Saturday, November 14, 2015

Fullmetal Alchemist

Hello, BOoM is looking for anyone who has a recipe for any or all of the following alloys:

1. Britannia Metal
2. English Pewter
3. Field's Metal
4. Any other non-toxic fusible alloys.

And by "recipe" I mean a description of the process for making the alloy (temperatures, times, etc.) The proportions are readily available on the Interwebs, but detailed descriptions of the processes are surprisingly hard to find.

An alloying anecdote:

I was searching for recipes and kept coming across the term "Regulus of Antimony" in old mettallurgy books. Well I know what Antimony is, but had no idea what a Regulus of Antimony is. So I Googled it, of course, and found some fascinating history...

"Regulus of Antimony" is actually a term from alchemy that carried over into modern metallurgy. "Regulus" refers to the star Regulus in the constellation Leo. Under certain conditions, when molten, slightly impure, Antimony metal cools slowly, it forms a star shaped crystalline pattern on the surface of the metal.

And guess who was the Fullmetal Alchemist of his age and was trying to use Regulus of Antimony to produce the philosopher's stone... Isaac Newton. That's right: Isaac Frickin' Newton, target of falling apples, inventor of the Calculus, and all-around genius.

Further refinements would create crystalline "rays" on the surface of the metallic antimony, hence it was called the star-regulus of antimony. Starkey then fused the star-regulus with silver or copper, which allowed him to amalgamate the antimony with quicksilver. Eventually, he produced a "sophic mercury" in which gold could be made to dissolve and "vegetate"—forming tree-like growths. Starkey, and Newton, believed this "vegetation" was evidence that sophic mercury was a key to producing the ultimate agent of transmutation—the philosophers' stone.

From "Newton's Alchemy," by Bill Newman

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Make Halloween & Cosplay Fun

Halloween is just around the corner.

PaNiC!? Nope. Taking my own advice, because Halloween and dressing up, don't have to cause panic.

A dress-up holiday? A DIY extravaganza? Yes, and yes! We love to Cosplay... for Comic-Con, for Burning Man, for parties, for Monday-got-nothing-beter-to-do... make-believe and make-up can be fun all year, but Halloween is special.

This post is chock full of links to Ol'Halloweens Past and other dress-up occasions, lots of pictures and a few reminders to myself: Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best~

Of course not all simple ideas are simple to execute: Like being a bale of straw, for example. A box, some paint and glue, and straw. Even with spray adhesive, getting all of that straw to stick to the box was more difficult than expected. However... it did work, and would have been less traumatic if we weren't scrambling at the last minute to complete this costume.

In the end this was an excellent costume for a shy guy.

He could pop in and out of the scene at will. We added fallen leaves to the top, where he was wearing the cut out for his head as a hat. Arm hole flaps... and voila! Straw Bale.

The same year Max was a bale of straw, and Maria was a Pumpkin Princess, Alex was Dex, a character from a favorite movie. It's all about the goggles and the ray-gun. Accessories are everything when it comes to making a costume. And the shirt? Thrift shop. Anyone looking to fill out their costume and prop shop absolutely must haunt their local thrift stores. Start early, be open-minded. You never know when that weird shirt, or huge dress is going to be the perfect thing for your next costume.

To be Young Indiana Jones Max added an old binocular case, and a lantern. The safari hat was already on hand. The pumpkin costume? I made that for William's first Halloween, so that means it's been through 17 Halloweens by the time we see Maria wearing it, again. Children aren't always too particular, and I never feel disappointed when they ask to be a skeleton four years in a row.

This DIY costume reminds me of all kinds of essential ideas for Halloween success:

1. Let children follow through on their own ideas. Maybe you can do it "better," but Alex's expression has as much to do with his own accomplishments, as the prize basket he won for Scariest Costume at Legoland! He made his paper mâché armor, and painted his sweatshirt.
He's the Scorpion Knight, by the way.

2. Freezer Paper! If you don't have Alex's confidence for painting your own clothes, then look for Freezer Paper. You can achieve great stencil painting results with this crafting, and sewing, wonder resource. It sticks to fabric, and it peels right off. I use it to make pattern pieces, and for painting on fabric, it's indispensable.

You will love what you can do with Freezer Paper!

These blank masks are everywhere. Clear the dining table, lay down some newspaper, bring out paints and glue and glitter, and bolts?? Sure, why not.

Acrylic craft paints are affordable (always print or clip a coupon before heading to Michael's or Joann's) and easy to use... these same paints work on clothes, and even rocks... ooh! I am thinking of the fun Halloween themes we could paint on rocks. They make glow-in-the-dark acrylic paints, too!

Painting masks is a fun party theme, too.

On our way to a party, and I had nothing to wear. My go-to costume is a hat and dramatic make-up... glam it up! Maria was tickled about her ensemble... tulle skirt (off the rack, of course) a hat, and her cat mask.

