Tinkering School

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2013 Session 2 - Middles

Day 6 - The Big Ride

2013 Session 2 - MiddlesJoshua RothhaasComment

On monday kids had woken themselves up early. As most of the staff struggled to get out of bed, Herb had cooked through most of the day's eggs and nearly every kid was up and bouncing off the walls. Breakfast was over by 8am. By Today, friday, reality had returned, the 8am alarm went off and the staff had to gently nudge everyone out of bed. "8am guys, time for breakfast." Despite sleepy eyes and sluggish responses breakfast was again over fast. There was a small window to work. We wanted to be on the road by 11am and things were still a mess. Piki was repositioning its wheel boxes. Panda had just stripped their wheel off during testing. Nooi was grinding on their hitch and Kablooi's caster wasn't turning at all.

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We made new casters, balanced carts and tried our best to do full-weight tests.

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Then we loaded up our emergency repair kits, snacks, lunches, and med-kits. Today was extra exciting because not only were we going to ride the contraptions we had built for a full 4.5 miles. But we were going to do it alone, without adults. Cell phones set up, emergent contacts established, walkie talkies distributed, and the path laid, we loaded up and set out.

Out on the road repair kit IMG 8585

Commotion everywhere P1016280

Making our own sandwiches IMG 8601

The strongest hitch IMG 8603

Windows get installed IMG 8605

Down to the truck we go IMG 8609

And on to the trailer we load


At the drop point a special guest arrives to say hello and wave us off.

Gever give us some last minute advice P1016288 P1016291

Nooi's spririts are high as they prepare for departure P1016295

Piki's riders settle in with some good books P1016315

Kablooi's riders hunker down. IMG 8659

Blake double checks the repair kit. IMG 8670

With a shove, they are off.

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For one very small section of road, we escort the tinkerers in our cars.

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And here the story diverges. 4 groups leave each with their own ending. The Piki leave strong, but ultimately walk a huge portion of the track next to their camper. They complete circuit in the shortest time. The Panda team follows close behind, spending nearly the entire time walking and are lucky to have their hitch break only 25 feet from Poplar Beach, the final destination. The Nooi's hitch starts to grind again and eventually wears through their lashing, leaving them dragging their cart for the last 1/2 mile or so.

The pike roll and walk up IMG 3332

The Panda team drags theirs into place IMG 3346

Nooi fight with ripping chords IMG 8705 IMG 8714

The Kablooi how ever have their very own Tinkering School adventure. Approximately 500 yards out of the gate their caster stops functioning entirely. The tinkerers try and correct. A gaggle of collaborators descend. Kindly passerby's give advice. People in nearby homes offer supplies. Hours pass as struggle and frustrations mount. Then finaly, with a combination of solutions no one could have come up with alone, they take off. For approximately 1 mile they roll as smooth and as fast as anyone else. Then a full mile later, in an attempt to avoid dog poop, they swerve, their hitch gives out and they crash into a field of flowers.

Collaborators try to help P1016339

Passerby offers advice P1016342

Households offer supplies P1016343

We drive around to the Kablooi at Dunes beach and then the final pickup spot at Poplar Beach and do a few loops taking everyone and their bike-campers back to camp. From there we enjoy a big delicious taco/burrito bar and get ready for the evening.

As we get ready for bed, we sturdy up the campers because those who want to, they have the option of sleeping in their bike pulled adventure-wagons for the last evening of camp. And that's where about half of them are now. Toughing it out, in the cold, at strange angles and on thin matts raveling in a special kind of comfort that can only come from the warm fuzzy internal pride of "I built this."

The other half are revealing in a special comfort that can only come from the warm and fuzzy nature of "real beds and insulation".

