Tinkering School

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2013 Session 1 - Seniors

Day Seven - The Race is On!

2013 Session 1 - SeniorsgeverComment

The day opens with a persistent drizzle, just to remind us that we are in Half Moon Bay not Shangri-La. As is the tradition on the last day of camp, we pack everyone up and strip the beds - the longer it takes, the less time we have to fine-tune the race vehicles, so it only takes 30 minutes to get the Ranch House packed up. Then, we are off to the races! The race course starts at the gate before the barn, runs down the hill to the Ranch House turn-off, around a pylon, and then downhill again to the finish line at the Conference Center turn-off. With a vertical drop of almost 150 feet (50 meters), the walkthrough of the track generated quite a bit of trepidation. The track is roughly divided into two zones; Zone 1 extends from the start gate to the corner of the Children's Garden just after the hairpin turn, Zone 2 goes from the end of Zone 1 to the turn off to the Ranch Office, and Zone 3 continues from there to the finish line at the Conference Center turnoff. The rules say that any tokens left over from the build can be spent to pay fines or subtract five seconds from a team's best race time. RaceMap

First on the course, Althea in her team's chopper-styled racer (with a variation on the traditional Tinkering School Harley-style steering solution). IMG 7426

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Next up, Gabriel on his team's puppy-styled upright racer. IMG 7435

Looking like a cross between a motorcycle and a bulldog, the only major flaw in this design is that due to the single contact point with the steering column, the backend picks up a wicked shimmy once the vehicle is up to speed. IMG 7436

Moments later, Gil flies by mere inches off the ground in the Panda's USS Pandaprise. IMG 7447

Like each of the racers before him, he has insufficient turn radius (partly due to the foot-pegs) and takes a single-token penalty in Zone 1 adding a five second penalty to his race time. IMG 7449

Closing out the first heat, Mica drags their recalcitrant beast through Zone 1 (picking up a penalty). IMG 7463

But the beast settles down on the straight stretch and starts to pick up speed in Zone 2. Later in Zone 3, the steering will fight her off the track and she will pick up another penalty. IMG 7468

In the second heat, Althea, looking like she's got her vehicle dialed in, sails through Zone 1 (still picking up a penalty on the hairpin) with better speed. IMG 7481

Gabriel chooses his line more carefully and almost makes the hairpin on this pass. The racers are definitely getting better at navigating this track. IMG 7491

Number three in the lineup, Glynn takes the dangerously fast USS Pandaprise down the track. "Keep your feet up!" yells Gil from the sidelines, adding, "Don't let them touch the ground!" IMG 7506

After a team pow-wow, and careful review of the rules, the Nooi decide that that there is nothing that says they have to have a vehicle - but there is a clear statement that it must have two wheels and the racer must have helmet and gloves. IMG 7523

Later, at the awards ceremony, the Nooi are granted a one-second bonus for effort and creativity which puts them tied for third place with Gabriel and his team's puppy-shaped racer. Althea and her team take second with their Harley-styled bike, and Gil's first run on the USS Pandaprise still stands as fastest official time (an unofficial run with an adjusted position on the hairpin pylon yielded the fastest time of 41 seconds to run the .2 mile track from top to bottom for an average speed of 17.6 mph). IMG 7549

In first place, USS Pandaprise. IMG 7411

Second place: IMG 7418

Tied for third place: IMG 7416

And: IMG 7558

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present the 2013 Seniors class of Tinkering School - a mighty fine bunch of hard working tinkerers! IMG 7553

Day Six - Vroom, vroom

2013 Session 1 - SeniorsgeverComment

Friday. The last full day of Tinkering School. Hey, why not start something new? At Thursday night's dinner Gever announced that the Friday project would be two-wheeled vehicles, four teams, and a timed race. Yay! But first, everything that we have built will have to be taken apart... IMG 7095

After deconstruction, we have a quick pow-wow to refine the rules and parameters for the race and the construction process. Everyone gets four eight foot 1x4's, two wheels of mixed dimension, and five tokens (hand made by Elijah and Kevin). The tokens can be exchanged for limited amounts of additional materials, or to pay for "big advice", or to buy down their race time (five seconds per token) on Saturday morning. Inter-team bartering and trade is fully supported, and everyone immediately starts trading wheels around. IMG 7100

