Nice video about Gulf Coast MakerCon 2014 from Wayne Rasanen, inventor of the In10Did keyboard, and president of the Tampa Bay Inventors Council, one of our Gulf Coast MakerCon partners. Thank you, Wayne!
We know you’re out there – incredible makers doing amazing things with electronics, wood, textiles, concrete blocks,pvc pipes, old chairs, Spanish moss – you name it, we know you do it! So we’re inviting you, the awesome makers of the Gulf Coast, to contribute articles to our Gulf Coast Makers blog. There are a few simple rules:
- We’re looking for informative, interesting ideas, opinions, news, stories & how-tos (See How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Arduino and Show & Tell isn’t Just for MakerCon , both by Chuck Stephens)
- No overt advertising and self-promotional pieces please, although we invite you to include a bio and links we’ll use at the end of your article
- Keep it family friendly
- Be generous with illustrations – photos, sketches, CAD and more are welcome
- Videos are welcome
Beyond that, we got nothin’ , not even word limits! Although if your piece is really long, we might run it in multiple parts. Just write, share, have fun!
Please note that we do reserve the right to reject contributions that are not in what we believe to be the spirit of Gulf Coast Makers. There is no compensation for contributions, just the joy of sharing your awesomeness!
Please drop us a line via our Contact page, to let us know if you’d like to be a guest blogger , and help us show everybody what an amazing Maker Community we have in the Gulf Coast! We also welcome news of your events, meet ups, open makes and more on our Calendar page.
Maker of all trades, Chuck Stephens, shares his insights on learning to love the Arduino.
I have an admission to make- I was an Arduino resistor. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate what could be done with microcontrollers; I saw many awesome projects at maker fairs and online that proved the Arduino was more than a toy. Part of my disdain was because I wanted to design circuits, not write programs. Arduino and similar microcontrollers seemed like cheating. To really understand what was going on, I reasoned, you would need to build physical circuits. Also the process of learning a programming language seemed daunting to someone who’s last programming experience was writing BASIC 25 years ago. Finally, I was somewhat of an analog purist. My main interest is in synthesizers and sound devices. I thought that analog synths were the best way to get the sounds I wanted and that digital sound synthesis was not nearly as versatile.
Well boy, was I wrong!
An Expensive Way to Blink an LED
We’ve all seen it- Someone posts a project that uses a $30 microcontroller to do something that I could do with a couple of dollars worth of components. What a cheater! I’ve spent the last four years learning electronics and breathing solder fumes while this guy just waltzes in here and makes an LED blink like he’s Tesla or something. He probably doesn’t even know who Forrest Mims is. What nerve!
Of course this kind of thinking assumes that the person using the Arduino to do something simple is interested in learning electronics in the first place. Maybe they’re an artist who just wants to add some simple interactivity to a sculpture without having to earn an electrical engineering degree. Maybe they’re a programmer wanting to add some peripheral input to a bit of code they’re writing. Maybe they just want a blinky LED and this was the easiest way to get it. Ultimately, who cares?
While microcontrollers do make electronics more accessible to noobs and folks outside the field, that’s hardly the point for experienced users. The important thing about microcontrollers is the incredible power and versatility they offer the active hobbyist and inventor. In the hands of someone with a good grasp of electronics, the Arduino can save a lot of time and space and get you from the design phase to a working prototype very quickly. Just because you can build a circuit from components doesn’t mean you have to. What do you have to prove? Victory comes from a successful project, not the number of steps involved.
Root, Hog, or Die!
I was required to take two years of a foreign language in high school and, being very stubborn, I refused to take Spanish and opted for French instead. The fact that I had no one to practice with besides my classmates meant that very little of what I ‘learned’ was actually retained. Years later I visited Paris, and within days I was amazed by how much of my French came back. While I was far from fluent, I could ask directions, make purchases and order food with ease. The key was to be totally immersed in the language. It’s amazing how easily you learn when you have no other choice. As they used to say in the south when they turned the pigs out to forage- root, hog, or die!
Learning a computer language seems quite a bit harder then learning my broken tourist French. At least a foreign language will have recognizable syntax and grammar. Even if you don’t understand the words, you will have some understanding of how they go together. When I looked at some Arduino code nothing was familiar at all. It looked alien. I checked out some tutorials and the code samples they used seemed just as confusing. My Arduino sat on the shelf for months while I thought about ‘setting aside some time’ to learn how to use it.
