Thursday, July 26, 2012

Maker Faire KC: Fun with Electricity!

Welcome to the second installment on the 2012 Kansas City Maker Faire!  You can find background on the event on installment one presented on the topic of printing technology.  Today's post features a subject near and dear to me:  Fun with Electricity!  Let's get started.

The Quantum-Encabulator

This device lives in the "stuff and nonsense" category.  Every switch and dial makes different things happen including flashing lights, moving dials and fog. I didn't have a chance to chat with the maker, but it appeared to live with the stuff from the Cowtown Computer Congress, a Kansas City maker collective.
User beware!  Perhaps when I read a sign that says "DO NOT USE THIS SWITCH!" I should respond by leaving it alone.  Or not.  This little sucker actually delivers a mild electric shock!  At least I was not the only person that fell prey to this little prank.  I saw at least one high school age boy touch the handle.  Talk about impulse control issues!

This typecast is brought to you by a Remington Mark II.  It has the snappy and precise guts of a Torpedo 18 in a solid plastic body that looks something like the aftermath of a stingray becoming one with the Borg.  The machine does not look fabulous, but I got it for the the unique cursive typeface and a craving for Torpedo feel.
At Vintage Technology Obsessions, we support the excessive use of Nixie tube displays.  We have a Fluke multimeter equipped with Nixie tubes and have considered acquiring a clock kit on more than one occasion.

The Mad Scientist's Laboratory

Welcome to the mad scientist's laboratory!  As you feast your eyes on this display, keep in mind that all of this was brought in and set up just for a two day event.  The huge tube houses a home brew Jacob's Ladder.  Most impressive.

Unfortunately, there were always willing volunteers waiting in line for diagnosis and treatment.  I only got to see the act without hearing it.  In the next image, the Doctor is approaching the patient with great care lest he still harbors residual electrical energy from his first round of treatment.
Given his petulant nature, it became obvious that enhanced treatment was in order.  Be sure to click the photo below so you can read the labels.

Repeat after me:  Mwah, ha, ha.

Power Wheels Racing League

Our next stop transitions from the world of AC to the wonders of DC.  Have you ever noticed the jawas that cruise neighborhood trash piles the night before the real trash hauler comes?  The amount of useful detritus that ends up by the curb is truly sad :( 

Fortunately, it isn't just flea market, Craigslist and ebay flippers plucking good bits from the garbage!  When the right maker gets hold of one of those old battery powered kiddy cars the magic and madness of Power Wheels racing can begin!

You might guess from this pit area scene that the Power Wheels Racing League isn't about stock vehicles.  Nope, these are like the nitro burning funny cars of the kiddie car world.  Most of these have at least two deep cycle marine batteries in their customized chassis.  A day at the races includes endurance laps, drag racing and trips around the road course.

Yeah, I want to do this in the worst way.  The participants get bonus points for flair.  There are more photos from the 2011 event at

Real Cars with Electric Style

This little car got a lot of attention.  It has a hybrid drive train with pedals for the driver and passenger and a battery powered electric motor.  It is a street legal 1998 import from Europe.  While it is a daily driver, the lack of air conditioning probably causes it to be parked during heat spells like what we have been experiencing.  As I write this, it is 95 degrees at 10:00 PM after an afternoon high of 104.  Thank goodness for Tesla and Westinghouse!

This car is more for show than go.  Still, who wouldn't love to cruise around in a reproduction of the Back to the Future Delorean?
Looks like the flux capacitor is up and running.  Engage the time circuit!

Arc Attack

And now, welcome to the madness that is Arc Attack!  This band hails from Austin, Texas.  They built these two Tesla coils that crank out 12 foot, 500,000 volt streamers.  On top of that, they vary the input frequency so  the coils "sing".  The act started in 2005 and has been refined along the way.  The coils were redesigned after an unfortunate fire.  Just this year they added a robotic drummer to the crew.

I was unable to upload one of my videos, but there are plenty of samples on YouTube.  The sound may be a little garbled because these things are incredibly loud!  The microphone on my Sony NEX3 was totally overwhelmed.

The front man walks around in a chain mail Faraday suit.  It was a 100 degree day and at least ten degrees warmer inside the tent.  This form of insanity takes dedication.

Yeah, he is getting hit in the head with a streamer.  So jealous...
Part way into the performance, the band rolls out a Faraday cage and asks for volunteers from the audience.  Children must have parental permission and adults have to promise to dance like crazy people inside the cage.  Sadly, I have not been selected from the audience.  It would be a very Star  Trek experience!

Thanks for reading!  I'll do one more post to close out the series and hope you can come along for the fun!