Followed by a frenzy of design and planning. IMG 7107

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Followed by much prototyping. IMG 7118

Portrait of a Young Tinkerer: Elijah IMG 7130

And then some commitments to key design decisions. The Nooi (consisting of Kevin, Mica, and Rhody) have decided to use a eucalyptus pole as their steering shaft. IMG 7135

Listening in to the conversations in various teams, Gever picks up on a common thread of steering-related consternation and decides to do a 90-second mechanical engineering intervention. IMG 7148

Gever's talk gives some teams confidence to move forward with their plans, and some decide to adopt a new idea. IMG 7155

Kip takes a meditation break as he strips the bark off of a good, solid, eucalyptus stick. IMG 7160

Every cut is precious since the wood is so scarce. Measure once and cut twice suddenly makes perfect contextual sense. IMG 7163

Gabriel and Serena lock their rear wheel into their chassis. IMG 7168

Unwilling to commit to a specific height for their steering column, the Nooi decide to leave it full length for the time being. IMG 7177

The Panda team (Gil, Glynn, and Kip) has a very unique design. IMG 7190

Serena (helping with the blog tonight) thinks that this picture makes it look like she's using her in-progress front wheel mount as a manicure stand. IMG 7195

"Hey Gil?" "Yes, Gever?" "Is that really how you are going to drive?" "Uh, maybe?" IMG 7203

Gever has developed a very fashionable solution to the slit pant-leg problem. IMG 7209

Serena and Gabriel (members of the Kablooi) get their chassis board connected to their first steering solution. IMG 7213

Mica and Rhody toiling away in abject despair back in the bat-infested corner of the barn. IMG 7224

Glynn handles the business end of the drilling operation. IMG 7232

And Kip helps at the other end. IMG 7228

Gabriel at the chopsaw - just one moment of many-hour frenzy of activity in the barn. IMG 7246

The Piki (Althea, Elijah, Sam, and Kate) vehicle is coming together nicely. IMG 7250

Meanwhile, down in the nursery. IMG 7257

Glynn encodes secret messages in the Panda paint job. IMG 7267

Secrets? IMG 7275

Kip connects with his inner Avenger. IMG 7292

And then, somewhat suddenly, there is actual vehicle testing going on. Gil takes the USS Pandaprise out for a spin. IMG 7299

With fewer than 30 minutes to tools-down, Althea and Elijah work hard to finish the Harley-style steering on their vehicle. IMG 7320

And the Nooi get within one eye-bolt of being done. IMG 7326

Then the Piki vehicle comes out of the barn for a test drive. IMG 7331

Feet up, headed down hill - but wait, you forgot your helmet! IMG 7338

Gil picks up speed. IMG 7350

"Hey, Althea! Are those your yellow shorts?" "No Gil, that's my shirt." IMG 7354

Looking like a cross between a Vespa and a poodle, the Kablooi vehicle turns out to be the most maneuverable. IMG 7358

Vroom! IMG 7387

Portrait of a Young Tinkerer, Elijah with a Helmet. IMG 7393

Go Kate, go! IMG 7401

Gil keeps up the Tinkering School tradition by riding down to the conference center on the outside of the vehicle. IMG 7409

Day Five - Playing with Fire

2013 Session 1 - SeniorsgeverComment

Our hearts are filled with optimism as we throw ourselves into the project that has bedeviled us for the past four working days.IMG 6380

"Can you get the rope around that branch, right there?" asks Gever. "Sure," says Althea. IMG 6383

So, for the umpteenth time, Althea climbs a tree. IMG 6384

Kevin hands Althea the rope. IMG 6387

Gil feeds the goat some carabiners. IMG 6409

Gil feed the goat some arm. One has to wonder how the goat convinced him to do it. IMG 6416

"Better than his arm!" says the goat. IMG 6427

Serina reworks the pulley mounting system on the ball sling. IMG 6429

Gil and Elijah tow the ball back up to the top for another test. IMG 6436

Portrait of a Collaborator: Chane, sunburned IMG 6449

Portrait of a Young Tinkerer: Kate, on her album cover IMG 6458

Gever and Sam chatting about the funicular. The conversation may hold the record for the most times the word funicular is used in a single day. IMG 6462