Fast forward to the recent Make/Intel Galileo Hacks Session on Google Hangouts. The folks at Make sent me a nice package with an Arduino starter kit, an Intel Galileo microcontroller board and a few more goodies. We were given three weeks to develop a project and present it in an online hangout. Usually when I participate in these kinds of programs I do the physical build and have a partner do the programming. I started building a prototype of a 4 axis laser spirograph confident that the programming would be taken care of. As the last week of the session got closer and other responsibilities piled up I began to panic- There was little time to try to schedule a session with a programmer before the big show and tell.
With the final hangout scheduled for Thursday night, I woke up on Saturday morning determined to do something. I had no choice- I was under the gun and I could not fail. I would cram and buckle down and try to learn some basic functionality to turn into a project for Thursday evening. I opened Lady Ada’s tutorial and resigned myself to the task at hand. I had no one to rely on but myself, so I plugged the Arduino into the computer, opened the IDE and loaded the Blink sketch. I realized that each step of the program was explained in plain English throughout the sketch. Maybe this wasn’t quite as bad as I’d imagined…
Success! The LED was blinking.
I followed Adafruit’s tutorial and determined what the variables were. I tried shorter blinks with longer gaps and long flashes that blinked off and back on quickly. I copied the main part of the sketch and pasted it onto the end to make a long flash followed by a short flash, over and over again. I added a new sketch that allowed me to control the speed of the flashes with a potentiometer. I doubled the sketch and changed the pin assignment and was able to control two separate LEDs.
I felt kind of foolish. This was easy! Why haven’t I been doing this for years? I soon realized that learning to use the Arduino wasn’t like learning an entire new language at all- it was more like being a tourist learning some key phrases and how to combine them. By using them they began to make sense and I spent the rest of the day adding new phrases and seeing how they worked together.
I needed to assemble a motor shield that plugged into the Arduino and allowed me to control multiple motors or servos simultaneously. This meant downloading a new library. The library contains new commands and code for accomplishing specific tasks as well as examples of how to use these new commands. I found an example sketch that read the value of a potentiometer and used it to control the speed of a motor. This formed the backbone of my project’s code.
The great thing about the Arduino IDE is that it comes with its own built-in phrase book. By opening examples in the file menu of the IDE you will find a selection of very basic sketches with plain English explanations. You can alter and combine these small bits of code to create a more complex sketch quite easily. By Tuesday evening I had a sketch capable of using four potentiometers to precisely control the speed of four motors with mirrors mounted on them slightly off center. By bouncing a small laser pointer between the four spinning mirrors and onto a wall you get complex swirling patterns and shapes. Since I still had two days until the show and tell and I love noisy projects, I decided to add another bit of code to create sweeping sounds to go with the light show. I used the input from the pots to control the pitch and other parameters of the sound from a speaker so the light and sound would sync up.
One problem I ran into was that the Galileo, being new, wouldn’t recognize several of the libraries that I needed to make my project to do what I wanted. The project ran perfectly with the Arduino but the Galileo just would not work. Since the Galileo was the focus of the hack session, I was determined to incorporate it in some way. The Arduino has six analog pins which are perfect for reading variable voltages from a potentiometer. The motor shield uses two of the analog pins to communicate with the Arduino, so after connecting the four speed/sound control pots, all of my analog pins were used. I decided that having the laser blink at a variable rate would add another facet to the potential patterns created by my projector. I loaded the basic blinking LED sketch onto the Galileo with a pot on one of the analog pins and the power to the laser connected to one of the digital pins. Yep- I used Intel’s feature-packed new microcontroller to blink a single LED.
Don’t you hate it when someone uses a $70 microcontroller to do something that you could easily do with a couple of dollars worth of components? What a cheater! What nerve!
When Thusday rolled around I was given a few minutes to explain my project and demonstrate it during the hangout. I was amazed that I had gone from a basic blinking LED to an impressive and interactive project in less than a week. My mistake was trying to understand the Arduino before I actually plugged it in. That’s like trying to learn to swim by reading a description of swimming. The only way to learn how to use the Arduino is to plug it in and follow the tutorials. Go step by step and it will all make sense. All of my assumptions about learning to use the Arduino IDE were wrong. Much like on my Paris trip, when I immersed myself in the language it quickly began to make sense.
