goals are for the project. Do I want to be able to make a MakerBot from start to finish, all on my own? Do I want to be able to share technical skills I have learned? Am I interested in acquiring technical skills, or am I interested simply in articulating how I acquire technical skills?

A little background about me: In my house, if a light bulb burns out, I declare the lamp “broken.” If the battery in my watch dies, the watch retires to my junk drawer forevermore. To be perfectly honest, “defragging” sounds like something you do to get rid of a Fraggle infestation.

I know, I know… as an HCDE Masters student, I need technical skills in order to be competitive in the Real World. And so far I’m still figuring out what skills I need, let alone how I will acquire those skills. Community college coding classes? Electronics for Dummies? Informal tech communities?

At this point, my goals are best described by a HCDE buzzword: emergent. But the task of defining and pursuing my goals is rather more urgent.