Getting ready for Hack-O-Lantern tomorrow!

It's Halloween time again! Every year in the Tinkering Studio, we hold an event "Hack-O-Lantern" to celebrate Halloween where people use power tools, traditional carving tools, and LEDs to create their own lanterns!

We've got 80 pumpkins this year!

What would you create when you have hole saws, power drills, dremels, traditional carving tools, and LEDs?

This year, we are trying EggBot machine on mini pumpkins! We saw Evil Mad Scientist was doing this at the East Bay Maker Faire last weekend, and we definitely wanted to try it out as a demonstration on the floor. Figuring out the proper EggBot machine setting was a little bit tricky, but after several trials, we finally got the pen drawing on the pumpkin.

Yes! We've got jack-o-lantern on a white mini pumpkin! It's kind of mesmerizing to see how the pen runs so smoothly on the bumpy pumpkin surface.

Death Star from Star Wars. This was one of the template designs from the EggBot machine kit that you can download. Amazing to see how intricate patterns the EggBot can draw.

Come and join us tomorrow night to create amazing Halloween lanterns!
We will be starting at 7 in the Tinkering Studio and the event will be going as long as the pumpkins last!

An Exploratorium Halloween: All Hallows Evening
Thursday, October 30, 2014 • 6:00–10:00 p.m.


EB Mini Maker Faire

We are always running around full steam during Maker Faire, preparing and manning the Exploratorium booth, so most of the time it's hard to take in much of the rest of the event. Also considering the massive crowds that descend on San Mateo each year, when I get a spare moment at the faire I tend to just veg out on whatever shady patch of grass I can find.


So a couple weeks ago when Ryoko, Andrea and I went to the East Bay Mini Maker Faire solely as attendees, it was especially nice to get to explore the event at a leisurely pace and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere. I wanted to share a few of the cool ideas, makers, and inspirations that caught our eye.


I've been working on a 'knot-tying' station so it was pretty cool to see an old timey tool for twisting rope. I could imagine that there could be a not-so-hard way to make a version of this machine.


Our collaborators at Light House Community Charter School had a really cool booth with lots of activities to try. I especially liked this mural where people could add their paper circuits to a collaborative creation. This would be something nice to add to the activity the next time we try it in our workshop.


Lenore and Wendell of Evil Mad Scientist were there showing off the EggBot but switched out the eggs with mini-pumpkins. Maybe something to experiment with for hack-o-lanterns in the TS this thursday night.


We've thought about glass blowing as a possible activity for an adult program but have been a little concerned about the open flame and safety issues. Maybe something as simple as this three sided acrylic enclosure could provide a helpful barrier.

image I was inspired by this young maker's resettable chain reaction machine. I liked how the two walls in the corner provided the possibility to work with height and the whole contraption had a good mix of dominoes, ball runs, and circuits in a relative compact space. Definitely something to keep in mind for when we start prototyping chain reaction workstations on the floor.


Another great find was the conductive pen and printer cartridges made by agIC. These were epecially nice because they don't need time to dry and are instantly conductive. They also showed a prototype of a pen that could erase the line to correct short circuits. It would be awesome to run a workshop in the tinkering studio with them at some point.


Overall, I really enjoyed the relaxed pace and less crowded atmosphere versus the big event in San Mateo. There were lots of beautiful gardens, places to sit under trees, and casual places to have conversations. It felt a less commercial, more personal and more reflective of the community. While I do love the energy and excitement of the big event, it was great to participate at the EB mini maker faire and get some ideas and inspirations for our tinkering space.


Moving Toy Inspired Clothespin Automata

Over the past few months we've been working out the kinks of our cardboard automata workshop in the Tinkering Studio. But before we transition to our next activity, there are a few more explorations of motions and mechanisms that we are interested in prototyping. In that spirit, we had a couple days of trying out a different take on automata inspired by former artist-in-residence Noga Elhassid and her moving toys workshop.


The contraptions are made with a clothespin and wire to create simple linkages to animate a small character or scene. It took a little bit of doing to remember how to create the movements, but after messing around a bit we got the hang of the basics.


One thing that we noticed right away was that the changing the placement of the attachment point of the wire made a big difference in how much the pieces moved.


We made a couple examples, gathered the materials and prepared to try out the activity on the floor. Taking some halloween inspiration, I made a black widow automata that I thought turned out appropriately creepy.


The next day, we brought out the stuff and opened the gates to the workshop. Immediately the space filled with third graders wanting to try the activity. Nicole and I had a little trouble getting them started. We showed them the examples and explained the concept, but it was a tricky to know what starting point would illicit the highest amount of prototyping and testing.


