Month: November 2015

Changing gears to become a maker space.

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“Be careful what you wish for”, they say.

ylab is making the transition to become a maker space.

ylab started with the goal of  building a real tech community up here in southern York Region – Markham, Richmond Hill, Thornhill and Vaughan. There are scores of technology companies in the area, but outside work, everything seemed to be happening in downtown Toronto.

While we thought a maker space would be a great way to do it, we needed to first build up the community. We decided to do it by running a bunch of one-off events.  So we started reaching out to people, and with hardly any notice, we announced our kick-off event on July 25, 2015. And we all know how that turned out!

Because it’s all about community, we reached out to others to join in and help out – or, as often as not, they reached out to help us. It might be as simple as spreading the word, giving some advice,  loaning a piece of equipment, or as time consuming as rearranging an office or a schedule to host a ylab event. We’ve mentioned them before – companies  like Canada Robotix, Logics Academy, Proto3000, Keating… organisations like Markham Public Library, Startup York, David Dunlap Observatory, York Region Amateur Radio Club… Toronto maker spaces Site3 and Hacklab.to… meetup groups Markham Makers and Coffee and Code York Region… the list goes on and we apologise in advance for any we missed.

But most of all, it’s the people. Every time we run an event, we ask ourselves “will this be the one where we fall on our faces?”. It hasn’t happened yet. You’ve shown up as attendees. You’ve shown up as volunteers. We’ve had people jump in to build the web site. To build the social media presence. To volunteer as board members. To do the legal work. To do the accounting. To join in and teach others. To start an amazing robotics group.

As we announced here a couple of weeks ago, the community is giving back to us in a most incredible way.

We have a maker space.

We have it in one of most spectacular and historic sites in all of York Region – the David Dunlap Observatory.

This is a big transition. We have a lot of organisational things to take care of. We’ve already covered some  big hurdles – incorporation as a non-profit; creation of a board; liability insurance. We’re working fast (not fast enough!) on the rest of it. Membership types and pricing. Formal agreements. Codes of conduct. Crowdfunding campaign.

We’ve come a long way in – wait a minute – is it really just 4 months since July 25???

So stay tuned for more announcements. We’re reaching out to more groups. We have more plans for more events. But we’re going to be really focused for a few weeks on crossing all those Ts and dotting all those Is to get the maker space going.

In the meantime, your feedback would be appreciated by all the volunteers who’ve worked so hard. Be sure to let us know what you think on those twitter (@ylab_maker) and facebook links on the right side of the page. Or send us a non-public comment on our About Us page.

ylablogo

The ylab team.

Radio. Ra-D-D-O. Not your grandfather’s ham radio.

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Volunteers from  the  York Region Amateur Radio Club came out to the David Dunlap Observatory to give us a presentation on how they’ve moved on from vacuum tubes to the Internet age.

You have to memorise all these frequencies to get your ham radio license. OK, not really.
You have to memorise all these frequencies to get your ham radio license. OK, not really.

The presentation was a real eye-opener. Amateur radio has dropped in cost, and they use Arduiono, Raspberry Pi and all the other things we’re used to in robotics other maker stuff.

You think Arduino is small?
You think Arduino is small?

Computer technology is now central to it. Even the full radio sets have serial and USB interfaces to provide PC interfaces, as there are only so many buttons you can cram on to the front of the set.

Now we fit the whole radio on a USB stick!
Now we fit the whole radio on a USB stick!

Software defined radio has revolutionised the technology, with a full receiver now down to a USB stick. Their members have created GPS transmitters, hooked them up to small helium balloons, and tracked the signal all the way across the Atlantic!

The radio signal wavelength is this big.
The radio signal wavelength is this big.

Big thanks to YRARC members Chris, John and Geoff for the excellent presentation and for all the demo gear they brought out.

You don't have to learn Morse code to get your ham license. But these old sets are still pretty cool.
You don’t have to learn Morse code to get your ham license. But these old sets are still pretty cool.

We wrapped up the evening with tours of the DDO telescope, and visits to our maker space in the DDO basement. Ylab volunteers brought out a great assortment of demo equipment, and Nathan from Vanguard showed of a VR headset that uses an Android phone as the screens.

Everybody wants their picture with a light sabre.
Everybody wants their picture with a light sabre.
What you see in the headset is virtual. The rest of the picture is a real ylab maker space!
What you see in the headset is virtual. The rest of the picture is a real ylab maker space!
Robot Ross Roomba ROS Robot. Really.
Robot Ross Roomba ROS Robot. Really.

Final thanks to the DDO volunteers for hosting the event and the telescope tours, and to Albert from Keating Technologies for the loan of the MakerBot Replicator to print an improved model of the telescope dome.

This time, we used white plastic to print it.
This time, we used white plastic to print it.

We’ll be back to the regular Robotycs toy hacking next week – and you can register here.

Robotycs Toy Hacks – They’re Alive!

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We held our second Robotycs hands-on night on Nov 11 to continue the toy hacks. It’s great to see new faces coming out to every event, and to see others become regulars.

DC power supply. Works much better than batteries for testing.
DC power supply. Works much better than batteries for testing.

Volunteers brought in a variety of equipment to help things along, and Robot Ross gave a quick presentation on taking the Arduino controls up another notch for remote communication.