Confessions of a Hipster Music Snob
I grew up with a fascination for electronic music. From the fat synthesizer bass lines of disco and early hiphop to the futuristic sounds of new wave, keyboards, sequencers and drum machines offered an exciting musical palette. For me, the ideal electronic instrument is designed to create unique new sounds rather than simulate other instruments. Since most digital keyboards were loaded with samples designed to recreate existing instruments they tend to sound fake and inauthentic. Analog instruments, on the other hand, can produce a wide variety of sounds, from familiar organ and horn sounds to far out sound effects and noises with no real-world comparison. Analog synthesizers and drum machines are coveted by music producers for their warmth and versatility.
This preference is one of the main reasons I wasn’t in a hurry to experiment with the Arduino. While it might be great for controlling a robot or other mechanical device, I didn’t have high hopes for the board’s musical potential. When I loaded the basic synthesizer code into the projector it created interesting sounds but a grounding problem caused motor noise to bleed through. Since I had another Arduino, I decided to build a stand alone synthesizer. I used a sketch called Auduino that used five pots to control the filter and cutoff of a stepped tone synthesizer. The pitch was controlled by a pot and was divided into steps in the key of E major. Turning the knob automatically created a musical scale, from deep, throbbing basses to piercing clear high notes. By controlling the pitch with one hand and the filter and cutoff with the other you can create very impressive and dynamic sounds with a unit that costs less than $50.
The real test came when I got to demo the synth for my friend who is a vinyl DJ and analog synth player. He hates digital gear even more than I do and I knew he would be a tough critic. I started off with some clean mid-range melodies and rhythms. I adjusted the cutoff and raised the pitch for some gritty brassy leads and my buddy seemed to be enjoying it. Then I went for the jugular and dropped the pitch down way low while tweaking the filter for some funky bass lines and dubstep-style filter wobbles. When I stopped he was quite impressed and asked what circuit I used. I just grinned, opened the enclosure and showed him the Arduino.
So much for hating digital synths.
Hallelujah! I’ve Seen the Light
So now I’m an Arduino convert. Microcontrollers are another useful tool for making the things I make. While the Arduino and other boards are very useful, to get the most out of them you need a general knowledge of electronics. You could choose to learn circuit design first and then move on to microcontrollers or you can start out with an Arduino and a handful of components and learn the electronics as you go. The important part is that you are learning and creating. Learning what you need when you need it is what ‘making’ is all about.
I no longer see the Arduino as cheating but as a way to do complex projects quickly and with a small footprint. I also found that the language is easy to get started with and the only thing standing in the way of getting started is actually getting started. The most important thing I learned about the Arduino is that it’s a flexible platform for building sensor projects, robots, interactive devices and even, gasp, musical projects. The only real limitations are the specs of your particular board and your imagination.
Gulf coast MakerCon, Tampa Bay’s 3rd Annual Celebration of the DIY Inventive Spirit brought everything from Blacksmith Artists, to Electric Race Cars and fighting robots to the Florida Fairgrounds Special Events Center West, at 4800 Highway 301 North in Tampa, on April 5 & 6.
Gulf Coast MakerCon was an Affiliate Event of the USA Science & Engineering Festival, as well as a recognized National Robotics Week event, and a recognized International Tabletop Day event, co-hosted by Suncoast Skirmishers, where tabletop gaming enthusiasts tried out everything from Dungeons & Dragons to board games and card games.
Over 550 guests enjoyed browsing 50 technical, creative and professional exhibits covering everything from patent development and the inventive process, to 3D printing, programming, mechanical and electrical design, green tech and open source technologies, with a special Young Makers section for kids and families helped along by the great folks at the Community Innovation Center in downtown Tampa, and Sarasota Scientific Instruments. The Tampa Tribune and Fox New 13 came gave us some nice coverage, too!
