Springs, Spools and Power Cords — Getting Real at the FixIt Clinic

A Man and His (Fixed!) Vacuum

There are so many things to do at the Mini Maker Faire, and what did I spend the majority of my time doing last year? Fixing my vacuum cleaner. I don’t even know quite why I brought it over. I had heard something about a booth where you could bring stuff and have people help you fix it, and just as the faire approached our vacuum cleaner went from turning off by itself now and again to not turning on at all. I fantasized about a new Dyson. They sure do look cool in the ads. But heck, this non-responsive hunk of machinery was a Miele and just a couple years old. And it’s not like we were overusing it. This situation could be rectified. I am handy, I told myself.

So, oddly enough, I found myself walking over to Mini Maker Faire, dead vacuum cleaner in hand. I navigated the crowds and made my way up to the second floor of Studio 1, where there was a whole decent-sized room  dedicated to fixing people’s broken appliances and toys — the storied FixIt Clinic. I meandered in, trying to look as noncommittal as it’s possible to look while carrying around a vacuum cleaner. I avoided eye contact, looking for that special someone who would be the right match for me and my vac.

Then it all started to happen. Somebody asked me if I had something to fix, and before I knew it, my machine was on the lab bench and we were discussing its symptoms. I tried to be as clear as possible, avoiding any conclusions I might have already jumped to. My helper was exceedingly nice and genuinely curious about what could be wrong. I only wish his name had not faded from my memory, a forgotten remnant of my clinic one-night stand; I remember the thrill, but not all the particulars.

We laid out the various possibilities and guessed at the probability of each. Then we started investigating, the machine spilling its guts to us before long. We worked for a while, coming to various dead ends, before we were joined by Richard, another nice, funny and smart helper, who builds prosthetic robotic leg systems for paraplegics — exoskeletons, really. After overcoming our first serious mistake, where we were plugged into a non-operational power strip, the problem began to reveal itself.

The power cord in this vacuum has the familiar feature where you can pull out as much of it as you need and then press a button to retract it when you are done. What this means on the inside of the machine is that the cord is wound around a big spool; and that spool is connected to a very long, coiled piece of spring steel. Also, the wire of the power cord is connected to metal plates on the spool that make contact with some springy steel on the main part of the machine. We discovered that these springy contacts were all mushed in, so that the spool could easily slide away from them and lose electrical contact. Ah-hah! We thought we were home free.

Not so fast. In order to un-mush those contacts, stretching them nice and wide again, we would have to remove the spool. Unfortunately, removing the spool would give us a really good chance of causing the spool’s long, metal spring to completely unwind. But we were very handy, and there were three of us. We could get that spool out of the way without having the spring explode in our faces, slice up our hands, and completly unwind.

Almost. Dang that spring was long in its unwound state.

So, after expanding the springy contacts, we were faced with the daunting prospect of re-tensioning the spool’s spring, lest we end up with a vac with its cord ever-dangling with no hope of being zoomed in at the push of a button. This was no easy task. The three of us tried at it for a good while before finally succeeding. It was congratulations all around until we realized we had something on backwards or upside down, and we would have to take the spool off again. But we were not daunted! We had succeeded once, and we would again.

We did. The machine powered on. The cord retracted. We closed everything up, and I headed out of there, exceedingly thankful for my helpers and thrilled that I knew so much more about the workings of this machine and that it was working again. It was such a great feeling.

One year later, the faire is here again. Our vacuum cleaner has worked flawlessly since its repair. I find myself looking around the house for a likely contender. Perhaps that Mousebot with the funky motor that has never worked right…



Call for Makers Open Now

The 3rd annual East Bay Mini Maker Faire Call for Makers is now open!

Pranksters, makers, artists, closet creators, show-offs, storytellers, fiddlers and tinkerers, scientists and interdisciplinary hackers —this is your time to shine!

Our Call for Makers welcomes applications through September 12.  Show what you make and share what you know….  Check out our Call for Makers page for more details on the kinds of topics and exhibits we’re looking for.   And get making—October 14 is not so very far away!

Thanks to Amanda Clark for the great panoramic pic!

Save the Date: October 14, 2012

Yep.  We’re gearing up for the 2012 East Bay Mini Maker Faire. Mark your calendars now for Sunday, October 14th!  Makers, please note our Call for Makers will go live in June.

Believe it or not, the planning crew is already busy getting things in order for the 3rd annual event.  We’re connecting with sponsors and media partners, getting a volunteer team ready to hit Maker Faire Bay Area May 19 & 20 for ideas, developing our presenter and workshop schedule, and figuring out how to make this year’s Faire the best yet.

