Monday, February 29, 2016

Digital Fabrication- 3D Printed Lightsaber

I've done lots of 3D printing and laser-cutting since we acquired these tools in Kylie's Creativity Labs and in the MILL makerspace in the School of Ed. I've learned a ton in the process. Having both made my own designs, and downloaded them off the internet, I definitely think that the process of creating your own design is more powerful for learning. But I learned how to design 3D models in a Fine Arts class, using the program Rhino, which is expensive and thus inaccessible to me most of the time (it's only available on a single computer lab on the whole campus). I've also tried using the free program TinkerCAD to design things from scratch, but I was frustrated by its limited functionality when compared to Rhino.

So I haven't done much designing since my Art class. I definitely see Blikstein and Worsley's point in their Makeology chapter about "keychain syndrome" vs. "deep projects." But is it ever possible for a premade file downloaded from the internet to become a "deep project" rather than the equivalent of a "keychain"? I think so, in the sense that it can still be instructive for learning new things. To illustrate, let me tell you about the largest 3D print I've ever done: a 3D printed lightsaber!

In case it isn't clear yet from my previous entries, I'm a "planner" type of maker. If I don't have an idea or a theme, then I'm not going to feel motivated to make anything. That's why all my 3D printing and laser-cutting projects have been related to cosplay, or at least to fandom of some sort, from my first laser-cut project of a paper lantern from the movie Tangled, to a laser-cut flame illuminated by EL wire for a costume of a character with fire powers.

This lightsaber project was no exception. As I've written about on this blog before, I cosplayed the character Kylo Ren from the new Star Wars movie at an anime convention with a group of friends. However, I borrowed his lightsaber from one of my friends while there. If I ever wanted to cosplay him again without that friend and her lightsaber being present, then I needed to acquire my own. And well, when you have access to a makerspace, why not make your own?

I started by browsing Instructables and Thingiverse to find an easy DIY lightsaber project. It had to be relatively easy, because I was starting this on a Tuesday and I wanted it to be complete in time for another anime convention that Friday, Feb. 19. I didn't cosplay Kylo Ren at that convention, but I had a friend with me who also likes the character and wanted to carry his lightsaber around.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a super-detailed set of around 20 3D models to make any lightsaber you want, in any combination. This included Kylo Ren's crossguard lightsaber. However, I immediately ran into the weaknesses of working with premade models. The group who made these models did so based solely on the trailer released almost a year before the movie itself. So the crossguard lightsaber they made does not match all the details of Kylo Ren's lightsaber design. It was by far the highest quality lightsaber model for 3D printing that I had found, though, so I decided to use it anyway. After reading through the instructions on both the Thingiverse page and the Instructables page (which didn't actually provide any new information), I chose the pieces I needed to print to the best of my knowledge. I set up a 3D printer with red plastic to print the laser blades, and another one with silver to print the handle pieces. However, the latter had so many pieces that they would not fit in one print. So I set up the crossguard piece to print on a third printer. Here are pictures of the blades and the handle in the process of printing:

The red lasers!

The handle pieces!
 Unfortunately, we ran into a material constraint: the printer that was supposed to print the crossguard piece got clogged and failed to print. Justin had just restarted it on a different printer when my friend and I arrived on the Friday of the con. We still had all the pieces to make a regular single-bladed saber, though! I didn't check back on the instructions to assemble it; I could remember well enough, and it was pretty intuitive. The laser went inside the tubes, and it was easy to tell which pieces went on top, which ones connected tubes together, and which was the cap for the bottom. Everything that connected did so by screwing into place. The group had designed these materials well so that they could give feedback to suggest their proper assembly. Here's my friend modeling the single-bladed saber from inside the MILL before we went to the con:

The Force is strong with this one!
We did discover that the instructions were not exactly 100% clear (which in some ways is actually better for learning, though in our case it led to a waste of PLA too!). I had assumed from the pictures that we would need three silver tubes to make the handle long enough. The tubes were quite large, though; we only needed two, so we had an extra one. There was one "ring" piece that I couldn't figure out what to do with at all. I thought it was supposed to connect two tube pieces together, but it didn't appear able to do so. Finally, the handle-topper you see here was originally meant to go on the bottom, because that would make the saber look more like Kylo Ren's. But there was no way to attach it to the bottom along with the cap. In looking back at the available pieces, it seems you have only one choice for a cap.

We were still super satisfied, though! We had to do some grinding down of the laser parts to get them to smoothly telescope in and out of the handle. Also we discovered that some of the parts were pretty loose, and if we wanted this to be permanent, some sort of glue would probably be necessary.