Day 5 - More Detail on A Long Day

2013 Session 2 - MiddlesJoshua RothhaasComment

Day 5 of session 2 of Tinkering School 2013 was one the longest days in tinkering School History. Since day 2 we've been "just a few hours away" from being done. In fact, there was even a brainstorming email out to Gever on tuesday asking for help figuring out what to do if we finished early. This "nearly done" attitude has kept us clipping away at a feverish pace. A hot day in the sun and more running about than we had done all week left us sleeping soundly. The mixture lead to a strange combination of excitement, eagerness, and brain-dead-sluggishness greeting us in the morning.

All the "easy" problems were done. We'd built wheel boxes. Long, strong structures that could bear weight on minimal wood had been made sturdy. Roofs and been layered in water-resistant tarp. Most wheels had even been mounted. Everyone faced one and only one problem. Connecting their camper to their bike. A morning's work at best, or so we thought. A morning and a bit of the afternoon's work at best, or so we thought. The extensions just kept coming. We will be done by dinner. After dinner we will take get back in there and put on the finishing touches. Ok, tomorrow morning we will take one hour before we head out and just make sure everything works. Or so we thought.

That morning, Josh went to pick up the trailer from Gever, where he had some words of wisdom to deliver 5 days late, "Build your campers from the hitch first." And my was he right.

Zada and Sejal analyze were they are going to install their camper's hitch IMG 8207

Team Nooi looks over their campers hitch IMG 8213

Team Piki rethreads their wood-less roof IMG 8215

Team Panda pools all their recourses and ask for a materials extension to get their hitch working IMG 8219

Team Panda works on their hitch IMG 8243

Ben works on his team's hitch IMG 8254

Evan and Frannie enjoy the sunshine between spurts of work IMG 8264

Team Piki's hitch it precarious IMG 8271

… and full of clever work arounds IMG 8278

Anya, Elizabeth and Jonah start putting tarp on their mini-camper IMG 8283

Portrait of a Tinkerer: Sophia and her very personable apple IMG 8285

Sometimes we just need to ride around to let the problem settle IMG 8312

Team Piki's hitch got an upgrade after we realized how helpful the seat post could be IMG 8315

Team Kablooi's custom caster IMG 8324

Anya is the first and only person to use the circular saw this session IMG 8331

As dinner approached and spirits wained, a major mistake was made. Without fan fair or announcement, a piece of parachord was found would up in the Chop Saw. Gumming the works and preventing operation. Someone had attempted to chop the parachord with the chop saw and the chop saw had sucked it right up. The reaction was frustrated and fierce. It took a while to sort out why emotions ran so high. Was it that someone had broken the chop saw? No, it can be replaced. Also it wasn't broken, just jammed. Was it that someone had broken it and not told us? No. How ever frustrating and wrong it is to hide mistakes, it is understandable to be afraid of what might happen in an unknown environment. No, it was because someone had put their life in danger.

For the first and only time this session Josh had to put on the serious tone and lay out what had just happened (in detail). What could have happened (in gruesome detail). What damage to self could have been inflicted with what digits could have been lost and how acting as a particular focus. The responsibility that comes with attending Tinkering School is not to be taken lightly.

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However, the day had been taxing, there was more work ahead and besides this one incident safety had been stellar. A stern talking too quickly morphed into a pep talk right before it was time for dinner.

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After Dinner we rushed back to the barn. The rush was on. There was work to be done. Lots of it. For those further along, it was painting and decorating

Evan, Katia and Althea summon the spirit of Jackson Pollock IMG 8367

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For others it was a frenzied race against the dark.

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Evan and Zada help Team Piki as the sun sets IMG 8481

Hanging on by the illumination of work-lights we call the evening and tell ourselves that one more hour tomorrow morning should do it.

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From there it's off to the bon fire. A thursday night tradition. Armed with cut logs, untreated scrap and some s'mores ingredients, we enjoy an evening of not-so-scary stories, bad-jokes, and tasty snacks. The evening also became a lesson in how to do dangerous things safely. The example was this. Josh wanted to dump a whole bucket of saw dust on the fire.