A friendly reminder about the archaic concept of copyright:  all photos are copyright Dwayne F. at vintagetechobsessions.  Please cite the source if you liberate my images.  They are not to be used for commercial purposes with or without citation.  You could wake up with an Oliver 99 hovering over your bed.  You have been warned.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Your Career at NASA - Circa 1966

In The Birthday Blog Post From Space, I shared some images from a 1964 National Geographic magazine featuring the United States' plan for getting to the moon.  President John F. Kennedy proposed to Congress in May of 1961 that we should establish a national goal of "landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth" by the end of the 1960s.

Remember in the movie Apollo 13 all of those guys in shirts and ties with their cigarettes?  Welcome to your career at NASA!
 With this audacious goal in mind, we did indeed deliver Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the Sea of Tranquility on this day in 1969.  In eight short years, the United States committed its resources to the mission and creation of new technologies and infrastructure.  In the process, we gained a whole generation of engineers and scientists.  To celebrate Apollo 11 day, I'm sharing a great bit of ephemera I found at a local antique mall:  NASA:  A Guide to Careers in Aero-Space Technology" revised in July, 1966.

Our youngest daughter, the one who wants to go into engineering, was looking over my shoulder just now and commented on the first photo that it "looked like something promoting a job".  The expression on her face said "meh".   Marketing rockets and space travel is a whole lot easier than marketing math, science and engineering.

This is a page from "The Question and Answer Book of Space" copyright 1965 and 1970.  Herein witness the kind of kids' book I grew up with.

Still, with a shared vision, people can dream of working together to do something really great.

 To put this 1966 publication in perspective, our first one man capsule made a 15-minute trip above Earth's atmosphere on May 5, 1961.  The rocket with lift capacity to reach the Moon was still a concept in 1966.

Factoid of the day:  the 1961 Redstone missile delivered 78,000 pounds of thrust.  To escape Earth's gravity and make it to the Moon and back, the  first stage of the Saturn V generated 7,610,000 pounds of thrust.

Basically, it took a lot of this...

To get from the Mercury program in 1961...

At 5:14 AM on May 5, 1969, Lt. Commander Alan Shepard steps from a transport van and walks to a waiting Redstone missile.  This image is scanned from the book "LIFE Science Library; Man and Space" copyright 1964 and 1966.
To the Moon on July 20, 1969...

Image from "Album of Spaceflight" copyright 1983.
You can find more great Apollo 11 ephemera at one of my favorite blogs:

I grew up with the Apollo space program and have fond memories of watching the first lunar landing at the tender age of five and the final missions featuring the lunar buggy.  May your dreams of space be as pleasant.
P.S.  The House Full of Nerds celebrated Apollo 11 day by watching the Star Trek episode Assignment: Earth.  I'm pretty sure that Roberta Lincoln is using a computer controlled Royal Electress.  Please correct me if I missed the typewriter identification.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Maker Faire KC Part 1: Printing Technology

Is this IBM Selectric II cool, or what?  The maker grew bored with it and created a printer with the judicious use of programming, solenoids and cables.  This maker collective, the Cowtown Computer Congress, had a bunch of projects on display and this was a big attention getter. 

I assumed wrongly that the interface between the laptop and the typewriter was probably something Arduino.  Nope.  This guy etched his own circuit board!

Typewriter art, anyone?  I could watch something like this for hours. Did you notice how much the ribbon cartridge and ball head look like a robot?  Claire and I see robots everywhere.

To see this beast in action and a comprehensive build diary, visit  The Cowtown Computer Congress is one of many hacker spaces that has emerged over the last few years.  Makers share a space and major equipment with regular build nights and special events.  A hacker space is a big playground for adults.  Check around, there may be one in your town!

The Print Factory

My favorite entry in the traditional print department is the traveling crew from The Print Factory.  They are printmaking evangelists and show up at regional events with great lino and woodcuts ready to ink and press.  From experience, I can tell you this is just as enjoyable for adults as it is for kids.

Such pretty ink.  To see more about The Print Factory, visit

Maker Bot

Maker Faire would be pretty awesome without 3-D printers, but it wouldn't be the same.  The Maker Bot crew was out in full force introducing people to the joys of home printing.  The Maker Bot Replicator now has a dual extrusion print head... and a bunch of new competition.  Their goal was to democratize the act of making and they spawned a new industry using true open source hardware and software.  The competition is coming for around $600 as a home printer, but they may not be as dedicated to open source.

Other than the metal bits and servos, these remote control Minions came off a Maker Bot.  The drawings, like everything else in Maker Bot world, are available on the Thingiverse.

