As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been involved in the Dallas Makerspace for quite some time before. Lately I’ve been getting more involved in volunteering for events and some governance with the electronics committee.
We recently had a big “Grand Opening” for our new-ish space. We had over 500 people out that day and it was so much fun! I attempted to do some Squishy Circuits but my dough wasn’t cooperating that day. I ended up leading over 10 tours and practically losing my voice. Fun pictures of the event are below.
I got the pleasure of volunteering with First Lego League again this year. It’s such a neat program and it’s always so inspiring to see these young kids so excited about engineering, math and science. I know I’ve said it before, but I really wish this was around when I was young!
Over the holiday break, I was looking for some reading that was fun but still related to engineering and science. I got recommendations for two books: Ada’s Algorithm by James Essigner and Zero by Charles Seife.
Ada’s Algorithm is a look at Ada Lovelace’s contributions to the digital revolution. Her work with Charles Babbage is particularly impressive. The book also questions where we could have been had her ideas been taken more seriously. Overall, a fascinating read.
Zero examines the idea of the number zero. It seems crazy that a 215 page book can be written about 0, but it is fantastic. It goes into the history as well as the philosophy of basically nothing.
Both books were lovely and I recommend them to anyone looking for a good read.
I have been intrigued by software defined radio (SDR) for some time. The basic premise is that many of the components of a radio that were traditionally implemented in hardware, can now be done in software. This includes filters, mixers, amplifiers, modulators, etc.
RTL-SDR came about when someone discovered that with a little software, a cheap USB TV dongle can be used for wider SDR, and I had to see this in action. After a little research, I decided to buy a Terratec T-Stick Plus (sheesh, the price has risen dramatically) because of the chip used. This particular dongle has an Elonics E400o chipset, supposedly one of the better choices.
The software was a bit of a beast to set up (first I tried on OS X, big mistake) but I finally have something going. I haven’t fiddled with it much yet, but I can’t wait to try and put that RF school-learning to some proper use.
This week I took a metal clay class at the Dallas Makerspace. Metal clay is basically around 90% of the metal you desire (bronze, copper and silver are all examples) and 10% organic binder and some water. You shape the metal clay into whatever shape or size you want (with a few limitations), let it dry and then fire the clay.
Firing the copper and bronze clay requires a kiln to maintain a temperature for a longer period of time, but the neat thing about the silver clay we were using was that it could be fired with a simple butane torch.
The class at the makerspace was taught by Jenny Vestal, who also teaches an online course on the subject on Craftsy.com. We made some simple charms to begin with, and we were given extensive instructions for further projects. Here are the earrings I made!
I have a few fun ideas for some electrical engineering themed pieces. Transistor symbol keychain anyone??
Yesterday I attended a workshop at the Dallas Makerspace on using the Arduino as an ISP for smaller microcontrollers. As most of you know, there can be many advantages to using a smaller microcontroller instead of a full Arduino or Pi or whatever including size, battery life, cost, etc.
We essentially followed the same directions listed here on High-Low Tech to program an ATtiny85. It was amazingly easy to use the Arduino to program the 85s. Those little beauties are under a dollar and can do quite a bit! So far I’ve gotten the ATtiny85 to blink not one, but TWO LEDs. I’m really interested in trying out the slightly larger ATtiny84 coupled with a little 433 mhz radio module to make a super cheap wireless sensor system. Hopefully you’ll see that soon! Thanks to Ralph for teaching the class.
I’m kicking myself for forgetting to take pictures, because last weekend I had the pleasure of volunteering at a high school robotics competition that was being held at my university. The competition was through Lego FTC (First Tech Challenge). I was brand new to this whole world of competitive robotics but I had a great time volunteering.
There are two parts of the competition, building the robot to perform a number of tasks and then another component where the kids give a presentation to a panel of judges about their challenge. I got to judge these presentations and I have to say that I’m so impressed with our next generation of engineers. These kids were from all over the local area, from very rural areas to the most urban schools. They all had unique ideas and perspectives and I was so fascinated with how the program helped them develop incredible STEM skills as well as learning to present and document their work and ideas.
I hope to be able to volunteer again, and the next time I promise to take pictures!
Back in April, I proudly joined the Dallas Makerspace. Makerspaces or sometimes called hackerspaces are basically community workshops where members can go and use equipment and supplies that they might not have the resources to purchase themselves.
At the Dallas Makerspace, we have a laser cutter, a brand new MASSIVE CNC mill moving in next week, a plasma cutter, multiple 3D printers, 2 electronics workbenches, woodworking equipment, and so much more. If you’d like to see a not-so-brief “Brief tour of the Makerspace,” check out this video on YouTube.
What I’ve enjoyed about the space is not as much the tools (although those are pretty cool) but the community. The approximately 250(?) members of the space are are so incredibly diverse and wonderful. There are hard core engineering types closer to myself but there are also artists creating anything from pottery to welded sculpture to spray paint art. We have pinball machines that have been lovingly rebuilt by a member and enjoyed by all. There are groups interested in robotics and other groups that work on cars. Really, the sky is the limit.
If you’re ever in the area and want to check us out, every Thursday we hold an open house and anyone is welcome to come on by and get a tour and meet a group of lovely people.
Like the soldering iron post above, this is going to be a terribly interesting post on multimeters. I had the world’s cheapest multimeter (the $4 special from Harbor Freight or something). I tested it on a pretty good 5V supply and it read 3.4 V. Once it told me I had 108A on my breadboard. Clearly it was time for something new. When my birthday rolled around, family told me to start shopping and so start shopping I did.
Shopping for a quality multimeter is like Goldilocks looking for the right bed. One bed was too big, one was too small, and the other was juuuuuuust riiiiiiiight. I looked at some different makers and admittedly decided on Fluke pretty early on. I will admit that I was pretty heavily biased by that lovely yellow color and form factor. It didn’t hurt that they’re pretty well regarded for their reliability and longevity.
Then I had the agonizing decision of picking a model. I knew I wanted true RMS, but that’s pretty much every Fluke. I wanted something pretty difficult to fry if I hooked it up wrong. I also am doing some remodeling on the house and so I wanted it to be able to handle the occasional mains power. Even though I have NO need for something this precise right now, I might later so I decided to “go big or go home.”
So without further adieu, the Fluke 87 V. Love it! I’ve barely scratched the surface of its features, but I’m trying to put it though the ringer.
Last weekend I participated in my first Society of Women Engineers (SWE) conference. I attended the 2013 Region C Conference held in Dallas, TX. It was such a great experience. I kicked off the weekend with a tour of Raytheon’s Space and Airborne Systems’ Advanced Products Center (APC) and specifically the Microwave Automated Factory (MAF). In theory I knew some of the manufacturing process of boards, but seeing it in person is a whole new experience. We began the tour by donning long coats, hairnets, face masks, and safety glasses in addition to a thorough shoe cleaning. Next, we entered the factory and saw the assembly process including pick and place, reflow, epoxy, cleaning, gold wire bonding and more. Again, knowing the basics of the process is so different from looking under microscopes at each process and seeing the board grow. The tour left me even more excited about electrical engineering as a whole.
The next day, we were treated to a variety of speakers from companies such as Abbott Laboratories, Texas Instruments, Chevron, Hewlett Packard, Dell and the Navy. I also got to see more about the behind the scenes organization of SWE. That really inspired me to get more involved in my local chapter at school. There was also a nice job fair where I got to see some more opportunities for summer internships.