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

Where can we find an alligator clip to ground out a screwdriver? If you’re going to remove a fly-back transformer from an old TV, as shown here (we’re giving them credit because we took their picture), you first need to safely discharge what could be up to 30,000 volts in the tube. Hook up an alligator clip to the screwdriver, and ground it, they say.

What normal people do. Photo by by Invzim.

We have the TV, but we’re meeting outside of our normal lair at the DDO. We want to do it now. Besides, old 32 inch TVs are too heavy to lug down to the basement. At ylab, our sense of scale may be a little warped by being so close to the big giant telescope. Because someone said “Wait, I have a Canadian alligator clip in my car.”

The Great Canadian Alligator Clip. Because we all have them in out trunks.

30,000 volts? Ha! With this kind of wire gauge, we could take a lightning strike.

Let no one ever suggest that Pek is not well grounded.

After a safe and honourable discharge, we got all the components we wanted. No Peks were harmed in the making of this post.
Richmond Hill Public Library’s Richmond Green branch near  Leslie and Elgin Mills. is hosting a Maker Event on Saturday, March 11 from noon until 5 PM, and Ylab will be there. It’s a family event – ages 6 and up, according to the RHPL event listing.  While you’re in the area, bring out your skates and hit the beautiful Richmond Green Skating Trail. It’s beautifully lit in the evening. Come out and see our latest not-a-light-sabre engineering, Jacob’s ladder, radio toys, laser-cutting artistry, robotics demos and other creations. No registration required, but we’ve created a  meetup.com event  to help publicise it.  Registration not required, but it’s nice to let us know you’re coming.
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.
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.         
This Wednesday’s the first official, new-format Open House night. They’re now now every 2nd and 4th Wednesday of the month, and feature a presentation – this week on Arduino!
Arduino night. Big thanks to Chhing Chan for the poster.

Arduino night. Big thanks to Chhing Chhan for the poster.

We had a trial run of the new format by making the first night of our 8-week ham radio license program free for anyone who wanted to attend the session. That filled up nicely. For this Wednesday’s event, we have a bunch of demos cued up, including robotics, LED control, handling 120V power, and if we get it running in time, Bluetooth control. We’ll be announcing a hands-on Arduino class and lots more sessions. It’s free, but we still need you to register.
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.