The Art of Tinkering

The Art of Tinkering

We just got an advance copy of The Art of Tinkering, by our friends at the Tinkering Studio at the Exploratorium.

On their own, science, art, and technology all make for interesting, fun, and rewarding explorations. But when you mix them together, you get a veritable tinkering trifecta in which technological tools and scientific principles let you express your own artistic vision.

We flipped through the wonderful pictures and projects before we took it to the bench for some quick pictures. In the spirit of the book, we put it among a few tools and parts from recently photographed projects that were still on the table.

Surprising Circuits

We found projects by some of our friends, including Ken Murphy, Jie Qi and AnnMarie Thomas. We’re excited that we have a few projects in the book, including our Circuitry Snacks, in a section on Surprising Circuits. The book itself incorporates some circuitry on the cover, which we hope to play with soon!

The book launch party will be at the Exploratorium Afterdark (ages 18+) event on November 7.

Sugar Refinery

Maker Faire NY 2013

Refined by artist Eric Hagan is described as

a food safe sugar based electromechanical kinetic sculpture. Utilizing digital fabrication and mold making techniques, Refined represents a few select stages from the manufacturing process for refining sugar.

At Maker Faire New York, Eric brought along not only the mechanisms, but also the molds he used to make the gears and other components out of sugar.

Maker Faire NY 2013

Using Artist Grade Materials with the WaterColorBot

watercolorbot paints

One of the questions that we’ve had on the WaterColorbot is about its ability to use higher-quality materials. And in particular, can you use it with fine (artists’) watercolor paints?

The WaterColorBot comes with a starter set of Crayola watercolors. This kind of paint set is great for kids and great for learning how to use the WaterColorBot. And in the United States at least, it’s also easy to obtain direct replacements from your local office or art supply store.

But on the other hand, watercolors like these do not offer the depth or range of color nor the archival quality that professional artists expect and require. And, replacement paint sets may not be so easy to find overseas, or even in less urban areas of the US. Fortunately, you can use the WaterColorBot with other paints, and we’re working on expanding the number of different ways that you can.

watercolorbot paints

The first, easiest solution is to note that the Crayola paint set actually comes with (well, in) a perfectly-sized paint palette; simply rinse out the remaining paint with cold water.

The empty Crayola palette can be reused with tube-based watercolor paints, which are available at art supply stores worldwide. Like dry (pan) watercolors, tube based watercolors are available in many grades, from very inexpensive to fine artists’ watercolor, and in a truly impressive range of colors.
watercolorbot paints

While the the empty Crayola palette is perfectly serviceable, it is a bit flimsy, and we are also planning to offer a couple of more durable permanent palettes as optional accessories for the WaterColorBot.

watercolorbot paints

Here is the first of those accessories: A milled plastic palette for use with tube-based watercolor paints. It’s tough and permanent with eight oval wells.

watercolorbot paints

For artists who prefer to paint from pans (dry paint), our second accessory is a palette that cradles up to eight “standard” half pans, which are one of the preferred shapes for artists’ watercolors. The word “standard” is in quotation marks because there is actually quite a range of variation in the size of half pans; this particular palette is sized for Winsor & Newton (and Cotman) watercolors. We also plan to offer other holders to fit half pans from other manufacturers.

And what about paper?

The WaterColorBot is designed to fit 9×12” paper, which is one of the most common sizes for watercolor paper. Heavier and finer grades of paper (140 Lb, 300 Lb) can be used without issue, and standard methods for affixing paper to the board– such as tape and tacks –will work just fine. Larger sheets of paper can be cut down to fit, and smaller paper– including A4 and US letter –can be used, although you may need to pay attention to the margins.

Marking Klein Bottles with the Eggbot

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We were lucky enough to have a visit from Cliff Stoll, geek celebrity and proprietor of Acme Klein Bottle. Acme is the finest source of Klein bottles on the internet.

Cliff came with an esoteric dilemma: how to engrave a glass Klein bottle. Acme Klein bottles are blown from borosilicate (Pyrex) glass, which has a low coefficient of thermal expansion, which means that the usual way of engraving a curved glass surface—laser engraving—doesn’t actually work.  With more common types of glass, you can use a laser engraver to etch anything you want into the surface. But with Pyrex, the surface simply melts unevenly rather than creating the microfractures that give an etched appearance.

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So how would you etch the curved surface of a Klein bottle? It turns out, to our surprise, that it is remarkably easy to do it with an Ostrich Eggbot fitted with a diamond engraver attachment.

There was one complication, which is that a Klein bottle is a funny shaped object! In order to fixture the Klein bottle in the Eggbot, we made a couple of extra large couplers—much larger than the tiny pads normally used to hold the ends of an egg—with EVA foam rubber pads on their surfaces. The extra large couplers held the Klein bottle securely for rotation.

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We did some initial tests with Sharpie and a medium sized Klein bottle to make sure our fixturing worked well.

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And then we hooked up an engraver for a real test.

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Here’s what the Klein bottle looked like after engraving. Not being particularly creative, we etched the word “KLEIN” into the side.  Because the Klein bottle is made from thick borosilicate glass, it takes engraving remarkably well. It is a much more sturdy object than the fragile Christmas ornaments that we have engraved in the past.

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While we can’t imagine that it is a major market segment, the Eggbot seems to be ideal for working with Klein bottles (insomuch as anything can be perfect for working with a closed, non-orientable, boundary-free manifold). But regardless, it’s quite wonderful to find an unexpected application like this, where our little robot can solve a real-world problem that we had never even considered.