School’s Out!

School's Out has taken on a different meaning now that I'm the teacher. The semester is over, Final Projects completed, and grades turned in. Although none of my students were in the graduating class I did attend the graduation as a faculty member, which provided my first opportunity to wear my Masters regalia. I've enjoyed the experience of taking a group of people with little to no knowledge of Computer Science and giving them a taste of the various disciplines in the industry. The course would be considered a "survey" class where we touch briefly on the many facets of the digital world we live in these days. combine3Far and away the most disliked aspect of the course was the JavaScript programming module. That one blew most everyone "out of the water". Next semester we are going to swap that out with a module in the Python language and see if that works better. I did manage to finish up the required course content a little early and took the opportunity to introduce a module on Digital Design. We spent the last couple of weeks learning how to create 3D models on the computer using a software package by AutoDesk called 123D Design. The students ALL loved that and I think it made up for the nasty programming experience. 🙂 I will be teaching the same course in the Fall and adding another; Computer Maintenance & Repair to go along with my duties running the FabLab. The College is moving to a new facility in August. We have outgrown our temporary leased space at the Economic Development Center and are taking over an old middle school building from the Hamilton School District. Remodeling is occurring and it will be very nice to have our own space and identity. Despite the new digs there is not enough room to host my FabLab so we are looking at leasing a separate building in town for it. I am going to use our current space to teach my first course in 3D Printing in a few weeks. It will be a Continuing Ed class designed to provide a brief overview of the technology and a little bit of hands-on.

First 3D Prints

littlemanThe two 3D printers have arrived. One has been unboxed, assembled, and made operational. The second has been unboxed but awaits further attention. I have been trying to get a little smarter on this technology, which by the way, goes by the name of Additive Manufacturing (AM). The 3D printer works by gradually adding layer after layer of material slowly building up the object until it reaches completion. This is opposed to more traditional manufacturing which is subtractive in nature, e.g., material is cutaway to create the object. In some ways it can be compared with a sculptor who builds an object out of clay and shapes it into a finished object, maybe a duck vs. a sculptor that takes a block of stone and chisels away everything that does not look like a duck. Both end up with a duck, they just got there in different ways. There are in fact, multiple types of 3D printers. Some, which use plastic for material, are more suited to the consumer market whereas others, are industrial in nature and product metal parts for jet engines. The techniques used vary quite dramatically. The printer I have up and running is the TAZ5 made by Lulzbot. It uses a method known as Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) which is a fancy name for a hot glue gun approach. The material is typically a plastic (ABS or PLA) filament that comes on a reel and looks a lot like weedeater string. The filament is fed into the heated print head where it is melted and very precisely extruded to form the object. The first object I printed was a novelty piece called a Voronoi Tower. It is around 4 inches tall and 1.5 inches in diameter. Voronoi is a math concept that creates the perforated look. You can see from the two pictures that it slowly built up from nothing. The process took several hours. First-PrintFirst-Print-Done From there I decided to print an old favorite, the "Little Man" from the Pink Panther cartoons. I found him on thingiverse.com which is a repository for 3D objects that people have designed and are ready to be downloaded and printed. You might recall this little fellow if you ever watched the cartoon on TV. The first print was only partially successful as I failed to observe a simple rule that you cannot start printing something in thin air. The little man's arms which hang out in space did not come out too well. Fortunately, this problem has been solved and all you need to do is tick the box for it to generate and print support structure which you can see in the second picture. This structure is easily carved off with an Exacto knife. You can click on the pictures to make them larger. DSC02746-1DSC02751-1 DSC02759-1