The next day, we returned to pick up the crossguard piece and to finish assembling the lightsaber as intended. And it worked! The round tip pieces where the short lasers come out from the handle, though, are super loose and more in need of glue than are any of the other pieces.

Behold: the ultimate tantrum device! And its instability is movie-accurate too!
I learned one more thing about the failings of 3D printers from this process. My friend wanted to make her own yellow lightsaber out of the extra pieces. So we set up one 3D printer to print her some silver handle accessories and a cap, and another to print the yellow blade. Well, the yellow blade started out okay while we were there, but...this is how it ended up:

Oh no! D:
Later I found out from Justin (our Makerspace assistant) that this probably happened due to the print platform not being completely level. I didn't even know that was a problem that could occur! In the end, my friend just took home her lightsaber handle, which she said would still be good for cosplay, because you could hang it at your belt without the threat of the telescoping blade falling out. There is no way to prevent the blades from falling open when you tilt these sabers in a certain direction. I think I'll need to add some string or something if I ever take mine to a con.

So, during the course of this project, I learned a lot about the weaknesses of 3D printers, which I guess are more likely to appear when you're doing a huge print, and I learned how you often need to refine a print after it's completed, especially if it has moving parts or multiple parts that need to be assembled. I've also become fairly competent at replacing the color of the PLA. This was definitely way more challenging than a keychain.

I leave you with a picture of some of the fun things you can do once you have a cosplay prop. Here's "Kylo Ren" writing in his diary while hugging a stuffed pink owl, because that's so in-character!

"Dear Diary,
Hux made fun of my pink owl today, so I threw a tantrum."
(all credit for this caption goes to my friend Sarah!)
Special shout-outs to Justin for making this possible on such short notice, and my friend Sarah for her companionship at the con and for being such a good lightsaber model in my photos!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Online DIY Challenge

I did make something this week, but it was 3D printed, so I'm going to save its story for next week's blog post. Instead, I'm going to talk today about a cosplay I made last year entirely by following an online tutorial. Just in case you're unaware (i.e., just in case I haven't blabbed about this project enough in class!), exploring cosplay--portraying a fictional character through costume creation and wearing and/or roleplay--is my contribution to the Re-Crafting Mathematics project, in which we're investigating educational connections between traditional textile crafts and math. My craft is sewing, and cosplays are what I sew, because I am a nerd and proud! This has the additional benefit of connecting to interests that many youth have in favorite media, so it could be a route to math learning that they may actually enjoy.

Cosplay is not often cited as an example of the Maker Movement, but I think the two are compatible (as well as compatible with constructionism). Both makers and cosplayers follow their interests and passions to make items that are personally meaningful, intending to share them with others. Both sometimes use online resources and in-person mentors to learn how to make their chosen project. They even both have big events where they can show off their work--Maker Faires for makers and fan conventions for cosplayers.

Just as you can find Instructables and other online tutorials to make items that are more stereotypically "maker," like laser-cut constructions, Arduino projects, or drones, you can also easily find online tutorials to create cosplays, as long as others have made the same costume you want to make. I have used online resources for all the costumes I've made so far, even if sometimes only to find reference images. In the case of my cosplay of Dirk from the webcomic Homestuck, however, I followed an online tutorial for almost every step of the process. I also did more of this costume by myself than with any other major costume I've made. The result was recognizable, but not perfect.

Here's what Dirk looks like, wearing the outfit I made:

I had already bought the shirt, and I laser-cut and 3D printed the sunglasses and sword, so the tutorials I followed were just for the hood, cape, shorts, and gauntlets. Here's where I found them:

It's worth noting that lovejoker put up his cape tutorial before we had seen this outfit in complete form in the webcomic, so the cape is a tiny bit inaccurate. Instead of a single point as in this tutorial, Dirk's cape has two points that extend outward to his sides. I wanted those points to look stiff and triangular rather than droopy, so I also came up with the idea to add stiff interfacing between the two layers of the cape. So these are two examples of modifications I made to the online tutorials.