As the day went on we found that although many people were happy with their creations, because the formula for making the character move required following the steps precisely, many participants didn't quite get all the way to experimenting with linkages. Also because it's a fairly consistent but idiosyncratic motion, some people had a hard time to imagine a personalized creation that would fit with the mechanism.

There were a few cool experiments that visitors tried during the day. I was especially interested in how some people incorporated pop-ups into their creations. While not everyone got the linkages to move, a couple people made a pop-out animation in the mouth of the clothespin, which could possible add another layer to the engineering.


The next day, I wanted to try to expand the possibilities for the motions so I made a face that incorporated multiple linkages based on the examples that we saw from Gautham and Vanya at the Shristi School. I though it turned out pretty cool, but it still presented the same problem of how to get people started with an idea and allow them to experiment.


I'd like to prototyping this idea more and adjust the materials to support more investigations and tinkering. I like the fact that the clothespin gives each participant the same "starting motion" to work with but I wonder if the small potential motion limits creativity. A next step may be to detach the linkages activity from the clothespin so that we can learn more about the basic mechanism behind the activity and do something more basic with strips of cardboard and brads. Hopefully we can do a couple more mini-workshops before switching over to our next major activity.


Automata Workbench - What's on the top?

We've been keeping experimenting with the Automata Workbench exhibit in the Tinkering Studio. These are previous blog posts Ryan wrote:
Automata Workbench Prototyping (8/21/2014)
Making an Automata Workbench Pt. 2 (9/25/2014)

Since we would like the automata workbench to be more like a standalone exhibit (means the exhibit works when unfacilitated), figuring out how to communicate visitors what they can do at this exhibit has been one of the big challenges. While we would like visitors to fully experiment with motions and mechanisms by testing out different cams/cam followers, we are kind of hesitant to be super instructional (such as providing step-by-step instructions) on the signage and graphics. So we are trying to come up with non-singage clues that somehow communicate visitors what the all these loose parts and materials on the table are meant for.

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For example, we've observed these things happen often : Visitors sometimes do not know what goes on the top...

So we've made three-dimensional figures so that they would communicate more clearly that these figures are meant to be on the top. We also talked about what kind of figures we should put there: a waving hand and a boat are good candidates since they could easily associate with certain kind of motion.

(If you see the cams on the table, they are all flat with a square hole, so the three dimensional figures look clearly different from these parts.)

We also wanted to see what happens if we put bright colors on the figures so they would look more like a toy and stand out clearly from other woodsy looking loose parts. Michael, our volunteer, worked on this right away and he made a few sketches.

And the sketch turned into this bird! Nice! The spring and the loose wings allow the bird more motion when it goes ups and downs.

IMG 3892 from The Tinkering Studio on Vimeo.

We've also made a ballerina with a bendable leg. We thought ballerina would be also a good candidate for the figure, as it certainly associates with spinning motion.

With these three dimensional figures, I think, now we see less confusion in the visitors what goes on the top and what goes underneath.

IMG 3949 from The Tinkering Studio on Vimeo.

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While I'm writing this blog, I'm again going back to this photo on the left, as this photo makes me think that it might be better if the horizontal axle and vertical axle had different diameters so that each axle could not be used in the other way... (right now, both axles are 1/4" diameter although one is a square rod and the other is cylinder rod. hard to notice the difference unless you pay close attention to them.) Like in the rough sketch, if the horizontal axle was a lot thicker, would it not be used for vertical, and also make it easier to put though the cams hole and set in the box??? Just an idea.

The other thing we should definitely work on is to make those figures robust enough so they will hold up long time on the floor...
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Sad to see they got broken within a few days... Our experiment is still on going and we have more ideas that we would like to try.


Prototyping marble machine elements and mechanisms

Continuing from the last post:
We have been working on prototyping interesting marble machine elements and mechanisms so that we could install them on the lower wall in the marble machine area (we don't know how yet, but it doesn't matter).

Today, Audrey from Instructables brought her working prototype "spinning-plinko" and showed us how it works! Check this out:

IMG 3961 from The Tinkering Studio on Vimeo.

The rotation goes so smooth!

I've learned that the secret ingredient is a nylon spacer in the back of the spinning board. It reduces the friction and makes the spinning easy.

Nicole has been working on counterweight mechanism, and she made a few wooden cups to catch and drop a marble ball. Check the video!

IMG 3936 from The Tinkering Studio on Vimeo.

The counterweight works beautifully. Love to see how the cup slowly drops the marble and gets up on its own. The wood sound is also nice!

Yes, our hole saw bells are back! It would be also a nice addition to the marble machine.

Sometime, a simple routered marble path might be also attractive for little kids.

We will continue prototyping interesting mechanisms/elements for a while and decide which mechanisms would be good candidates to inspire people (including little kids) in the marble machine area. Everything is experiment at this point!