Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Arguably, I'm a noob. Most certainly, I will always be a noob in one respect or another for the rest of my life. This research group has not so much grown me as it has allowed me to see areas in which I need to grow. Perhaps that means next quarter will be a building-scaling, sky-flying, international-peace-building kind of quarter. Perhaps that means I'm now more responsible for what I do, the more I learn about myself. Perhaps I just need to learn to learn. That was one of our study goals, was it not?

Forgive me, I digress.

In the Beginning, there were the expectations and the goals laid out before a project yet unformed. A MakerBot yet made. Immediately I ventured out to discover this “community” this “niche” of people doing sweet electronics things. Of people holding the blueprints to the future. Maybe it’s because that, in retrospect, was one of my greatest curiosities. Maybe that’s something I need to return to. Regardless, my Google-searching lead me to, which lo-and-behold had a forum. I joined and after a single post, found that this was going to be far more exhaustive of a process than anticipated. As a sad concession to myself, I read over the instructions. I read through other sites’ descriptions of MakerBot experiences. I learned a taste for what my Creative Writing instructor would call the “about-ness” of our project. This collective sense of independence from a system, a way of thinking and doing status quo.

Pretty cool stuff. Tickled the Anthropology side of my education, and helped me bide my time as we all waited for Frank to arrive. It was a long few weeks.

I remember as we unboxed him, in his variety of acrylic, wooden, and silicon components, just really wanting to dive in. This is where I learned something about group dynamics. Working under the impression that “many hands makes for light work” I was forgetting this doesn’t imply less-time-consuming-work. I was clearly wrong. It was slow going, and everyone wanted to learn about how to build and solder and glue; confidence slowly building. People wanting to build their own computers and visiting Metrix:CreateSpace and catching some sort of vision, some sort of excitement. As for myself, I stood on what felt to be the periphery, quietly listening and building, nuts bolts screws missing parts music enabling, and waiting.

At this phase in construction, seeking something meaningful to learn at “home”, I began researching CAD software and getting acquainted with Google Sketchup. Powerful, intuitive, and surrounded by a solid support network, I spent several hours getting used to the creation process. I was impressed, and felt like I was really getting the hang of things but… turns out we’re not using Sketchup. There’s this other software that incorporates a couple distinct processes that elsewise requires a couple programs. *face-palm* Story of my life.

Having reached the end of the quarter, and general busyness vamping up, I was able to do little else besides attend meetings and make a impromptu trip to Metrix. I met Bre there, and he seemed pretty legit, and someone had build a laser-light projector that was frickin’ sick. Got another taste for what this community seems to be about… a certain freedom from impossibility. A certain freedom from “oh, no. That’s ridiculous.” A place where people seem to have found their painting medium not to be oils or chalk or hardcore-parcore, but in silicon and stepper-motors and hot plastic.

All told, I’ve learned more about groups than electronics. Less about not how /it/ works than how /they/ work. And somehow, I can’t wait to do it all over again next quarter. To find myself a noob once more. 

Monday, March 15, 2010

Intro to Electronics at Metrix Create:Space

Today I attended the Intro to Electronics workshop (taught by Morgan) at Metrix Create:Space. I created three simple circuits that made an LED light up, fade, and blink. As usual, I fail to see the potential applications of my new technological prowess. It's as if I have no context for the things I am learning. On the bright side, I showed my boyfriend how to make circuits on a breadboard and helped him recreate the simple circuits. Teaching is great way to reinforce your own knowledge. teaching a smartypants like my boyfriend is a great way to learn more--his knowledge of physics helped ground (so to speak) my new practical skills. Anyway, a moment ago I checked Google to make sure I was spelling "breadboard" right and the first Google result was this little video starring none other than Bre Pettis. So if you want a five-minute tutorial on using breadboards for electronics, check it out. I suppose if I need a little help envisioning cool applications for electronics, I know who to ask (Google).

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


So after last nights meet-up at Metrix create:space, we now have a functioning makerbot. Today I tried to take what we learned from Bre and all the other helpful folk at Metrix to make our makerbot print. Fast forward, and five hours of work later and we have this lovely mess.

In this tangle of noodles, failed rafts, and half printed objects, we have these guys

one Android head and one bottle opener....both turned out pretty nicely, but upon first use, the bottle opener failed...
At that point, everything went down hill, partly due to me and partly due to frankenbot getting tired. After printing the bottle opener, I remembered that Matthew at Metrix told us to make sure that the z-axis components were tightened, so I partially took apart Frank and tightened up the components. When I tried to print again, the plastruder kept getting jammed. The last 3 hours of my day were spent troubleshooting and trying to figure out why frank would print half of the raft then unexpectedly have the feed get jammed. I suspect something is misaligned, or not getting heated properly, so we'll be taking the plastruder apart and investigating the problem.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Note: When needing to download Python, DO NOT type in It's PYTHON.ORG.

