CrowdVine, Free, Easy SocNet Software

A week or so before the Maker Faire, I got an email invite to a social network that had been set up for Faire presenters and attendees. I took the link and set up my page on CrowdVine, a very cool service created by an ex-O’Reilly employee, Tony Stubblebine. Within a few hours, I watched an entire community popcorn into existence. It was quite inspiring. People got the evites, logged on, patched in their RSS feeds, their Flickr sets, their soc bookmarks, started friending each other, and leaving comments. It really was a great asset to be able to see who was going to be there, talk to each other about meeting up, learning about new people, etc. I identified a number of people at the Faire based on their photos on the site and read background on others.

CrowdVine is really easy to set up and use, so much so, I’m tempted to set up a Street Tech socnet, though I don’t know if there’s a real need for it. If you *are* in need of a such a network, especially for an event, you likely won’t find a quicker way to spark up a flash crowd than this with this site.

Makers Vs. The Blob

Me in the Mousey build area of the Make booth. Morning, Day 2.
Still half asleep.
Photo by Scott Beale

Well, we’re back from the Maker Faire. Very tiring, but supremely satisfying. I’d really wanted to blog the event as it happened, but ended up spending nearly all day, both days, in the Make booth, building mousebots. At night, I was just too wiped to do anything but keel over.

Everything at a Maker Faire is cranked to 11: the size of the event, the creativity of what’s being presented, the excitement of the fairgoers, the diversity of the people who show up. So, YOU end up on 11. I heard this jacked amperage was experienced by both fairgoers and presenters alike. The common chant went something like: “This is SO awesome. I LOVE it! There’s too much! I’ll never get to see it all.”

As workshop presenters, Blake and I saw little of the Faire. The first day, we did open-ended workshops, selling Mousey parts bundles and then helping people build them at workstations we’d set up (until they’d decide to stop and finish the project at home). This meant that we stayed at our post from 10am till I cried “uncle” at 4pm. That was probably the most tired I’ve ever been in my life. The second day, we ran three one-hour workshops. That was a much saner way to do business and gave us some time to wander around and see some of the Faire.

Our Mousey workshops went very well. For the Faire, we created two parts bundles (put together by the fine folks at Solarbotics). We thought most people wouldn’t want to try and build a whole robot at the show, so we made a quicker, easier “car kit.” We ended up only selling three of them! Everyone bought the full Mousey, and a surprising number of people actually sat down and started the build right there in the Make area. Several people were at the workstations for several hours. My favorite was a woman who saw the mousebots, really liked them and said: “You know what? This is really out of my comfort zone, but I’m going to do it anyway. I think I need to challenge myself more.” And she bought a parts bundle, chose an old mouse, sat down, and dove right in. There were a lot of kids with their parents, moms and dads alike, working together, which was nice to see. The mice we used for the workshops were provided by James Burgett at Alameda County Computer Resource Center. He was a great asset and fun to work with, so we’d like to give him ye ol’ shout out. Thanks, James!

Other highlights of the show for me were Mister Jalopy’s talk on Maker Day and his Urban Guerrilla Movie House on wheels (seen here), which he showed next to our Mousey build area in the Make booth. One of my favorite new words is hilaritas, which means “profoundly good natured, full of mirth.” It’s more than being friendly, more than being funny. Mister Jalopy is full of hilaritas. I also had a good connection with Bill Gurstelle, the Backyard Ballistics guy. Great fella. Smart. Kinda wacky. Supremely creative. Again with the hilaritas. There seems to be a lot of that within the Maker community. Besides Mr. Jalopy, our other Make boothmates were Phillip Torrone and Bre Pettis, running a cool drawbot exhibit. It was fun finally getting to meet both of them. SRL was at the show, displaying their infernal machinery. Still living up to their rep as the “Most dangerous show on Earth,” their stabbing robot, well, stabbed a guy (in the hand). Got a chance to meet Violet Blue, but not Karen Marcelo (SRL/Dorkbot SF), and never got a chance to say hi to Mark Pauline. Street Tech’s webmaster Tim Tate came to the Faire, too, and we finally got to meet F2F (after being virtual friends for some ten years!). Didn’t get to spend as much time with him as I would’ve liked, but we got to walk around to see some of the exhibits during one of my breaks. —>

