Posts

Maker Faire UK 2017 announced

It’s baaa-aaaaack!

The greatest show (and tell) on Earth is returning to Newcastle with Maker Faire UK 2017, April 1st-2nd. It’s the biggest, loudest, most ridiculous and longest-running event of its kind in the UK. More than 300 makers, hackers, crafters, coders, artists and inventors from across the globe come together at the Centre for Life to showcase what they do, run workshops and activities, and generally loon around in the name of expressing themselves through things they make.

Think Physics built a magnificent pendulum wave sound sculpture for the 2015 Faire, which was accidentally chucked in a skip during renovation works at the University this year. Oops. This year we showed the Technology Wishing Well, which all worked for the first time about three minutes after the Faire opened. Both years we ran the beautiful Light Wall activity. What will we do for 2017? Watch this space!

Better still, sign up to the mailing list at the Maker Faire UK website, block out that first weekend of April in your diary, book your tickets as soon as they’re available, and – best of all – think whether you or your school have projects you could showcase yourselves, attending as fellow Makers. There’ll be a Call for proposals via the website soon.

Want to get a better idea of what the Faire’s about? A few years ago I filmed Make magazine founder Dale Dougherty as he took a wander while it was still quiet on the Sunday:

Introducing the Technology Wishing Well for Maker Faire UK 2016

At Maker Faire UK last year Think Physics had two stands; a wall of light boxes, and a magnificent harmonic pendulum display which, slightly embarrassingly, I still haven’t written up. Hoping to avoid a similar mistake this time around, I should introduce you to this year’s new installation: the Technology Wishing Well.

WishingWell v1

Er… yeah, that’s a bit of a mess. What you’re looking at is a corner of my desk, on which you can see the black disc of a small turntable. That’s part of the light box installation, repurposed shamelessly (hey, I’m allowed to steal from myself, right?). On the turntable are a couple of LED lights. The green one is pointing upwards, the red one fell over and is pointed off to one side.

Left of frame is a retort stand, holding a Raspberry Pi (Pi 3! Woohoo!) and a PiCamera, which as far as I can tell is a mobile phone camera module on the end of a stubby little cable. The Pi is driving the big monitor upper right, and the window in the top corner is showing… what, exactly?

OK, so I’ve written a little Python code which does the following:

  1. Grabs a picture from the camera.
  2. Takes all the stuff which is ‘dark’ in that image, and turns it transparent.
  3. Adds the result to the previous image.
  4. Repeat.

So, as the turntable turns the green light smears into a ring, and the fallen-over red light smears into a… weird red blobby donut thing. My python code is appallingly slow, but conveniently the result is mesmerising to watch as it gradually builds up. Which is a relief, because we’ve committed to building this thing and there’s no turning back now.

The plan is to build a big one of these, so the current turntables can sit on the big turntable, and then we’ve made a giant light-powered video Spirograph-like-thing. We’re also planning to build little gizmos which move lights around, or change their colour over time, or … well, you’ll have to wait and see. You’ll also be able to make your own lights and toss them onto the turntable disc to add to the artwork as it develops, which is where the whole ‘wishing well’ idea comes in.

There’s lots to do before Maker Faire, but right now I’m just excited (and a little relieved) to see something on a screen rather than in my imagination. This moment’s been a long time coming.

The header image shows the first run of the software – here’s detail of the second, just before the Pi crashed hard. Umm… I should probably look into what caused that.

Tech wishing well second run

Tinkering Thursday: March 5th “Turn it off!” edition

Andrew has invented the ANNOY-O-TRON!! It’s in block capitals and has two exclamation marks, to be particularly annoying. A development of the previous instrumented pendulum, the ANNOY-O-TRON!! features several key advances:

  • Annoyingly many ‘compile / wait / upload / wait / fail / turn off / wait / turn back on / wait’ cycles.
  • Annoying choice of annoyingly loud GarageBand synthesised instrument.
  • Annoyingly flaky MIDI interface from the TouchBoard to GarageBand…
  • …which turned out to be caused by an annoyingly obvious-in-hindsight bug. Who knew that unless you turn a note off before playing a new one, GarageBand spawns a new instrument for each, topping out at 64 instruments? Harrumph. Annoying.
  • Annoyingly not-very-tremendous result in the end.
Andrew does battle with the less annoying parts of his code.

Andrew does battle with the less annoying parts of his code.

Annoyances aside: Andrew’s now turned the instrumented pendulum into something wholly more whimsical and ridiculous than, er, the sampled sine wave of previous weeks. He’s also had two sensors being synthesised at once, which obviously doubles the annoyance factor.

Next up: further exploring the MIDI controller aspect of this, to see how much flexibility there is to manipulate instruments rather than simply trigger notes. Then there’s building a frame, rigging a dozen pendulums, working out what and how we want to turn into what sort of sound, and thinking about what else we can drive with the data. Sound is only part of the excessive annoying extravaganza that will be this installation.

Tune in next Tinkering Thursday for tales of triumph over annoying adversity!

Andrew would like to make it clear that the annoyingly frequent use of the word ‘annoying’ in this update is not his responsibility.