In the Robotics Showcase, guests enjoyed student built robotics by FIRST teams, and the University of South Florida Robotics Interest Group 15 lb. and under class fighting robot competitions. We also had a Makerspace Makers Corner, a Florida Inventors Showcase hosted by the Tampa Bay Inventors Council, Electrathon of Tampa Bay student built electric race cars, and some energetic chemistry demos by Mr. Home Scientist, Dan Flisek. The Florida Artist Blacksmiths Association was a huge hit, working their magic to turn iron rods into roses and other art.
Many many thanks to our great sponsors Hillsborough County, Gabotronics and Learning is for Everyone, Inc. and to our in-kind partners, DEX Imaging , Mity-Mo Creative, Studio 7 Communications and F5 Live Refreshing Technology who broadcast live from Gulf Coast MakerCon all afternoon on Saturday!
We’ve already got our amazing planning team in place and the Special Events Center at the Florida State Fairgrounds reserved again for next spring, so stay tuned for Gulf Coast MakerCon 2015!
And in the meantime, stay connected on our Facebook page and through Twitter, send us your events and announcements, and join the Gulf Coast Makers Consortium and keep the momentum going in building our Gulf Coast Makers Community!
Visit Plughitz F5 Live Refreshing Technology to see more great video and interviews from Gulf Coast MakerCon 2014!
We had a terrific first day at Gulf Coast MakerCon 2014! The weather was gorgeous, making for picture perfect runs of the Electrathon racers, breezes under the trees where the blacksmith artists worked, and generally a perfect Florida spring day to celebrate innovation, creativity and invention!
Check out our Day 1 photo album on Flickr, and some of today’s videos and stories. The fun resumes tomorrow at 1oam. The presentation schedule’s been changed up a bit – check out the latest line up here.
The t-shirts are here!
The program is ready!
The Makers are pumped and the Volunteers are prepped!
All that’s missing is YOU!
Just one more day to get your discounted tickets for a weekend of creative awesomeness!
Pamela French is one of our great commercial makers, bringing her creation, “Pami Pocket ” to Gulf Coast MakerCon. She’s also Vice
President of the Tampa Bay Inventor’s Council, one of our event partners, heading up our Inventors Showcase. We asked her to tell us about herself and her product.
GCMC: What do you Make?
PF: A handy little neoprene cell phone holder for women called the “Pami Pocket”
GCMC: What got you interested in your product?
PF: I constantly found myself without pockets to hold my cell phone, but I always needed to have it on me. I thought there had to be a better way, but after I couldn’t find anything after searching in stores everywhere I decided to create it myself. My husband and I are the owners of an automotive upholstery shop so he sewed up the first Pami Pocket prototype in our backyard garage.
GCMC: What do you think makes it different from other similar products?
PF: Pami Pocket is different because it has a long, thin strap that can be worn across the body or around the neck. It’s made of neoprene so it’s water-resistant and Pami Pocket is so lightweight and soft, you’ll forget you even have it on. Pami Pockets are not just functional, they’re fashionable! They come in a variety of colors and rhinestone designs to choose from or you can get your own company or team logo design on a Pami Pocket!
GCMC: What are you bringing to MakerCon?
I hope sharing my experience and the things that did and didn’t work for me will help others who want to become inventors or “makers”. Of course I’ll be bringing the entire Pami Pocket line and am looking forward to sharing my handy product!
GCMC: What do you hope to take from MakerCon?
I’m expecting to have a great time meeting new people, networking and getting exposure for my product. I can’t wait to see all the other maker’s creative ideas and maybe even sell a few Pami Pockets along the way!
GCMC: Why do you think an event like MakerCon is important?
PF: MakerCon is one of the best ways to put yourself out there and share what you love. This is the perfect opportunity to meet other creative people and get inspired.
GCMC: Anything else you’d like to add?
I was just a mom working in the backyard when I came up with the Pami Pocket idea. I had no idea what to do, but by joining my local inventor’s club, I was able to learn and move forward much faster. I now have my product in boutiques and beach shops, and even a few local Walgreens and now am the Vice President of my local inventor’s club, the Tampa Bay Inventor’s Council!
Come see Pam French and her great Pami Pocket creations at Gulf Coast MakerCon this weekend! Discount tickets, good for the whole weekend, are available through April 4th.