Maker Faire, Maker Day

Street Tech is representin’ at this year’s Maker Faire. I’m here to do “Mousey the Junkbot” workshops, my son Blake is here to help, and ST’s webmaster Tim Tate is coming too. Yesterday was Maker Day, an all day social with presentations for the Faire presenters, Highlights included Mark Pauline of SRL and John Law (of Suicide Club, Burning Man, Cacophony Society fame) in conversation with David Pescovitz, an awesome talk by Mister Jalopy, and Tim Hunkin talking about and showing videos of his hysterical coin-operated machines. Today is set-up, and tomorrow is the first day of the Faire. Should be a blast.

Here are some pics of yesterday shot by Scott Beale of Laughing Squid.


Lo-Budget Lathe Uses Your Power Drill

I’ve always wanted a lathe, but would likely use it like once in a forever, so I never felt I could justify the expense. But this hobby lathe, which uses your existing power drill as the business end, is only US$46. Hell, we probably have that much in the family change jar. But then, as they point out on Automata, the tools for it will likely cost more than the lathe itself. I’m just not going to overthink it. Now where is that piggybank…

[Via Make]


More on Mousey at the Faire

I know you’re probably sick of seeing Mousey-related posts here. This is the last one, I promise (until the Faire, anyway). This a shot of the bots we’re taking with us, posing in front of the Solarbotics parts bundles we’ll be using in the Workshop.

The motors, battery snap, and SPDT toggle switch will be what’s in the car bundle, those components plus everything else, will be in the full Mousey the Junkbot bundle. The full bundle includes a button/momentary switch, the same kind as is found in a mouse, but with a little metal lever over the button, which makes it SO much easier to attach the bumper. The kit also includes two IR optical sensors, which are a nice backup/alternative to the IR detectors salvaged from an analog mouse.


Mousey the Junkbot at the Maker Faire

The Maker Faire is only a few days away (May 19, 20). Yay! (and) Holy crap, I’ve got a lot of stuff to do!

I’m going to be running “Building Mousey the Junkbot” workshops. Actually what most people will likely be building is “My Mousey the Car” (shown here), a quicker, simpler version, with two DC motors, a battery/batt snap, and a toggle switch. There’s going to be a zillion things going on at the Faire. I suspect a lot of people won’t want to take up all their time at this one event. So, they can build the car version there and then add the brains and sensors at home. We’ll have two parts bundles available, a car kit, and one with the parts to make the full Mousey.

We’ll have plenty of dead computer mice on hand, but to further save time, I strongly suggest that folks bring an already prepped mouse. To help with that, I’ve created this brief tutorial. With an already gutted, prepared mouse, all you’ll have to do is solder in the electronics.

Here are some other Mousey-related resources:

Mousey Pages on Street Tech.

Mousey the Junkbot FAQ I just created this doc in preparation for the Faire. It’s the collected Q/A wisdom from several years of Mousey building.

The free Mousey project PDF from Make Vol. 2

The Mousebot Revisited tips and tricks companion piece on Instructables:

Mousey the Junkbot is a TV star!. Mousey on The Colbert Report with Mark Frauenfelder.

Hope to see some of you at the Faire!


Cool Steam Turbine Tank from Crabfu

The Steam Magi at Crabfu have struck again, this one sure to please all of the treadheads in the audience. The wizards of ‘Fu cobbled together a spiffy treaded tank, using a Jensen Turbine engine and a Cheddar/Plover boiler. The chassis is a Kyosho Nitro Blizzard R/C ATV nabbed off of eBay.

The Jensen Turbine is a real beaut. You’re likely familiar with Jensen if you lusted after those desktop steam engine kits advertised in magazines and catalogs when you were a kid. The company has been around for 75 years.


