Radio at Ylab: New tech, old school and quiet summer

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Based on the lack of posts and updates, people say it’s been quiet the last couple of months.

Over the spring and summer, we’ve received some interesting equipment donations, and they’ve been put to good use. This picture of ylab member Gilles at work in the space says it all.

It's been quiet. Sometimes, that's a good thing.
It’s been quiet. Sometimes, that’s a good thing.

Gilles has been  working away almost every night we’ve been open this summer to restore an old Philco tube radio from the early 1930’s. It’s owned by a  DDO volunteer who’s carted it around in moves across North America, hoping to eventually get it working. It’s been on display in the DDO library for… like, ever. We thought it came with the building.

Starting from the left side of the picture, there’s a partial shot of a gray device with a black knob in the middle. That’s one of a donated batch of 40 year-old voltmeters we’ve repaired and calibrated and have available for our classes. Watching the needle swing from side to side can tell you a lot more than flashing, unreadable numbers on a digital unit.

Then there’s the beige box with a big huge dial. The dial is part of a variac,  a variable voltage  AC transformer that can handle big power. The kind of thing you need if you want to gently power up and test an old tube radio instead of slamming it with 110 AC volts. The varactor arrived in a batch of components donated by member Nick. Gilles spotted it,  and built the custom case for it using our laser cutter. He learned to do that in our 2D design/laser cutter class. Notice how nicely the panels fit together.

To the right of the radio, there’s an oscilloscope loaned by member Richard. If you come by and see Gilles working , you’ll notice a different Philips oscilloscope. Another donation.

The table he’s working on and the workbench next to it? Yeah, they were donated too.

We paid for a few things. The soldering irons, the solder, and the digital multimeter that he’s clearly not using.

The work is not complete.  Gilles has carefully checked every component. He’s replaced all the capacitors, tested  and re-soldered connections, and moved up to testing one sub-circuit at a time. He’s getting some sound out of it now, but at last report, he may need to rewind a coil.

Take a nice quiet place to work, add some decent equipment, and top it off with some patience, skill and training, and it’s amazing what can happen.

Nicely sums up why we’re here, doesn’t it?

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Things will get noisy this week with our laser cutter class on Monday and Wednesday, and even more so with Thursday being the first night of our 8-week ham radio licensing program being an open house. We’ll be demonstrating lots of technology and some amazing new digital radio stuff.

Simultaneous with the radio class, YRARC volunteers will be in the radio room with ylab members who received their certification earlier this year.

 

New schedule! New seminars! New Open House format!

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We’re changing things up for the fall!

OPEN HOUSE NIGHTS: LESS IS MORE!

We’ve halted our regular open house Wednesdays to make them even better.

Starting October 12, we’ll have them bi-weekly, on every second Wednesday, and feature a free one-hour seminar/demo session at each one.

To kick it off, we’ve scheduled a free What’s this Arduino Stuff All About? on Wednesday October 12. For those who want more hands-on, we’ll have an advanced, 3-hour class that’s in planning now.

But what’s happening between now and then?

YOU WANT CLASSES? WE GOT CLASSES!

We’re kicking it off with our two-evening 2D Design/Laser Cutting class that’s happening next week, Monday Sept. 12 and Wed Sept. 14.

Our 8-week ham radio certificaton sessions start on Thursday Sept. 15, and we’ve made the first session a free ham radio open house night. Come out and see what ham radio is all about in the age of Arduino, Raspberrie Pi and the age of digital, software-defined radios.

BREAKING NEWS: Our not-a-l*ght-s*bre making class (it might happen to look like one, but is clearly not, as we don’t want Lucasfilm to be upset with us) is open for registrationYLAB MEMBERS: Check your email for the secret access code.

EMAIL LIST GOING AWAY

Some of you receive messages through our meetup.com group and because you’re on our email list.

We’ll have one more email notice through our non-meetup email service and then kill it. Communications will be through this meetup group and direct emails to paid members.

