Tinkering School

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2012 Session 4 - Middlers

Day Six - Beyond Rickety Mountain

2012 Session 4 - Middlersgever1 Comment

Friday Night, August 17, 2012 Up in the barn, there is a roller coaster - an unfinished roller coaster - and it calls to us. Like an itch you cannot scratch, the cookie you cannot have, or the water balloon you are not allowed to throw at your sibling.

It is also the morning in the week when tinkerers suddenly realize that this, right now, is their last day of building. But one can only stand so much premature nostalgizing, we abruptly depart the Ranch House and head to the barn.

IMG 3992IMG 3997 We missed the track so much, that our first collective impulse is to climb and sit and hang on it.

IMG 4011 Frannie (and Josh and Carter) start by whipping up an aircraft carrier style cable catch on the top of the cart (putting aside the problem of the passenger possibly being cut in half).

IMG 4023 Rowen takes his job as cart wrangler very seriously - which is good because if this heavy thing gets loose and hits a tinkerer, we're all a little afraid of what damage will be done.

IMG 4029 By long-standing Tinkering School tradition, we make the smallest person be the test-pilot on any new project. Ben is filled with a mixture of anticipation and dread as he sits on the track at the test height (which we have named Petticoat Junction - further up the track you will find Bunny Slope, Rickety Mountain, and at the top, Suicide Slope).

IMG 4039 While final safety checks are performed, Trent relaxes on the tracks above Petticoat Junction.

IMG 4044 Elizabeth and Christie decide to build a slingshot. Little side projects are the encouraged legitimate peripheral participation at Tinkering School.

IMG 4052 Christie discovers some stretchy material that might be perfect for the slingshot.

IMG 4053 The sticks prove tricky to cut with the handsaw, so Elizabeth decides to escalate to the chop saw.

IMG 4067 Carter and Frannie successfully test the bungie cord braking system.

IMG 4073 If it weren't for the fact that the cart will be carrying a passenger, this would probably be a workable system.

IMG 4101 Ben's cart proves light enough for Gever and Josh to play a quick game of "You Take Him" on the test track.

IMG 4108 Elizabeth and Christie's slingshot is starting to look serious.

IMG 4109 Ben's cart. It may not be pretty, but it represents four solid iterations of independent problem-solving.

IMG 4112 As a group, we're getting better at strawboarding. Trent is working on catching some air.

IMG 4113 And is frequently almost successful at it.

IMG 4119 Frannie shows that a good wipeout is as fun as a good trick.

IMG 4155 New Tinkering School friends Stacy and Joe are back (see Day Two for their earlier visit) to see how the project turned out.

IMG 4214 As the day wears on, Trent's endless pestering of Lili results in her binding him in bungee cord to keep him out of further trouble.

IMG 4268 The hyper active imagination of Christie sparks a new trend...

IMG 4273 ...and soon colored headbands and hair braids are sweeping the Tinkering nation.

IMG 4286 Even the sabotaging ninja (Rowen) is wearing a headband.

IMG 4287 Portrait of a Tinkerer: Elizabeth is festooned with Spectra line.

IMG 4343 After multiple successful empty cart runs from Petticoat Junction, the roller coaster is finally deemed ready for human trials. Ben and Josh discuss the safety and operational protocols.

IMG 4346 Even from Petticoat Junction, the speeds are exhilarating!

IMG 4357 The next-smallest tinkerer to take the plunge from Petticoat Junction is Frannie.

IMG 4361 And as soon as the cart can be reset, Christie is zooming by.

IMG 4364 Then Carter. The track and cart are inspected after each run to make sure they are holding up. So far, so good.

IMG 4369 Portrait of an Ecstatic Tinkerer: Rekha

IMG 4377 With a racer's concentration, Elizabeth has her eyes on the rapidly approaching braking ramp.

IMG 4388 And Kevin rolls by with a huge grin.

