Tinkering School

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Lava World (2019)

Lava World - Day 5 - Week 4 (SF Day Camp)

Lava World (2019), San Francisco Day CampRuby Harrison-ClayComment
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So much happened today, it is hard to know where to begin!

We began the day knowing that there were a lot of tasks to do, and limited time because today was the last day of camp. It took a lot of patience and self-control to continue moving through the workshop slowly, carefully, and safely, keeping in mind our dedication to the tinkering process and not the outcome or the finished product.

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That being said, it was marvelous to watch each project enter it’s final stages. Some (the drawbridge, elevator, and volcano), moved from disconnected pieces and half-finished projects to completed work in what felt like the blink of an eye! Others spent time focusing on detail work and offering themselves to other groups needing help.

Every tinkerer put their all into the work today, immersing ourselves in analysis, iteration, and creation.

By the end of the day, it was time for our volcanic eruption! With families and friends present, many of us clamored onto the various forts and bridges, safely off the ground in anticipation of the waves of lava that would soon cover the floor. Our catchment team was stationed on their vehicle, armed with claws, to traverse the area trapping and catching soaring lava balloons.

After a countdown from 10, the volcano rumbled, smoke (from a stealthily hidden fog machine) pouring out of it’s crater top. Suddenly, dozens of balloons shot up and out into the Palace of Fine Arts! Luckily we were safe, and the catchment team expertly caught and processed (a.k.a. popped) much of the lava.

Above:  The volcanic explosion!  Below:  View from inside the volcano and during the launch!

Above: The volcanic explosion! Below: View from inside the volcano and during the launch!

The remainder of the afternoon was spent playing on the bridges and forts, testing the drawbridge and elevator mechanisms, wheeling around the space in our various small handmade vehicles.

Full-fledge catchment vehicle at work!

Full-fledge catchment vehicle at work!

Until, the grand finale… deconstruction of all of our projects :) Surprisingly, this always takes a fraction of the time that the build takes. Within an hour, every project was completely taken apart and all of the materials back in their places, ready for next week’s tinkerers to build something out of new ideas.

Check out all of our amazing photos from today on our Flickr!

Lava World - Day 4 - Week 4 (SF Day Camp)

Lava World (2019), San Francisco Day CampRuby Harrison-ClayComment
A moment of joy while making a trapdoor for a fort

A moment of joy while making a trapdoor for a fort

Thursday was a day full of inspiring developments and iteration points, as each project truly took form.

Everyone has been so excited to build that we’ve broken a record number of drill bits this week! Consequently, we are low on drill bits and took a moment this morning to brainstorm better drilling technique, analyzing mistakes made in the past in order to learn from them. Many tinkerers picked up a technique called “toenailing” to drill a screw in diagonally – there is a precision to the method, though, and if rushed and done incorrectly it often leads to breaking drill bits. We collectively agreed to slow down within the excitement our last full build day. Furthermore, we analyzed the drill as a new form of fulcrum, similar to the see-saw and door hinge we looked at in the past two days.

View of the workshop from the office! Projects are looking very epic.

View of the workshop from the office! Projects are looking very epic.

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This morning, the volcano team was finally able to lift the inner tunnel structure into the volcano frame to take measurements for diagonal beams that will ultimately inform the shape of the volcano. By the end of the day, we started sheeting the exterior of the volcano with plastic.

Even more invigorating were the moments of envisioning, creating, and testing the slingshot mechanism we developed for our balloon lava launcher. After days of playing and tinkering with different concepts and methods, it was very satisfying to settle on one. Furthermore, we led a successful test of the mechanism we built.

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Though the morning began with most of the volcano group disheartened at the week’s progress (many tinkerers felt we would not complete the project in time), we made many steps forward. More importantly, we banded together as a group and remained committed to the work ahead of us, collaborating and experimenting while having a lot of fun.

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Playing in the midst of building :)

Playing in the midst of building :)

The catchment team was able to finesse the vehicle we have been working on this week, adding wheels to the structure and moving into testing phases with our steering system. Inventing a steering system on a wheeled vehicle is a difficult task, though seemingly routine as many of us engage with these in our daily commutes.

With the vehicle on wheels and moving, it became necessary to design a seat on the cart. The obvious choice for a comfy driver’s seat was foam! Additionally, although the catchment team did design numerous ways of catching the balloon lava, the need arose for a holding/processing chamber for said balloons. Work on this began this afternoon.