The counter-weight goes down, the funicular comes up - it's just that simple. IMG 6475

Elevator team takes a break. IMG 6478

Over the course of the next hour, in search of better self-steering, Glynn will change the caster configuration on the funicular five times. IMG 6494

A matched set of fender washers and medium length screws. IMG 6498

"We got the best shot of a saw!" - things that happen when you give tinkerers the camera. IMG 6509

Having forgotten their hats in the barn, Mica and Rhody come up with a sun-protection solution. IMG 6524

As near as we can tell, this is version six of the ball sling (one more mod will be applied before it catches a fast-moving bowling ball). IMG 6532

Tired of watching people struggle to get up into trees to adjust ropes or braces, Gil makes a handy ladder. IMG 6536

With the ramps reset almost three feet higher, the rail and zip-line team finally have the rail exit in the right relationship to the zip-line. Time for a test. IMG 6569

Catch it Gever! IMG 6573

Figuring out how to cut the complex angles implied by the meeting to pieces of rail takes a lot of discussion. IMG 6621

Nicki thinks that the carefully tuned counter-weight for the vertical elevator is very heavy. IMG 6625

This is the version of Glynn that we start to refer to as Gryll - because Gever mashed up her name with Gil accidentally and it stuck. IMG 6633

Kate and Gil fine tune the funicular receiving station. IMG 6641

Which leads to an (almost perfect) run with the bowling ball. IMG 6643

With all hands helping, Serena is able to climb up Gil's ladder and dock the ball sling with the last rail for the first time ever. IMG 6675

It's working! The ball rolls down the aerial rail system at breakneck speed and thwacks into the back of the ball sling, pulling it from the docking station and sending the ball and sling down the zip line. IMG 6713

Nicki keeps a keen eye on the funicular tests. IMG 6822

Portrait of a Young Tinkerer: Kevin, laughing IMG 6886

Portrait of a Chef: Herb, grilling IMG 6897

Walking back up to the ranch to wash dishes and get ready for the campfire. IMG 6912

A very nice evening for a fire. IMG 6918

After much discussion of ingredients, safety, and chemistry, Gever demonstrates the safe way to spray cooking oil into a fire. IMG 6934

Then everyone tries out for a couple of squirts in what turns out to be a tough shot for the photographers to capture. IMG 6946

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Since it's Fourth of July; sparklers! IMG 7058

As our working day wound down, we realized that despite our best efforts, there did not appear to be a way to reliably get the ball from the Ranch House to Barn One. Every section of our system could work, but we never got them all working at the same time. With more than six (or eleven in one case) versions of every component of the system tried and tested and tinkered with, it has been an amazing context in which to understand what reliability is and how elusive it can be sometimes. Tomorrow, a new project!

Day Four - We Go to the Beach

2013 Session 1 - SeniorsgeverComment

What is the very best thing to do on a Wednesday? Go to the beach!IMG 5792

When the ocean gets too cold, we go to the lagoon and turtle around in the amber water. IMG 5805

Then a new idea occurs - with all this driftwood, we should be able to build a raft. Elijah starts figuring out which pieces of wood are dry enough to float. IMG 5808

After collecting some small sticks into a somewhat stable waffle of a raft, someone gets the bright idea to try and move a giant surfboard of redwood down to the lagoon. The hard part is that it's a perfect quarter arc of a tree that probably stood more than a hundred feet tall - and it weighs something like 900 pounds. Levers and fulcrums are brought to bear. IMG 5814

Then more levers and fulcrums. IMG 5832

Then more helping hands. IMG 5838

Then we lay down rails to keep the enormous slab from sinking into the soft sand. IMG 5841

While some are moving the log, some are soaking up the sneaky peeks of sunshine that are hinting at how hot the beach is about to come. IMG 5867

But we keep getting more hands on the ancient chunk of redwood. IMG 5871

Meanwhile, the ongoing raft project is shaping up. IMG 5881

Our favorite blue bowling ball wanders around the beach, an object of curiosity. IMG 5889