IMG 4391 With ten successful runs from Petticoat Junction, and all parts of the track and cart in perfect working condition, Ben drags the cart up to Rickety Slope - the top of the track, fully eight feet, one and half inches off the floor.

IMG 4400 And he survives!

IMG 4404 Frannie is likewise unharmed but thrilled by the ride.

IMG 4408 Christie zooms down to a smooth landing.

IMG 4410 If there is a way to be literally "stoked," Carter is.

IMG 4414 The stop at the end is a very rapid, and thrilling, decelleration - as can be seen in Rekha's face and body posture.

IMG 4416 Elizabeth maintains her racer's edge and focus.

IMG 4420 Liora enjoys the exciting ending as well.

IMG 4423 And Trent actually yells as the cart reaches maximum speed (later calculated by Josh as 16.1 miles per hour - within 4% of the theoretical maximum) at the bottom of the track.

IMG 4433 Rowen slides into the end of the track with a wicked grin of his own.

IMG 4437 And we see that same euphoria on Kevin as well.

Dousing Trent Trent agrees to ride down one more time "for science" so that Josh can record video on a stretch of track that is marked every foot. That pretense proves to be sufficient cover for Liora, Frannie, and Carter to surprise him with a bucket of water just when he is hitting maximum speed.

We built a roller coaster.

Day Five - Things That Go Bump

2012 Session 4 - MiddlersgeverComment

Thursday Night, August 16th, 2012 - 11:30pm Our day started with the arrival of this in our dining room: IMG 3444 You just know it's going to be a weird day when it starts like that. Carter says that he is known for his epic bed-hair and we're starting to believe him.

DSC 0168 We want to be rolling down the track today, so when we get to the barn Trent, Carter, and the rest of the gang get down to business.

DSC 0172 The cart team decides that they are going to build a steering system, whether or not we have time to build a luge. However this cart sits on the ground, it will be steerable - so sayeth Kevin, Lili, and Liora.

IMG 3447 After years of Tinkering School, I find that teams that are jovial tend to be productive. Kevin and Liora are certainly both, as they iterate through some design decisions.

DSC 0180 The track team is getting serious. Rowen and Elizabeth put some diagonal braces on the new section.

IMG 3468 Ben moves back and forth between the track team and his mini-cart. This is about the third or forth version of guide wheels we've seen him work on. By any measure, that's some serious tenacity.

IMG 3473 Gever takes a moment to start building some stilts, and Frannie quickly takes over.

DSC 0182 Carter and Elizabeth finish up the track section with a splice, and now there is one more solid length of track for a total of 24 feet.

DSC 0206 Christie and Rekha are also becoming experts at laying up new braces.

IMG 3480 With the real wheels affixed, the cart team wants to see it roll on the new track sections. Frannie, Elizabeth, Liora, and Kevin carry it through the barn to the start of the track - which is eight feet off the ground, posing a new kind of problem for the heavy cart.

IMG 3489 But, with a little help from Josh and Trent, they get it up on the rails. Much talk of building a ladder and platform ensue.

IMG 3507 With the stilt project exactly halfway done, Frannie recruits Elizabeth to help her try out the stilt.

IMG 3533 With the track now reaching halfway across the first work table, it becomes a part of the barn furniture. Trent takes a break while Rekha, Carter, and Elizabeth make some precision cuts.

IMG 3539 Meanwhile, Ben keeps working on, and refining his cart - a chair has started to grow out the back of the top deck.

IMG 3555 Version 0.1 of the stilts are done, so naturally, Gever has to try them out - just to make sure that they are safe, of course.

IMG 3585 Frannie is a little dubious of the curved stilt, and her fears turn out to be completely grounded as we soon discover that it is almost impossible to take more than one step without having it twist out from under you.

IMG 3632 There are plenty of sticks, so the foot brace is removed from the rejected curved stilt and a new, very straight, pole is cut to size. And just like that, the stilts become fun.

