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Gulf Coast Makers Making a Mark

23 Sep

save the dateGulf Coast Makers were in abundance at the recent Maker Faire Orlando September 13 & 14. In addition to the ones captured in photos here – FreeFab 3D, Tampa Hackerspace, Eureka! Factory, Gabotronics, Nepchune’s Noise Circus, Tampa Bay Inventors Council, In10Did and Pedicure Pedestal - Johnson Arms was on hand and no doubt several other locals.

Now we’re getting ready to do our own big thing here in the spring, with planning well underway for Gulf Coast MakerCon 2015!  Save the date: April 18th, 2015, again at the Florida Fairgrounds in the Special Events Center West.

We’ve got some awesome fun on tap, including plans for the first ever Gulf Coast MakerCon Steampunk Ball!

If you don’t want to miss any of the action, or the opportunity to be first in line when our Call for Makers opens, be sure to sign up here.

We also welcome guest blogs, and news, photos and updates about local Makers, upcoming events, and more.  We’ve got a great Gulf Coast Makers community and invite you to be an active part of it!

Thank You, Hillsborough County!

11 Sep

Hillsborough-County It with great gratitude that we recognize Hillsborough County for their generous support of  Gulf Coast MakerCon 2015, through robot battlesan EDI2 Economic Development grant.

Hillsborough County recognizes direct added value to our community of supporting and celebrating our vital maker community with Gulf Coast MakerCon, our annual celebration of the DIY Inventive Spirit, showcasing Makers, Shakers and Innovators across Tampa Bay.

Thank you, Hillsborough County, for supporting  the creative entrepreneurial community in Tampa, and helping us bring more science, tech, and business development learning and doing opportunities to people of all ages!

Save the Date! Gulf Coast MakerCon 2015 set for April 18th!

19 Apr

save the date We had so much fun at Gulf Coast MakerCon 2014, we’ve already got the Special Events Center at the Florida Fairgrounds reserved for April 18, 2015 for next year’s event!  We’re scaling back to a one day event, but running from 10am blacksmiths 2to 8pm, adding some programming, and recruiting some great new Makers, and we’ve got a fantastic planning team together that will Make it all happen!

Stay connected via our Facebook page and Twitter, and keep an eye on our MakerCon page to see when our Call for Makers goes live at the end of the year.

Start planning now to get your Make on at Gulf Coast MakerCon 2015!

Guest Blog: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Arduino

16 Apr

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

arduino blinky lightWe’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.

intel gallileoFast 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 arduino idebasic 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 synth boxand 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.


Chuck and his sound machines at Gulf Coast MakerCon 2014

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.

Go wild!

Help us Build our Maker Community!

15 Apr

blacksmithsThe creative DIY entrepreneurial community has grown considerably on the Florida west coast over the last few davinci fair signyears, due in no small measure to celebratory showcase events  like Gulf Coast MakerCon,  and Bar Camps in Sarasota and Tampa, which are increasingly broadening their offerings beyond their already amazing open sharing presentation programs to include things like  DaVinci’s Faire at Sarasota Bar Camp recently, and FIRST robotics teams flinging frisbees during Bar Camp Tampa Bay breaks.

After some stirring of the collaborative soup in recent months, groups and individuals on both sides of the Bay(s), have come to realize that self-organizing is possible at all levels and have begun to produce a variety of events, makerspaces and hackerspaces,  and programs at a true grassroots level, freeing creativity, speeding innovation, and fostering powerful open sharing across the board.

Gulf Coast MakerCon is delighted to take its place in that creative community, collaboratively produced by like-minded individuals who value, in the words of Andreas Schleicher, speaking from the Global Education & Skills Forum in Dubai recently,  ” a world in which the enriching power of communication and collaborative flows is increasing” and a where “success will be with those who master the new forms of collaboration.”

what do you makeOn the leading edge of that world, we want to continue building our Maker Community here on the Gulf Coast of Florida together, and invite you to share your events, programs, inventions, ideas, insights and resources here, where we’re  One Maker for All, and All Makers for One!

There are lots of ways to use this site to grow our shared community.

So don’t just wait for the future you want – come Make it happen now!


Gulf Coast MakerCon 2014 Fun & Successful!

11 Apr
Click to see our Gulf Coast MakerCon 2014 Album!

Click to see our Gulf Coast MakerCon 2014 Album!

Gulf coast MakerCon, Tampa Bay’s  3rd Annual Celebration of the DIY Inventive Spirit brought everything from Blacksmith Artists, to Electric Race Cars fireand 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 blacksmithscovering 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!

robot battlesIn 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 electrathon racerswho 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!

gamingAnd 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!

Day One, Awesome Fun!

5 Apr

flickr 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!

The battles raged at B.A.M., with some awesome robot matches,  and we got some nice press from the Tampa Tribune, Fox 13 News and Plughitz F5 Live Makercon schedulecoverage throughout the day.

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.

