What happens when you turn a middle school library into a hackerspace?

guest article by Thomas Maillioux

above: David designs an animation for his LoL Shield with LoL Shield Theater

Editor’s note: Several months ago I put a call out on this blog for a DIY electronics blogger, and I couldn’t believe how many funny, friendly, fantastically qualified people from all over the world responded.

One such person was Thomas Maillioux, an unconventional librarian in France. He told me about his work to bring hackerspaces into the libraries of public schools in metro-Paris to teach kids about electronics, programming, design, and even 3D printing.

He graciously accepted my invitation in broken franglais to tell his story here on the blog. I hope you enjoy!


What happens when you turn a middle school library into a hackerspace?

by Thomas Maillioux

A hackerspace at school

I was lucky enough to work through the 2010 school year with a bunch of brilliant, curious pupils at the Evariste Galois middle-school in Epinay sur Seine in the northern suburbs of Paris.

2 hours a week, we’d meet up at the library to try and answer — through research and tinkering — all the questions they had about computers, electronics, gaming and programming.

We created a small hackerspace where the kids programmed RFID tags, designed a logging system of their own with Touchatags and Google Docs, created animations with Arduinos and LoL shields, compared automatically-generated and human-written code, and even designed their own video games. So what did I learn from this teaching-meets-tinkering experience?

“My project, my pace”

All of the projects I mentioned were chosen by the students themselves. For them, being able to decide what to work on was a huge motivator to actually doing the work — something which might also explain the amazing amount or work the pupils achieved over the few months of the hackerspace experiment. They wanted to come to school early and stay late so they could tinker together!

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OOML might just be the easiest way to get into programmable shapes

Object Oriented Mechanics LibraryOOML is a system for creating programmable, shareable 3d shapes using the common programming language C++.

Imagine being able to design a 3d file based on some very simple rules, like “every hole for your fastener will always be the same size” or “the thickness of your laser cut bits will always be the same”. Imagine being able to download a design and change it with just a tiny effort, like taking a design intended to be cut from .11″ acrylic and instead altering it to work with .22″ instead.

That’s the beauty behind OpenSCAD. It’s a programming language for making shapes. However, the language it’s based off of is unique. It’s hard to pick up the skills required to build an OpenSCAD part anywhere else than using OpenSCAD. However, OOML seeks to change that.

Picture being able to program parts like you would a webpage or Arduino sketch. OOML lets you design 3d parts in the common, easy to learn, easy to access, incredibly well documented language: C++.  It lets you add on libraries of shortcuts, scripts, and tools to help make the whole process faster and more robust.

I’m eager to see the system become more popular, getting fleshed out with tutorials and examples to play with.

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Chrysalis – Mass customization for visual designers

The power of Processing in the hands of Grasshopper users

Fabripod's Chrysalis in action

Fabripod has just launched a Kickstarter project for Chrysalis, a tool for translating designs made in Grasshopper into Processing sketches that can be used as web apps for digital making.

Basically, if you’re a visual designer, Chrysalis will make it possible for you set up a web storefront that lets people customize a design and then export it to another service (like Ponoko) for making.

Also, because Processing is a free, open source tool, Chrysalis will enable the sharing of 3D sketches in a way that just isn’t practical via Grasshopper. For example, the deployment of an interactive art installation is a lot more practical when it can be used on any operating system without the need for additional software licenses.

Chris Chalmers explains in the video below: (more…)

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The making of Arduino: Five guys walk into a bar…

Discover how (and where) it all began

Arduino. It’s a catchy, funny little word… and the Arduino we have come to know and love has had a wide-ranging impact on the world of DIY electronics.

So where did it all begin?

The five handsome devils pictured above are the guys responsible for this little wonder. Hailing from the town of Ivrea in Northern Italy, Massimo Banzi (that’s him on the right) would relax after a long day teaching at Ivrea’s Interaction Design Institute by heading down to a local watering hole, the Bar di Re Arduino. You can imagine that an enthusiastic and forward-thinking electrical engineer and his buddies would have some pretty interesting conversations when they get together over a few drinks…

Since its launch in 2005, people have used Anduino to do some wonderful things. Reflecting on the past few years, Banzi says that the most important impact of Arduino is the democratization of engineering.

“Fifty years ago, to write software you needed people in white aprons who knew everything about vacuum tubes. We’ve enabled a lot of people to create products themselves.”

There is a fantastic article over at IEEE Spectrum that takes a deeper look into the story of Arduino. It’s interesting reading with many insights from Massimo and his collaborators David Cuartielles, Gianluca Martino, Tom Igoe and David Mellis.

IEEE via Engadget

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Minibloq: Arduino programming made easy

Become a Beta tester now

Making DIY programming more accessible to eager young minds, the latest iteration of Minibloq is now open to the public in its Beta phase.

Minibloq is a graphical programming environment specifically targeted towards helping primary students, kids and beginners learn more about DIY electronics and hardware.

With a drag-and-drop interface and gentle learning curve, the mysteries of Arduino programming unfold and the real-time error checking keeps everything on track. Much thought has gone into the extensive feature list, and it looks as though the application is shaping up well to match, and indeed exceed, expectations from the recent Kickstarter campaign.

A quick video tour through some of the features follows after the break.

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Design by Code

Biophilia Hypothesis in practice.  Beautiful practice.Many designers are inspired by forms or patters found in nature, but few articulate that organic influence through a scientific means.  Paul Krix from Neat Objects creates uniquely individual laser cut jewellery that is aesthetically informed by programming based on an algorithm he discovered some years ago.  The early seeds of inspiration were planted when Paul read a paper that compared city street networks with common leaf vein patterns, concluding that pictures of either were indistinguishable to most people.  Later, Paul came across research on algorithmic mimicking of the chemical process of leaf formation and decided to use that as a basis for a modelling program.