It’s an exciting time in Tampa Bay! When we held our first “Makerspace UnConference” at our first Maker festival in 2012, there were no full scale makerspaces in Tampa Bay. The Faulhaber FabLab at the GWIZ Science Museum in Sarasota and Familab in Orlando were our two closest maker neighbors. Learning is for Everyone was exploring the idea with potential collaborative partners, and a couple of other efforts were under consideration.
This year, we’re joined by four groups who have various programs underway and are excited to share their success and programs with Gulf Coast MakerCon attendees. We’re happy to introduce them to you! They’ll be exhibiting at Gulf Coast MakerCon all weekend, and leading our 3rd Annual Makerspace UnConference on Sunday, April 6, at 4:30 pm, where you can learn more about these spaces, and how you can work to build more of them in your community.
Community Innovation Center at the John F. Germany Library
The Community Innovation Center (CIC) at John F. Germany Library is a collaborative effort between Learning is for Everyone, Inc (LI4E.org) and the John F. Germany Library, the flagship library of the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System. At 10,000 square feet, the CIC is the largest such facility in Tampa Bay and in Florida, and will function as a public Makerspace, an Entrepreneurship Center, a proving ground for Invention and Exploration, and the ultimate Creative Space, providing the tools and human capital for fostering active creation, as well as the necessary knowledge for that creation. The CIC, scheduled to open at the end of April, is arranged into eight distinct, but flexible sections:
- TechMasters Center
- Entrepreneurial Center
- Robotics Centers
- Hands-On Workshop
- Machine Shop
- Media Lab & Studio
- Arts Center
- Computer Lab
CIC staff will be sharing some fun activities for our Young Makers section, and showcasing a little of what will be available in the space when it opens.
Faulhaber Fab Lab
The Faulhaber Fab Lab is the oldest space in the area, currently moving to a new location in Sarasota, it bring high level manufacturing capabilities to the Gulf Coast area. “A fab lab, ” explains representative, Eric McGrath, ” is a non-profit entity that has collaborated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to assemble a diverse collection of state-of-the-art equipment and computers into one workspace as a community center for innovation, entrepreneurship, and STEM education.”
Dr. Fritz Faulhaber and his wife Ping and through the Faulhaber Family Foundation are collaborating with the community of Sarasota to open the fab lab and be a central resource for invention and fabrication by individuals, entrepreneurs, students, teachers, retirees and business. The staff and volunteers in the community workshop instill the confidence for members to learn, design and safely operate computer-controlled machinery.
“The aim of a fab lab,” says Eric, ” is to teach advanced skills in design, innovation and how to make “almost anything”. These skill sets learned through nurturing the inventor in all of us can be applied in many careers. Business collaboration, workforce development and community innovation is an integral part of the Faulhaber Fab Lab.”
Visit www.sarasotascience.org for updates and information
Tampa Hackerspace is a local community workshop organized to enable learning of technology skills by providing tools, space, equipment and classes.
“We are a non-profit, membership based institution, ” explains Tampa Hackerspace president, Bill Shaw. ” A broad selection of classes and workshops are open to both members and non-members.
“Every week we open our doors to the public and get together to build some cool projects and meet some very cool people. Join us to work on your stuff, bounce ideas off of members, check out the 3D printers and other equipment and socialize. Occasionally, we’ll throw in a small workshop or class. This is our best attended event and is a great opportunity to see what we do and meet our community.”
Tampa Hackerspace also hosts a Kid’s Open Make on Sunday Afternoons for crafts, electronics and technology projects, Minecraft, programming activities and more! Every month, they have a new theme and a host of new activities geared towards elementary and middle school students. Space is limited so they ask that you RSVP on Meetup.com to reserve a spot.
Land O’ Lakes Library, Pasco County Library System
The Land O’Lakes Library in Pasco County has been exploring the idea of opening a makerspace in its library system for the past year, and made a name for itself this year, when it became the first library in the country to field a FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team – the Edgar Allan Ohms! – who competed at the Orlando FRC Regional in March. The Library is a trend setter, home to
one of the largest battle of the bands in the state (Rockus Maximus) and a popular anime convention (Lamecon) . A makerspace isn’t far behind!
The Land O’Lakes Library will be demoing their FRC robot, and showcasing free services and opportunities for job seekers and entrepreneurs. And you can apply for a library card, too!