Phase one of doing a dangerous thing safely: what could go wrong? The kids answered this pretty easily. "We could set the grass around us on fire." "We could put out the fire." "If the fire "climbs" the dust we could set the tree's on fire."

Phase two of doing a dangerous thing safely: how can we test our theories of what could go wrong? This led to a small discussion on iterative testing. We tried just dropping a small dollop of saw dust and it fell in, not lighting and actually smothering a small part of the fire. We sprinkled it lightly above the fire to sudden and great effect. The worry of putting out the fire and the fear of climbing had both been confirmed.

Phase three of doing a dangerous thing safely: scale slowly. We stopped for a while at a handful of sawdust. The size of the burn was easily managed, and the moisture in the air was keeping things incredibly controlled. Everyone had a go.

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Josh had a few goes, and scaled up just a little bit more.

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And in the smoke of a doused fire, we had a light saber battle. You know, the usual.

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Day 5 - A Long Day

2013 Session 2 - MiddlesJoshua RothhaasComment

Breakfast was over by 8am. Rejuvenated from beach day it was time to keep tackling the same small but important problems. Secure wheel boxes, a solid hitch, and some groups working with swivel wheels had to trial and error their way to success. Some still haven't got everything working. Iterate, test, iterate test. Lunch was short and the day carried on full speed. 6 hours later it was dinner time. Then we worked until well after sunset still tweaking and fiddling. We gathered around a bon fire in the late evening and went to bed at 11pm. It was an amazing day. And now, we have 1 more hour to put on the finishing touches before we take our campers on a 4 mile run on the Half Moon Bay Adventure trail.

More on yesterday and more on today, later today.

Day Four - Beach Day

2013 Session 2 - MiddlesJoshua RothhaasComment

Beach day is one of the most important traditions at Tinkering School. Right as the projects get the most frustrating and creativity gets the most exhausting we, take a break. Occasionally relationships strain and tensions rise, so we take a break. Occasionally nothing is wrong at all, everything is humming along, so we take a break. The break isn't a reaction to tension, but instead a planned pause. Time to let the brain do its wondrous work. Sometimes the best problems can only be solved in the background.

But once the Tinkering starts, its hard to stop, and these kids keep finding new challenges and new ways to engage. Even a lazy day at the beach becomes a chance to bury each other, jump rope with some bull whip kelp, scale a cliff, orchestrate capture the flag and roll a several hundred pound log into a deep lagoon.

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Day Three - From Swift Progress to Tricky Details

2013 Session 2 - MiddlesJoshua RothhaasComment

A quick note from last night. When you have a hammer everything looks like a nail. When you're a trained circus performer, everywhere's a stage. Zada on the rope P1016086

Althea on the rope P1016090

For Sophia, Frannie, Addison and Josh the day started with a change of plans. Assumptions of structural integrity, supply constraints and a few pieces cut a little to short dramatically changed the shape of their camper.

Frannie and Addison change the orientation of the cross beams P1016097

Across groups today was a day of re-dos and delicate finagling. Where yesterday and even this morning held huge surges of noticeable change, the majority of today was incremental iterations on complex and hard to see problems. From big boxes and chop saw cuts to toe screws, bolt locking and wheel mounting.

Althea and Blake work to secure the base of their pyramidal door to their bike-camper P1016100

Jonah finagles a bolt trying to strike a balance between tight enough to hold and but loose enough to allow for pivoting. P1016105

Groups begin the precision work of mounting their wheels, deciding how to connect to their bikes, and how to allow for intuitive steering. Given the nature of the work it becomes time to take out the drill press. One of the most dangerous but understated tools in the shop. With torque that would put a chop saw to shame and RPMs on par with any other tool, it's a tool to be respected. In fact, we operate it with two hands; one on the lever arm and one on the off switch. It's amazing power is to cut perfectly straight holes through nearly anything. This is absolutely essential for the precise work of mounting an axel and creating a wheel box.