The privacy rules around email make it almost impossible to manage an email list without using a professional email management service, and we’ve done that scrupulously since the startof ylab. We’ve had sign-up lists and have not added anyone without their express consent. We used Elite Email’s excellent free service. But people who’ve willfully signed up will frequently mark the messages as spam instead of unsubscribing. This creates a vicious circle where the major email programs like google and yahoo then automatically flag all the emails from the service to the spam folder. We know from the Elite Email reporting service that the open rate is dismal, and people tell us they didn’t get a notice because it went to the spam folder.

MAKER DAY CANCELLED

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MAKER DAY CANCELLED

We’ve unfortunately had to cancel the Maker Day scheduled for Sept 10. A variety of factors came in to play that just made it a little too difficult to get everything together in time to put on a quality event that all of the participants deserved.

We’re putting our energy into putting on a whole bunch of smaller maker talks and seminars – and we’ve already put up the 8 week ham radio class. Stay tuned for more announcements.

Future of the DDO: The View from the Basement

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Warning: THIS BLOG ENTRY IS GETTING PERSONAL. No, not in the Donald Trump way.

Since starting ylab and this blog, we’ve had participation, hard work and co-operation from many people and groups and companies in the community. In that spirit, we’ve kept a level of anonymity to the blog to reflect what this team effort. The anonymity was accidental at first. Then it became an inside joke, and now it’s an unwritten rule.

This entry is an exception..

I’ve been fielding questions about the announcement from RASC-Toronto Centre and the news in the press about the status of the David Dunlap Observatory.

While the situation is still fluid, there’s a lot happening in the background to keep the place running for now and for the long term.

Putting aside the organisational and ownership issues, here’s what I’ve personally seen happen at the DDO over the last several years.

  • Back when it was still owned be University of Toronto, I remember my first visit to the site with my daughter. The WOW factor is permanently imprinted from our first look through the giant telescope at the twin stars Alcor and Mizar.
  • As a Scout leader and with my kids in both Scouts and Guides, I’ve had many enthusiastic astronomy nights and telescope visits, first with the UofT people, and then with even more enthusiasm by the RASC-TC volunteers.
  • When my business grew into its first real office in Richmond Hill and real employees, I brought them out to the first Perseid meteor shower night held by the DDO volunteers. They’re still talking about it. And by the way, it’s happening again tomorrow night, and sold out.
  • When, about a year ago, we were programming the first ylab events, the DDO volunteers hosted us for an evening focused on telescope technology. For the first time, I saw the lower level of the dome where the telescope is maintained. The volunteers cleaned it up and made it accessible and educational. I saw the administration building’s basement workshops where so much work happens to keep this and other GTA astronomy facilities running. Where else can you get access to a vacuum chamber to mirror coat your lens?
  • I’ve seen the volunteers plow and shovel the snow, cut the grass, clean the washrooms, build things to maintain the equipment… It’s never ending, and there’s never a complaint. It’s a labour of love.
  • I’ve seen major work by the developer to replace the beautiful stone front steps and repair the roof of the administration building.
  • In the last few months, I’ve seen more participation by the Richmond Hill city staff in the grounds maintenance. My car thanks you for filling the potholes.

In short, it just keeps getting better and better.

Astronomy is far more than looking at stars. From its beginnings, to be an astronomy site, the David Dunlap Observatory has been about the engineering, electrical and mechanical skills to build and maintain the telescope. It’s been about physics and chemistry to run spectrographic analysis of starlight to figure out how stars are made, and to understand atmospheric effects. It’s been about math to understand, track and predict the courses of the stars. It’s been about radio –for astronomy, and for communicating with other observatories around the world back in the days when a short long distance call could double your phone bill. It’s been about increasing understanding and knowledge through study and training of the next generation.

