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



We’ve unfortunately had to cancel the Maker Day scheduled for Sept 10. A variety of factors came in to play that just made it a little too difficult to get everything together in time to put on a quality event that all of the participants deserved.
We’re putting our energy into putting on a whole bunch of smaller maker talks and seminars – and we’ve already put up the 8 week ham radio class. Stay tuned for more announcements.
Warning: THIS BLOG ENTRY IS GETTING PERSONAL. No, not in the Donald Trump way. Since starting ylab and this blog, we’ve had participation, hard work and co-operation from many people and groups and companies in the community. In that spirit, we’ve kept a level of anonymity to the blog to reflect what this team effort. The anonymity was accidental at first. Then it became an inside joke, and now it’s an unwritten rule. This entry is an exception.. I’ve been fielding questions about the announcement from RASC-Toronto Centre and the news in the press about the status of the David Dunlap Observatory. While the situation is still fluid, there’s a lot happening in the background to keep the place running for now and for the long term. Putting aside the organisational and ownership issues, here’s what I’ve personally seen happen at the DDO over the last several years.
  • Back when it was still owned be University of Toronto, I remember my first visit to the site with my daughter. The WOW factor is permanently imprinted from our first look through the giant telescope at the twin stars Alcor and Mizar.
  • As a Scout leader and with my kids in both Scouts and Guides, I’ve had many enthusiastic astronomy nights and telescope visits, first with the UofT people, and then with even more enthusiasm by the RASC-TC volunteers.
  • When my business grew into its first real office in Richmond Hill and real employees, I brought them out to the first Perseid meteor shower night held by the DDO volunteers. They’re still talking about it. And by the way, it’s happening again tomorrow night, and sold out.
  • When, about a year ago, we were programming the first ylab events, the DDO volunteers hosted us for an evening focused on telescope technology. For the first time, I saw the lower level of the dome where the telescope is maintained. The volunteers cleaned it up and made it accessible and educational. I saw the administration building’s basement workshops where so much work happens to keep this and other GTA astronomy facilities running. Where else can you get access to a vacuum chamber to mirror coat your lens?
  • I’ve seen the volunteers plow and shovel the snow, cut the grass, clean the washrooms, build things to maintain the equipment… It’s never ending, and there’s never a complaint. It’s a labour of love.
  • I’ve seen major work by the developer to replace the beautiful stone front steps and repair the roof of the administration building.
  • In the last few months, I’ve seen more participation by the Richmond Hill city staff in the grounds maintenance. My car thanks you for filling the potholes.
In short, it just keeps getting better and better. Astronomy is far more than looking at stars. From its beginnings, to be an astronomy site, the David Dunlap Observatory has been about the engineering, electrical and mechanical skills to build and maintain the telescope. It’s been about physics and chemistry to run spectrographic analysis of starlight to figure out how stars are made, and to understand atmospheric effects. It’s been about math to understand, track and predict the courses of the stars. It’s been about radio –for astronomy, and for communicating with other observatories around the world back in the days when a short long distance call could double your phone bill. It’s been about increasing understanding and knowledge through study and training of the next generation. I like to think that it’s in that spirit that, after co-operating on a couple of events and helping each other out, that ylab was invited to kick off the maker space in a small room in the basement of the DDO. The technology and education we’re working with has different labels – robotics, ham radio, maker stuff. But it’s all fundamental to the operation of a major astronomy facility. There are never enough volunteers to accomplish all the goals, but this way the DDO gets a few more to join the existing ones who are so technically adept. ylab has only been in there a short time, but we’ve been able to help out in a few different ways. We’ve written about some of them. In a recent example, we’ve brought in oscilloscopes and other gear for restoring the DDO library’s old tube radio. Ancient test gear that to an untrained eye may look obsolete, but is phenomenal for education and maintaining an 80 year-old telescope with unique mechanicals, 120V DC electricals. We’re hoping to do a lot more. So what’s next? A lot of great people at the City of Richmond Hill and the groups involved are committed ensuring the facility meets all of its original founders’ astronomy, science, engineering and educational objectives. As a member of the RASC-Toronto Centre, a board member of ylab, an active participant in maker nights in the DDO, and someone who’s worked with Richmond Hill Economic Development, I’m in contact with a lot of people, and I hear a lot of things. The message I’m receiving from everyone I’ve talked to is clear: ylab should keep doing what it’s doing. It’s good for the community. It’s good for the DDO. I don’t know how the dust will settle. As the process unfolds, ylab may evolve into a different form, just as is happening now with the DDO’s operations. We’re moving full steam ahead on our DDO Sept 10 maker day, and other things we’re planning. We’re working more events and cool things. We’re reaching out to more community groups. And we’re willing to help in any way we can. I’m looking forward to an even brighter future for the David Dunlap Observatory. RJ Juneau, instigator, ylab.  
Apparitions at ylab’s home at the David Dunlap Observatory are normally of the celestial variety – like the annual Perseid Meteor Shower event, coming up on August 11. Then there’s the odd maker and project appearing at our door, but we’re not as surprised as we used to be at those. Well, most of the time. Emphasis on “odd”. In the past couple of weeks, there have been numerous sighting of zombie-like creatures, sometimes alone, sometimes in groups, wandering the grounds.  Oblivious to the world around them. Mesmerised by little screens held in front of their faces. Like geo-cachers on crack. If you listen quietly, you can hear them utter the same mantra: “poh-kay-mohn” . But strangest of all was this thing on the side of the DDO’s long, spooky driveway last night.
DDO Apparition

