The First Maker Space and Tech Community For Markham, Richmond Hill, Thornhill, & Vaughan.

Archive for April, 2018

Operating a maker space in the basement of the  David Dunlap Observatory means taking special care to respect the heritage and history of the facilities.

We posted earlier about the incredible old workbench we cleaned out in the workshop.

The new workbench overlay. Nothing short of a nuclear event can harm that vise.

Without putting in any screws, drilling holes or making any other changes, we dropped a layer of plywood on top, allowing us to hammer, solder and do whatever else we need to do without risk of harming the surface. The mounting screws for the old vise were long enough to get through the new layer and hold it in place.

Old-school waxing of the sliders. Cheap solution and works great.

The cabinet drawers are a little sticky, and that can lead to damage if people aren’t careful. A little research into heritage carpentry shows that rubbing down the slide surfaces with a block of paraffin wax is the best solution. We have more to treat, but the drawers we started with are sliding like new.

IT’S BACK!

Our laser cutter. Back in its home sweet dome.

On Wednesday night, the weather gods shone down on us and stopped the downpour just in time to get the our laser cutter loaded up at from the undisclosed location (a.k.a Richard’s garage).

After we got it loaded. Because you really, really don’t want to see inside Richard’s garage.

All it took was a trailer, a tow vehicle,  a tarp, some ratchet straps and a minivan to hold all the parts and accessories.

ylab gets a lot of mileage out of our laser cutter.

No elevator at the DDO, so we build our own ramps to get it down the service stairs.

Nice weather. Just in time.

That’s our ramp. Not an optical illusion at the bottom. We made it crooked to round the corner.

Big thanks to ylab members Richard, Craig, Jack, Jay and Peter for getting this done.

 

Tug-of-war against the machine.

Safely in the basement with the delivery team.

Checking it out and cleaning it up.

We cleaned it up but we still need to check it out and  recalibrate it.  There were a few potholes along the way, but not on Hillsview Drive or the DDO driveway. We should have that done by next week.

This is what you look like when you get your garage back and can park your car inside again.

Special thanks to the guy who loaned us the trailer. We won’t mention his name in order to prevent a flood of requests from people wanting to borrow trailers. Like, for instance, us.

Disclaimer: no sacrifices, human or animal, were made to appease the weather gods.  They did it of their own volition. Or maybe because of the prayers of that lady who gets her parking space back.

Ylab has run some amateur radio events and classes with our friends from the York Region Amateur Radio Club (YRARC). We like radio stuff because there’s a history of it at the DDO, and there’s some fascinating new activity and technology that’s clearly not your grandfather’s old ham rig. Some ylab members are also Scout leaders, and we’ve been helping out with a new technology-focused Venturer Scout troop. Combine the two, and great things happen.

For training and education purposes. we’ve acquired a couple of radio sets. One is an older analog Yaesu 707 unit donated by YRARC member Ion when he heard that we would be using for training new users and Scouts. The other is a used ICOM 718 purchased with the registration fees from the ham radio class we held  with YRARC at the DDO. They told us we could keep the change if we used it for acquiring radio equipment.

During our absence from the DDO, we put that gear to good use at some at last fall’s Scouts world-wide ham radio JOTA and some other events.

With the maker space on hiatus, we had some extra time to burn. So we worked on some new ham radio training material to help people get through the Canadian amateur radio certification process.

Check out how it all worked out here.

Now that we’re back at the DDO, we’re planning more radio events. Watch this space for more announcements, or, (groan) stay tuned.

It’s ylab’s first week back with the DDO now being run by the Town of Richmond Hill, and there are lots of improvements to our space and the entire facility.

While progress appears slow, in the background, the Town’s staff are accomplishing great things.

We mentioned a lot of clean-up in earlier posts.

Invisible, but most apparent: this is our first post written from the DDO since our return. That means Internet access, with a new high speed fibre connection and Wi-Fi throughout.. Yeah, it’s kind of an anachronism in this place.  We’ll live with that. We’ve roamed around the building and it’s excellent everywhere.

Invisible and not so apparent: the building is now hooked up to a better water supply connection and to the municipal sewer system. It was previously on its own septic system.

Invisible and apparent to some of us: a lot of behind-the-scenes reorganisation and clean-up. There are equipment rooms that the public doesn’t get to see. With ylab’s early access while a lot of the work is still happening, we see a huge difference.

All cleaned up and ready for lectures and classes.

With two rooms dedicated to ylab, we’ve reorganised things a bit. Our main room is now set up to double as a seminar room. We can run lectures and classes in there for smaller groups.

The opposite end of the main room. Tools back up on the rack soon. Yes, that’s an upside down monitor on the floor. It’s gone now.

It’s practical to do this without affecting member project work because we now have a separate workshop dedicated to ylab. We’ve cleaned up and reorganised things for the return of our laser cutter next week. We have lots of workbench space at one end, and more storage.

The workbench in the workshop. Table and chair all ready for laser cutter control.

We can work there while the seminar happens in the other room, and vice versa. We will be keeping the messier stuff in the workshop and the main room should not have anything dirtier than soldering.

And all those historic machine tools. So cool even when not used.