As an an all-volunteer run event we’re always looking for people with energy and time to help out. So send an email to info AT ebmakerfaire.com if you want to get involved.

We’ll keep posting with details about the 2012 experience as they develop. Watch for our Call for Makers in June.  Follow us on Facebook or Twitter to get the latest news. Stay tuned and spread the word!

What a Day!

Thanks so much for coming out to East Bay Mini Maker Faire Number Two!

The magic of Maker Faire is in the people:  the spirit and generosity that Makers and event organizers express, and the curious and 0pen nature that attendees bring with them to the event.  Thank you all for making the East Bay Mini Maker Faire a fantastic Maker Faire!

There are obviously way too many appreciations to offer up, but here’s some standouts:

  • Makers.  You are it.  There wouldn’t be anything to talk about if you didn’t make.
  • Park Day School staff, parents, teachers and community.  This is an entirely volunteer-run event, and hands-down you all worked unbelievably hard to make it happen and run so smoothly.  Thank you for being so game, for spending all of your time and energy, and for sharing Park’s incredible campus as a venue.
  • MAKE Magazine and O’Reilly Media for having the vision to share (and license) Maker Faire to community organizations.  Read MAKE Magazine.
  • Several Individuals from outside the school community supported the East Bay Mini Maker Faire in a big way.  So many deep props to Tricia McGillis for visual and web design; Scheffer Ely for serving as event operations lead; music stage manager Katy Bell; Karla Macedo for poster design.
  • And thanks again to our sponsors (see right)— especially latecomers Ranahan Production Services, for lending 30 radios and tons more gear, and Aidells Sausages and Semifreddis bakery for feeding our Makers.

It’s dangerous to start calling out names because it truly takes THIS VILLAGE.

But before we disperse until #3:   please upload and share your photos and videos, and tag with #ebmakerfaire.  Here’s mine, for a start.  And spout your experiences here and via Twitter and Facebook.

Looking forward to seeing you in 2012!

It’s Today! What to Bring to the Faire

It’s 7 am and the organizers and volunteers are here at Park Day School getting ready.  Most of the makers loaded in last night, and the others will be arriving over the next hour.  The place looks awesome, and we’re so excited to open doors.  You will soon wake up, and wonder, What should I bring to the Mini Maker Faire today?  How should I get there?

So, as a quick reminder, remember to bring:

  • Your paper tickets, if you’ve already registered (you can login to eventbrite at any time to print them) or cash, check or credit card to buy new tickets (onsite prices are $20 for adults, $15 for kids)
  • Cash for the awesome food trucks and crafter shopping, as well as parking if you use one of the lots ($5)
  • Clothing for the Swap-O-Rama-Rama screenprinting and textile hack zone
  • Misbehaving small appliances for the FIXIT Clinic (you can take it to the Wreck Lab after if it doesn’t work out ;-)
  • Handmade, homemade food stuffs for the Urban Homemade Food Swap
  • Hat and/or sunscreen, as a lot of the event is outside
  • Your bike!  Free bike valet by the East Bay Bicycle Coalition; come in style!

Remember, tons of exhibits run all day, but check the schedule for times of performances, workshops, and lectures. Doors open at 10 am and we kick everyone out to start clean up at 5 pm.

Most importantly, bring your curiosity and DIY attitude.  We can’t wait to see you soon!

Tapigami in the House!

Danny Scheible and his Tapigami crew are the first makers on site, beginning the involved process of  installing Danny’s masking tape cityscape.

Tapigami is a 1500 square foot city, made out of 80,000 individual sculptures. Imagine a  leviathan created from 4000 wire hangers each covered with different fabric from donated and recycled garments, about 200 connect sculptures that can be kicked thrown passed around. an 12 foot high tree created out of books (it’s Danny’s tree of knowledge).

We’re not sure how big this particular version of Tapigami will be, but from the looks of what’s going on in Grandma’s Attic, it looks like it’s going to be rad.

Guest of Tapigami are welcome, invited and encourage to make there own creations and add them to the walls of the exhibition space.  Danny will provide materials and instruction for everyone and share his process and techniques. Scheible acts as a guide to this interaction between self and material, constantly creating and remaking the existing show.   Find Danny and Tapigami in Grandma’s Attic.

Here’s some foreshadowing, pulled from a Juxtapoz magazine story on Danny:

What is this Crazy Machine?

By Oliver Van Moon, Park Day School, 7th Grade

This crazy machine is an Eggbot, a robotic artist that can draw on ball or egg shaped objects like ping pong balls, eggs, golf balls, and lightbulbs. It uses several motors and a pen to draw a picture from a computer.