Testing the bucket-pulley system for sending secret messages across forts.

Testing the bucket-pulley system for sending secret messages across forts.

Taking important measurements

Taking important measurements

Our incredible forts and bridges team has been making very impressive structures. We rearranged things so the 8x8 floor-based fort connects via drawbridge to a standing 4x4 treehouse-esque fort, off which a 16ft. standing bridge juts out. These will surround the erupting volcano tomorrow during the showcase.

This team has done an excellent job of ensuring their structures are safe to be climbed on, and they have been aware of weight limits on the structures and clearly communicating this to those engaging with it.

While today was marked by the building of numerous ladders suddenly necessary as everything with the forts and bridges comes together off the floor, one sub-group had a spur-of-the-moment idea to construct an elevator from the ground to the top of the bridge. By the end of today, we had the frame built and minds whizzing with ideas for pulley mechanisms to enable this.

Learning a new knot for the volcano’s slingshot

Learning a new knot for the volcano’s slingshot

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It has been incredible inspiring to witness the creativity, dedication, flexibility, and inquisitiveness demonstrated by this week’s group of tinkerers. Everyone is stoked for tomorrow’s showcase, regardless of whether or not we finish our projects in the way we initially planned.

View the rest of today’s photos on our Flickr!

Walking to the beach!

Walking to the beach!

Lava World - Day 3 - Week 4 (SF Day Camp)

Lava World (2019), San Francisco Day CampRuby Harrison-ClayComment

Wednesday was another full day of tinkering, thinking, experimenting, and testing.

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Today we began the day again with an engineering problem posed by Molly – we had a trapdoor set up on the floor, with no handle. Building upon yesterday’s fulcrum exploration with a practical application, the challenge was to place the handle in the spot which would make it easiest to lift open the door.

Those of us working on the giant volcano spent the morning brainstorming and prototyping a launching mechanism for the balloon lava. We settled on a human-powered bicycle crank mechanism that will spin a paddle to flip the balloons into the air. In order to understand the concept better, we created a cardboard version first. This prepared us to create the right pieces out of wood, to ensure the mechanism will work. Meanwhile, the rest of the team continued creating the external structure of the volcano, as well as the tunnel within that will funnel the balloons when they are launched.

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The forts and bridges team got most of their project off the ground today! Literally. Smaller sub-groups working on two of the different forts and bridges completed the stilts that hold up their structures, and the structures were able to be flipped into their correct positioning. From there, it was testing the structural integrity of their designs, putting actual human weight on the platforms and adjusting weaker spots.

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Tinkerers working on the catchment system put their minds to work on a steering system for their wheeled vehicle. The vehicle is almost finished being built, and a lot of structural progress was made today. Lastly, the claw arm for the front of the vehicle was completed. It is a complicated piece of machinery, operated with a string pulling on the springs holding two pieces together. Once the string is released, the claw snaps shut again. Tomorrow will involve attaching the claw to the vehicle.

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The weather today was so wonderful that we were able to spend our lunch time at the beach. Some tinkerers brought a shovel, and combined with our buckets we were able to dig some extremely deep holes and build extravagant sandcastles!

At the end of the day, we revisited our door hinge challenge. Based on what we learned yesterday, we decided that the best spot for a door handle is furthest from the hinge. Many tinkerers compared our trapdoor to a regular bedroom door, noting that the handle is often on the rightmost side. Compared to doors with handles in the center of the door, these are much easier to open! We contemplated potential reasons for having a center door handle (decoration? confusion?) before parting ways for the day.

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Tomorrow is our last full build day! Check out today’s photos on our Flickr.



Lava World - Day 2 - Week 4 (SF Day Camp)

Lava World (2019), San Francisco Day CampRuby Harrison-ClayComment

What did Tuesday have in store for this week’s inquisitive tinkering minds?

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We began the day with a puzzle or brainteaser of sorts – Molly introduced to us the concept of a fulcrum. She demonstrated a simple see-saw mechanism by finding the central balance point of lever on a fulcrum, and then posed our challenge. Where could we place a fulcrum and level in order to lift a bus? Everyone had the day to mull it over, to do experiments with the lever and fulcrum she had set up in our engineering gallery, and come up with the answer which would be shared at closing circle.