To make this costume, I had to do a ton of math. I had to take the recommended measurements before buying the fabric in order to figure out how much fabric I needed in the first place. I needed to redo the measurements when drawing the pieces out on the fabric. And that's where I ran into issues. In conventional sewing, you trace a full-size pattern from paper onto your fabric. I didn't have a full-size pattern; all I had was some not-to-scale drawings online, with measurement guidelines. So as much as I measured and re-measured, a ruler wasn't going to help me with things like angles. I ended up messing up the angles for the back of the cape. I didn't realize this when I drew on or cut out the fabric because I hadn't yet sewn the pieces together and incorporated seam allowance, which makes the final product an inch or so smaller than the pieces you cut. That's another mathematical/spatial aspect of sewing that I haven't gotten the hang of. You need to be able to not only envision the two-dimensional fabric wrapping around a three-dimensional body, but also envision that fabric missing half an inch along all its edges for seam allowance. None of this was in the tutorial; basic sewing skills were assumed. But it's not something you can really learn until you try it yourself--several times!

Here's the cape, with too wide of a central angle and not enough space between the top and the midpoint.
I had tried to make this cosplay entirely by myself based on the online tutorials, the way a lot of cosplayers do when they have no one else in their lives who knows how to sew. But this was an over-ambitious goal. I ended up taking the costume to a Mending Day at our local public library, where my sewing mentor Gail Hale helped me problem-solve all sorts of things. For instance, when I told her that the online tutorial had made the front pieces of the shorts the same size as the back pieces (resulting in shorts that didn't fit me well in the back), she told me that almost no pants are ever really like that and showed me an example of some scrubs pants that someone had brought in. This shows how sometimes you need real-live help even if you're following online instructions.

Basically, there is always more to the story than the steps you find online. You often need to customize, the way I had to modify the cape shape and add stiff interfacing. The tutorials often don't help you troubleshoot problems you run into, like with the cape angles. And without an expert on hand to ask, you have no way of knowing if the tutorials are actually advocating the "wrong" way to do something that is conventionally done some other way that works better (like the size of the shorts in the back). Ultimately, however, it worked out in my case! Take a look:

I have improved the sword since this photo was taken!


Monday, February 15, 2016

Froebel's Gifts: Gift 2

I explored Froebel's second gift along with Josh. As you can see in the picture below, the second gift consists of a sphere, cylinder, and cube with loops for hanging so they can be suspended from a frame with string, and holes drilled in them so you can put them on a rod and slide and spin them. Our box came with an extra set of the solids, without holes or hanging loops, to explore their "pure" forms.

I hadn't known much about Froebel's Gifts before reading about them in the Inventing Kindergarten book. I had been expecting the cognitive and aesthetic dimensions, but not the spiritual ones. That made quite an impression on me, as someone who also believes that the divine can be encountered in nature. With Gift 2, we begin to see the natural harmony inherent in geometric forms. A cylinder sort of looks like what would happen if you morphed a sphere and cube together. And when you spin a suspended cube, you can see a cylinder form within the spinning after-image. When spinning a cylinder on its side, a sphere appears. These solids are all intimately related to one another, and are the basic "building blocks" (a metaphor that would not exist without Froebel) of solid geometry.

When playing with Gift 2, we tried the spinning as suggested by the instruction booklet. But we also explored physics concepts by hanging the shapes up and making them swing like pendulums or hit each other to see how every action has an equal and opposite reaction. We explored rolling to see how things move. I found the sound that the sphere made when it knocked against the box to be very aurally satisfying. We further explored sound (which is both aesthetic in the form of music and physics in the form of sound waves) by seeing how the different pieces sounded when knocked against each other. I wondered what I would have done with these shapes when I was a child. I told Josh I probably would have tried to turn them into people. I then proceeded to stack the sphere on top of the cylinder on top of the cube, in the iconic column that's pictured above. I had a sudden flash of insight and passed one of the two rods through the cylinder, giving my figure "arms." I concluded that it now looked like a person.

I'm kind of glad that the forms of nature, knowledge, and beauty are not huge deals in the second gift just yet. They become more prominent in subsequent gifts. As is clear from the description of Josh's and my play above, we regularly blended symbolic play (forms of nature, e.g., the "person" I made) with aesthetic play (forms of beauty, e.g. in the musical sounds we made) and play with natural properties (forms of knowledge, e.g., in the physics of movement and forced that we explored). It was hard to tell the difference between these forms. I think this may be true with all the rest of the gifts too, which makes me wonder why Froebel and his followers were so keen on separating the forms. It's true that each form has something unique to offer: forms of nature provide an appreciation of ordinary objects and the beginnings of symbolic thought (Vygotsky!). Forms of knowledge bring attention to scientific and mathematical properties. Forms of beauty bring an appreciation for aesthetics, symmetry, and relationships between parts and wholes. I just think it's hard to truly draw the line between the forms, and wonder if they were ever negatively constraining to the first kindergarteners.