*red face*
As I was sitting at Metrix Create:Space last night, I was in awe at the amount of people there. Meeting Bre Pettis was "wow." Very "geektastic"! He was so down to earth, and sat down with us to troubleshoot our first runs with Frank. How many people can say that?! Take that losers! Bre Pettis touched our Frank. Wait, that didn't sound right. You get what I mean.

As my quarter with LearnMakeCupcake comes to a close I think retrospectively about what I've learned from this group. Yay, I know how to put a MakerBot together!

The people at Metrix Creat:Space: I would list all of them but (feeling like a douche) I've forgotten some of their names and don't want anyone to feel less important than the other, because everyone helped make our learning possible. Having a face-to-face with people who have developed their version of the MakerBot with or without a kit, unlike our fancy shmancy batch 9/10 model, made for the perfect "guerilla learning" session each time we went into Metrix. They've tested their models and passed their knowledge of the trial and tribulations to us. Their demeanor was welcoming, patient and open, which increased my yearning for more. Can you imagine wanting to spend your Saturday night working on electronics in a basement? I can, and have fun doing it.

Alex, Alexis, Cristina, Kate and Kevin have been a constant source of inspiration and geekiness. Throw their names at anyone in the department and they'll tell you, "Ouch," (I'll be here all week! Tip your waiter/waitress!) then they will let you know that we have some of the brightest minds on our department.

Beth, who has led the MakerBot effort, is nothing short of the "most patient person in the world". Thank you.

I still have a video and some pictures to upload... Looking forward to next quarter.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Everything You've Heard is True

I was hanging out with my friend Chad over at the art building today where he's working on an old school model of a Boeing cockpit for his final project in an art class. I picked up some wood scraps that I thought would make nice end stop triggers. I also mentioned to Chad that I had to go to an unexpected research group meeting at Metrix Create:Space because "this guy Bre is in town." Chad was all, "Bre? Bre Pettis? He's in Seattle?!" I was like, "Oh, you know him?" all nonchalant. But I was not faking my nonchalance as I normally do; I truly had no idea who I was about to meet. Of course I knew that Bre founded Makerbot. Of course I knew that. I just didn't know what that meant. And I didn't know everything else he's done.

I'm glad my introduction to Bre was face to face, and that I wasn't starstruck because that's always awkward, isn't it? When I got home, I did a Google search and it pulled up 18,700 images of Bre in like, you know, 1.2 seconds. Including this one of our research group with Bre tonight at Metrix. (We're looking off into the not so distant future when our Makerbot actually works.)

Bre told me we really don't need endstop triggers. He also wrote this amazing blog entry about sharing. I found out from Google that Bre has been a schoolteacher and puppeteer, and I would have liked to ask him about those experiences. Oh well, maybe next time. Until then, I am sure I can read all about it online.

It has been FAR too long

Pure insanity enveloped the past month of my life, hence my lack of posts for the last 3 weeks....(holy cow, time does fly)
Anyway, this post goes has information that dates back to the broken middle filament guide (which I happened to break), but I'll use this as a jumping point. Our weekly meeting, on Feb 17th, was moving along nicely, however when Alex and I nearly finished the construction of the Plasruder mk IV we realized that the screws attaching the insulator retainer we realized that the proper length bolts to attach it to the Plastruder body were nowhere to be found. Quickly inventorying our parts, we knew we had an excess of regular(longer) m3 bolts, so I decided to cut them to length and make our own bolts.
The first cut bolt worked perfectly, not to long, not too short; however, the second bolt was just a tad too long, and we tightened it just a tad too much, then the most gut wrenching sound...*POP*. I'd heard this sound before, making Lexan windows for a race car, and I knew what it meant even before I looked down. Yup, we had cracked the retaining plate and successfully dislodged the retaining nut. Looking at the situation, I knew we couldn't repair the piece, there wasn't enough material to glue back together, so the only thing we could do was wait and order a new one. Before we made the call out to Bre, we decided to take inventory and make sure we had everything. We quickly noticed that we were missing one more vital part, the retaining washer for the heater assembly. Well, in my mind this worked out perfectly because without either piece, we were stuck at the same place, and with one order of parts we should be back on our way. I reported to our group leader, Alex at the time, to email Bre and order the middle filament guide plate, and I also pointed to a picture of the retaining washer for the heating element to be ordered. There was a slight misunderstanding on the parts order though, clarified in Kate's Feb 24th post.
Anyway, we're jumping ahead to last week, March 3, since Kate's post for the week of Feb 24th is pretty much the definitive description of what happened. Darivanh, Alexis, and I were set to go to Makerbot madness at Metrix create:space on Saturday the 27th; however everyone managed to overbook themselves for the weekend, and no one was able to make it. I had already packed up Frank (short for Frankenbot) and had him the in back of my car ready to go. Since I was unsure about showing up to Makerbot madeness alone, with a partially assembled makerbot, I decided to fix the terrible mistake I had made 2 weeks prior. I took the two bolts we had made and trimmed them down a bit more and sanded them flat to make sure that they would not have any clearance problems. I then open the box that Bre had sent us and quickly realized that instead of receiving the washer, we got more Kapton tape! I then remembered what the picture I had pointed to looked
and facepalmed my communication error, regarding what part to order. Fast forward to Wednesday and to our group meeting, we try to figure out a quick solution to this missing part. It just so happens that my roommate works at a machine shop and he is willing to make me a custom washer, but I told everyone that this would be a last resort. Then the obvious solution jumped out, contact Metrix! They had 2 makerbots, so it'd be a pretty good guess that they might have extra parts, and might have our missing part. Luckily, Matt responded to our email quickly and the next day I was able to pickup the retaining washer for FREE!!! Thanks to Matt and Metrix create:space!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Opening to Innovation