Taking the lead on the catchment system design session

Taking the lead on the catchment system design session

With the wheels of our minds spinning already, we headed to our daily morning design and build sessions, eager to get to work on our projects.

Much headway was made in the enormity of the forts and bridges team – they have set out to build four forts of differing size and roof structure, and 16ft. bridges in between each. One bridge will be a drawbridge, and there will be a pulley system between them all to send a bucket of messages and special objects back and forth. The challenge that this group faces is ensuring the structural strength and integrity of their work. In order to protect us all from the impending lava explosion of the volcano, each fort and bridge needs to be at least 4ft. off the ground. Their designs need to hold human weight against the forces of gravity!

Bridge-building

Bridge-building

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The volcano team spent the day building the overall frame of the volcano, while brainstorming and experimenting with different methods of physically launching the balloon lava. We thought through different methods including a rubber-band propeller, a platform or net that can launch via springs or bungee cords, and even attempting a prototype of a colonial whirligig toy. In each of these ideas, we are stumped by achieving and maintaining enough energy to successfully launch 100 balloons. More than anything, we are curious to continue tinkering with these ideas to achieve our goal.

Building the inner tunnel of the volcano, which will funnel 100 balloons on Friday!

Building the inner tunnel of the volcano, which will funnel 100 balloons on Friday!

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Across the workshop, the catchment team spent the day tinkering with various engineering problems around attaching wheels and a steering system for their moving vehicle, and building a spring-based claw. We are lucky to be able to draw inspiration and to learn from some of the mechanical examples in the shop’s gallery.

After a long, hard day of tinkering, we gathered again as a group for closing circle, to discuss exciting developments in our projects, mistakes we had made and learned from, and methods of collaboration discovered today.

Lastly, we learned the answer to the question Molly posed this morning! The best spot to place a fulcrum to lift a bus would be as close to the bus as possible – with this method, you gain more mechanical advantage and leverage, so it is easier to lift the bus. Though we didn’t have a bus to test this with, we were able to test with our own bodies on the fulcrum and lever that Molly built this morning.

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We are all ready for dinner and a good nights sleep, so we can arrive tomorrow prepared to take on the next challenges that Tinkering School offers!

View the rest of today’s photos on our Flickr page.

Lava World - Day 1 - Week 4 (SF Day Camp)

Lava World (2019), San Francisco Day CampRuby Harrison-ClayComment
In one drill practice session, each group created a letter of Kai’s name!

In one drill practice session, each group created a letter of Kai’s name!

Experimenting with clamps

Experimenting with clamps

Monday marks the beginning of another thrilling week of tinkering at SF day camp!

This morning was jam packed with brainstorming our group agreements to ensure physical and emotional safety within the workshop, diving into our four core tinkering goals, and learning the ins and outs of the tools we will utilize to build this week. We then took a long play/lunch break, which we spent at the beach building sandcastles, picnicking, reading, playing soccer, and sharing riddles.

Learning to use the chop saw

Learning to use the chop saw

Upon arriving back at the Palace, we went on a storytelling journey to discover the week’s project theme. It turns out the floor of the Palace is in fact temporarily cooled lava, and that there is a dormant volcano within the building that is estimated to erupt this coming Friday at exactly 2:25pm! It is up to some of our stellar tinkerers to build a series of forts and bridges for all of us to scramble onto in avoidance of the coming waves of lava. Additionally, we will construct a system to catch and process said lava. This week’s theme is... lava world.

One group began designing a 10 foot tall volcano, envisioning an octagonal base holding a vertical tunnel shaft within which will harness a large fan to launch 100 red balloons into the air on Friday.

One tinkerer took the lead on the forts and bridges design session

One tinkerer took the lead on the forts and bridges design session

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Many tinkerers were understandably excited by the prospect of building a series of forts and bridges – for a lot of us, this is a dream come true. We came up with a design to incorporate four different fort ideas, connected by a pattern of bridges in between. Everything has to be at least four feet off the lava floor.

The catchment system team delved into a lawnmower/car design, using wheels to move a platform around which will catch the balloon lava as it all lands. The method of processing (or popping) will be revealed as the project develops.

After spending a good chunk of time on design, we were able to make some first cuts and begin construction on our projects. We are all looking forward to starting tomorrow’s morning build session, to launch our explosive ideas!

For more photos from today, browse our Flickr album!

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