If you don't bring enough batteries, you might have to push.
If you don’t bring enough batteries, you might have to push.

Some of the participants found out the hard way that as you add more capabilities, you need more power. Some developments were postponed to the next get-together for lack of batteries.

Always count your fingers to make sure you didn't leave any behind.
Always count your fingers to make sure you didn’t leave any behind.

The next Robotycs night will be on Nov 25. Next week, we’ll see what mischief the local ham radio people get into.

Big Mix Night: Robotycs, Arduino, Car Hacks and the DDO!

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Wed Nov 4, 2015. It was like a whole bunch of ylab events, shaken up, mixed together and served up with everyone wondering how on earth the unholy mess would taste.

Our friends at the David Dunlap Observatory somehow agreed to let us in to the darkest recesses of their basement for what was supposed to be a barely-announced Robotycs hands-on night. As if that wasn’t scary enough, the place was still littered with skeletons, corpses and other horrors from the DDO Haunted House .

As a test event, we limited the announcement to the fortunate people who attended our two first Robotycs meetings and our Arduino class.

The no-longer secret anti-static handshake.
The no-longer secret anti-static handshake.

The theme of the evening: Arduino Robotic Car Hacks. No, not the kind of cars from our August Car Hacks/OBD-2 Event.

Victims of the evening's activities.
Victims of the evening’s activities.

 

 

Instead of using robotic kits, we asked everyone to bring whatever old wired or R/C cars they had lying around their basements to modify for Arduino control.

There's an oscilloscope. This must be science.
There’s an oscilloscope. This must be science.

Ylab volunteers brought in oscilloscope, voltmeter, tools, soldering irons and other implements of toy destruction. Robot Ross gave the introductory lesson on how to work to work the motors with Arduino. Then the mayhem started.

Higher voltage makes it spin faster.
Higher voltage makes it spin faster.
Looks complicated... and they haven't done the software yet.
Looks complicated… and they haven’t done the software yet.
Arduino hardware transplant successful.
Arduino hardware transplant successful.

Formerly-abandoned toys started coming to life. What were previously single-speed cars were now controllable to run at different speeds.

Isn't this how Frankenstein was brought to life?
Isn’t this how Frankenstein was brought to life?

Some achieved  variable steering  instead of full-right or full-left. Humming, un-moving motors were explained (more power!). Beginners learned a heck of a lot. Our DDO friends looked on in… let’s say puzzled amazement and leave it at that.

Big thanks to the regular ylab volunteers (Richard, Ross, Jay, Pek), to Canada Robotix for the discount on the Arduino boards, to the DDO for hosting, and, above all, to all the attendees who came out and made the event a success.

BREAKING NEWS: MORE OF THE SAME NEXT WEEK! Look for the booking announcement in the next couple of days on this page (Over there! On the right side!) or by searching on Eventbrite. Same time – 7 PM Wednesday – and same place, which we’ve officially nicknamed the ylab DDOngeon.

October Wrap-Up: Python! Robots! Nerds! Makers! Haunted House! TAVES!

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October 2015 YLab Group Shot
October YLab Meeting Group Shot.

October was a crazy month. YLab is all about tech community, so it’s more than just the events we put on. YLab regulars, volunteers and friends have been all over the place, including:

  • YLab’s Python Constricted class, hosted by the Markham Public Library, where a dozen people were introducted to the Python programming language, and helped along by ylab volunteers.
  • Our second monthly Robotycs meeting, hosted once again by Logics Academy, covered an intro to Arduino and Raspberry Pi. We’re looking for a serious competition project!
  • We have a small offshoot of beginners from Robotycs who are eager to learn and will start some hands-on weekly training by hacking remote control cars. Experienced volunteers will be showing up to help them with soldering irons, oscilloscopes and Arduino gear.
Robot Ross Giving a Presentation and Halloween at the DDO
Robot Ross Giving a Presentation and Halloween at the DDO.

We were busy with our friends at the Markham Public Library, where:

  • YLab’s Robot Ross and Jedi Jay displayed their wares that the Mini Maker Faire.
  • A few ylab regulars’ faces were in the audience for their evening with Cory Doctorow.
  • Their Nov 13 TEDx put out a call for speakers. We introduced a couple of ylab friends from The David Dunlap Observatory (DDO) and Site 3 Maker Space  who have been selected. Our proposal for a  Site 3 flaming demo in the parking lot… well, that  went down in flames. Tickets are going fast!
Halloween at the DDO!
Halloween at the DDO!

Speaking of the DDO… We wrapped up the month with a Halloween eve visit to their Haunted House in full geek-out costume, complete with pocket protectors, taped eyeglasses and white socks. That was after a visit to TAVES Consumer Electronics Show held at the Sheraton at Hwy 7 and Leslie. Big thanks to the TAVES organisers for the free weekend passes. The must see item: the Richmond Hill AMD team’s virtual reality demo.

YLab Visiting TAVES to get an AMD VR Demo
YLab Visiting TAVES and Getting an AMD VR Demo

The DDO’s Haunted House was augmented this year by contributions from YLab friends and robotics experts Eric and Brett Hagman. The sound-activated, full-size crawling skeletons were a nice touch.

 

Stay tuned for more November announcements!