IMG 3634 Liora takes the stilts for a spin - with a little help from Frannie.

IMG 3651 Then Frannie takes them for spin - with a little help from Liora.

IMG 3721 Gever is enlisted as a stilt-aid, and after a pause while he invents a stilt-training curriculum, he helps Elizabeth take a few steps.

IMG 3754 And he helps Carter.

IMG 3773 And Kevin.

IMG 3789 Ben's cart - with new seat installed - is ready for another test run.

IMG 3804 Seems like the guide-wheels are too tight, so it's back to the shop to make some adjustments.

IMG 3811 Trent discovers the "proper" stilt technique and manages six or eight steps across the uneven floor of the barn.

DSC 0227 Meanwhile, the track crew has extended the track past the first table and has their eyes set on the second table. Christie screws on more bracing to keep the track from coming apart during testing.

IMG 3823 Then, Carter started channeling the Mad Hatter and we noticed that the whole day was turning just a little weird.

IMG 3828 The cart team declares the cart fully functional when Kevin and Liora get the new luge steering system in place. The cart is now fully multi-functional and can make a seamless transition from rails to luge - in theory.

IMG 3866 Another side-project bubbles up when the idea to cover the ramp to the barn in straw and make a snowboarding track (put forth earlier in the week) suddenly becomes the thing we are all working on.

IMG 3882 A tow-rope (the ramp is not quite steep enough) and a used skateboard deck are all that is needed to make our own winter wonderland. Elizabeth demonstrates her mad skillz.

IMG 3888 Pulling the rope is awkward because of fences, so a pulley is located which allows to the puller to run perpendicular to the ramp. Ben enjoys the much smoother and faster ride.

IMG 3898 Christie plows some hay down the ramp when she discovers that weight on the nose causes the board to purl.

IMG 3915 Frannie recruits help to make a few bumps and jumps, and then schralps the straw like she owns the place.

IMG 3927 Carter also finds his groove on the ramp and declares the ride "fun!"

IMG 3937 Rekha ends with a heel-flip that ends with a tumble in the soft hay.

IMG 3950 As the characteristics of the board and the straw emerge, the riders start to try more sophisticated tricks. Trent kicks off the board at the end of the ride.

DSC 0241 Almost forty feet of track are now complete. We don't know quite yet, how we are going to slow down a cart going an estimated twenty-plus miles per hour, but we have a really great track. We've got the "going" part solved, we will solve the "stopping" part tomorrow.

IMG 3978 Despite a looming bank of fog, some of us decide to revisit the ridge hike from Tuesday.

DSC 0246 Back in the barn, the remaining tinkerers decide to help Ben test his cart on the lower part of the track. A hay bale is placed across the track to help him stop. The prospect of smashing into a hay bale doesn't sound quite as good as it did before he climbed up on his cart.

DSC 0253 The simple pleasure of zooming along seems to wash away the concern.

DSC 0264 When the hay bale successfully catches him, he declares the whole ride "awesome!"

DSC 0276 And Rowen seems to like it just fine as well.

DSC 0288 And Rekha as well.

DSC 0296 But Liora knows that the proper way to ride a roller coaster is with your hands up!

We have a track, two very fast carts, and a few ideas about how we might go about slowing the cart down at the end so that it can make the transition to the luge mode. Tomorrow we will make it work.

Day Four - Intermezzo with Sand

2012 Session 4 - MiddlersgeverComment

Wednesday Night, August 15th, 2012 One way you know that it is time to go to the beach is that nobody objects when you announce it over breakfast. Nobody wants to stay and work in the barn? "No!" Ok then, let's make sandwiches...

We pack the icebox, toss in this and that, load up the vehicles, and head out to the newly discovered secret Tinkering School beach (which is public, just not well known).

IMG 2834IMG 2839 We are all happy, and Gever is frankly amazed, to see that the beach has returned to the pristine state we found it in last session - no sign of our hydro-engineering remains.