Josh does his drill press demonstration P1016108

Ben uses the drill press P1016144

Sophia uses the drill press IMG 7873

Wheel mounting involves making sure everything is perfectly parallel as any source of friction will be our enemy when we try to pull our campers for 4 miles. Then we have to consider leverage. This is literally where the rubber meets and road. It is where every lbs of weight in our structure ultimately gets supported; only shared by the other wheels. Every step matters.

Elizabeth starts mounting their front wheel P1016109

Anya works with her team to lock their wheel box in place photo

Sejal cuts a hole for her wheel box P1016116

Neil secures a connection P1016122

Katia keeps her eye on the action-end of her driver P1016132

Celebrations are in order when the wheels hold the weight of the team P1016154

Blake works on accessorizing his team's camper with a motorized flad and a small cabinet P1016158

Jonah's initial test P1016162

Addison and Frannie build a saw horse so they can use it to jig-saw their ply IMG 7881

Blake has become a more knowledgeable of our inventory of odds and ends than anyone on staff. He uses this knowledge for good; helping other campers and creating some spectacular gadgets. IMG 7888 IMG 7905

Things are taking shape IMG 7889

Portrait of a Goat IMG 7897

Evan falls pray to the focusing power of fire IMG 7912

Addison and Sophia secure the new floor of their camper IMG 7935

Katia works on skinning their camper with a tarp IMG 7958

At tinkering school each kid takes care of their own dishes. After every time we eat they clean them themselves and hang them to dry for the next meal.

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Trials begin in the world of connecting to bikes and pulling. They started rough and have gotten sophisticated fast.

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An attempt at a trailer hitch IMG 7983

Sophia ran with an idea and invented something strange but effective IMG 8013

We ended our day by hanging out with the animals, eating a delicious meal and running ourself silly playing infinity tag (also know as banana tag, chaos tag and everybody is it tag).

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We lure a gopher out of its hole with grapes IMG 8007

Herb cooks us some steak and asparagus IMG 8012

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Everyone is it and the game works startlingly well IMG 8024

Day Two - Two Challenges

2013 Session 2 - MiddlesJoshua RothhaasComment

P1016008 The day began with a challenge; build a chair. Building a chair is one of the fastest ways to learn a whole lot about the strengths, powers and limits of 1x4.

The kids took off with it. They started by drawing their designs on scrap wood (the paper would be purchased later that day, we are still recovering from Sunday's hectic start).


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Measuring, marking and cutting filled the next few hours.

Anya sets out ambitiously P1016029

Sophia works on her chair P1016017

Katia is excited to get building P1016019

Elizabeth demonstraights her classic level of focus D7K 7822

Segal marks and measures D7K 7863

Zada makes rapid progress P1016014

Last night a crew of the kids began playing poker with a fairly classy set of chips brought by Jonah. Obviously played without any actually money, this game has quickly become and amazing social centerpiece to the evening. When presented with the challenge of making chairs, a few kids set out to make a set of chairs and a table to enhance their playing experience. Interestingly, due to supply constraints, everything stayed small and low.

Evan works on his 6 in high poker seat P1016024

Addison is committed to nearly perfect alignment P1016027

Althea tries to make the connections secure P1016037

The chairs start to take shape and get strong, often with interesting structural solutions. IMG 7745

High backs and even office style swivel chairs were experimented with D7K 7921

Jonah and Frannie cut out the table's top IMG 7771

The poker table take shape and gets used IMG 7780

Sophia's throne is made from the 1x4's of her fallen foes IMG 7781

Ben plays with a innovative 3 leg solution made entirely of available scrap P1016043

In the afternoon, with some serious trial and error under our belt, we announced the week's big project. We are going to make bike pulled campers in teams of 3 and four. We each have 12 1x4s, 1 2x4, a tarp, and a sheet of super thin ply.

Excitement builds, plans are drawn and building starts right away. The excitement was so high and concentration so deep that Josh and the collaborators didn't get as many photos as usual.