The gray skies split open and the temperature on the sand rockets up. IMG 5893

Elijah takes his raft out for a spin. IMG 5895

Portrait of a Young Tinkerer: Althea, Hollywood Style IMG 5901

Gil makes some significant additions to Elijah's raft, and then he takes it for a test flight. IMG 5927

A little while later, the huge log makes it to the slope at the edge of the lagoon... IMG 5934

...and into the water! IMG 5941

Fun immediately ensues. Non-stop, unfettered, totally silly, giddy, fun. IMG 5953

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With a few more cross braces, Gil's raft (based on Elijah's start) proves seaworthy. IMG 5986

Meanwhile, this is going on. IMG 5998

The scratchy side gets covered with a tarp. IMG 6031

Which is nicer on the feet when doing a back flip. IMG 6033

Kate and Chane take a long swim across the lagoon and back. IMG 6044

Portrait of a Collaborator: Chane at Rest IMG 6045

Huck Finn (Gil) and Tom Sawyer (Sam) decide to pole up the river. IMG 6064

The tarp comes loose as a game that seems to have no real rules other than "get on the log!" causes almost constant rolling. IMG 6080

There was also some "synchronized swimming" in the shallows. IMG 6092

Serena demonstrates that the log also works as a meditation raft. IMG 6098

Glynn and Kate take a quick swim down to visit Tom and Huck on the raft. IMG 6105

And the game continues. IMG 6124

We win! IMG 6144

As a small cloud drifts past the sun, Tom and Huck drift under the bridge. IMG 6154

This may be the least efficient boat propulsion ever deployed at Tinkering School. IMG 6181

Tom and Huck return safely from far Tortuga. IMG 6210

"Let's jump off the log!" says Glynn. IMG 6232

Always bring a gymnast or two to the beach. Crazy stuff like this will happen spontaneously. Althea does a handstand as Rhody looks on. IMG 6242

"Silly gymnasts," says Glynn, "logs are for jumping!" IMG 6260

"No," says Althea, "handstands!" IMG 6269

Sam agrees with Glynn, jumping is great! IMG 6276

"Diving!" says Kate as she knifes into the water leaving almost no splash. The Russian judge awarded 9.2 points. IMG 6277

Kip aligns himself with the jumpers. IMG 6278

And Rhody aligns herself with the center of the earth and the hand standing party. IMG 6293

Ending with a backflip dismount. IMG 6296

No one is surprised to see that Rhody's brother Gil is also a hand-stander. IMG 6312

Everyone, re-applies sunscreen after leaving the lagoon. Parents everywhere breathe a sigh of relief. IMG 6335

Sam supermans along the beach looking for injustice and evildoers. IMG 6340

Portrait of a Young Tinkerer: Sam IMG 6367

And we close out the day back where we started, in the cold clean waters of the Pacific Ocean. IMG 6360

These are our feet. IMG 6378

Day Three - The Ball Must Roll

2013 Session 1 - SeniorsgeverComment

The Spring goats start the day playing their favorite game - king of the hill. Getting to see this is a good reason to take a walk in the mornings.IMG 5406

Work begins quickly as the teams (consisting of constantly shifting members) get to work. The elevator presents new and shifting challenges as it takes shape. IMG 5410

Althea takes to a tree to move the uphill end of the zip-line for what will turn out to be just one of nearly a dozen places that are tried. IMG 5412

The support for the elevator reaches further and further out from the barn railing, somewhere out there is the solution to the problem of lifting a bowling ball up to head height. IMG 5413

Althea heads up another tree to move the uphill attachment point. IMG 5419

And from that attachment point, the line clears the garden fences easily. IMG 5424

The blue bowling ball is loading into the sling for a test of the new line angle. IMG 5426

The angle turns out to be good, but the line droops under the load of the ball and the sling hits the fence - dropping the ball into the bramble on the uphill side of the garden fence. Mica proves up to the task of retrieving the ball. IMG 5434

Rhody and Gil are working on the transition from the funicular section to the elevator section. IMG 5436

Meanwhile, up by the ranch house, the aerial rail system has been dismantled and is now being redesigned. The new plan is to take advantage of some of the trees (each of which has, at some point in the past two days, been the anchor for the zip-line section) and run the rail along the side of the road. IMG 5443