Hats, hats, hats... they're always making an appearance. A top hat, a bowler, and the witch's hat. All off the shelf, and easy to find. And there are those goggles, again. Alex added a flour sack to his regular, everyday attire, but with those black gloves, and the creepy puckers of the flour sack... he's scared up a great costume. No one will recognize Max the Gentleman Ghost. I never pass on white sheets when I see them in the secondhand shops. 2-4 dollars, and endless possibilities. Max's face was drawn on with a Sharpie pen, and holes cut out for his eyes.

A little soft focus around the edges, and the effect is completely haunting!

It's more than dressing up... the fun is in the play. Be sure to take pictures, look for props, and think about lighting... just before sunset is nice, because they aren't blinded by bright light, or lost in a mix of light and shadows.

Of course, dramatic lighting has its own effects! Mood, lighting, the natural seasonal touches of fall, any of these can make a costume more interesting.

When taking photographs, I try to keep my subject in mind. Mostly, this means: Ignore the background! Don't try to get the whole forest in the picture, if it means losing sight of your fairy! If I don't have a blank wall, then I at least try to be sure and get in close, and focus on the child.

You can sew without knowing much about sewing, or even without a machine. This was a dress I bought in 1998! Stretchy top and gauze skirt, and perfect for repurposing! I cut the short sleeves out, then tacked down tulle all around the neckline, with ribbon. Then I took apart flowers, and stitched them all over... just a needle pulling a thread! Around the waist is a wide ribbon with more tulle stitched to it... it ties, like an apron. Maria is wearing it with a head lei from the party store. It would work very nicely with a floral wreath, too, and this link will show you how to make one, easily!

Another way to top your fairy costume is with a flower cap. I made this one by taking a plain cap from a yardage store and then hot gluing rows of flower petals around... start at the bottom edge, and go to the top, so the petals overlap, then I covered a twist of wire in florist tape, to make a curling stem at the top. Any old hat can be refashioned with flowers, tulle, spiders, birds...

This vision was Maria's scheme... a seemingly innocent and frothy princess, but in her hat?

A murder of crows!

And her smile, all fangs! Chilling.

And easy... all thrift shop finds, and borrowed bits from the dress-up drawer. No sewing required!

Borrowing is a Halloween save! Max got his hands on a plague doctor's mask, and he punched in the point of the witch's hat, but the lovely, dark cloak was loaned to him by Lucas, who does know how to sew!

I've been trying to make all of this costuming and making look easy and stress-free, but sometimes we cannot help ourselves, and we go all out. Certainly William raised the bar when he introduced his reverently made gravestones.

And sometimes classic jack-o-lanterns deserve star treatment!

This post-link includes a few of our more ambitious Halloween getups, and it may not be tame enough for impressionable ones (like me). Suki made herself up as a zipper-faced beauty pageant contestant, Alex made himself a Clive Barker character. Elaborate and spooky, and very inspiring.

When it comes to costume success, it doesn't have to be complicated or expensive to be special. We love thrift shops, repurposing, sharing and borrowing, altering, dramatic make-up, a unique hat, and making. It's even more fun to let your kids rummage through odds and ends and make their own character, rather than just laying down cash for something store-bought... and hey, the year Alex wanted to be Scooby-Do, we went for it! Scooby-Do has enjoyed repeated use over the years, so no regrets.

And sometimes a carved pumpkin on your head is all it takes to make Halloween fun!

And by all means, do get together with friends... themes are fun, company is fun!

If you can't think what to be, maybe you'd rather think about your other decorations...

Thursday, October 8, 2015

San Diego Maker Faire :: Day Two

Day one was outdoors, beneath a blue sky, and it was awesome. Day two started with lots of rain, and called for a completely new plan, and being makers we rolled with that, and it was awesome, too. Check it out!

It was a bit confused and hectic when we learned we would have to move from our outdoor space, but I think I found my second wind, a renewed joy, when I ran into Darrahl. Darrahl, and his wife, Bobbie, are family. Yeah, that about covers it. They are FIRST mentors for our favorite FRC team, FIRST 2102 Team Paradox. They are fun-loving, generous, personal friends, who have joined us for many special occasions, and life events. Knowing them... finding them in the crowd, it's comforting, reassuring, uplifting: Good!

In fact, all day we had the pleasure of seeing yellow on top, red on the bottom, and Paradox all over! There are a lot of new faces on this team, naturally, but one thing hasn't changed... FIRST 2102 Team Paradox is still a winning, gracious, spirited robotics team, with great young people and great mentors. FIRST and Maker Faire go well together!

With help from Kent, from the Maker Zone & Battle Pond, and after meeting Dan, of Open Source Maker Lab, we got space in the Hall of Champions, and more passes for our BOoM team. We even dared to squeeze in Mech-Cthulu, our popular Giant Robotic Tentacle.

I freely admit, these aren't "technically" the best pictures, but what they recall, what they illustrate is wonderful. For outreach, for connecting, for sharing our passion for STEAM education, and the joy robots can bring, these pictures are perfect!

