Anyone who’s watched an old Frankenstein movie – or almost any old black-and-white sci-fi movie – knows you can’t have a decent science lab without a Jacob’s ladder and its noisy, sparky electric arcs crawling up between two wires.
Since we call ourselves ylab, member Craig felt we had to do something about this and kicked off the project.
Now if you look up how-to sites on the web, you’ll see a lot of recommendations on how to make one using a tube TV fly-back transformer, and maybe a fluorescent light ballast as an power source. But nooooo, not us.
At ylab, we have the benefit of having some … ahem… experienced members. Some retired. They have some amazing knowledge. They have some crazy old stuff in their basements. And sometimes, they bring out that stuff.
Member Craig brought a transformer box that looks like it came from a World War 2 radar station. It kicks off some serious spark.
We took a break the following week after someone said there was a gas smell from the furnace room. As in holy-stuff we’re not coming in until that’s cleared up.
Once we got the all-clear…
Member Gilles of radio restoration fame brought in an electronic ignition thing from an old car. Probably a very old car. Looks like the first generation after points and condensers. That and a PC power supply would do the trick. But it would not be cool enough.
Gilles knows that we have a few jurassic audio oscillators. That’s the thing with the big dial in the background. How many? Enough that we could risk one.
Wire that in, and now the sparks fly with different tones as you turn the giant knob.
We’re officially a real science lab!
Correction from original post: we originally said the big transformer was from Ross. It’s Craig’s. And Craig is not retired.
What-seems-like-an-eternity ago (it was the beginning of October), we kicked off a
light sabre(1) big shiny stick thing making class, using a new circuit board design engineered by ylab member Richard. It’s designed to handle the latest 5V, 144 LED per meter, multi-color light strips for lowest power and maximum brightness. It features great power management, accelerometer to detect motion and vibration, dual channel sound, capacitive discharge contacts (so buttons don’t wear out) and an SD card slot for loading your own sounds.
It was supposed to be a two-evening class.
It’s been a learning and ongoing experience.
We started with the circuit boards, adding epoxy to stiffen the battery holders to increase reliability. Drilling the aluminum hilt. Soldering – a new skill for many. Re-drilling later because the capacitance discharge contacts were too close to the hilt and unreliable.
Then the 3D printer we were using to make the speaker caps for the end of the hilt went squirrely… and back to the manufacturer… for weeks.
Being the kind of people we are (insert something complimentary or derogatory here), we’ve allowed all class participants to keep coming in for updates as we’ve improved the design. Software updates are ongoing.
They’re working, they’re bright, they have colours.
But we’ll be doing a bit more work on the software before we kick off another class.
And we’ll keep contacting the makers to come in as we keep improving the design.
(1) We can’t call it that.
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.
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?
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.
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 registration. YLAB 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.
The Toronto Maker Extravaganza at the Toronto Reference Library this weekend was another big success – and ylab was there.
Our contingent and display were organised by Ross and Pek, and staffed over the weekend by Ross, Jay, Brooke and Richard, with Pek volunteering with the event organisers. We saw other ylab members visiting the show (slackers!). Our laser cut windmill/generator made it down to the sailboat races.
Displays were most impressive, but the best part was getting to see friends and makers who’ve helped us out and inspired us to make ylab happen. Hats off as always to Site3 and Hacklab.to, among others.
Newmarket’s NewMakeIt had a huge modified geodesic dome out on the street. There’s a group coming together in the Oshawa/Durham area. Like our friends at YRARC, tomesh.net does interesting things with wireless mesh networks. One guy came by, saw our display on the RASC/DDO, and introduced us to a great radio astronomy web site. Repair Café Toronto introduced us to their fun and helpful events.
Operation Gorilla Phoenix is trying to bring back the Active Surplus stores. If you don’t know what Active Surplus was, or, more importantly, what a gorilla has to do with it… ask an old geek or maker.
We had some special things of our own at the festival:
- For members, we announced the kick-off meeting at 7:30 this Wednesday, July 13 at the DDO for this year’s Halloween project (ylab and DDO members only).
- We had the first display of our new not-a-light-sabre project, with Richard’s next-generation circuit boards fresh in from manufacturing, and the latest multi-colour LED strips.
- We announced a joint DDO/ylab maker day for Saturday, September 10th at the DDO.
We’ll have a posting about that last one up soon, and we’re already inviting some great hobby/maker groups to join us.
Ylab held its first member’s Annual General Meeting on June 20 at the DDO. How do you get a bunch of makers to actually show up for a boring meeting? Hold a BBQ!
July 25 is the anniversary of our first event, so it’s not quite a full year. Fiscal year end is March 31 because our volunteering accounting people have the time now to do all the book closing and reporting stuff Big thanks to Jenn, Murray, Joel and Wendy for all their work that nobody else wants to do.
Being makers, frozen patties would just not do. Nothing but fresh ground beef. A charcoal kettle. A big vat of boiling oil and fresh cut fries. Bitten tongue was on the menu for those who thought we would put breadcrumbs or milk-based substances in our burger patties (you know who you are). The nerve.
The BBQ was a most pleasant and relaxed event – a warm summer solstice evening, a perfect venue at the DDO, a good breeze to keep carnivorous bugs away from the carnivorous makers, and good company from the invited RASC-DDO members who open the doors for us on our maker nights and do an all-around amazing job.
The AGM part was mercifully short. A member vote brought in new board members Pek and Richard. Our eternal gratitude to departing board members Peter and Gary for all their work helping ylab get off the ground.
At the end of the evening, the usually-dark parking lot was lit by a squadron of fireflies.
And that’s how ylab does an annual meeting.
Ylab members volunteered themselves to test out and be tested themselves in our first two formal classes since moving into the DDO – our Intro to 2D CAD, followed by our Ylab Laser Cutter Certification.
Since we want a solid foundation to build-on, we used the free version of DraftSight, a CAD program with great 2D and 3D capabilities, and a user interface that’s compatible pro-grade tools like AutoCAD.
Participants suffered through some trial and error. We allocated some extra time. And some more extra time. But by the end of the class, participants had etched their own dog tags and cut out their graduation certificates.
We now have great intro material and better structure for the next set of classes, which we’ll be announcing soon.
BONUS FEATURE: Thanks to the people at TechSoup who do so many things for non-profits, we’ve acquired a full license for AutoCAD for the maker space at a very, very significant discount. Now to find and adequate PC to put it on…