Our 3rd Annual Makerspace UnConference will be held on Sunday, April 6th, at 4:30 pm at the Gulf Coast MakerCon stage. As an “un” conference, it’s a casual opportunity to join in open discussion with these four very different spaces, that share a common interest in providing public creative spaces to build, learn and develop skills for hobby, personal satisfaction, and academic and career enrichment. Join us to get ideas, share insights and find ways to collaborate in bringing more of these great spaces to Tampa Bay and the Gulf Coast!
We’re excited to have the Tampa Amateur Radio Club (TARC) joining us at Gulf Coast MakerCon again this year. We’ve always had “Hams” at our maker festival, and believe they bring a fun, interesting and important element to our DIY Celebration of the Inventive Spirit.
TARC member Jon Rubin shared with us a bit about the club and what it does.
“The Tampa Amateur Radio club (TARC) is a place where people from all different walks of life can come together to share and promote knowledge in radio technology. We do this by sharing ideas, teaching new people, and experimenting to see what works and what doesn’t. We’re also tasked with assisting Hillsborough County in providing backup emergency communication in the event of a hurricane or other such disaster.
“While we are all amateur radio operators, each of us has different things that we enjoy doing with our licenses. Some people enjoy
contesting, some enjoy using voice or CW (Morse Code) to make contact with people in faraway places. Still others enjoy using various digital modes of communication.”
Jon acknowledged that a lot of people might question the value of Ham radio when we have cell phones and abundant social media. He has an eye opening reply.
“Most people don’t realize that local cell networks will go down if as few as 10% of the cell phones in the area are used at the same time. This means that during an emergency situation, such as a hurricane and its aftermath, cell phones may be unusable. Amateur radio doesn’t have to rely on cell towers, or even the local power grid. It’s simple to connect our radios directly to any car battery. Because of this we can assist in getting messages to/from the outside world just minutes after the storm passes.”
TARC is bringing a couple of portable antennas and some different radios for display and will have a full setup working and on the air. Visitors will be able to actually use some of the radio, and will be able to get information about upcoming licensing classes, and more.
So come out to Gulf Coast MakerCon 2014 and enjoy this great opportunity to TARC and give Ham radio a try!
We love the cosplay and gaming elements of our event this year, and are happy to welcome Jason Rawley of Fireblade Comics to our line up for Gulf Coast MakerCon 2014. We asked him to tell us a bit about his work and what he’s bringing to our maker event.
GCMC: What do you do?
JR: Fireblade Comics began as my dream of producing online, live-action, interactive comics. As it’s developed over the years, I also incorporated my other works with custom action figures, props, and other collectibles.
GCMC: Why do you do it?
JR: I grew up in the 80’s as a huge fan of comics and movies and I was drawn to the realm of film making at an early age, especially special effects. Even as early as elementary school I would create props and set pieces for the school plays. Art has always been in my veins so over the years I’ve done everything from graphic arts, website design, drawing, writing, and crafting. I’ve been building scale models for many years so that led to customizing action figures. Prop making became more of a demand as the cosplay community has grown, to the point where I get quite a few commissions throughout the year from people who come across my other works.
GCMC: Why do you think it’s important or valuable?
JR: I believe all art is important as self expression while is essential to us as humans. For those who get into cosplaying or collecting, this can be a great escape from the stress of normal life. So it’s always a privilege for me to be able to use my art to express myself while at the same time creating things people will use and appreciate for years.
GCMC: How long have you been doing it?
JR: I’ve been crafting, building, and customizing since early childhood so most people would say it was “all my life”.
GCMC: What do like best about it?
JR: As a form of self expression, being able to create things from my imagination is a wonderful release and a therapy. It’s taken me places and I’ve gotten to make many great friends over the years.
JR: I’ll be bringing a healthy selection of my customs including an array of props from sci-fi blasters to Ghostbuster gear as well as some action figure bases and displays. If possible I’ll bring some work-in-progress pieces so I can demonstrate how projects move through the construction phases.
GCMC: What do you hope to get out of your Makercon experience?
JR: I’m hoping to meet some good people with the same interests and fanboy fascinations as myself as well as get some feedback on my projects.
Come check out Jason’s awesome work at Gulf Coast MakerCon April 5 & 6! Get your discounted tickets today!