DDO Apparition. We didn’t put it there. Honest. We’re as puzzled as you are.

Do all these apparitions have anything to do with each other? Let the conspiracy theories begin! Comments on the facebook page, please.
Exactly one year ago today, on July 25, 2016, we held our kick-off maker event at Canada Robotix… and what a year it’s been! Our goal from the start has been to build tech community in York Region, and the community has welcomed us with open arms. Companies large and small have helped us out with loans of equipment, hosting of our events and outright donations. In no particular order, we can mention Canada Robotix, Logics Academy, Maxxian, Proto3000, Lenovo Canada, Qualcomm, and Keating, and we’re probably missing some. Community and municipal groups helped us get the word out, hosted our  events, and volunteered in so many different ways – Markham Library, Startup York, PechaKucha and TEDx Markham, York Region Amateur Radio Club, and so many others. And finally, our friends from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada at the David Dunlap Observatory, who now host our maker space and whom we share so many cool projects with – including our upcoming Maker Day on September 10 (exhibitor/presenter info session this Wednesday, July 27 at 7:30 PM), and our big Halloween project. Thank you to all the ylab volunteers – many of whom are now members – who’ve worked for us and for the community in so many way. We could go on and on… but you can go through our blog posts from the last year right here. We’re got more plans and more events coming up, and we’re looking forward to an even better second year.    
We’re open for members only this Wednesday July 20 as we’re a little short of people due to summer vacations, and those who are here are planning our Halloween project with the DDO. Next Wednesday, July 27, will be a little different – no general open house, but an information night for makers and hobbyists interested in showing off theirs skills and creations at our September 10 maker day. If you’re interested, there’s more info and registration information here, and Avery’s created this great announcement poster for the event.ylab-makerday-poster-v2-web
The Toronto Maker Extravaganza at the Toronto Reference Library this weekend was another big success – and ylab was there.
Nobody told us we couldn't put up our banner. Until they did.

Nobody told us we couldn’t put up our banner. Until they did.

Our contingent and display were organised by Ross and Pek, and staffed over the weekend by Ross, Jay, Brooke and Richard, with Pek volunteering with the event organisers. We saw other  ylab members visiting the show (slackers!). Our laser cut windmill/generator made it down to the sailboat races.
Fans strong enough to turn windmill, but not enough to blow his hat off.

Fans strong enough to turn windmill, but not enough to blow his hat off.

Could that actually be... finally... the new ylab circuit board for...

Could that actually be… finally… the new ylab circuit board for… something that’s not a light thingy?

Displays were most impressive,  but the best part was getting to see friends and makers who’ve helped us out  and inspired us to make ylab happen. Hats off as always to Site3 and, among others.
Everyone one loves those things that are not light sabres. Everyone.

Everyone one loves those things that are not light sabres. Everyone.

Newmarket’s NewMakeIt had a huge modified geodesic dome  out on the street. There’s a group coming together in the Oshawa/Durham area. Like our friends at YRARC,  does interesting things with wireless mesh networks. One guy came by, saw our display on the RASC/DDO, and introduced us to a great radio astronomy web site. Repair Café Toronto introduced us to their fun and helpful events.Operation Gorilla Phoenix is trying to bring back the Active Surplus stores. If you don’t know what Active Surplus was, or, more importantly, what a gorilla has to do with it… ask an old geek or maker. We had some special things of our own at the festival:
  • For members, we announced the kick-off meeting at 7:30 this Wednesday, July 13 at the DDO for this year’s Halloween project (ylab and DDO members only).
  • We had the first display of our new not-a-light-sabre project, with Richard’s next-generation circuit boards fresh in from manufacturing, and the latest multi-colour LED strips.
  • We announced a joint DDO/ylab maker day for Saturday, September 10th at the DDO.
We’ll have a posting about that last one up soon, and we’re already inviting some great hobby/maker groups  to join us.