I had an interesting revelation and I have been meaning to share it on the blog. My boyfriend, Sam, belongs to a chemistry research group here at UW. The other day, he told me that one of the group members asked the PI if she could get a computer to help with her research. The PI asked the student if she had ever built a computer before. She hadn't. The PI told her that if you've built a computer before, you can just order one online, but that if you haven't built a computer, you had to go to and order the parts and build a computer.

"Ugh, that is a terrible policy!" I said.

"No it's not," Sam responded.

"Why not?" I was a bit curious how he was going to defend something so blatantly absurd.

"It's a good skill to have," he informed me. I paused and thought about it for a moment. I haven't actually owned a computer in awhile, and I really need one. I have been dreading buying one because they are always so annoying...filled with a bunch of junk that takes ages to load, plus I am always worried I bought the "wrong" one, you know, there are so many brands, plus they are so expensive and then you will probably get robbed or it will break...I have a lot of very solid reasons for not owning a computer in 2010. Finally I responded,

"Well, we should build one then. Together. You know, quality time."

In case you think this exchange is embellished or fabricated: yes, I tend to exaggerate. But this really did happen, and it wouldn't have happened nine weeks ago. What is happening to me?

Oh, and I kind of figured out how this project connects to HCDE, and how HCDE connects to what I want to do. I know everyone's really been on the edge of their respective seats about this stuff, but you'll just have to wait for my next blog entry.

One more may have noticed that I just learned how to link to stuff (where will this new-found facility with technology end? Okay so linking is not exactly technical if you're using Blogger) so I want to say thank you to Metrix for all their support and enthusiasm for this project. I'm going to be at Metrix a week from this Sunday for the intro to electronics class, you know, not that I need an intro class; could probably actually wire a house like, in five minutes, by myself. I'm kind of a natural at these technical sorts of things.

Retainer Washer Is In

Yipee! Kevin walked in this morning with the retainer washer! Many thanks to Matt from Metrix Create:Space!!!!! We are officially ahead of schedule. Wiring was done on Wednesday and the washer will be put in today!

This is so exciting.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

We're Hot! MB Instructions R Not.

Check out Kate, Darivanh and Kevin (from left to right). Gosh, we're hot!

In other news, I had just installed the Z endstops when I came across this step:

Make endstop triggers - Endstop triggers can be constructed of any long, reasonably thin, opaque object. Popsicle sticks (craft sticks) are popular choices. You can cut rectangle of thick card, as well. Paint your triggers matte black to make them a bit more reliable.

I don't have any popsicle sticks, nor did I know I would need any, or else I would have enjoyed some popsicles earlier today. Seriously, this is another instance where I feel betrayed by these instructions. You could argue that I should have read through the instructions before starting, but that's not really how we do things around here...

There's a paragraph at top of this section that explains that you don't really need endstops, but it fails to mention that endstops aren't supplied in the kit.
I think we need endstops, so I am going to the store to buy popsicles.

How to Write Instructions

1. Write instructions in the imperative mood.
2. Tell the reader what he or she needs to know before he or she needs to know it.
3. Avoid imprecise language like "reasonably thick" and "a bit more reliable." What does reasonably thick mean? Can I use a piece of paper? What about cardboard, is that too thick? Why would painting a popsicle stick make it more reliable?

Building the Builder of Tomorrow

So, the quarter's almost out.

The super glue is half-empty, boxes have been opened, and within all our lungs there has accumulated soldering smoke. Unto blogs, posts have been made. Contacts reached. Parts lost and found and shipped and broken.

And we're not done yet.

The most surprising thing to me about this whole project is how a grad student, several seniors, and me -- a lowly junior -- can come together with our various skills, and not be "above" any other person. We're all new, I know I certainly hadn't heard of a makerBot before this, as hadn't some others. I haven't felt for a moment that what I had to offer the team was unneeded, or that our academic levels of experience set anyone either ahead or behind. I think this is a kind of educational system that just works.

Sure, it's slower. In the back of my head the whole time, I'm like, any of us could totally whip this out if there weren't 5 other folks also wanting to learn this thing at the same time. It's like 7 people all trying to swim laps in kiddie pool. But that's not the point. The point is that when it when it comes down to it, I'm confident any single member of the team could now sit down and teach another group. Easy. With significantly fewer read-through of the wiki.

There's so much potential here. It's almost staggering, surreal, when you really stop. And think. We're printing our own stuff.

I'm free from the market.

Well, at least almost.