The Moleskine Hard Drive

The Moleskine journal craze may have officially jumped the shark with this badboy, an admittedly cool-looking HD stashed inside of a hollowed-out copy of one of the insanely popular French journals. Now, I love the stash-book concept as much as the next ex-stoner, but I’m not sure why you’d want to slice up a perfectly good, and relatively expensive, Moleskine, when another hard cover journal can be had in the gimme bins of your local Borders for a few bucks.

Okay, we might not be blogging about it if it were in a nameless black book. So, maybe the memetic value is worth the extra scoots. And we have to admit, the icon he made for his desktop is just too damn sweet.


Alberto Gaitán’s Briliant Colorfield “Remembrancer”

This spring and summer, DC-area art galleries, museums, and art orgs are celebrating the Color Field Movement of the ’50s and ’60s (think: Motherwell, Rothko, Stella), and specifically, the Washington Color School (Gene Davis, Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis), which put DC on the significant art movements map. As part of this celebration, the wonderful Curator’s Office micro-gallery is showing an amazing installation piece by one of Street Tech’s own, Alberto Gaitán.

The piece, called Remembrancer, consists of three net-connected robot painters. As data feeds — one local, one national, and one global — pour into the gallery, they’re transposed into art, as paint is deposited onto three monochromatic panels, and into dynamic musical compositions, via three wall-mounted speakers.

The gallery catalog sheet describes some of the ideas behind Remembrancer:

Remembrancer confronts the loss inherent in transformation, the distortions introduced by the medium onto which–and the assumptions in effect when–memory is transcribed, the inevitable simplification of phenomena that accompanies acts of observation, and the spacial, temporal and cultural resonance of events.

That latter bit of “spacial, temporal and cultural resonance of events” was driven home when the Virgina Tech killings happened two days after the show’s opening. Ominously, the local canvas is colored red. Overwhelmed by data traffic on that day, it squeezed out two guillotine-like triangles, dripping gore. Perhaps a happier “accident” can be found on the blue, national, panel where its proximity to the gallery’s air conditioning vent has made all of the paint deposits shiver nervously on their way down.

For the geek artists (and engineers) in the audience, the mechanisms that render the art might be as interesting, and maybe as poignant, as the art itself. Alberto used the Make Controller, an iconic object of the current anyone-can-play high-tech/DIY craze, “canvases” gridded off like geeky graph paper, beautifully printed on Komatex/Sintra, an expanded PVC material popular in robotics, peristaltic pumps that look like they were lifted from an OR, and paint-laden “carboys” suspended from the ceiling, that look like they might be from the recovery room. Gorgeous little robot carts complete the tech, with precision-machined gears and rack and pinion drive mechanics, stepper motors, and segmented cable guides that look both serpentine and like something from a LEGO Mindstorms set. As the gallery’s curator, Andrea Pollan, so perfectly put it: It’s “Frankenstein lab meets Walter Reed hospital room.”

The robots lay down their paint nozzles at the end of this week. The completed work will be up until May 26th. If you’re in DC, you should definitely stop by and see it. The Curator’s Office is at 1515 14th St. NW.

Read the Washington Post review here.
Read the WP Express piece here.
Alberto’s Remembrancer Flickr set can be found here.
Find out more about the ColorField.remix here.
After the jump, see more pics of the piece, including the equipment table and the Breadboard (with call outs). The Breadboard, the installation’s control electronics, was built on an actual breadboard ($2 from Target).


Cool Vibrobot with Picaxe Brain

This is a strange, but nifty combination of robotech. BEAMbots are frequently analog-only and vibrobots (that get their motility by shaking their tails feathers) are some of the “crudest” (as in: How do I steer this crazy thing!) of BEAMbots. But this think-outside-the-bot builder combined vibrobot movement in a solar powered bot that uses a Picaxe 08M microcontroller (MCU). Obviously, the MCU can’t direct movement, but it monitors power and turns on the vibro-motor at a given threshold. Its eyes also light up and it can play some tones and music (Happy Birthday) as programmed. Dig those cute legs made out of diodes!

[Via Make]