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Portrait of a Tinkerer: Ben tries out on the bikes we will be using to pull the campers IMG 7810

Sejal and Zada build outside IMG 7816

As the creative juices flow and the hard work happens, the ranch animals keep us company and snacks keep us sane.

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At one adorable moment half the camp devolved into a lovely game of "get the baby goats to hop on us".

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There is one more silly story to leave you with from our day. Ben made his chair into a small adorable character that went on adventures and met some animals.

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Day 1 - A Comedy of Errors

2013 Session 2 - MiddlesJoshua Rothhaas1 Comment

"Developed pink-eye. Plan B in full effect. Check your email." - Gever, 12:09am That's the text that started a day that will most certainly go down in Tinkering School history. With Gever out sick, Josh was called to run Tinkering School this week. With Josh running Tinkering School, the staff of San Francisco Tinkering School will be running their program without him for the first time. After a series of incredible coordination emails, phone calls and texts; a prolonged rental car debacle involving 3 people, a declined credit card and several loops around the wrong arrivals circle we found ourselves nearly ready to start the day.

Before camp even began Daniel, one of our collaborators, introduced some of the campers to ultiamte-tic-tac-toe.

Sajal and Jonah Ended up playing for over an hour IMG 7581

We officially started with a series of collective agreements and safety warnings like "Treat others as they'd like to be treated", "Don't hurt yourself or anybody else" and "things designed to destroy wood will destroy you just as well".

Josh talks with the kids about the dangers and freedoms of Tinkering School Josh talks with the kids about the dangers and freedoms of Tinkering School

Then it was off to Safety Training were we learned how to use the chop saw and the hand drills.

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We talked about how to make strong connections between two pieces of wood.

Sejal Balances on wood held together by three secure screws Sejal Balances on wood held together by three secure screws

We did experiments to demonstrate how strong wood is in one direction and how weak it can be in another.

Sophia Jumps to Break Some Wood Sophia Jumps to Break Some Wood

Josh admires the beauty of a shattered 1x4 Josh admires the beauty of a shattered 1x4

Then we practiced.

Ben Making a strong corner IMG_7696

Anya working with Katia on drilling some holes Anya working with Katia on drilling some holes

Then we stumbled. The day came to a screeching and awkward halt when we ran out of screws. A detail lost in the morning shuffle of Camp Directors, support staff and supply runs. As Collaborators Daniel and Michael scurried of on what would be no less than a 2 hour round trip up to Colma the kids broke into two groups. The larger one set off to hunt Crayfish.

Elizabeth and Ben work to keep their shoes dry Elizabeth and Ben work to keep their shoes dry

An old bridge is found An old bridge is found

Jonah enjoys a moment on a fallen tree Jonah enjoys a moment on a fallen tree

Zada works like mad to keep her cast try and still play in the water P1015995

Neil and Ben showing off Neil and Ben showing off

A smaller group stayed behind and helped Josh. We scrounged together the few long screws left and used them to build some additions to the shop. Sophia and Blake worked on a new Chop Saw block should help with long cuts. Sophia, Blake and Addison worked on a battery and charger holder will help keep all the drills humming along nicely. Sejal, Anya, and Katia mounted some bracers to our shelf for a future tool wall.

Sophia and Blake make sure their Chop Saw Block is square

Sophia and Blake make sure their Chop Saw Block is square

Sophia and Blake wrap up their battery charging station Sophia and Blake wrap up their battery charging station


After a long day of hiking, wading, building, tinkering and improving we retired to the house to eat, play cards and rest. Nearly 4 hours after their departure there was no sign of Daniel and Michael. They had been on an epic quest buying out whole shelves of 1x4 and hunting down the ever illusive Roberts head screw. Home Debot regularly had to pull out the fork lift to re-stock as they baught up the place. Home safe, they joined us and filled their bellies with now cold left overs as we all settled into some great conversations.

Some, but not all of the wood they purchased Photo 4

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