IMG 2842 The temperature of the water does nothing to discourage immediate swimming. Rowen and Trent run in as soon as they drop their towels - the island their destination.

IMG 2850 Success!

IMG 2856 And they discover that their little island experiences moments of submersion.

IMG 2893 Up the beach, Lili and Gever find a mysterious sand cave.

IMG 2896 The receeding tide leaves evocative figures drawn in wet sand.

IMG 2897 Back at our camp on the beach, the group has gotten industrious.

IMG 2903 Christie, Rekha, and Frannie discover that the sand below the new levy is very viscous. Some speculate that the water is seeping through the sand from the new channel causing an upwelling that loosens the packed grains.

IMG 2922 Josh and Carter work to deepen the channel and keep the new waterway flowing.

IMG 2934 An expedition is mounted to discover the headwaters of the little creek. Frannie, Elizabeth, and Liora bravely enter the dark grove of trees and overgrowth that frame the waterway.

IMG 2943 They return eight minutes later, unscathed and perhaps a little more confident than moments before.

IMG 2955 Meanwhile, the team back at camp have created a stable waterway of their own, and Kevin deems it safe enough start the new agrarian settlement by building a saucer-temple.

IMG 2960 Josh brings in heavy boulders to firm up the sides of the channel that he and the team have been working on.

IMG 2968 "Alas, poor sandball-Yorrick, I knew ye well," says Rowen. He didn't really say it, but we all thought it when we saw the serious look on his face.

IMG 2976 Elizabeth made a sandwhich so overflowing with peanut butter and jelly that it was oozing out the sides before it could be put in her baggie. Much discussion ensued regarding the possiblity of eating it like astronaut food by smooshing it into paste and squeezing it out of a corner of the bag. When the time came, she opted to eat the sandwhich and invert the bag to create a pb&j glove.

IMG 2981 Seeing his friends frolicking in the water, Ben psyches himself up to join them by announcing that he is going to "run all the way in before he gets cold."

IMG 2993 Josh poses a serious brain-twister that seems to cause moments of actual agony in the group. It goes something like this; twenty people meet in a hallway with twenty doors. Each door leads to a small soundproof vestibule. The other side of the vestibule has another door that leads into a common room with a table and two coins - a quarter and a penny. The coins are in a random heads/tails state. The problem posed to the group is, using only the two coins to communicate, and with each person being let in to the room from the vestibules in completely random (and possibly repeating) order, how can they know with certainty when all twenty of them have been in the room? The only other rule is that they must turn over at least one coin, and the coins must always be in the same quarter/penny order. The magical properties of the room prevent them from aging or getting hungry, so it is possible that they will each visit the room hundreds of thousands of times. Once they enter the vestibules, they will not see or hear each other until one of them declares definitively that all of them have been in the room, and scientists will carefully remove all cheats such as spit or hair from the room between visits so that the only communication comes through the coins.

IMG 3013 Portrait of a Collaborator: Josh has a deep appreciation for time spent at a beach.

IMG 3018 Frannie invents a new game; Jump-Across-the-Creek-Without-Making-a-Splash.

IMG 3023 Rekha accepts the challenge.

IMG 3027 As does Christie.

IMG 3034 On an expedition to explore the chain of coves to the north, Liora lets a tiny rock crab almost scamper up her sleeve.

IMG 3044 And touches a starfish - something she tells us, would have been unusually brave for her to do just a year ago.

IMG 3052 Pressing on, despite bare feet and rough rocks, the intrepid explorers, Lili, Carter, and Liora, look for more unexplored territory.

IMG 3063 Gever pauses to balance a rock, again.

IMG 3087 Elizabeth joins the expedition, flashing her new Tinkering School bling.

IMG 3092 Lili finds a cozy perch.

IMG 3107 Carter takes a turn blazing the trail (Gever clambered ahead while the team was distracted by a tide pool).

IMG 3112 They discover a beautiful blue-green pool.

