Maker Faires and the BIYSL

The Annotated Build It Yourself Science Laboratory

This month I’ll be traveling to Maker Faires in Portland, Oregon, and New York City to sign and talk about my book, The Annotated Build It Yourself Science Laboratory. That, of course, is the new, updated version of Build-It-Yourself Science Laboratory, the classic 1960’s hands-on science book by Raymond E. Barrett.

The Portland Mini Maker Faire is being held September 12-13 at OMSI, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. I’ll be speaking on the Innovation stage at 11 AM on September 12. This is a bit of a homecoming for the book: Raymond Barrett was the Education Director at OMSI when he originally wrote the book.

The World Maker Faire is September 26 and 27 at the New York Hall of Science in Queens, New York. I’ll be speaking on the DIY stage on both days.

Bonus: During O’Reilly’s Back to School sale (through September 17), you can get the E-book version of The Annotated Build It Yourself Science Laboratory for 50% off using discount code B2S5.

Linkdump: August 2015

Updated 9/2 to add language warning.

Evil Mad Engineers

Every month or two since 2009, someone has sent me a copy of a particular comic from the webcomic Cowbirds in Love.  Here is today’s example, from @benk_at_work on twitter:

@benk_at_work tweets...

evil mad engineers @ cowbirds in love



There is, of course, only one appropriate way to respond in a situation like this: with another comic.

Back in 2011, I wrote an era-appropriate semi-autobiographical rage comic, that I could use as a standard response when people sent me that comic.


Joking aside, we really do spend a lot of our time engineering— and many of our friends and colleagues are bona fide engineers. On the other hand, I love to cook, but that doesn’t make me a chef either.

Geek Tourism: Biosphere 2


Biosphere 2 is an enormous earth science laboratory, originally built as an attempt to create a closed ecosystem. The goals were to study long term viability of an isolated human habitat, such as might be needed for long term space travel or colonization.


The results of the initial experiments were a (fascinating) mixed bag. The goal of a strictly closed ecosystem was not met for a variety of reasons. However, some of the results have improved our understanding of the effects of climate change, such as how increased CO2 levels lead to acidification of the ocean habitat and coral bleaching.


The facility is now being used both for education and for research. The enormous agricultural greenhouses have been transformed by the University of Arizona into the Landscape Evolutionary Observatory, a large-scale carefully-controlled long-term study of soil processes. It serves as an experimental bridge between computer models, small-scale laboratory experiments, and the real world.


Some of the original biomes are relatively unchanged and have been growing since the project started in 1991. It is striking to have all hint of surrounding desert obscured by the vines of the rainforest.


One of the most fascinating engineering aspects of the facility are the “lungs,” which are accessed through long narrow tunnels branching off of the main facility.


The lungs were used to compensate for the changes in pressure and temperature. The two domed buildings have flexible inner liners that can expand and contract. A weight attached to the center of the liner makes them look toroidal inside of the dome.

Biosphere 2

The facility was built outside of Tucson, and is strikingly beautiful, surrounded by wildlife including lizards, snakes, tarantulas, jack rabbits, coyotes, gila monsters, and an incredible variety of birds and insects. We’ve put a few more pictures from our visit in albums on flickr here and here. Tours are available to the public daily, and it’s worth the drive and ticket price if you’re nearby.