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

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. 
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.

Learning how to tap and thread holes in the metal hilt.

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.

Look! They work! Really! Cool noises when you whack them together!

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.
It's been quiet. Sometimes, that's a good thing.

It’s been quiet. Sometimes, that’s a good thing.

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?Click here to comment on the facebook page.
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.