IMG 3117 Liora decides that she simply must get one of the pieces of abalone shell she can see from our rocky perch - will she brave the chilly waters?

IMG 3160 Yes she will. Everyone claps, and we watch, somewhat envious, as she paddles around. "It is so cold that you can't feel it," she declares.

IMG 3168 She returns and spies the shell that she wanted.

IMG 3181 Not wanting to get her hair wet, she uses her dexterous toes to bring the prize to the surface.

IMG 3199 Elizabeth examines a peculiar piece of seaweed; a rubbery sheet covered with little bumps.

IMG 3221 The hike back to camp is quicker than Liora and Kevin expect.

IMG 3240 Back at camp, Trent and Ben have invented their own jumping game.

IMG 3249 Rowen refuses to leave the water for more than two minutes at a time and his frolicking constantly draws tinkerers back to the waves.

IMG 3247 Old friends Rekha and Christie are serenaded by Josh on the three-string ukelele.

IMG 3285 Liora and Frannie enjoy the thrill of getting out to the island to be splashed by waves.

IMG 3346 Seems that everyone wants to have a shower.

IMG 3372 Back on the beach, Ben and Trent continue their variation on the jumping game.

IMG 3375 As near as we can tell, the object is to jump up on the sand wall from a one-legged start.

IMG 3401 When we get back to the ranch, it's a chance to ride on the outside of the truck again. Frannie and Carter say "yes!"

IMG 3407 And Rekha and Christie do too.

It is important to take a break sometimes. To relax the brain and let the subconscious mental processes chew on the current set of problems while the conscious mind gets to act like a kid for a few hours. This is summer camp after all.

Day Three - Getting Things Done

2012 Session 4 - MiddlersgeverComment

Tuesday Night, Day 3, August 14th Gever is up early today, awakened by fragments of design solutions to the problems they encountered yesterday. He gets a mumbled "Is it time to get up?" from one of the boys in the boys dorm, but they are fast asleep again before he can answer. He sets out the breakfast buffet of cereal, yogurt, bagels, toaster, and all the fixin's, before the house is awake. He desperately needs someone to talk to about the ways the wheel mountings for the luge capability on the car can be done - but the place is stubbornly peaceful. Time for a walk. Outside, the morning sun lights up a beautiful sky.

IMG 2770DSC 9943 Your Daily Goat: Baby albino goat alternates between licking the salt block and licking Gever's hand.

DSC 9950 Eventually, everyone is up, fed, and in the barn. The first order of business is to recover every single 2x4 from the projects from previous sessions. Carter is unstoppable.

DSC 9956 Christie rescues wheels and 2x4's. As they deconstruct the work of the older kids sessions, they become familiar with some standard Tinkering School solutions to common problems.

DSC 9963 Later, in design conversations, Gever hears them describing some of the things they saw during deconstruction as reference points in their mental iterations.

IMG 2779 The diagrams get more detailed and more sophisticated as they become comfortable with, and develop an intuitive sense of, the materials they have to work with.

IMG 2780 Portrait of Two Tinkerers: Liora and Frannie have decided to tape their mouths closed and spend the morning using gestures instead of speech.

IMG 2782 Portrait of Two Tinkerers: Liora and Frannie follow through.

IMG 2786 Rowen invents wheely shoes that instantly make you taller and more sophisticated.

IMG 2788 Portrait of a Tinkerer: Liora puts on a little lipstick (tapestick?).

DSC 9974 Meanwhile, Kevin and Elizabeth get to work collecting parts for the luge wheels.

DSC 9979 Frannie adds a goatee and mustache to her tape - an homage to V?

IMG 2790 Kevin tries to ignore the fact that the tape-over-your-mouth cult has managed to recruit Elizabeth.

IMG 2793 Josh, Carter, and the track team set up a section of test track.

DSC 9990 On a test run, one of the guide wheels comes loose. A quick pow-wow among Elizabeth, Frannie, and Liora yields a workable solution (we're all a little relieved to see that the tape-over-your-mouth cult has faded out of existence).