I like to think that it’s in that spirit that, after co-operating on a couple of events and helping each other out, that ylab was invited to kick off the maker space in a small room in the basement of the DDO. The technology and education we’re working with has different labels – robotics, ham radio, maker stuff. But it’s all fundamental to the operation of a major astronomy facility. There are never enough volunteers to accomplish all the goals, but this way the DDO gets a few more to join the existing ones who are so technically adept.

ylab has only been in there a short time, but we’ve been able to help out in a few different ways. We’ve written about some of them. In a recent example, we’ve brought in oscilloscopes and other gear for restoring the DDO library’s old tube radio. Ancient test gear that to an untrained eye may look obsolete, but is phenomenal for education and maintaining an 80 year-old telescope with unique mechanicals, 120V DC electricals. We’re hoping to do a lot more.

So what’s next?

A lot of great people at the City of Richmond Hill and the groups involved are committed ensuring the facility meets all of its original founders’ astronomy, science, engineering and educational objectives.

As a member of the RASC-Toronto Centre, a board member of ylab, an active participant in maker nights in the DDO, and someone who’s worked with Richmond Hill Economic Development, I’m in contact with a lot of people, and I hear a lot of things.

The message I’m receiving from everyone I’ve talked to is clear: ylab should keep doing what it’s doing. It’s good for the community. It’s good for the DDO.

I don’t know how the dust will settle. As the process unfolds, ylab may evolve into a different form, just as is happening now with the DDO’s operations.

We’re moving full steam ahead on our DDO Sept 10 maker day, and other things we’re planning. We’re working more events and cool things. We’re reaching out to more community groups. And we’re willing to help in any way we can.

I’m looking forward to an even brighter future for the David Dunlap Observatory.

RJ Juneau, instigator, ylab.

 

DDO Apparitions: What the heck was THAT?

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Apparitions at ylab’s home at the David Dunlap Observatory are normally of the celestial variety – like the annual Perseid Meteor Shower event, coming up on August 11. Then there’s the odd maker and project appearing at our door, but we’re not as surprised as we used to be at those. Well, most of the time. Emphasis on “odd”.

In the past couple of weeks, there have been numerous sighting of zombie-like creatures, sometimes alone, sometimes in groups, wandering the grounds.  Oblivious to the world around them. Mesmerised by little screens held in front of their faces. Like geo-cachers on crack. If you listen quietly, you can hear them utter the same mantra: “poh-kay-mohn” .

But strangest of all was this thing on the side of the DDO’s long, spooky driveway last night.

DDO Apparition
DDO Apparition. We didn’t put it there. Honest. We’re as puzzled as you are.

Do all these apparitions have anything to do with each other?

Let the conspiracy theories begin! Comments on the facebook page, please.

HAPPY FIRST BIRTHDAY YLAB!

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Exactly one year ago today, on July 25, 2016, we held our kick-off maker event at Canada Robotix… and what a year it’s been!

Our goal from the start has been to build tech community in York Region, and the community has welcomed us with open arms.

Companies large and small have helped us out with loans of equipment, hosting of our events and outright donations. In no particular order, we can mention Canada Robotix, Logics Academy, Maxxian, Proto3000, Lenovo Canada, Qualcomm, and Keating, and we’re probably missing some.

Community and municipal groups helped us get the word out, hosted our  events, and volunteered in so many different ways – Markham Library, Startup York, PechaKucha and TEDx Markham, York Region Amateur Radio Club, and so many others.

And finally, our friends from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada at the David Dunlap Observatory, who now host our maker space and whom we share so many cool projects with – including our upcoming Maker Day on September 10 (exhibitor/presenter info session this Wednesday, July 27 at 7:30 PM), and our big Halloween project.

Thank you to all the ylab volunteers – many of whom are now members – who’ve worked for us and for the community in so many way.

We could go on and on… but you can go through our blog posts from the last year right here.

We’re got more plans and more events coming up, and we’re looking forward to an even better second year.

 

 

No open house this week or next – event preparation, vacation

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We’re open for members only this Wednesday July 20 as we’re a little short of people due to summer vacations, and those who are here are planning our Halloween project with the DDO.

Next Wednesday, July 27, will be a little different – no general open house, but an information night for makers and hobbyists interested in showing off theirs skills and creations at our September 10 maker day. If you’re interested, there’s more info and registration information here, and Avery’s created this great announcement poster for the event.

ylab-makerday-poster-v2-web