TBO video 2









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Meet the Maker: Erik Heidt, of Drummerleash

4 Apr

drumerleash graphic

We’ve got a few more Makers for you to meet – here’s Erik Heidt, inventor of the Drummersleash – and also a drummer! We asked him to tell us something about his product, that he’ll be demoing at GulfCoastMakerCon.  Erik’s short on words, but big on ideas and we imagine you’ll like his sound this weekend!

GCMC: What do you do?

EH: I am a Industrial product designer and drummer.

GCMC: Why do you do it?

EH: Cause I have a passion to design cool stuff.
GCMC: What’s unique about what you’ve made?

EH: There’s no other product like the drummersleash on the market.

GCMC: What do you love about it?

EH: It solves the problem for drummers dropped drumsticks.

GCMC: Why might others be interested?

EH: This is a problem most drummers face due to hot or cold weather

GCMC: What inspired you to create DrummersLeash?

EH: Drummers wrapping tape around fingers to solve the problem.

GCMC: What are you bringing to Gulf Coast MakerCon?

EH: Possibly an electric drum kit

GCMC: What do you hope to take from Gulf Coast MakerCon?

EH:Talking to other inventors and networking

GCMC: Why do you think an event like GCMC is important to the community?

EH: It inspires others to create things.

Come meet Erik, try out the Drummersleash – and get inspired!

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Thank you to the Unsung Heroes of Gulf Coast MakerCon 2014!

3 Apr

GCMC logo There are a lot of amazing people who make an event like Gulf Coast MakerCon not only possible, but fun and rewarding to create. We want to take a moment here, before we head into the Maker Maelstrom this weekend, to thank some of them, starting with our friends at Studio 7 Communications,  who created our fantastic Maker Skull and Cross-Tools logo!

Studio 7, which typically likes to keep a low profile despite all the fantastic good they do, Studio-7-1024x212is also a big supporter of FIRST Tech Challenge Team Duct Tape, and helped craft their awesome logo, too.   We’re very grateful to Studio 7 Communications for the gift of their talent and expertise.

We also want to thank Maker of All Trades Chuck Stephens, for the gifts of his amazing

2012 Maker Fair poster, by Chuck Stephens

2012 Maker Fair poster, by Chuck Stephens

artwork.  Chuck, a local artist and a volunteer with sponsor Learning is for Everyone,  created our first Maker Faire poster in 2012, still one of our favorite pieces.

Future is brightHis custom designs for this year’s Gulf Coast MakerCon event are equally fantastic, capturing the playful and somewhat rebellious spirit of our next generation DIY Celebration of the Inventive Spirit.

maker con poster1


TBICWe also want to thank Wayne Rasanen of the Tampa Bay Inventors Council, for his energetic networking and nudging to help populate our Inventors Showcase with the amazing people who are joining us this weekend.

Many thanks, too, to Dominick Transcritti of  Suncoast Skirmishers, who has been coordinating our Tabletop Day event, which has  generated some of our most enthusiastic traffic and suncoast skirmishersinterest, with a lot of people looking forward to a day of tabletop game play on Saturday, and more opportunities to play on Sunday.

Sam McAmis, of the University of South Florida Robotics Interest Group (USF-RIG) has been busy organizing B.A.M. (Battles at MakerCon) just for Gulf Coast MakerCon. BAM With 30 students from area high schools competing with 15 lb. class fighting robots, MakerCon guests will be treated to high energy battlebots competition all day Saturday.  And on Sunday, look for some creative destruction of old electronics with larger robots.  It’s been no small task organizing the competition and exhibitions, especially while trying to get through Engineering studies, so Sam has our deepest appreciation for his creative multitasking in the service of Gulf Coast MakerCon and celebratory robotics!

fairgroundsAnd  we can’t end our Makers Hymn of Praise and Thanks without a great big shout out to the Florida State Fairgrounds Authority!

Your Gulf Coast MakerCon organizers have put together a lot of different events in Tampa Bay – TEDxYouth, ROBOCON Tampa Bay, previous Maker festivals – and we’ve never encountered such amazingly warm, patient, collaborative, cooperative, and helpful venue representatives.  The Florida Fairgrounds staff has gone out of their way to make event planning smooth, helped us through logistical bumps, and generally exuded Florida Sunshine and hospitality with abundant generosity.

So if you happen to see anyone from the Fairgrounds at Gulf Coast MakerCon this weekend, or a quiet lady with FTC Team Duct Tape at the FIRST exhibit area, or a fellow with a cap and coveralls and some funky electronic musical devices, or a pleasant looking gentleman with glasses at the Tabletop game tables, or a somewhat wild haired guy officiating over the battle bots, stop and tell them thanks!

They’re some of the signature Makers of Gulf Coast MakerCon, and at the heart of everything that makes our Maker Community so excellent!

T -1 to Gulf Coast MakerCon!

3 Apr

t-shirts-c We’re Excited! Are You?!

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!

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