DSC 9997 At fifteen minutes to noon, a strange "booming" voice announces LOCKDOWN! as the barn door swings shut, trapping everyone inside. Evidently, the warden of this place will not let anyone out of the barn until everything is picked up off the floor and tables and put in their proper places. This first-time lockdown proves to be amazingly effective, and in no time at all the place is shipshape. Over lunch, Gever and Lili launch into an abstract pedagogy discussion about the value of narrative as a motivating element in getting groups of kids to work together on something they might otherwise think of as a chore.

IMG 2801 The track team has determined that they are going to absolutely run out of wood in the next few hours. Gever, Carter, and Rowen are dispatched to Home Depot Pro to get more - and of course Carter loves the opportunity to ride on the runningboard of the truck as it winds down the road to the entrance of the farm.

DSC 0003 Meanwhile, Kevin and Lili keep at the luge wheels and figure out some of the tricky details about getting the right washers and nuts into the assembly before the parts are screwed together.

IMG 2804 At the lumber store, Carter and Rowen sort through the pile of 2x4's to find twenty six good ones.

IMG 2813 Which they then load into the truck. Gever thinks he could get used to having a couple of teenaged helpers.

DSC 0011 Frannie and Liora learn the pleasures of using the drill press - quiet, precise, and powerful.

DSC 0019 Kevin experiences an unexpected "this one's too big" moment as a series of ever-larger holes drilled in a piece of wood somehow skips the "perfect!" sized hole and the ensuing sudden realization that we are missing the right sized drill bit.

DSC 0021 The new test track is ready. Built with an eighteen inch drop at the start, Ben discovers that with a near-frictionless set of wheels, eighteen inches can be quite thrilling.

DSC 0032 Trent wants a little more speed, so he pushes off of the nearby post.

DSC 0037 Carter, wearing his special rolugester gloves, also goes for the post pull.

DSC 0043 Since she doesn't have the special gloves, Frannie gets a friendly push from Trent.

DSC 0066 Christie takes a ride as well.

DSC 0090 If we can read anything in the expression on Liora's face, it may well be that she had the most fun of anyone on her ride.

DSC 0164 Rowen, after watching a few test runs, returned to the process of making track sections.

IMG 2829 At the end of the day, the tinkerers are thrilled to learn that Josh has to run down to the conference center to get more supplies for dinner - any excuse to ride on the running boards.

Tonight was taco night, and we collectively ate our way through a mountain of seasoned ground turkey, fresh chopped vegetables, and cheeses. Despite the fact that we had a couple of horseplay-leads-to-accidents talks today, it was a great day. An informal survey over dinner reveals a consensus on this observation - just another day at Tinkering School.

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.

Day One - Down to the River

2012 Session 4 - Middlersgever1 Comment

Four sessions into the summer, I can say, without equivocation, that every session is different. Each group of tinkerers manages to differentiate themselves in social dynamic, innate interests, and skills they are bringing to the camp. As sometimes happens, we had a bit of a hiccup with the cameras today, so we're a little light on photographic evidence (which is unfortunate because we saw Bigfoot). D7K 9467 We heard from the Ranch Manager that crawdads had been spotted in the creek, so we head down the road past the lovely fall colors (which are all poison oak).D7K 9469 The scenery suddenly changes to verdant green as we approach the creek. The transition into the green cathedral-like space is so rapid that our loud chatter turns into whispering without any of us realizing why.

D7K 9473 To catch a crawdad (we spent some time plumbing the depths of our collective knowledge trying to figure out if there is a difference between crawdad and crayfish), you need salami and string - we brought both.

D7K 9479 Oh, and patience; Carter brought some of that too.

D7K 9485 Our efforts are rewarded, and an abandoned dresser drawer is quickly repurposed as a crawdad holding tank.

