Friday, March 29, 2013

Makerspaces / Hackerspaces in the Tampa Bay Area

This past weekend was the second Tampa Bay Mini Maker Faire. There were some great conversations there about finally getting a makerspace or hackerspace in the Tampa Bay area. We had a lot of these same talks last year, but this year I think we might finally have the critical mass of people to get things started.

There are two efforts to start one that I'm aware of. The first is the LI4E Makerspace. They are focused on starting one or more makerspaces at Pasco County libraries. They have also recently signed an agreement to take over a South Tampa house and re-fit it for public creative use.

The second is Makerspace Tampa Bay. That group had stalled out in recent months, but has now been renewed with new leadership and is making a good push to build a solid core group and get a facility open. They have a website, but if you are on Facebook, there is a lot more active discussion on their Facebook group, Makerspace Tampa Bay.
[Update May 2013: I have joined the board of directors for this group and will hopefully have some good updates throughout the rest of the year.]

There are three four alternatives in the Tampa area that approach what a makerspace is:
    The biggest and closest to a makerspace is the MOSI IdeaZone. It's a fantastic space on the ground floor of MOSI and has a growing collection of equipment, including 3D printers and a laser cutter. They offer classes for both students and adults. 
    The USF X-Labs has built a number of cool science demonstrations, including this massive Tesla coil. I don't know much about their physical space, but it's worth checking out if you're a USF student (and maybe even if you aren't). 
    The Tampa Amateur Radio Club is a bit of a stretch to call a makerspace, but they do have a nice facility with a great ham radio shack. More importantly, 2-3 times a year they run TARCFest, a tailgate / flea market with a lot of radio and electronics equipment.
    The Roosevelt 2.0 is a "creative urban renewal project" in Ybor City. It's an interesting mix of a cafe, meeting space, market, art studio, garden, and more. 
A little further outside of Tampa, there are two good maker spaces:
    The FamiLab in Orlando has great family-friendly programs and has even hosted Eben Upton of Raspberry Pi fame. 
    The Fab Lab at GWiz in Sarasota has fantastic gear, including a big CNC machine and a mill. Unfortunately, I believe they are still closed as GWiz continues to struggle financially and remains closed after many months "for renovations".
Finally, if you missed it, check out the White House Hangout: The Maker Movement, a Google+ Hangout with a number of prominent makers and makerspace founders / users.

Chromebooks for Education

I've been looking a bit more at Chromebooks for Education. Thinkamingo has been doing quite well building up a portfolio of educational mobile apps, but the rise of Chromebooks in schools is something that we can't ignore. So we'll continue to think what role we could take in an entirely web-based environment rather than a on-device tablet environment like iPads.

Chromebooks certainly make sense for a school, especially given the difficulty of managing iPads (or other devices) as a group. I really like the idea of schools being able to quickly swap out broken devices or even loan devices to students without needing to install or replicate anything.

One great point is that adopting an online-only environment, with or without Chromebooks, is really the best way to enable bring your own device (BYOD) because it opens up the environment to a wide range of devices. Right now, it's virtually impossible for an app-based curriculum to allow students to bring a mix of iPads, Kindle Fires, etc. because so many apps are only available on one platform. But as long as each device has a decent browser, all can use well-designed websites.

A couple Chromebook resources I've been looking at:

I'll keep adding to this post if we go anywhere with Chromebooks. I played with booting ChromeOS in a VMWare instance but have had some problems. I'm really tempted to get one of the Samsung Chromebooks as a test device, but I think my desk and laptop bag are finally at their limit of devices.

Update: This isn't really for educators, but this is a good post on developing on the Chromebook.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

DD-WRT Wireless Connections Failing

This morning my Asus RT-N16 router with DD-WRT stopped accepting wifi clients. Nothing could connect to the access point. I could see that it was still broadcasting, but it was acting as if the WPA password had changed. I powered off the router twice, waiting a few minutes, etc. Nothing. I connect a laptop via ethernet and looked over all the settings but everything looked fine. I was ready to reload the router completely when I found this old thread and tried the advice. It worked. I didn't add it to my startup script though. Hopefully it keeps working without me needing to do that again.

I case anyone else runs into this, the fix was: I ssh'ed into the router and ran:
    ifconfig eth1 down
    ifconfig eth1 up 
I'm still not quite sure what interface eth1 is since br0 looks like the LAN side and VLAN2 looks like the WAN side, but it did work.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Brick Buddies - State Champions!

This weekend 5018 Brick Buddies, my daughter's FIRST Tech Challenge robotics team that I help coach and mentor, won the Florida state championship!

Brick Buddies went into the state championship ranked as the #6 team in the state (out of 72) and finished qualifying matches with a 5-1 record and in third place behind two undefeated teams from nearby Middleton High School in Tampa: 3846 Maelstrom and 4997 Masquerade. Masquerade is last season's world champion and also won this season's Kentucky state championship last weekend.

After a lot of discussion and examination of possible alliance partner picks, the team decided to accept an alliance invitation from 3846 Maelstrom rather than remain the captain of the #3 alliance. That was a little controversial because that almost certainly meant giving up any chance of going to the world championship, but after a long season of competing against both Masquerade and Maelstrom with zero success, the chances of beating both of them twice with any of the available alliance partners looked very low. Either of them would be perfectly capable of winning this season's world championship and it's a real shame that both won't get that chance.

With a solid #1 seed alliance of 3846 Maelstrom, 5018 Brick Buddies, and 3839 NeXT, they moved on  to the elimination rounds. They won their first semifinal matches to advance to the finals. After losing the first match, they came back and won two matches in a row to take home the championship.

The drive team (which is the entire team of three kids) did very well, winning 5 of the 6 qualifying matches and all three elimination matches they competed in. They made the most of line bonuses whenever possible and mixed offense and defense very well. They also made great use of taking away ownership of pegs to eliminate line bonuses by opposing alliances.

The hard work on autonomous mode programming, especially by Sumukh, resulted in them scoring the 50-point bonus ring in 4 of 6 qualifying matches and in the crucial final elimination match. That was far better than any other team did in autonomous mode, where the robot drives itself based on timing and sensor inputs. One of my favorite moments was when an opposing robot hit them and knocked them off course. The robot still found it's way back to the floor markings and followed them to end up in an almost perfect position to score the ring.

They did great in judging as well, winning the PTC Design Award and being finalists for the Rockwell Collins Innovate and Connect awards. They were the second runner-up for the top judged award, the Inspire Award.

My goals for the team all season were to make it to the state championship, get to play in the elimination rounds, and get mentioned as a finalist for the Inspire Award. They achieved all three, blowing away the first two.

All of this even more amazing considering that they are the smallest team in the state. Most teams are made up of about 10 high school students, often from engineering magnet schools. Ours was one high school sophomore and two eighth graders and runs out of the coach's driveway / living room. The kids aren't as short as they were last season, but they still get "that's the whole team?" comments.

It was great to see all the hard work by the kids, coaches, and parents pay off.  If anyone is interested in mentoring or joining FIRST robotics at any level, feel free to contact me or Shelley Kappeler, the head coach for Brick Buddies.