Just {barely} enough room for Mech-Cthulu. Eventually, Geoff added a pool noodle head, because we were determined to not draw blood, or give out free concussions.

Plenty of space for Da Vinci.

The look on Geoff's face. I think his labor is of love.

Today, we had even more help, with Janece and Paul available to help us set up, and demonstrate, plus James and Celine agreeing to help us pack and leave at the end of the day. And we also got fed, when Ruth and Holly arrived with a picnic feast. Dividing the time up a bit, getting some breaks, was a nice difference. Alex and Max were even able to get home to take care of homework demands.

I took advantage of some free time to learn how to solder my very own blinking Makey Robot, with some guidance from a San Diego charter school. {Regrettably, I am not finding that school's name. If anyone can help... thank you!}

I was assured that with a finer tipped soldering tool, my Makey Robot could look a lot less wonky. Still, I am really pleased with my first solo run at soldering.

More friends! Even more friends found us this day, than the first, and it was a lot of fun seeing them, especially when we could introduce our friends to other friends. So, Ido and Leslie got to meet Michelle. It makes me happy when people I admire get to know other people I admire, and I like to think how much this does to make our community better.

There were constantly new moments to enjoy, like when I would see familiar faces, like Steve and Geoff talking, and Janece and Paul keeping Mech-Cthulu operating, and Maria engaged with visitors. Some of it is a blur, and that makes me happy to have these pictures.

The pictures... the faces! Good things were going on, things worth remembering!

We were having fun. It shows. Being connected to wonder, to learning, to sharing new experiences is exhilarating.

Like the day before, we had a child ask whether Da Vinci could make custom art, and we said "Yes." We are poorly equipped to let people use Inkscape on our laptop, but we love trying, and so this young lady drew a fish, and Da Vinci, followed her lead to illustrate her art.

How this is accomplished is explained in this link, from our first day at San Diego Maker Faire.

Making at Maker Faire!

William went out on a long, extended excursion. San Diego Maker Fair was all over Balboa Park, including inside ten museums! He returned with some old friends, Eli and Jessica.

Then we were visited by more familiar faces, namely the Paradox mascot, and Austin!

This was a sweet Maker's moment for me, seeing that costume, that I made almost five years ago! What ever possessed me to try and make a customized, original mascot costume of a Parrot + Ox... I'll never know, but props to me, because it's still holding together!

Having as many of our BOoM team on hand to lend a hand was critical, as new visitors were constantly streaming through. It takes a lot to pack, haul, unpack, set-up, demonstrate, and do maintenance, then pack, haul and load, again. Thank goodness for our crew this day: Geoff, Paul, Janece, Alex, Max, William, Maria, Amira, Celine, and James.

The work and effort are so rewarding!

Especially when our friends share in the fun! We were thrilled to see Gwen, and Sandy at Maker Faire.

At least a few parts in our robots came from stops at Surplus Depot. A store like their's is an indispensable resource for any Maker!

Here is a league of extraordinary gentlemen.

June has the controller.

June has the power.

Makers, coders, artists, musicians, inventors, tinkerers, people who play, people who are curious, who ask how? and why?... these are the future, the hope, the best of our country, our world. The cool thing is, at Maker Faire, they aren't waiting to start. The future is now.

Maria was proud to share her knowledge of Da Vinci with her teacher, June.

We are fortunate... because not only are we interested in learning, in tinkering and playing, but we have access to resources, we care to invest our time and energy in the Maker movement. What we want is for our government, private industry, and interested individuals to notice STEAM education, to fund it, support it, reinstate it, open doors, and listen to young people, we want people to care about their interests in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Music and Math.

It's more than text books, it's better than standardized tests... STEAM education, hands on learning, engagement and broad support for young people to learn how things work, to play with gears and paint, to build what they imagine, is the best education, the best investment, our country can make.

I believe in supporting young people, in rewarding innovation, in crossing borders, reaching out to all, educating everyone by many means. Growing up, I became disillusioned with the saying "the children are our future." I understand its sentiment, that children matter, that down the road they will be our leaders etc, but it strikes me as an empty gesture, a deferral of respect and investment for a later time. I believe children need, and deserve, to be respected now. Good schools now. Metal shops, art programs, science labs, coding classes, cooking classes, dance, yoga, woodworking, film-making, music: Now!

Probably, as a parent of young people, I feel keenly about supporting education and the Maker Movement for children especially, but I think my passion for STEAM extends beyond childhood, because I see the value of a network of mentors, teachers, coaches, and students, of all ages, engaged and interacting for a greater good. We have as much to learn from retired and skilled people, as students coming out of colleges. Grade school children, too, have to know that we aren't cutting their art, defunding their science, putting off for another day any of the support, faith, or resources that they need now to believe in their future, our future. Collectively, government with citizens, corporations with community, families with schools... experienced, young, novices, amateurs, experts, we must interact, and engage, and build this future now.

The future will be great, if we make the world the best it can be, today, and I think Maker Faire demonstrates how rewarding, how hopeful, how fun, today and tomorrow can be.