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

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been performing surgery on the light sabres people made in our class several months ago.

All our light sabres can do single or multiple colours. Those multiple colours are way more impressive than the picture shows.

Our light sabres were designed by ylab member Richard. We have  a custom circuit board with low-power ARM processor; multi-colour, 5V high-density LED strips; dual-channel sound generation with  mini-SD card to load sounds; efficient power management; accelerometer to detect movement and collisions, and more.

Upgrading the firmware. Requires a PC and an Arduino board. Because it’s not a maker project if there isn’t an Arduino somewhere in the process.

Our class  included basic soldering for connecting the LED strips; drilling and tapping screw and contact holes for the aluminum hilts; laser cutting the support strips; and all manner of required assembly work.

That first class was a true maker project, with a fair bit of experimentation and lots of learning.

As the first generation design, there were some problems, and we’ve had some repair and rework sessions. Our latest  was on Monday August 20. Repairs included some soldering, taping, software updates and making a splint for a broken support piece. All light sabres brought in left in working condition.

A splice for a broken LED support. Custom made and carved out of Plexiglas on our laser cutter. Most appropriate for a light sabre.

With the oscilloscopes and other equipment we have on-site, we diagnosed a previously unknown power leak that would result in battery drain in 27 days. While that doesn’t sound bad, it’s still a bug. The design expectation was for a year on stand-by. We’re working on a fix. Fortunately, it’s just a software issue.

Testing, testing… with a nice DC power supply that shows current draw.

For those interested in making their own, it will still be a while before we fire up another class. We’re working on  some re-design to make battery changing easier. But we hear you. We’re working on it.

We didn’t finish until late, which is a good thing. Because light sabres look even better in the dark.

Impressive. Most impressive.

Great to see many new faces at our amateur radio open house on Monday, June 25. In addition to the presentation and discussion around the various aspects of amateur radio, we had a great group of people from Toronto Mesh.  

Directional antenna for mesh networks.

They are active in several areas of distributed mesh networks, and are putting a lot of effort into getting people educated. Some of them are playing a part in the our networks conference from July 13-18 that includes 2 days of seminars and 3 days of code sprints.

In addition to some classic ham radio decks, we showed off some really inexpensive technology like SDR (software-defined radio) USB sticks. Originally designed for terrestrial digital television, they can scan a full 6 MHz band, and are available with antenna and accessories for around $25.

 

Cheapo RTL-SDR USB wideband radio scanner. See the difference between CBC and Virgin Radio?

A copy of our presentation can be found here, and it includes links to the cheap radio sources and ylab Canadian ham certification material we covered in the presentation.

Repent from your unlicensed radio usage! (Actually, just a home-made Yagi-Uda antenna. Yes, that’s a cut-up tape measure.)

We’re looking forward to more radio nights – and our next open house – Drone night – on Monday July 9.

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.

We had a great group show up for the Wed Oct 12 Arduino: What’s It All About? open house. Big thanks to members Jack, Richard, Pek, Ross and Paul for bringing in and sharing their creations, and as always, to Jay for loaning his light sabres. We’re caving to popular demand and finally scheduling an Arduino hands-on class. It will be taught by ylab member and robotics guru Paul. Registration is open on Eventbrite, and seats are limited. You have the option of bringing your own board, or we’ll provide one. We had some excellent feedback and comments from last night’s talk.If you’re interested in using LED strips: check out this interesting tutorial on  YouTube. This applies to the APA102-type LED strips. It’s different for APA104.LED and  powertail in parallel: our presenter mentioned that when linking the 120V powertail and LED in parallel, there wasn’t enough current to run both. Comment 1: this wasn’t required. It was out of laziness. There are lots of other outputs on the Arduino board. Comment 2: Paul advised that it’s probably not a current issue. The D in LED is for diode, and the diode typically limits the voltage across its terminals to something under 2 volts. This is not enough to trigger the powertail’s relay. We’re breaking out the voltmeter to test that.Pull-up resistor for switch control: check out this excellent video explaining why you need a pull-up or pull-down resistor when using a push-button switch on Arduino digital pins.
Don’t forget to register for our next open house – the great 3D Printing vs Laser Cutting debate on Wed Oct 26. Comments? Feedback? Post it on facebook.         
Ten minutes ago, these were potatoes.

Ten minutes ago, these were potatoes.

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!
Can we be any clearer that it's a ylab BBQ event?

Can we be any clearer that it’s a ylab BBQ event?

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.
Shady characters did the cooking.

Shady characters did the cooking.

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.
Boiling oil. Don't piss us off, or we're taking it to the roof.

Boiling oil. Don’t tick us off, or we’re taking it to the roof.

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.
Turning away from the camera because they ate TWO burgers.

Turning away from the camera because they ate TWO burgers.

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.
Hasn’t been a blog post in a few weeks… because it’s better to be doing than blogging. But once in a while, we need to post something – or people claim nothing is happening! York Region is the y and the why of ylaband this week we had a bunch of firsts in three different cities. At our DDO maker space in Richmond Hill, we had all three 3D printers fired up for the first time. Big thanks to Jay and Richard for making it happen. More gear appears every week, more gears are being printed, and they’ll soon be joined by our new laser cutter.York Region Coffee and Code  kicked off the first PHP user group in Markham on Tuesday night. With Maxxian agreeing to loan their boardroom to kick it off, organisers Glenn and Simon ran out of excuses and just did it. 13 people attended ranging from newbies to some very serious talent to help them. That very same night, Pong Studios hosted the first Unity game development meetup in Vaughan. In our newsletter, we said they were going big by bringing in top Unity evangelist Mark Shoennagel… and they went even bigger! Mark is an excellent speaker, and he provided the world’s first public demo of the new networked, multi-player version of Unity. He took us through a full sequence of game development, explaining all the features and built-in defences against hacks and cheats, all while connected to one of only five operating network servers in existence. We got to see it before everyone else at the upcoming Game Development Conference. Lots  more happening in the background for light sabres, robotics, more coding groups, haunted house, ham radio, hackathons…