New Directions

Summer of 2014 found us back in the Bitterroot Valley of SW Montana where an opportunity presented itself which was unexpected, but perhaps not surprising in the overall scheme of things. I had thought about teaching some computer courses in the local community and happened to mention it in a meeting with our resort owners one day. Turns out they knew the Director of the local college and promptly connected me. Over the course of a few email dialogs it became apparent that the college had no real IT program in place and yes, they would be interested in having me develop something. BC_Logo_RoundThe Bitterroot College is the newest two-year college within the University of Montana system. Being only six years old it is, as you might imagine, a growth opportunity. While far from done, we have made some preliminary steps in making both a one year Computer Support Certificate program and a two year Information Systems Associate program a reality over the next few years. To that end, I am currently teaching the first Intro to Computer Science class and have 14 students enrolled. In the Fall, we will add a few more classes and slowly grow the program. It is a gratifying experience and fills a serious deficiency in available training here in the Valley. The real zinger came in February when I was asked to head up a new program in Advanced Manufacturing. The previous year-end had seen a local donor contribute a large sum to the college to start up a Fabrication Lab (FabLab). A FabLab is a small-scale workshop offering digital fabrication using an array of flexible computer controlled tools with the aim to make "almost anything". The general idea is to promote innovation and invention thus providing stimulus for local entrepreneurship. Users learn by designing and creating objects of personal interest or import. Empowered by the experience of making something themselves, they both learn and mentor each other, gaining deeper knowledge about the machines, the materials, the design process, and the engineering that goes into invention and innovation. Putting this program together is exactly the type of project I can sink my teeth into. To get things started we have the funding to provision the FabLab with 3D printing equipment and the associated computer-aided design/modeling resources. As the FabLab matures I plan to add a laser cutter that makes 2D and 3D structures, a sign cutter that plots in copper to make antennas and flex circuits, a high-resolution CNC milling machine that makes circuit boards and precision parts, a large wood router for building furniture and housing, and a suite of electronic components and programming tools for low-cost, high-speed micro controllers for on-site rapid circuit prototyping. A grand vision no doubt, but one must start somewhere right? I just got back from attending the US National FabLab Symposium which included a workshop on FabLab Start-up & Sustainability along with many other useful sessions. I connected with a host of other FabLab managers and heard lots of stories and received lots of advice. It was a very timely and useful event. The first 3D printers have been ordered and should arrive any day now. This is going to be a fun summer!

Our Colorado Arrival, Got Air??!!

Whoo Hooo!It was a good travel day-cloud cover, good roads, reasonably priced fuel ($3.69), light traffic, varied scenery, manageable winds and best of all, the arrival at La Vista Campground. Above Rye Colorado, there is a small lake, Lake Isabel. We have not explored this part of Colorado a lot and never have been up here. We had a hard time finding a place not far from I 25 that was wooded, secluded, and without a burn ban. These three campgrounds fit the bill. We were told they really weren’t open for the season yet and we would probably have it to ourselves. We were thrilled! After living with so many people in and out for 4 months next to us, we were ready to be in the woods. If we could have found a place to dry camp we would have but the rangers said it wasn’t recommended in this area. Read the rest of this entry »

To Amarillo and Beyond! Is that SNOW in the forecast??!!

We left the ranch mid morning with the sun shining and a warm day promised. Planning to drive to at least Amarillo seemed like a good plan as we wanted to be to Raton, NM the next night and in the Colorado mountains for Mothers Day. The drive went well enough that we pressed on to Dalhart about 1.5 more hours. It’s a small scenic town in NW Texas, almost to New Mexico. Matt had found a smaller RV Park with pull throughs so we didn’t have to disconnect the trailer that evening, just pull through the site, level up, put out the slide (which was not happy and bound up for some unknown reason) and fix dinner. Simple! Read the rest of this entry »

Our Goodbye Gift – A Fresh Wild Turkey For Breakfast! (Mom DON’T read this story!)

Well, not exactly but almost. Every time of day at the Crockett Ranch is special. Mornings are lovely with sun streaks across the sky before the sun actually rises, the usual quiet, the birds, one of Russ’ dogs softly barking by the kennel. This morning, we were lying in bed talking about time with Russ the night before, waking up, and listening to the World around us wake as well, I heard one single solitary gun shot. Was a bit early for someone to be on the range and we were the only guests but I pushed the thought from my sleepy mind. The silence was changed shortly after by an ATV rounding the end of the arena. Before I could even actually place the sound in my foggy brain, Russ was outside our window with a good sized Tom Turkey over his fender! I jumped out of bed, grabbing my robe to go see what his victory smile was all about. He had gotten up early ahead of the group coming to the ranch for Mother’s Day weekend. With one more turkey tag in his hand, and this the last day he could hunt before season end, he had gone out to wait for the Tom who comes across the Ranch fairly often. The gunshot I had heard earlier was his. The Tom had come close to the mesquite patch below the arena and Russ had been waiting. Meat for the freezer! Yea! Read the rest of this entry »

Life at the Ranch

Russ-at-ranchThere will always be a special place in our hearts for Crockett Ranch. I suppose it is because our first visit there was a special one with Thanksgiving and all being together. It also is special to us because we spent two weeks there while the horrible cold spell hit North Texas (and the rest of the country). Russ had graciously allowed us to stay in the beautiful guest house. It was such a tremendous blessing! I am sure we would have frozen to death had we stayed in the trailer. Read the rest of this entry »
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