How I Became a Maker

Probably the single most important decision about me that my parents made was to remove me from the institutional education systems and home school me. There was talk from my teachers of getting me diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, but really I was just bored with my classes and had no socially acceptable concept of how to deal with that boredom (incidentally, I still don’t, but that’s a story for another day). Unfortunately for  Mom and Dad, they quickly learned that my disruptive, destructive tendencies would be visited upon them if they did not find ways to entertain me.

Enter: TOPS Science.

TOPS is brilliant. It’s a combination of comic book and pragmatic science lab. Everything in a TOPS science workbook can be done with house hold items. The topics cover a wide range: electricity, chemistry, biology, geology, meteorology–I wouldn’t be surprised if they eventually came out with a nuclear physics issue. I couldn’t get enough of them.

The materials were always simple, and something you probably had lying around anyway. For example, the electric circuits module used aluminum foil backed with scotch tape for wires, paper clips to connect them, and clothesline clips and rubber bands to make a flashlight bulb holder. There were never any exotic parts or chemicals in a TOPS module, and if something was slightly out of the ordinary, it would show you a convenient source for scavenging it from some thing else.

Even after all of the worksheets were done, I would still continue to play with the left over pieces, hooking up DC motors vultured from broken toys, making LEGO gears, testing out rubber-band belt drives, building switches made from bent-up paper clips and aluminum foil, and winding solenoids from ballpoint pens and wire from who-knows-where.

Some things that resulted from a combination of my boredom, ingenuity, and youthful ignorance:

  • A small catapult with a surprisingly long range and a poorly thought-out target area (i.e., a plate glass window).
  • A coil gun that scared the family dog into knocking over a ceramic vase.
  • Experiments in electrolyzing water for basic hydrogen and oxygen that resulted in several toxic chemicals as well as one small explosion.
  • Experiments in electroplating objects with metal from nails and paper clips that looked suspiciously a lot like the previous entry with largely the same results.

It was that second, small explosion that prompted my parents to buy me a computer as a compromise to prevent me from continuing with my increasingly dangerous pursuits in the physical sciences. But, I still carry the basic principles of analog circuits because of these awesome, little books. I don’t know what I ever did to deserve them because it would often lead to new ways for me to endanger my life/the carpet, but they are perhaps the most significant part of how I came to be a builder and maker of things.

Toys that made me a maker

Pipeworks wrench
Pipeworks wrench

I visited my parents at home this Thanksgiving in Hillsborough, NJ and rummaged around the house I grew up in. One of the things I found was a Pipeworks wrench from my childhood tinkering. Pipeworks was a wonderful system that used basic PVC pipes with special connectors to make 90º and 45º angles and seat to snap in. They were like LEGO furniture. I created a wheelbarrow and lemonade stand as in the instructions, but of course quickly moved on to my own designs. The last and best being a small cart I dragged around on my bike until it fell apart. Here’s a video of kid actors having fun with the set. Good times.

Of course, the Pipeworks were only one in a string of awesome toys that encouraged making. As any kid, I had LEGO (that is the proper collective noun apparently.) A true LEGO collection is measured in mass, and I still have about 40lbs of LEGO in my parent’s attic; the ABS plastic withstanding the seasonal temperature shift, but the forgotten batteries corroding the contacts of the battery box in my super-awesome death robot on wheels.

Construx helicopter
Construx helicopter

But every kid had LEGO. I also fondly remember the more obscure Construx. This set was like a smaller Pipeworks with beams that could be connected to make stuff. I had a set like the one pictured here with pulleys and wheels, and I kind of remember breaking those beams quite often with the wrong amount of torsion. It was very architectural though.

I had some K’nex too, another beam toy, but a bit more flexible and durable than Construx. K’nex came out in 1993, and by the time I got some, it was a bit too late for my tinkering age. I was sliding into the deep abyss of adolescence and the darkness of CompuServe image boards.

As a kindergartner I would also play with the lacquered wood blocks at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Grandma had a special set of blocks that she kept high on the mantle away from kids hands. They were heavy stone and rounded from years of play; she played with them when she was a kid. It’s amazing that while researching this post, I found those same blocks: Anchor Blocks, or Anker-Steinbaukasten as they are known as in Germany where they are still made. They are quite expensive now too. Is this the best present for my pieces and nephews? Maybe they can share a set.


There was also a crazy toy called Zaks that I had a bag of. Zaks are equilateral triangles and squares that snap together at the edge. When completed, these polyhedral models look a bit like the STL mesh files I build today with the makerbot at Hive76. What made this set especially cool was that some pieces has a 4-stud LEGO pattern on them that allowed for easy attachement to LEGO models. I don’t know why I didn’t use this mind-blowing connection more in my models, but I remembered it just fine. Maybe I didn’t want to get my toys mixed up. I should have been building super intensive toys with Construx and the frame, Zaks, the moveable skin over a upper skeleton of K’nex with all the inner workings and details handled by LEGO attached to the top of a Pipeworks cart. Sigh. These are the regrets of a youth misspent. Today you can print out a Duplo block to Brio track adapter which to me seems like the greatest thing in the world. I wonder if I can print a Zaks-Construx adapter, or a new line of Pipeworks connectors with LEGO studs …

I got to get to work making stuff!

Make Philly BBQ is this Sunday!

Get outside this Sunday, and spend some time with other makers, crafters, hackers, designers, and a lot of other ‘-er’s at Make:Philly’s summer BBQ. As usual there will be food (bring some of your own), frisbee, people hanging out, and Water Rockets. Bring your or, or make on on the spot using whatever happens to be lying around, and prepare to get soaked when you take your turn at the launcher.

