Tinkering School

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Day Two - Rolugester

2012 Session 4 - MiddlersgeverComment

Monday Night, Day 2, August 13th "Rolugester" (pronounced row⋄luge⋄ster) is not a word that rolls easily off the tongue, nor is it a word that you might use on a daily basis - unless you happen to be with us here at Session 4. You see, we aim to build a hybrid roller coaster that can start on precision rails and smoothly (and with some velocity) transition to a plywood luge track which the passenger must steer through. Roller Coaster + Luge = Rolugester.

The day started with a quick walk down to the creek to check in on an experiment that was set up at the creek. After observing that the crawdads would eat the salami off of a grape without touching the grape itself, we wondered if they didn't like grape or if they just liked salami so much that they wouldn't a grape if salami was present. To test this latter hypothesis, it was decided that we would leave four grapes, three intact and one smushed, in the creek and give the crawdads twelve hours without salami to distract them from the delicious fruit. At breakfast, the tinkerers made guesses about what would be found at the creek; all grapes eaten, some grapes eaten, or no grapes eaten. The opinions were pretty well balanced between the three choices.

IMG 2639IMG 2642

At the creek, the grapes were discovered in exactly the same positions they were left in. While we knew this was a possible outcome, everyone was a little disappointed.

IMG 2645 What was interesting was the stomach and large intestine of a small mammal that was discovered on the trail. Our collective opinion is that a predator bird pulled these unappetizing organs out of a freshly caught squirrel or gopher and dropped them before finishing the meal.

DSC 9723 Back at the barn, Gever and the collaborators started teaching basic tool use as the tinkerers took on the task of recovering necessary materials from the leftover projects of previous tinkering sessions.

DSC 9731 Continuing last night's discussion of basic structural engineering, Gever describes some best-practices when using screws to join lumber.

DSC 9738 As is his habit, he enlists a tinkerer to help him demonstrate the strength of a well screwed-together pair of boards. Liora is all too happy to stand on the boards - using him as a brace - and show that three screws are enough to hold her up.

DSC 9744 Trent is similarly happy when he correctly identifies the weakest direction of stress for the assembled boards and then gets to test the joint to the breaking point.

DSC 9746 When the tinkerers have a closer look and discuss the forensic evidence, they correctly identify three different kinds of failure in the joint. As near as we can tell, it happened in this order: 1 - the head of one screw pulled through the wood, 2 - the threads of the next screw pulled through the wood, 3 - the shaft of the last screw bent as it failed under Trent's weight.

DSC 9754 From there, we moved to tips, techniques, and considerations for the use of the chop-saw. Gever promotes the use of this tool because it requires two hands to use properly and that keeps hands away from the danger zone.

DSC 9757 Carter can barely contain his enthusiasm for the saw training.

DSC 9760 But he does manage to contain his hyper-activity and performs a flawless cut on the saw. Then everyone else does too - this really is a great tool for this age group.

DSC 9771 Frannie sights her mark down the blade to maximize her precision.

DSC 9781 Liora shows no hesitation, and slices off a chunk of wood with smooth and careful ease.

DSC 9783 As does Trent.

DSC 9789 And Elizabeth.

DSC 9792 And Rowen.

DSC 9794 And Ben.

DSC 9797 And Christie.

DSC 9815 And Rekha.

DSC 9845 Cathy, the Environmental Scientist on the ranch, stops by to take the tinkerers on an animal tour. They meet the sheep, goats, horses, cows, rabbits, baby goats, and last, but not least, the chickens.

DSC 9847 Even Trent, forgetting that he had earlier claimed that he "hates animals," found a chicken he couldn't resist.

DSC 9851 And then wouldn't give up when it was time to head up for lunch.

DSC 9868 As the sun moves westward, the barn turns into a cathedral of busy tinkerers.

DSC 9877 The process of recovering materials, Rowen finds, is a pleasant way to pass the time between major tasks.

IMG 2653 Your daily goat.

IMG 2659 A formal agreement on the critical dimensions of our rails and cart. Since one team is building the rails and the other is building the cart, it's important that we agree on how far apart the rails are. Also, for the record, this is how your spell "rolugester."

IMG 2661 There is a fair buzz of excitement around the laying out of the measurements for the cart panels because it means that we get to use a new power tool - the jigsaw!

IMG 2666 Kevin takes to the jigsaw like she did the chop saw - with grace and precision.

IMG 2679 Liora is also mastering the new tool.

IMG 2682 Ben is extra careful with his alignment...

IMG 2684 ...a habit that pays off in the precision of his cuts.

IMG 2687 With only one slight waver in her line - quickly corrected, Christie makes short work of her cuts as well.

IMG 2696 Working with Josh, the rail team gets their second eight-foot rail section put together. Current analysis shows that their rails are more precise than the actual railroad we used in the previous session - less than 1/8 of an inch variation in width over the length of each section.

IMG 2698 The cart team takes turns sitting in the proposed size of the cart to see if it is too big or small. Elizabeth thinks that it is just right. This is a nice example of a habit we encourage at Tinkering School; the frequent visualization and simulation of the next couple of steps in the project. As a practice, it helps the tinkerers foresee possible issues and confirm the fit or configuration of the parts.

IMG 2704 Ben is serious about this cart - he wants it to go fast on the rails and handle like a sports car in the luge section. Also, he declares the size of the cart to be "better than a Prius."

IMG 2710 Frannie is always ready to use the jigsaw, even when her hands are cramping from a previous long cut.

IMG 2727 With all the parts of the cart ready to assemble, we decide to take a quick chicken break. Elizabeth declares the feathers of this hen to be beautiful, but the eyes are a "dull yellow."

IMG 2741 Liora wants to see a picture of a chicken in flight. Voila!

DSC 9904 Evidence of effort; precisely cut Jenga bricks.

DSC 9906 Building track takes patience and precision, Rekha brought both with her to camp.

IMG 2743 The cart is coming together rapidly, as Elizabeth and her teammates take turns pre-drilling and screwing the pieces together.

DSC 9916 With the wheel-units (recovered and repaired by Kevin and Lili) attached, Kevin takes a ride on the proto-cart. The track team has delivered a section of rail for us to use in tuning and testing the cart.

DSC 9934 Gever consults with the track team as they get the first section of the track mounted on posts. With an eight foot elevation at the start, and near zero rolling friction, this looks to be an exciting ride we are building.

DSC 9936 Ben and Josh collaborate on an alien visitation photo.

IMG 2758 Before dinner, the girls head out with Lili on a little walk that turns into a three-mile hike up to the top of the ridge behind the ranch.

IMG 2760 A moment to pose for a group photo devolves, as it should...

IMG 2761 ...into a tickle.

DSC 9938 At the end of the day, Josh climbs up on the new track to see how stable and strong it is.

IMG 2765 Meanwhile, up on the ridge, the hikers find an abandoned storage tank.

We had pasta and salad for dinner tonight, and then most of the tinkerers headed back up to the barn for free-build. Free-build is a special tradition at Tinkering School where the tinkerers are given the opportunity to set aside the project to explore and be provoked by the potential of the available materials tools. In some cases, they may just spend an hour drilling holes in a board for the sake of it (perhaps not realizing that they are honing their skill with the drill and building a better intuitive understand of what is communicated by the wood through the tool to their hands and eyes), or spontaneously collaborating on the creation of a new swing.

Tinkering School is a place where play is workful and work is playful, a place where we might discover that it is fun to work hard on something - and that, I submit, is the foundation of tenacity and persistence.

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