It's interesting that the order of Froebel's gifts seems to follow a progression that begins with solid, 3D geometry, and only later introduces 2D geometry in the form of flat tiles, then lines (1D) in sticks, and finally points in the form of perforating paper (then, of course, the progression reverses in the remaining gifts). By beginning with solids, which are the most concrete and the most likely to resemble real objects that children would encounter in their everyday lives, and progressing to more abstract 2D and 1D forms, Froebel was foreseeing Piaget's progression from concrete to abstract. But then by reversing the progression, and ending once again with 3D forms in peas-work and clay, Froebel "re-valued" the concrete, as called for by Papert. Froebel truly was way ahead of his time!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Paper Circuit Lightsaber

I've made paper circuits before, and in fact at a Maker Faire once, I bought circuit stickers and a conductive pen with real silver ink. So when we made paper circuits in class, I wanted to challenge myself by going beyond the basics. Looking back at my process now, it seems to fit pretty well with Resnick's (2007) Kindergarten Spiral from this week's reading.

First, Imagine: I knew we were doing paper circuits, so I started thinking about what I could make. Since I've been so involved in geek culture and cosplay, I wanted it to be relevant to that somehow. I've recently been deeply entrenched in the Star Wars fandom, so...the obvious answer was a lightsaber! And since my favorite character is Kylo Ren, clearly I was going to start with his lightsaber. Here's what it looks like:

Create: Once I had the materials in my hands, I knew I wasn't going to use my stickers or pen. The conventional LEDs shed more light than the stickers, and silver wasn't the right color for this. I tried out three LEDs on a coin cell battery to see if I could get the effect I wanted. The answer was yes!

When I tried sketching out the circuit on paper, though, I realized that the copper tape would interfere with the look I was going for:

Then I had the idea to fold a piece of paper, put the positive legs of the LEDs on the outside, poke holes, and put the negative legs on the inside of the folded paper! I had never seen a paper circuit done this way before. I had to figure out a way to make it work without having a prior example. So even though I knew how to make paper circuits, I created a new challenge for myself because I wanted my final product to look a certain way. Here's what my outside originally looked like:
And the inside:


I made a hole in the paper over where the battery went so that the positive lead in the front could touch the positive side of the battery. But... I found it only worked when I pressed the tape in the front down so it would go through the small hole. And even then, it was temperamental, sometimes lighting only 1 or 2 of the 3 LEDs. This is where I started playing around to try to improve things.
Play: I tried various techniques in order to improve the connections, since I knew stronger connections would make the lights shine more easily. I reinforced the connections on the inside with additional tape, and put some tape directly on the negative side of the battery. After doing so and seeing that the circuit no longer worked, I realized I needed to move the tape so it did not touch the positive side of the battery at all. That's why there's a bit of a clump of copper tape below the battery in this picture:
It worked much more easily now! (I still had to press down on the battery, though) It was time to go show it off!

Share: I excitedly showed my lightsaber to my neighbors. Both Justin and Josh (also Star Wars fans) had pretty much guessed what it was supposed to be. I took it over to show Kylie as well, and while I was over there, I saw Charlie's project. He was making a cube with small square holes in it, and there were tabs of copper tape sticking out of the holes. Of course! I should make a tab for my battery! Behold the power of sharing! I later went back to Charlie to find out more about his project, and I ended up helping him figure out how to make his circuit work. So sharing goes both ways!

The tab bringing the positive lead through the hole, to more easily contact the positive side of the battery
 At last my circuit worked with little effort. Here is the final product:
Does that look Sith-y enough for you? :D
Reflect: In reflecting on my learning process by writing this post, I saw again and again how constructionist concepts played a role in my learning. My goal was interest-driven: I wasn't satisfied to make a simple circuit. No, I already knew how to do that. I wanted to make a lightsaber. And that required challenging myself to do something I'd never tried before: build a paper circuit on two layers. Manipulating the materials helped me to better understand both how they and how circuits work. I had to make many mistakes in order to achieve my goal. And finally, sharing turned out to be one of the most useful contributions to this project.
...Back to Imagine Again: I now can't help but think about how to extend this project. Perhaps I could make a blue or green lightsaber (and the silver pen would work well for those). I've also been thinking about making a full-size Kylo Ren lightsaber, ever since I cosplayed him a few weeks ago at an anime convention. I borrowed a lightsaber then; I don't have one of my own. Why not make one? The important thing is to never stop imagining!