The Eggbot started in 1990 when Bruce Shapiro created the first one, just in time for Easter. He was interested in controlling stepper motors from his computer, and this led to the creation of this drawing robot.

The Eggbot has been used as a tool to teach about electronics and robotics. In 2009, Bruce, with some help, turned the Eggbot into a kit for “home assembly”. Now Eggbot will be at the Mini Maker Faire!

Who Makes up the Eggbot Team?
The Eggbot team consists of the core members Bruce Shapiro, Lenore Edman, Windell Oskay, Brian Schmalz, and Ben Trombley.
Bruce Shapiro is the main creator, and has done many other projects with “Motion Control”. For him, this means making art with motion controlled by a computer. Some of his other projects are interesting, like his Ribbon Dancer, a machine that waves long flowing ribbons in a dance.

Check them out at the Mini Maker Faire
See the Eggbot in action at their booth—and if you’re completely impressed, you can buy your own eggbot kit for $195.

Alginate plus Bonsai, Origami Cranes and More on the Workshop Stage

At 3PM on Sunday on the Workshops stage, artist Jason Hadley will subject himself to the skilled ministrations of his own children, Ruby and Arlo, as they make an Alginate life-cast of his face.  Jason has been making multimedia sculpture using life-casts of friends and family for years; now they get even. Dad won’t be able speak while they smother his face in that gooey, quick drying stuff that dentists use to make spookily accurate molds.

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Other workshops include hacking up your Gameboy so that it makes music (Making Music on Your Handheld Console with Little Piggy Tracker”); “PLARN” (learning to upcycle plastic shopping bags into yarn);  and Bonsai with the past president of the East Bay Bonsai Society, Bill Castellon

All good stuff that can’t be learned fully at a booth in the midst of a crowd.  Check the full lineup.

The Oakland Museum and LHS: This Time It’s Personal

A warm welcome to two venerable institutions that are coming to the Faire for the first time–The Oakland Museum and the Lawrence Hall of Science!

Customize with the Oakland Museum. How do we create symbols and logos that reflect our personal style? At the Faire, the Oakland Museum will  bring a project logo and then give you art supplies and a video camera to help you create a stop motion video  that completely changes the logo to reflect your vision.

Build New Circuits with the Lawrence Hall of Science Ingenuity Lab.  Design, build and test your own moving sculpture using hobby motors, batteries, wires, switches and common everyday objects. Learn about basic circuitry while modifying your design and building cool gadgets.  Just take a look at the wicked gleam in the eye of this kid making a pen-yogurt container-robot. Enough said.


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The Insidious Community of Survival Research Labs

Kevin Binkert is a machinist, artist and inventor in San Francisco.  One of his pieces is the Flame Tornado (right), a gorgeous kinetic sculpture that has “played” at the Venice Biennale, among other venues.

Kevin is adept at managing flame & heat (you should see how dynamic that tornado is, moving from delicate tendril to violent, fat vortex!). Add that to his fluency with machines and you will not be surprised he is teaching “Helpful Hacks for Home Coffee Roasting” on the Homesteader Stage this Sunday at 12:30pm, sharing how to mod Hamilton Beach air poppers for home coffee roasting.

Kevin is also a longtime member/crew/collaborator of the seminal large-scale robotics performance group, Survival Research Laboratories (shorthand = SRL). SRL was founded in 1978 by Mark Pauline and ever since then has attracted an incredible band of talented engineers, carpenters, electricians, software & firmware developers, and artists.  SRL continues to stage shows around the world – about once every year or so,  and Mark continually builds machines to add to the family.

The extended community of SRL continues to manifest in an astonishing range of important Bay Area cultural cornerstones (e.g. The Exploratorium, DorkBot, SFMOMA, Burning Man, the Crucible, ZeroOne, Art and Technology Colloquium, and on and on—someone should make this diagram!).

To evidence, Mr. Binkert is not the only SRL alum at showing/teaching/making at the East Bay Mini Maker Faire.  Check it out, how SRL represents this year:

SRL predates the Internet.  And has been truly underground.  To find out about a show meant you were connected to a physical web of people.  To have seen a show you would either have to have been there, or have had to order a videotape through snail mail from Mark himself (or rented one from an alt video store).  To join the team you had to navigate getting through the shop gate. All physical connections. Of course over the years the crew adopted a simple list serve to stay in touch.  People have married (and divorced), and developed hundreds of projects and businesses. And they continue to come together as SRL—just last week at LAMOCA, for example.

SRL, Mark and all SRL makers don’t stop making. Truly, if you live in the Bay Area, you are likely already in their web—but it’s largely invisible, entertaining & stimulating, so it’s nothing to worry about. “Insidious” is just SRL humor—just glance at the chronology of show titles, or watch: