I just visited Utrecht Fab Lab, and met with Johan de Stigter,  Jelle Boomstra, and Wouter Pijzel.  Thanks for the friendly welcome, and the chat.

But mostly thanks to Johan for introducing me to (and supplying my first set of) Makerbeam.  I already built my first Makerbeam “thing”.

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It isn´t anything … just a load of Makerbeams bolted together.  But it was fun.  Later I´ll actually make something real.

I can´t wait to get back to the UK and start showing it around.

Makerbeam is VERY new.  For a running log of new projects, keep checking Johan´s Makerbeam blog.


In Utrecht, Fab Lab

Rubbish weather in Eindhoven when I left; much nicer here. I discovered how they designed the motorway system around Eindhoven. They took 27 balls of different coloured wool, and threw them all up in the air. Then they asked 10 small kittens to straighten them all out, and when the kittens got tired and fell asleep they passed the design to the engineers to implement.

The engineers didn’t manage to keep the result quite as straightforward as the kittens designed it.

There were times this morning when I needed to pull over to the hard shoulder because I was feeling dizzy.

Only I couldn’t always find the hard shoulder.

It’s quite clear that they have a laser cutter here at Fab Lab. You don’t have to ask. The holder that dispenses coffee pouches is made from laser cut wood, as are the little leaflet holders not he wall. The candy bar dispenser is made from laser-cut acrylic. I must say, I do like laser-cut acrylic; I think I may want a laser cutter even more than I want my 3D printer up and working.

On the other hand, I need the printer to make the vertices for my No Nuts Contrpator, to hold the frame of my laser cutter together!

Why I am excited by Cartesian Robots

I have a vision, seen currently through a mist of uncertainty, of an industry that is exciting and fulfilling, and which brings an important gift to the world, and which will make good money and offer all “stake holders” (I’m old enough to still like the stake-holder concept) wonderful benefits.

The gift is that of the sense of fulfilment that comes from Making.

I’m thinking of the feeling of pride and excitement that a small child has, coming home from school with a shapeless lump of clay, and offers it up and says, “Look, mummy; I made it”. At least up to the moment that mum says, dismissively, “That’s lovely, dear, what is it?”

You may have read “The Power of Making” (if not, get yourself a copy)… that’s where I think this new industry stands, and I believe that facilitating the Power of Making presents great opportunity.

I also believe that 3D printers are a central part of that. A little story …

One of the printers here currently has a spool of bright orange filament loaded. My young grandson, Gabriel, just loves anything orange. To say it’s his favourite colour would be an understatement. So I wondered what we could make him that was orange. Less than 30 minutes later we had a plastic name-plate, “Gabriel Donghi”, in bright orange, with the name in relief, and two very tired blokes, a 30-something Dutch ueber-geek, and me, delighted at what we had conceived, designed, and made in just 30 minutes. That’s the gift, I believe.

Until very recently the gift of the Power of Making was reserved to those with skill and dexterity and artistry running in their veins (or those with skins impervious to criticism).

I’ve always worked with computers because they allow me to produce an apparently polished artefact that shows no sign of the imperfections that I generated along the way. This post will be read and re-read several times before I hit publish, and will be automatically spell-checked. I love that. Without a computer I couldn’t write anything … I couldn’t bear the typos, spelling mistooks, and illegible hand-writing. For me, anything that is computer-controlled that facilitates me in the production of things, like computers currently facilitate my production of words, is a winner.

And it’s a part of my soul that, if I find a route to freedom for some part of my imprisoned self, I’m excited to offer that route to others. Some people see that as generosity of spirit. It isn’t. I just want friends!

And I’m frustrated that, at present, the power of making that digital technology offers the world is only available to geeks.

As an example, there is a totally vital piece of software in 3D printing. It’s the bit that slices up the object into layers, for the printer to print. It’s called SkeinForge. Google it, and read almost anything about SkeinForge. But not for too long. If you are missing the ueber-geek gene from your DNA then reading SkeinForge documentation for more than a few seconds will cause your hair to grow grey and your teeth to fall out!

I believe that if I can deliver the functionality of SkeinForge to world in a way that keeps the world interested, with out changing hair colour or causing expensive dentistry, then we will have a winner.

Oh.  Why “Cartesian Robots”?  3D printers are part of a family of devices that basically move backwards and forwards, left and right, and up and down.  Measurements in these dimensions are called “Cartesian Coordinates” after René Descartes (Cogito Ergo Sum man: ust shows what living in a bread oven can do for you).  These devices can help us with lots of Making: here’s one of my favourites; it sculpts flower-arranging foam, and is made from Lego!

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Wow! I’m a student at Stanford University!

I have just joined an advanced course at Stanford University!  How cool am I?  Well, I guess we won’t know until the end of the course, when we see how I do.

Machine Learning is part of the Stanford Engineering Everywhere program, which offers “some of its most popular engineering classes free of charge to students and educators around the world.”

Cool.  Now to see if I at least understand the introductory class …

In Eindhoven …


Well, here I am in Eindhoven, and I have already packed about 100 small bags with printer parts.

We are both working flat out to ship orders. I will do a summary later today, to let you know how we are doing.

Some people thought that it wasn’t fair that I was going to get my order by coming here when they are still waiting.

Well, my order is dated 14 June, and we think that it’s the oldest unshipped order, and we won’t actually “ship” my order until I go home in 12 days time, so my being here is helping you all to jump past me in the queue!

I also intend to make a video that shows the advantages between the V.03 and the V.02 … later!

Now, back to the packing, and struggling to understand the Dutch of this PC!


Oh my bags are packed …

Well, I got the lovely Heidi Stubbs to fix my back, got a lift from Susan and George back to the car, got to Dover in plenty of time, and am now in the VIP lounge (of course) on the DFDS Lines MV Delft.

It costs an extra £12 to upgrade to VIP on DFDS, which made my total ticket price £60 for me and the car, both ways. For my £12 I have exclusive use of the VIP lounge (not many people on board today), endless coffee, tea, juice, fruit and biscuits, a personal waitress (the posh restaurant is closed, but you can get their menu in the VIP lounge), all the newspapers you can read, reclining chairs, free WiFi, and you embark and disembark before anyone else.

Result, if you ask me!

We have now ordered and paid for a starter set of MakerBeam, complete with enough bearings to fix roller skates to a millipede, so I’m excited to get going actually building my first Cartesian robot in more than one dimension (I’m half-way through building the hen house door opener and closer, and I’m using a lead screw, because the door slides sideways, so I think of that as a one-dimensional Cartesian robot).

Actually, we’re still in very early prototype stage of the hen-house door opener, and already the user has requested modifications. Apparently the hens are tending to roost in the nest box, rather than their roosting perches, and I have it on authority that our hens tend to pooh a lot, especially overnight. So the latest mod requested is that 30 minutes before the door closes at night an inner shutter comes down and sweeps any hens out of the nesting box, and keeps them out over night. Then, in the morning the main door opens and lets them out to scratch around, and 30 minutes later the nesting box is automatically opened for business.

Next we will need an egg detector that will connect to the Internet Of Things via WiFi and Pachube, so that we can see when the eggs need collecting. Maybe a webcam inside the roosting box will do the trick.

Maybe there are too many other things to finish, before we get too excited by ultra sophistication in the hen run. Powering it all via a solar-tracking solar panel and a 3D printed Vertical Axis Wind Generator comes first.

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