2012 08 12 16 07 39 59 A few dozen yards away, down past the bridge, another crawdad is hoisted out of the water by Christie - much to the delight of her cohorts Rekha and Liora.

D7K 9493 Frannie and Elizabeth hunker down for some serious crawdad jigging.

D7K 9495 Soon, the holding tank starts to fill up with creek critters.

2012 08 12 16 10 46 182 While jigging for crawdads, a group of us watched this banana slug transect the river under water. None of us had heard of slugs being able to go under water.

D7K 9507 Frannie learns the proper way to hold a live crawdad without getting pinched. Nobody wants to let it pinch their finger, but we are all wondering how hard the creature can pinch. Is it just a bad pinch, or are we talking about losing a finger?

D7K 9518 We decide that a test is in order. A stick will be a suitable substitute for a finger. It is determined that the crawdad cannot cut through the stick, but it can make a dent and peel bark - reinforcing our desire not to be pinched by one of those big claws.

D7K 9545 Carter proves to be a deft handler of crawdads as well.

D7K 9557 Elizabeth is the next tinkerer to brave the bucket of pinchy critters and get a firm grip on a big crawdad.

D7K 9562 Liora, coming to Tinkering School from Istanbul via San Diego, also learns the way of the crawdad grabber.

D7K 9572 We discuss the possibility of keeping one in a bucket up at the house, but collectively decide that the risk of injury to the crawdad is too great. So we let the last, and biggest, one go.

D7K 9577 Here's the only shot we got of bigfoot.

D7K 9584 Then we head back up to the barn. Josh takes the tinkerers through the tool and materials inventory while Gever heads to the Ranch House to get dinner into the oven, then he comes up and leads the structural engineering basics discussion.

D7K 9591 g To illustrate how 2x4's are strong in certain dimensions, we take turns balancing on the thin edge. Ben displays a certain knack for balancing when he tosses away the cane to stand unaided on the edge of the board - which, we all note, does not seem to bend at all.

D7K 9598 Even when the board is in it's flat orientation, it takes the weight of Josh and Trent to get it to bend visibly. How can we increase the amount of weight on the board? It isn't long enough to fit another person on. What if we...

D7K 9599 Jump!

D7K 9602 Which seems to do the trick very well. Forensic analysis of the point of failure by the tinkerers leads to the conclusion that a sizable knot seems to have weakened the board significantly.

D7K 9604 We decide to try the same set of experiments with a 1x4 - Frannie is only too happy to assist.

Unable to break the 1x4 when it is edge-on, we start brainstorming about ways that we could apply an enormous weight to it. After some "if we had an elephant"-type suggestions, we decide that we need a really big hammer. Gever remembers that he has a piece of railroad track left over from the previous session. A suitable eucalyptus pole is located and some serious lashing is required, but soon they have a hammer that would make Thor think twice.

D7K 9618 Frannie discovers that she can lift the handle but not the business end.

D7K 9632 A sling is worked out and then it takes all hands to move the hammer out of the barn. We decide that it's too heavy to let fall on the barn floor. Yes, we noticed that Elizabeth has bare feet in this operation - her shoes got soaked at the creek evidently - and we'll make sure she is safely shod in the barn tomorrow.

Here's where our story gets interesting, and sadly, we don't have any pictures. The hammer is carried outside and stood up on it's handle then dropped onto the edge of a 1x4. The first attempt just misses, but after some measurements and adjustments the second one connects and the 1x4 is destroyed. It failed in so many places simultaneously that it is difficult to identify at any one point of failure. Tomorrow we will try again, and before we let the hammer drop, we'll mark the board with our predictions about where it will fail. After that, we're going to try a 2x4. Our collective guess is that the 2x4 will survive the blow - unless it has a big knot.

Having a question, and building an apparatus to help you find an answer is science in the grand tradition of Sir Isaac Newton and Nikolai Tesla - a really good way to spend an afternoon. In a barn. Surrounded by goats.

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