Thursday, 8 December 2016

Maker sustainability (or future risks to us doing cool stuff)



A few years ago I was asked to run a stall at a maker event attached to a model engineering exhibition in London. It was a fascinating experience as it linked 2 communities, the live steam/machining/model engineers and the 3dprinting/laser cutting/satellite amateurs etc. It proved to me how much value there is in bringing together these communities and how much we have to offer each other.

There are lots of themes that regularly get discussed around  how much knowledge transfer there is between different groups and its good to see some intergenerational projects going on. I wanted to focus on 3 different communities I have interacted with or am part of, the rocketry community, model engineering (as mentioned) and also amateur/HAM radio  I am saddened when I hear of older members of these groups passing away or indeed the membership of local societies becoming so low they close down. I do indeed mourn the loss of skills and knowledge but I am becoming increasingly aware that we (the maker community) are at risk of losing other stuff, namely structures and accreditation that enable us to do cool stuff.

So.. to provide an example for each group starting with my current favourite subject.. Rockets.

 I want to up my game in 2017 and get into higher power rocket launches and I have plans to try and get my level one certification and also my RSO (Range Safety Officer) exam. Currently the UKRA (UK rocketry association) administer this certification scheme which involve the candidate flying a high power model at a UKRA affiliated club with someone of a higher UKRA certification in attendance and administering the tests etc. Now if had done my certificate some years ago I could have found UKRA affiliate clubs in the Wirral (around 1hrs drive) or around Manchester (1.5-2.5hours). However these clubs have now stopped and my options are Gwent (4-5hrs) Surrey (5-6) or Birmingham (3 hrs). Now this is fine but it shows how vulnerable the certification scheme may be in a few years time... I guess to the point where ultimately this could disappear and the system for people to develop beyond small hobby rockets may not exist.

In model engineering/Live steam similar systems exist (I'm not massively involved in this scene but am aware) for example boiler testing, so if someone builds a model steam engine and wants to run the engine on a club track or on a public running day they need the boiler (a heated high pressure steam filled box!) to be tested and certified as the potential danger if a boiler failed under pressure is probably not dissimilar to a hand grenade! Again this certification system relies on clubs and members of clubs being certified and becoming accredited assessors. (Here is a list of assessors if of use!)

Finally HAM/amateur radio has similar issues in that the exam and certificate systems (although held centrally by the Radio Society of Great Britain RSGB) the actual people providing instruction and hosting and marking and submitting the examinations are clubs and club members. HAM radio does seem to be gaining a lot of support in the maker scene but still some clubs (particularly outside the larger cities) are struggling with an older and perhaps dwindling membership.

So how do we solve this? Well, I'm not sure I have all (or even any) of the answers but part of it is certainly supporting and getting involved in local clubs and if possible becoming involved to the point of being able to assess and accredit others is vital. But also if you are setting up a makerspace/hackspace/techgroup whatever, make sure you spend a bit of time thinking about how you can be sustainable not just in terms of cash flow and membership and knowledge but also certification and accreditation your members might need.

I also wonder if there are more practical stuff to be done? How about the larger maker events (faires, makefests, big hackathons) build in some accreditation events.. this seems an easy win for perhaps the amateur radio foundation license.. (may be more tricky for rocketry certs!)

As for me... I'm off to fill in my UKRA application form and pay my subs for next year.. :)

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Finally! Maiden flight!


So.. this project has taken me far too long to realise! I finally got out for a maiden flight on this 450mm quadcopter I've built. It's probably about a year since I bought the bits! Many many many people have built and flown quads these days so it doesn't warrant a massive post but for what it's worth my (budget) recipe for this quad is;

800kv brushless motors
cheap simonk 30amp ESCs
1045 props
CC3D flight controller
FST6 tx/rx
2200 mah 3s lipo

Its gone together pretty well and I am massively pleased with how stable and easy to fly (I'm a stabilised pilot so it feels similar to the couple of small brushed quads I've learnt on... JUST A HEAP MORE POWERFUL!). It was easy to setup the CC3D flight computer using the brilliant free and opensource LibrePilot which gets even more praise for being available for ubuntu.