Serena uses her telekinesis to keep the ball in the rail. IMG 5446

Portrait of a Young Tinkerer: Kip at play. IMG 5453

Gabriel and Serena become well acquainted with the ratchet mechanism on the big compression strap. IMG 5466

Some major decisions have been made on the elevator and a new wave of progress is made. IMG 5476

Mica works on her core strength has she leans way out and drives in the screws that hold one of the heavy-duty pulleys. IMG 5479

The funicular will roll up the road, then up the ramp, bump into the end, and dump the ball onto the v-rail - at least that's the theory. Now if only we had a funicular. IMG 5480

Snack break with Stan in Barn One. IMG 5488

Portrait of a Young Tinkerer: Elijah at the Barn IMG 5502

Nikki often rides the line between serious design discussion and silly nonsequitor. IMG 5506

Portrait of a Young Tinkerer: Mica Fights Off the Paparazzi IMG 5509

Portrait of a Collaborator: Stan at Work IMG 5511

Yes, even the bathroom rail had to be tried in the ever-more desperate search for the right pair of anchors for the zip-line section. IMG 5515

Portrait of a Young Tinkerer: Glynn in Safety Gear IMG 5516

Resetting the pulley for the zip-line. IMG 5517

Chane and Althea soon discover that almost clearing the gate post is no better than not clearing the gate post at all. The line gets taken down and moved again. IMG 5523

And, when you need a break, there is always a goat that is happy to see you. IMG 5531

Or one that is happy to be sleeping in a patch of sun. IMG 5535

Portrait of a Young Tinkerer: Nikki, Patron Saint of the Persistent IMG 5542

With Althea visiting the Elevator team, Serena scrambles up the tree to set the new uphill anchor position on the zip-line section. IMG 5555

Where another person might just stare off into space when they didn't quite know what to do next, Gil carves a tiny bow and arrow. IMG 5566

Later, we discover that he is not immune to the charms of three-day old baby goat. IMG 5595

Then, when it seems almost impossible, the elevator catches a rolling ball and delivers it to the goal spot five feet higher. IMG 5658

And the zip-line clears all obstacles and delivers the ball to the funicular loading area - if only we had a funicular. IMG 5680

Glynn and Gil re-tune the elevator delivery ramp. IMG 5694

And then this happened. IMG 5701

"Is that a prototype of a guide rail?" asked Gever. "Uh, yeah," said the young tinkerer, "it's a prototype - that we're going to keep using." IMG 5737

It's possible that Gever does not quite approve of the proposed solution. IMG 5768

You know it's a great day when it counts as progress that a bowling ball has ker-splatted into a muddy ditch. IMG 5779

Days One and Two - Life on a Farm

2013 Session 1 - Seniorsgever1 Comment

For the first time since I started Tinkering School in 2005, it started without me. They refreshed their skills on the Tinkering School tool bench. D7K 7370

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Then something amazing happened in one of the nearby stalls. D7K 7383

Three baby goats were born. D7K 7387

D7K 7410

Then Josh started the week for us with a question: how can a bowling ball get from the Ranch House to Barn One, powered only by gravity, twice in a row? He marked the spot on the barn porch where the bowling ball must arrive.

D7K 7427

Which lead to some immediate design work. First on paper. D7K 7431

D7K 7433

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Then in prototype. D7K 7435

IMG 5262

Which lead to refinement, and then construction started in earnest. By the time I went up to Barn One with the tinkerers, things were already in full swing. IMG 5266

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Followed by a successful test of the first section of high-altitude, low-friction, bowling ball transport. IMG 5331

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Then a lunch break that includes cards and baby goats. IMG 5334

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The transport system works again at the installation site. IMG 5350

And the elevator system that will raise the ball up onto the barn porch begins to take shape. IMG 5360

In order to drive a huge lag bolt into the ground (anchor for the counterweight that will lift the ball onto the porch), Gil and Gabriel exhaust all possibilities in the toolbox and then end up re-shaping a smaller lag bolt to fit a socket onto an electric drill. IMG 5373

And we tested the aerial bowling ball transport track until the sun began to set behind the hills. IMG 5395

Because there is really nothing more beguiling than seeing a big blue bowling ball drift slowly overhead. IMG 5396

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