STEAM Build Challenge: Aquaduct

Last week we were challenged to build something from architecture.

This week, for the STEAM Build Challenge, grab what you have around the house and build something with a pirate theme! Arrg.

My roman aqueduct

The roman arch was sturdy way of building with stone but was later replaced with the catenary arch. Catenary means chain and is how the arch was designed.

Architects would suspend chains and the curve of the upside-down curve of the chain would be used as a template for how to build the right-side up version out of stone.

The catenary arch carried loads better and more evenly distributed the weight from above down into the column.

Závěsný model klenby.jpg
Credit: Antonin Ryska


Build Challenge Fridays: Second Challenge

Friday is here again and that means it is time to hand out the next challenge for this week.

This week’s challenge is to create some form of power generator (And no it does not actually have to generate power … but if it does, cool!) Please build safely and responsibly.

I’ll reveal what I’ll build next Friday with next week’s challenge.

Now onto the bit that, I find, most bloggers put before the bit of information you were coming to the page to see. It is frustrating scrolling through pages of this or the other when you just want that recipe; though, I am sure I have done this and will regrettably do it again at some point in the future —please forgive me.

Between writing and playing with the Lego parts I now have sorted into buckets on the dining room table, I recalled as a kid always building things with odd parts mashed together.

When I would proudly show it to my parents, who always encouraged our hobbies and curiosity, they would ask the always needed, “What does it do?”

Which, looking back, was a really clever way of getting around the question of “what is it?” which was always the kryptonite of a child’s unintelligible creation.

Parents, “What is it?” Six-year-old Kevin, “It’s a space barrel powered by rare crystals manufactured by a race of mice that allows them to fly faster than sunbeams! Pffffffshhhhhhh vrrrrrooommmmmmm!”

Often these mashes of blocks were “really neat and sophisticated power generators” that allowed things to fly or defy physics.

I must admit, being stuck at home and connecting with my inner child again has been so wonderful for my imagination, an invaluable resource as a writer.


Ray Howerter’s LEGO Challenge

While looking for other ideas on what I could build I found another LEGO challenge. Ray Howerter is posting an image a day on his Instagram of a small LEGO creation he has made. The challenge is to figure out how he built it.

He will post solutions on Sundays. It’s a like LEGO crossword.

A post shared by Ryan Howerter (@ryan_howerter) on Apr 3, 2020 at 8:54pm PDT

He also suggests some cool tools that can help if you don’t have a lot of LEGO bricks.

There is the LEGO Digital Designer :

MLCad is another option for Windows users:

And then there is an online version that I liked to use to catalogue my builds after building them by hand – MecaBricks:

But now I use BrickLink’s Studio designer and enjoy that it also has an instructions module so you can make instructions for your builds.

S.T.E.A.M. Build Challenge

First things first, the S.T.E.A.M. Build Challenge and then an update.

One way to keep busy while stuck indoors is a fun challenge. For the first time in a long time, I pulled out my LEGO bricks and had at it building something from my imagination.

After several tear-aparts and rebuilds the result was a steam locomotive. The images are below.

Your challenge? To build any form of transportation that you want using things from around the house. LEGO, toilet paper roles, shoe boxes, K’Nex! Anything is game.

Share your creations on our Facebook page or suggest ideas for the next build challenge that we’ll announce next Friday.

I must admit that I am used to working from home and the first week of social distancing and isolating wasn’t that abnormal. The only difference was that my girlfriend was at home with me creating digital lessons for her students.

Week two was spring break and we got to rebuilding the walls in our basement after some needed foundation work. As that week drew to a close, I began to feel a little stir crazy.

One down three to go. I was also on sweeping duty.

The stress of a weird world isolating itself was finally getting to me. My girlfriend had recently dressed up one of our camping cots with blankets and pillows so we could make use of our loft space. A place in the house that has seen little attention since we moved it. Other renos and projects took priority.

With a lovely place to lounge all set up, I went up and realized that it was in the loft that I had tucked my LEGO away. What better time to revisit your youth and play than when you’re feeling out of place?

I rebuilt the old harbour set my grandmother (Baka as we called her) had gotten me, only to find that I was missing several pieces. Thankfully, I was able to borrow from other sets and get most of it back up. I’ll have to scour my parent’s LEGO bin and hope my niece and nephew haven’t made off with the pats 🙂 (But that is a project for when things get back to normal.)

After having put the harbour back together, I had a bunch off pieces left over. As I kid, I was never that great at making my own creations from LEGO. Then ended up being more imagination rather than looking like something that resembled anything.

But with a needed distraction, I let myself wander down a path of creativity. The steam locomotive came in fits and spurts. It also required tear downs and rebuilds as I found better pieces to do one job, freeing up needed ones to go elsewhere.

After a few of days the final project came to completion, and I figured why not share it with friends and challenge them to make something as well.


Getting Back to Film and Away From Digital

I picked up a Zeiss Contessa a year ago and started shooting film again. I did it because I was always taking pictures with my digital camera and just storing the images on the computer and not really looking at them again. I thought that if I was shooting film, I would have to get the pictures developed and would then have pictures to put on the wall or in albums.

I got my first rolls of film developed and have learned that it is rather expensive now to get prints made. I’ve since gotten the supplies to develop my own film and while talking about how excited I was to try it out, they asked if I wanted to use their old cameras.