The basic idea is I tell it how I want it to behave and give it a few starting pieces of information, like where to start growing from and the shape of the surface, then it does all the hard work of deciding where the veins will grow.

Paul’s biomorphic inspiration comes from various natural patterns and processes that are both beautiful and complex: crystal growth, moth wing patterns, leaf veins, tree growth, petals, and the process of reaction-diffusion which is behind zoological colourings/patterns.  This design approach is based on the Biophilia Hypothesis that is rooted in the ideas of American biologist E. O. Wilson.

The premise is that human beings tend to like things that remind them of life. An example is if you design a room with high ceilings and exposed beams that look a little bit like tree branches, people feel comfortable and happy there even though they can’t say why.

At this stage all the designs are laser cut, but Paul is creating code for generating 3D printed objects.  All the laser cut pieces require minimal finishing, mostly a spray of lacquer and attaching findings. The packaging is custom cut for each jewellery piece and is designed to keep folding and gluing to a minimum. Most of the jewellery is cut from 3mm bamboo, which Paul describes as “incredible”.

The grain looks amazing and it seems to cut quite well. Bamboo is really strong, and as a plywood even more so. Even at 3mm I don’t have to worry about it snapping. It’s also a very sustainable wood. For me it ticks every box.

He is also a fan of acrylic and regularly works with felt, cardboard and paper.  He has trialled some of these materials for home wares, which is something he’s thinking of designing more of in the future.  At this stage, however, the focus is on making high quality jewellery products that do not rely heavily on prototyping.

I’m terrified of producing something that in a few years I’ll look back at and cringe. Because of that I have a remarkable number of prototypes lying around my house that I may never do anything with.

Paul has been a Personal Factory Prime member for a while, and for him it means creating to his heart’s content (time permitting) without requiring the capital for traditional fabrication methods that rely on economy of scale.  His hometown Canberra is a city of public servants and not manufacturers, and most of his ideas remained in a digitally modelled format until the day he uploaded his first file into the Personal Factory.

More from Paul after the cut:

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Comic-style introduction to Arduino

A guide for visual learners:
Getting started with open-source programming

Jody Culkin is an artist of broad and impressive talents, and she’s done something wonderful for the DIY electronics community with one of her recent projects.

It’s not an award-winning sculpture, nor an emotive photograph or whimsical animation… this time, she has turned her hand towards helping newcomers get their head around just what this Arduino thing is all about.

The comic-style introduction has been CC-licensed for all to enjoy, and can be downloaded in full right here.

More than a guide to the ins and outs of the Arduino platform, this is also a handy introduction to electronics projects in general.

Introduction to Arduino via Boing Boing

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DIY robot drawings amuse passers-by in studio window

drawing machine scribbles “The Chancellor”

Electronic-tinkerer-by-night Alexander Weber recently moved in to a new studio. And like all newcomers, he thought it would be nice to add some of his own decorating touches to the space.

Never one to shy away from a challenge, Alexander put together a collection of goodies including gears, pulleys, Arduino components and laser cut MDF from Ponoko’s German partner Formulor.

What do these items all combine to become?

It’s a neat little drawing machine, which has been dubbed Der Kritzler (The Scribbler). Suspended across the front window of the office, the device has been programmed to draw images onto the glass.

Click through to watch Der Kritzler plot out all the angles that make up German Chancellor Angela Merkel. (more…)

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3d printed upgrade for animatronic hand

Arduino, Xbee and Makerbot… Get a grip!

This formidable looking man-claw is the latest gripping output from Easton LaChappelle, a ninth-grade student at Mancos High, Colorado.

Drawing on some tech advice from hardware hacker and Arduino guru Jeremy Blum, the initial incarnation made from PVC tubing clearly wasn’t badass enough… even though it deservedly won Easton the blue ribbon at the San Juan Basin Regional Science Fair.

Thanks to Jeremy’s Makerbot and an open source hand from Thingiverse, Easton was able to give his animatronic gripper a serious upgrade. The electronics inside are still the same, with Xbee modules sharing info between Arduino powered sensors and servo drivers. Now with 3d printed digits and a fibreglass forearm shell, the whole setup boasts a much more refined visual presence – not to mention increased functionality.

Click through for a little walkthrough of the design features as well as a series of demonstrations of the hand grasping different objects, all nicely topped off by Easton having the rather unique experience of shaking hands with himself. (more…)

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Tired of overexposed celebrities? Auto-mute your TV with this Arduino project

silence on-demand

Enough Already is an awesome DIY electronics project/device that auto-mutes your TV on whatever keyword you set.

When a keyword is received via the closed captions, which are broadcast along with the video signal, the tv is muted for 30 seconds. If a keyword is again received during the 30 second mute, there’s another 30 seconds of mute time — ensuring you won’t have to hear about anything you’re sick of.

The project combines an Arduino board and a Video Experimenter Shield and uses a mashup of pre-existing code plus a few lines of custom code from project creator Matt Richardson.

MAKE has a fantastic video (shown above) that explains the project and provides all the hyperlink resources you need to make and customize your own version of the Enough Already.

P.S. If you’re new to DIY electronics or Arduino, check out this month’s blog giveaway. One lucky winner will win a Getting Started with Arduino Kit v2.0 from the Maker Shed store plus a subscription to Make: magazine. 4 other winners will get the subscription.

All you have to do is tell us the coolest thing you’ve ever made and include a link to a pic. It can be absolutely anything as long as YOU made it.

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