Kids love watching Maker Bots in action as much as I do.  It used to be that only elite schools and businesses had access to 3-D printing for prototyping and small run items.  Not so long ago, the technology would have set you back over $10,000.  The previous version of the Maker Bot ran around $1,400 and the new Replicator runs around $1,800. 

One of the best things about 3-D printing:  makers use them to build parts to make larger and more elaborate home brew printers.  There were at least a dozen custom machines spread out around the Faire.

On the subject of democratizing 3-D printing, a number of libraries have installed Maker Bots.  Imagine a future in which you could print any widget available on the Thingiverse or something you throw together on Google Sketchup with a library card and a few cents for materials.  Do you need a replacement knob for a Hermes?  Print on demand is cool.

Check out this set of wings produced by another member of the Cowtown Computer Congress.  The gears were custom printed on a first generation machine.

Last year, the Kansas City Maker Faire filled this hall with some outside overflow.  This year, they shut down a street in front of Union Station for the Arc Attack tent, Power Wheels, vendors, exhibitors and custom cars.  That was in addition to three extra rooms inside the station. Sweet.

Thanks for reading!  Part II will feature "Fun with Electricity".

A friendly reminder about the archaic concept of copyright:  all photos are copyright Dwayne F. at vintagetechobsessions.  Please cite the source if you liberate my images.  They are not to be used for commercial purposes with or without citation.  You could wake up with an Oliver 99 hovering over your bed.  You have been warned.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Only Slightly Competitive Sisters

This is a continuation of the vacation typecasts.  The series will end eventually, but not before I share about the many the near disasters we encountered on the road.  An already scheduled celebration of campfires, "An Ode to Fire", has been postponed indefinitely.  It just seemed a bit insensitive given the horrible fire that swept through the edge of Colorado Springs this week.  As mentioned in the first post, we were pretty much unplugged during vacation.  I took advantage of several days of digital downtime to do some typecasts.  I'm glad I brought the typewriter along.  Typing in the woods is an extraordinarily pleasant experience.

Ah, sweet, clean Rocky Mountain stream water!  We were 3-5 miles downstream from the snow melt fed alpine lake at the head of this stream.  The water temperature was at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit, give or take.
I can't overstate just how refreshingly cold this water was!  It worked pretty well on swelling bug bites, but not as well as soaking in one of the 108 degree hot spring pools located elsewhere in the San Luis valley.
Common sense is pretty much overrated when it comes to competitive siblings.
Both of our girls shipped out to separate regional Girl Scout camps last Sunday, just in time for the hottest week of the year here in Kansas.  Yesterday, it was 106 in the shade.  Fortunately, we had freakishly low humidity so it felt more like the desert.  I usually expect 60-70% daytime humidity this time of year and it was just under 20%.  As I write this, they are loading gear and getting ready for the trip home.  We'll get to find out how sunburned and bug bitten they are.

We are looking forward to hearing their camp stories.  Last year they were at the same camp and at least saw each other in passing.  MEK had the unpleasant experience of watching them leave for different camps without troop buddies while I was at the Art of the Car Concours .  Hannah wanted to spend time with horses and Claire wanted to get in a prerequisite for a ten day canoe trek next year.  We are blessed with children who actually like each other and are willing to take some risks doing new things on their own.  Soon the house will again be full of the sound of the violin, the electric guitar and the Wii.  We missed them, but we also enjoyed dining out for two in their absence (how delightfully cheap!).

Photos do not do this campsite justice.  Except for the skeeters, it was pretty much perfect.
I am now a week and a half into vacation withdrawal.  The blog is a comforting memory of a good time.  I hope your summer vacations are (were) equally satisfying.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Typed with Keylime.  I am no calligrapher, but I also had to try out the nifty brush pen found in a clearance bin at a craft store.  the paper is yet another thrift store find.  The ribbon detail is embossed metallic.
 We were very pleased to see a big turnout on a very hot and sweaty July 3rd evening.  I overheard one of the security volunteers mentioning the count was over 1,000 with twenty minutes yet until showtime.  Last year, the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival brought in over 20,000 guests.
Hannah and Claire chillin' in the 90 degree heat in the reserved blanket zone.
 As noted in the typecast, I won a fabulous door prize.  Everyone got to fill out a slip of paper on the way in and my name was pulled out of the basket!  So lucky: I should have bought a lottery ticket on the way home.  I'm not a wine fan, but MEK is and the etched and hand-painted bottle is amazing!

The actor who plays Bottom also helps teach the Festival's youth performance classes.  The girls have worked with Matt and found his portrayal to be quite satisfying.

The background for the wine bottle photo might look familiar if you happen to have read the Shakespeare birthday post.  Here is a bonus image of Puck for good measure.