Theres a few jobs to do and some tidying required but really chuffed to have flown this today and
there's definitely lifting power and space on this airframe for some cameras so hopefully I'll get some nice footage.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

3d printing 3d printer bits (and circular economy)






So a friend got in touch this week with a problem.. he needed a bit printing for his 3d printer that had broke. I was very pleased to print him a replacement part. I love that 3d printers can replicate parts for themselves and other machines, as my friends machine is open source they actually sent me a file someone had designed that was an improved version of the part that broke. Brilliant. I hope, whatever the wibbly wobbly future of tech and community brings, that these aspects remain.... a great example of a circular economy.

In fact... we can go further.. 

My friends printer sits in an office in a company (the team in the office all chipped in to have a 3dprinter in the dept to play with!) and when I dropped of the replacement part they said one of the work uses for it was printing replacement gears for a part of the conveying system in the warehouse of the company.. a part no longer available for purchase. So my bit fixes his printer which fixes a conveyor system ... and as I was passing their location with another work task the carbon footprint miles of this part are reduced even further. 

And finally the part that broke is PLA so my friend can stick that part in his compost bin and it will decompose....

reuse, repair, reduce, recycle.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Rocket Ruler now on Thingiverse



Just in case anyone wanted one, I've put the Lasercut Rocketry Ruler design I put together for the recent rocket design workshop I ran onto thingiverse. The ruler is angled so that however it is placed on a tube/cylinder you will always be able to mark/measure a straight line parrallel to the centre line of the tub... very useful for all kinds of things but certainly for marking rocket fin placements! If you are wondering what the symbols at the ends are they represent the centre of pressure and centre of gravity the first of which must be behind the other to make a stable rocket.  Feel free to tip me millions on thingiverse! :)

Thursday, 27 October 2016

JETO... Just Enough To Operate, Learning and projects and play


I had a long conversation with the mighty N-O-D-E.net last night that started off as a discussion around homebrew CNC controllers but ended up being a fascinating talk about learning and approaches to projects. I talked about an idea I have used for a long time and it made me think maybe I should blog about it.

So years ago ardent followers may recall I was playing with rolling my own linux live CD's/Images using OpenSuse and Susestudio. It was good fun bundling stuff up and deploying it in a virtual machine before compiling an image you could burn to disc or make a bootable USB drive etc. If I recall correctly it started with numerous presets including an "everything you could ever bundle into the core" down to an intriguingly titled... JEOS... Just Enough Operating System, this option of course had the leanest setup, no windows manager, low GUI, no frills.

This struck a chord with me as it encapsulated my approach to projects somewhat. I tend to learn just what I need to learn at any given time towards a given project during the project. I note things I find interesting but don't necessarily need to know more about at the given time and then tend to explore these when the project they relate to is finished. Therefore learning Just Enough To Operate.

This approach could be considered lazy, an example of "Jack of all trades but master of none", however I don't use this JETO idea to avoid complexity, rather I use it as a governor that stops my mind focussing into learning abstraction that I don't need to realise the thing I am making. Rather like the second and less often quoted part of that phrase;

"Jack of all trades but master of none,  but oftentimes better than a master of one."

I've also used this in some facilitation work, creating activities which allow participants to consider and strip away what resources they actually need to realise a project can be very powerful. It always reduces barriers and increases peoples permission to approach complex projects.

So for me, my JETO concept is really useful combined with my ideas around Purposeless Play (another blogpost at some point) it gets me through most projects.



Thursday, 13 October 2016

Rocketry workshop at North Wales Tech 20th Oct 2016



Little plug for this upcoming workshop in North Wales.. there's only a few places left! I'll be bringing lots of model rockets, doing a basic rocket anatomy 101, an introduction to openrocket where people can have time to play at designing a rocket and simulating it's flight etc. We'll finish the night looking at tools and approaches to scratchbuilding rockets from lo tech solutions to 3d printing, laser cutting and CNC routing.


Monday, 10 October 2016

Speaking at Glitch Festival of Creative Disobedience


So I am speaking at this festival! "How I Accidentally Ended Up in a Space Race" is my title. I'm really looking forward to it particularly as the term "GLITCH" has made me think about the connections between where I started with things like circuit bending and glitch music and how they formed the following adventures that have led me to having CNC robots and making space parts! If you fancy coming along it's free and I am on at 2pm on the 16th October in the Mostyn gallery.. but do check out the entire festival.. PDF program here

ps it has the mighty Paul Granjon too :)