If you were around last year, you got to play with The Wondergy team’s “Solar Smores” machine, a parabolic mirror perfect for toasting some mallow. They are bringing it back for this years BBQ, along with some new toys, like a trash-can launcher, that will send a trash can on a 20-50 foot flight.

In Short:
Sunday, August 8th, 1-3PM
Lemon Hill, Fairmount Park, Philadelphia
Kid Friendly: Yes
Food: Potluck – please bring something to share with 3-4 other people.
Water Rocket: Build yours at home and bring with you, along with a bottle of water

Happy International Women’s Day!

March is Women’s History Month and today is International Women’s Day, woohoo! Over at Geek Feminism there’s an open thread for Women’s Day events. From the blog: “If your geek group is doing anything for IWD, let us know in this thread, particularly if it’s online and open to participants around the world. (If it’s a meatspace event, please remember to be clear about which area!)”

Who are your favorite women in science and tech? Maybe Hypatia, the Egyptian mathematician and astronomer? Are you in luv with Ada Lovelace, considered the great grandmama of modern programming? Can I get a hell yeah for brilliant evolutionary biologist Lynn Margulis? How about the team of women who programmed ENIAC? Myself, I’m partial to one Voltairine DeCleyre, an anarchist, feminist, BFF of Emma Goldman, and the namesake of Philadelphia’s own Radio Volta.

Dr. Clelia Mosher debunked Victorian myths about womens’ frailty and out-Kinseyed Kinsey by about 50 years

Is there a professor, colleague, friend, kin, internet celeb, garage inventor, or other brilliant lady in science and tech, ancient or modern, living or dead, local or halfway around the world, who you just have to shout out? Let us know! If you want to write or record a snip about someone you <3 during Women's History Month, get in touch and we'll make it easy to get your thoughts to our blog. In the meantime, here's a laundry list of inventive women that will keep you Wikipedia-ing into next week.

Hive76 Store – Open For Business!

Good news, kids! We have a store! It’s on the internet!!! That means you can now pay for things like donations, classes, membership dues, and the somewhat delayed but still awesome 2010 Men of Hive76 Calender, all online! We’ve got some really awesome plans in the works for Hive76-designed products, so keep an eye out in the next few months. We also have this rad custom ticketing system, so if you pay for your event before it happens, you’ll get a genuine Hive76 event ticket. They have QR code, people! Worth it!

Right now we’re accepting PayPal and oldschool cash/checks, but we might add Google Checkout if enough people want it. Feel free to poke around, buy some stuff, send us money, go wild! Most importantly, let us know if there’s something you would like to see or a way we could make the whole experience better. You can leave a comment here or send an email to [orders at hive76 dot org]. kbye!

Hackerspaces in Space

Workshop88 from Chicago sent us this awesome contest information…


  • One team per hackerspace. Any size build team, but only 10 people for the launch and retrieval team.
  • Payload must be under 4 pounds.
  • Parts cost limit of $250.00. Must show receipts or have other proof of purchase.
  • Payload must return with pictures taken from the flight.
  • Only one official launch per team allowed. Notice of official launches must be given by 8 a.m., and a judge must be
  • present for the launch to count.
  • All local laws and ordinances must be followed throughout the entire competition.
  • Balloon camera must take pictures of the curvature of the earth.
  • The Event Board may judge any other conduct considered outside “the spirit” of the event and disqualify a team
  • that does not adhere to it by majority vote.
  • Scoring
  • Retrieval Time Base: 50 points. 1 point off for every minute past 45 minutes.
  • Weight of Payload 5 points added for every 1/2 pound under 4 lb.
  • Cost of Setup Base: 50 points. 0.5 points off for every dollar over $150.
  • Total Points Retrieval Time Score + Weight Score + Cost Score

Event Board & Judges

  • Judges are members of each hackerspace, and will be submitted to the Event Board. They will ensure all rules are followed.
  • One person from each hackerspace will be on the Event Board. The Event Board will oversee the event, judge each applicant, and declare winners.


  • Competition starts immediately upon challenges going out.
  • Teams will indicate acceptance of challenge by March 1, 2010 (either at, or the attached PDF form).
  • Launches will be held between June 1, 2010 and August 31, 2010.
  • Results of the official launch must be sent in by September 7, 2010.
  • Winner will be announced on or before September 30, 2010.

Giant 12 Sided Die

For your entertainment and reading pleasure on this fine day of Snowpocolypse #2 Electric Boogaloo. I present another “are you kidding me? Did they really build that?” project from the crew at Tango-Echo.

Yes, that is a giant 12 sided die. No, you can’t have one. Well, unless you make one yourself. The slideshow of the project is pretty nifty. I really think Geekadelphia needs to get one of these outside of their shiny new secret Headquarters.

Stickers, we haz them!

Our first batch of stickers have arrived. That being said, the first person (non-Hive76 member) to tweet this post, and comment the link to said tweet here will get some stickers for free!

Hive76 Stickers

Thanks to Highlander Graphics for the great work!

TGIMBOEJ lands at Hive76

TGIMBOEJ (The Great Internet Migratory Box Of Electronics Junk) has landed at Hive76! What’s in it?photo

A gravimetric multimeter?

A samurai dagger converted into a soldering iron?

Augmented Insanity Sunglasses?

Your guess is as good as any.

Since the contents will likely change instantaneously upon exposure, the ONLY way to find out is to stop by Hive76 tomorrow night for the grand box opening, Schrödinger’s cat be damned.