At the other end, we find the historical machine tools. We can’t use them, but they look awesome. They inspire us.

Another benefit of ylab’s early access is getting to hear about everyone else’s plans. There are lots of announcements coming soon from the Town and from the astronomy groups coming into the building. But that’s for them to talk about when they are ready.

You can feel the pride in the Town staff and everyone involved. The excitement is building for the DDO to be better than ever with more public access than ever.

Having a maker space in a historical building is so cool.

After many months absence, our first night back at the DDO was dedicated to some clean-up. A new part of ylab is  the DDO’s basement workshop, so we decided to attack it first.

Knows what these are, and can tell some parts are missing.

Getting into some of the old tool cabinets proved… interesting. Years of crud? Par for the course. Mysterious machine tools? Not to some of our members who are skilled with that kind of equipment.

First aid kit. No expiry dates. Guess it’s safe to use.

Then we started finding some pretty nifty old artifacts. Like an ancient first aid kit that still contains ether and castor oil. We found a saw in the same cabinet. Maybe they were prepared for amputations. The DDO was pretty remote in those days.

Wait a minute – those are the missing parts!

Some interesting documents had fallen under the cabinet drawers. Things like blueprints that are actually blue for an old water system. Income tax papers from the War Department, from back when income tax was originated to pay for the war. And some missing parts for some of the machine tools.

Keep going. Maybe we’ll find some other cool stuff. And that big vac needs to be emptied. Again.

We’re logging all this stuff and we’ll be passing it on to the appropriate Town of Richmond Hill staff.

Great to see members Art, Craig, Nick, Richard and Ross again and big thanks for all their clean-up work.

NOTE: use of the DDO machine tools is not permitted for ylab. Doesn’t mean we can’t clean things up. No metal or members were harmed.

Some attendees of past ylab events at the DDO approached the site with a healthy amount of fear and trepidation. Not because of us – we’re the happy, friendly kind of crazy – but because of the state of road and driveway during construction and years of wear and tear.

Hillsview Drive. With real curbs. An a distinct lack of mud.

To the relief of local residents and DDO visitors, the Hillsview Drive road work is complete. It’s no longer mistaken for a northern Ontario mining road. During the heavy construction period,  it swallowed a Subaru.

Bottom of driveway. Don’t bother engaging low-range 4WD.

The bottom of the driveway… well, it’s now obvious that it’s a driveway and not a 4X4 test facility. It’s no longer a state secret that the DDO is up there, because… Holy Crap! A sign! That and the removal of the access gate make it much more welcoming.

Straight, uncratered driveway. You can now drive straight.

Driving up, you and your car’s suspension will be relieved to see – and feel –  that the astronomers’ simulation of the lunar surface using road craters has been cleared and paved over.

Parking lot. Enjoy parking anywhere until they paint the lines.

The parking lot now competes with babies’ bottoms for ultimate smoothness. Some of you may remember a huge hole dug in the middle of it by someone with alleged unauthorized use of a backhoe. It looked like a meth-head went digging for that nest of giant spiders.

Access circle. Not a skidpad. Trust us on that one. It’s monitored by hi-res security cameras.

It’s  now much safer to walk on the walkway from the parking lot. Tempting as it is, please don’t park on the circle in front of the building. That’s called a fire route.

Just remember to drive slowly. There seemed to be more people than before out for walks. Heavens forbid the skateboarders finding out about this.

 

On March 8  we signed our agreement with the Town of Richmond Hill to get the Ylab Maker Space back up and running in the basement of the administration building of the David Dunlap Observatory.

For ylab, it’s been over a year of paperwork, waiting, negotiating, board meetings and calls, getting insurance, and still taking care of tax and related filings to maintain our corporate non-profit status. For the Town’s Parks and Recreation department, it’s been far more arduous – the negotiations to take ownership of the facility; the inspections, engineering and safety work for a building and telescope that opened in 1935;  and all the organisational planning required to deal with groups like ylab that applied for access. The Town also has a master plan for the entire DDO site.

 

So what are the next steps?

 

There will be more formal communication with members. As promised, we put memberships on hold when we lost access. We are reactivating everything effective April 1. We have more space and more flexibility. There are fire and safety rules  that may require some amendment to membership agreements. Then there’s all that formal organisation stuff, like an annual member meeting that we’re a little behind on.

We’ll get our gear back in and set things up.  Our laser cutter gets another trip down the building back stairs after its winter in the undisclosed secret location (a.k.a. Richard’s garage).  We thank Richard for his generosity in storing and maintaining it, and giving access to any member who asked. There are some member offices and garages around town that will be happy to get some free space back.  Expect some  news around 3D printing.

Once we’re in, our initial focus will be on existing members and getting some unfinished, dormant projects reactivated.

And finally…

A huge thank you  to the board members who worked through this, to the  non-member volunteers  who help out in so many ways, to Phil the insurance guy for coming through for us once again, and to all the members for your support, incredible patience and understanding during the prolonged hiatus. As the song goes… “never was heard a discouraging word”.

We all felt it was worth the wait to be in this magnificent facility.

Here’s to making it really worth it.