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

YLab Code Python


Ylab member Lucian has been running the Artificial Intelligence North meetups for the last couple of years at Markham Public Libraries’ Angus Glen branch. He’s had an incredible variety of quality speakers and topics  – machine learning, neural networks and more. Click on the link to see for yourself.

The meetups have been managed from ylab’s account. To allow us to do even more, we’re decided to bring it all to ylab’s home at the David Dunlap Observatory.

Hosting the events in our maker space will give us more flexibility on duration of events, as the library closes at 9 PM.

To prove it, we’re kicking off A.I. North’s fall season with our Python crash course for programmers. It will run from 7 PM to 10 PM on Thursday, September 20, 2018.

Python has become a dominant language for A.I. development and we want to get everyone interested through the basics. We’re hoping to do a lot more with it and some of the major A.I. toolkits in future sessions.

This is not a beginner’s programming course. We are targeting people who already know how to program, so we’ll be going quickly in to the features of the language. It’s a lot to do in 3 hours, but we’ve done it before and everyone got through it.

A dozen programmers came out to learn the language.

It’s a hands-on course, where everyone should come with the language pre-loaded on their laptop. We’ll be covering:

  • Basic structure for both procedural and object oriented usage of the language
  • Structure and use of libraries
  • The major data structures
  • Basic database access libraries – with a Postgres server to test!
  • Basic web access

It’s a lot to cover in three hours – but that’s the beauty of Python. If you already have some programming skills, you can move fast. 

As always at ylab, we’ll be putting up the sample code and any slides on the web after the class.

We are charging a small fee for this event, and you can register here. Because, like, we pay rent for our space. We’ll have some cookies and beverages for the break. Spots are limited. Breaking news: we just listed the event, and it’s already half sold out before we finished writing this post! Our last class also sold out.

Big thanks from both A.I. North and ylab to  Markham Public Libraries. They generously hosted events to help both groups get started, and we’ve co-operated on maker days and their excellent PechaKucha series. We look forward to working with them in the future.

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.

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.

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.

He would get a charge out of this.

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.

Notice how nobody is standing close to this thing.

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.

Sparks. A giant knob to turn that changes the sparky sounds. Life is good.

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.