I figured why not, it couldn’t hurt to play around with some other cameras. My dad had an SLR (Single-Lens Reflex) and a TLR (Twin-Lens Reflex). I wanted to get away from SLRs and so took my dad’s Supper Ricohflex. My mum had her dad’s Voigtländer Brilliant which looked in rougher shape, but I took it as well.

The lens on the Voigtländer needed a good clean and the picture counter wasn’t counting. I was able to get the lenses off the front and clean them with some cleaner and lens paper. Getting to the back lenses was a little trickier. I had to borrow a pair of surgical clamps so I could loosen the ring holding the lenses on. In a stroke of luck, it was also the ring holding the whole front mechanism to the body. I was able to give everything a once-over, it looked like the timing mechanism on the shutter was working fine.

The viewfinder lens was held in with a couple of screws and although the spring flaps don’t come off, I was able to clean the mirror and the inside of the lens.

For the picture counter, I was able to take out the false wall on the inside. It was pop-riveted on, regrettably, I thought it was friction fit on and ended up pulling the rivet through the camera body.

I wasn’t sure if I could save the counter at that point but managed to drill out the rivet and saw that an M3 screw would fit nicely in the old rivet hole and I could use a washer to go over the now larger rivet hole on the body.

The spring on the counter needed an extra wind in its coil and the numbers needed a little glue to reattach to the front of the gear. I’m just waiting on a screw of the right length and hopefully, it will be taking pictures as good as new.

Bumble Charges Up to Assist Astronauts on ISS

Just a quick update about the Astrobees. The first of them, Bumble, is charging up and has under gone its first hardware check. Honey, who launched with Bumble on the Northrop Grumman’s commercial resupply mission on April 17th, hopefully will be up and running soon as well.

Astronaut Anne McClain performs the first series of tests on Bumble.
Credit: NASA

Bumble at its charging station.
Credit: NASA

B.O.B. Lives! – Well not quite but getting there

I have been living under a rock. Somehow I missed the launch of what could be the closest thing to a long-standing image of what robotics should look like from my childhood.

At some point in my childhood, I sat down with my dad to watch the 1979 classic The Black Hole. Truthfully, most of the film is lost to time in my mind (meaning I really should sit down and re-watch it) but two floating robots forever caught my imagination: V.I.N.CENT and B.O.B.

They were what all space robots should look like. Small, compact, cute and most importantly they float. Turns out not only does NASA have floating robots on the International Space Station (ISS) called SPHERES that have been on the station since 2006, but NASA has just recently sent up the second generation of these robots named Astrobee. These second-generation bots will conduct research, be an extra set of eyes for ground control and assist with certain tasks.

Image courtesy NASA

SPHERES got their start thanks to professor David W. Miller of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Space Systems Laboratory gave his students a challenge. He wanted them to build a space robot that was like the lightsaber training droid in Star Wars: A New Hope. The result was three satellites that tested formation flight and docking control algorithms. SPHERES also started the Zero Robotics competition that allowed students to have their code tested in space!

Astrobee robot family
Image courtesy NASA

NASA Astrobee space robot
Image courtesy NASA

The Astrobees will continue this tradition alongside assisting with tasking on the ISS, testing robotic components, trying out navigation algorithms, and just being plain awesome if you ask me. The three Astrobees (Honey, Bumble and Queen) all use fans to move them through zero gravity. With little to no weight restrictions on their lifting capabilities, because they don’t have to overcome the effects of gravity, these little robots pack quite the punch. I am very excited to see how they will change life on the ISS and am now thinking I need to get into robotics so I can maybe get my code tested on these inspiring robots.

Curious to learn more about them? Check out the NASA webpage or the code on GIThub.


Gears on the Brain

A couple of years ago I wrote about how failure is a learning opportunity. It is something I try to embrace as I learn new things and when I also fail to get things on the first go. Much like when I tried to fix the automatic mechanical pocket watch my partner got for me.

After it broke, she told me it was not all that expensive, which gave me the guilt-free pleasure of not only opening it up and poking around but also scratching a bucket list item off my list: learning about mechanical watches.

When the tools I had ordered arrived, I tore into the watch with delicate patience and glee. It was a marvel to take out the screws one by one, crown gear, balance wheel etc. I did my best to name and identify the parts, keeping them together as I had learned from various online videos.

The one thing I did not do was take pictures as I took the watch apart then cleaned the pieces. When it came time to put the whole thing back together I was left with a puzzle. It took me three days, but I was eventually able to piece it all back together between a combination of memory, logic and trial and error.

I was so excited to almost finish the project that I swapped in a right-hand screw for the left-hand screw that holds the crown gear. Then I lost the left-hand gear trying to put it in a right-hand threaded spot. I had sprung gears across the room several times during my tear down and put together, however this time I was not able to find it.

I eventually broke the right-hand screw out of the crown hear and decided to order a set of assorted screws for pocket watches. These came in a few months ago. I had been avoiding it in part because work was keeping me busy, but also I was still a little afraid of not being able to fix it.

With resigning from my work, I had some time between job hunting and writing to go get the screws and give it a go.  A couple of hours of tinkering and trying the various screws ended in me not getting any further ahead – none of them fit.

I am sad that I could not get the watch working again but am, as always, gleeful at the fun and learning I had during the process. Although I am not likely to get the watch fixed (a blog on repairing watches did warn me I was likely to break the first one I tried to fix) it has gotten my brain wondering about gears and gear ratios. I’m thinking I need to explore them further.

Stay tuned.