SelfDesign Kids Showoff 3D Printing Skills at TedX

tedxgroup20141118_171420John Krotez and his band of SelfDesign makers have been playing with some pretty exciting tech-stuff over the last year and last week they got a chance to showoff their 3D printing skills at a TedX conference in Vancouver.

That first sentence was a mouthful so maybe I should start at the beginning ….

You are probably wondering what ‘making’ is or who a ‘maker’ is … quoting from Wikipedia

The maker culture is a[n] … extension of DIY culture. Typical interests enjoyed by ‘makers’ include engineering-oriented pursuits such as electronicsrobotics3-D printing, and the use of CNC tools, as well as more traditional activities such as metalworkingwoodworking, and traditional arts and crafts.  Making stresses new and unique applications of technologies, and encourages invention and prototyping. There is a strong focus on using and learning practical skills and applying them creatively.

One of the interests that the SelfDesign Maker group has been exploring a lot is 3D printing … a way of building an object from a 3D model by laying down (or printing) lots and lots of layers of a given material … it is not really as complicated or scary as it sounds.

mc_shotWe also noticed that group menbers have been playing (literally) a lot with Minecraft (duh!).  So, in an effort to combine these two interests the group started printing things that they were creating in Minecraft with 3D printers.  This collision of virtual Minecraft objects and real world items has led to some interesting results … and caught the attention of one of the organizers of a local TedX for kids conference that was hosted in Burnaby this last weekend and is why our maker group was frantically setting up a booth on Sunday.

Ted Conferences are a series of talks given by different speakers on a range of topics (TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design) … the talks are fascinating and the speakers are very engaging.  Nobody in our group was asked to speak this year, instead we were asked to host a booth showcasing Minecraft and 3D printing so that conference attendees could see what we have been up to.  We setup a minecraft workstation and people were encouraged to build something in Minecraft that we then printed out on a 3D printer … totally like Star Trek … just not as fast.  Our booth was REALLY popular, we had a line of people (alright kids) waiting to build something in Minecraft and people were waiting after the conference ended to get their 3D-printed swag.  We were pretty tired by the end of the day, but pretty rewarding to see that much interest in things we have been doing.minecraft prints

This winter our Maker group is expanding its interests and will be offering an on-line SelfDesign robotics course for grade 10.


Minecraft, Programming and the Real World …

I have spent some time over the last couple of years trying to teach the kids programming … for the most part my attempts have been unsuccessful … I was simply not able to interest them.

Recently, my youngest daughter has been (very independently of me)  showing an interest in these kinds of things.  She recently convinced me to help her build a 3D Printer (I will admit she did not have to bend my arm TOO hard) and she has also been asking me the best programming language for a beginner to learn.   (You can see some of our progress with the 3D Printer at this link.)

While helping Helen evaluate a programming language to learn I stumbled across a pretty exciting programming development for Minecraft.  If your kids are at all like two of mine you will already have heard of Minecraft.  If you have not heard about it Minecraft is a real-time game server that allows multiple players to interact together in a virtual world; it is wildly popular.  What I discovered is that the makers of Minecraft have written an interface that allows you to code Python (or Java) to interact with a Minecraft world with scripts that you have written.  They apparently did this specifically to encourage young kids already hooked on Minecraft to learn how to code.

What is really neat is that you can set up this Minecraft/Python programming environment on a Raspberry Pi (a single-board computer) … how cool is that?!  In fact, somebody has already written an introductory, free Python programming ebook that uses this Raspberry Pi/Minecraft combo (called Minecraft Pi) that teaches you how to do things like automatically create a building in minecraft from a python program.

Now, for a totally mind-blowing experience you can take all of this a step further and connect your Minecraft virtual world to the real world.  The beauty of being able to program on a Raspberry Pi is that it is fairly simple to connect the Pi to interface electronics; inputs such as buttons, switches and sensors, and outputs such as LED’s and displays.  Once you’ve mastered some more python programming skills you can cause an action in Minecraft (like moving to a specific location) to do something in the real world (like flash an LED or open your garage door) … or better yet toggling a switch in the real world could cause your Minecraft nemesis to be teleported over a large body of water … your imagination really is the limit.

Sadly, we do not own a Raspberry Pi so I was unable to try some of this out.  However,  you can (and Helen and I did on my Mac and her Windows 7 laptop):

Our really simple first script was:

Screen Shot 2013-11-27 at 6.47.03 AM


It was pretty simple and the free ebook I mentioned earlier looks like a pretty good introduction to programming in Python.  The book is written on the assumption that you are going to use a Raspberry Pi but as I just described you can set this up on any computer and use the book … just ignore the Raspberry Pi stuff.

Getting slightly more complicated I then took a look at talking to an Arduino from a python script (another popular single-board computer used to make things … we are using one in our 3D printer).  It turns out this is pretty straight forward too … I was able to easily blink the lights on an Arduino Uno connected to my computer with a USB cable from a Python script.  This means I could pretty quickly use Python to talk to mine craft and the Arduino (think the real world) at the same time.  I was a little stunned by this … it is fairly easy to put together a Minecraft/Python/single-board computer environment that lets you do a lot of neat things.

There are some amazing possibilities here:

  • Being chased by an angry Minecraft monster?  Run a python script to build your fortress of solitude (in microseconds),
  • Flip a switch in the floor plan of your house that you modelled in Minecraft and watch the light come on in your real house,
  • Press the planetary destruct button you’ve wired to your computer and watch a mine craft world turn completely to water … or disappear.

I am kind-of excited … I feel like I am relating to my kids … sort-of.

How To Build A Rocket Mass Heater eBook & Plans

Are rising heating costs making you search for innovative solutions to heat your home?  Are you feeling guilty about using up yet more of the world’s dwindling fossil fuels with traditional furnaces?  Want to heat with wood but don’t feel like cutting down a forest full of trees? Rocket mass heaters will bring practical elegance to your home while saving money and time. Rocket stoves are super-efficient wood stoves that heat your home with only a few cords of wood a year. Efficient doesn’t mean ugly; you’ll have bragging rights to one of the most inexpensive yet elegant heating solutions that will be the envy of friends and family. Rocket stoves can cost as little as a few hundred dollars if you are an ardent re-user of materials.  If you’ve heard of rocket mass heaters but don’t think you can build it yourself, Chris and Sandra of The Darfield Earthship can help. They will take you step-by-step through the building process of their own rocket mass heater which they built in their earthship in the North Thompson Valley of British Columbia, Canada. This 50-page “How To” manual comes with detailed instructions, photos and three pages of 2’x3′ PDF construction plans.  Previously priced at $19.95 and $9.95 respectively, the book and plans are now bundled together and being offered at the value price of $15.00.


This plan set is for your general information and use only and does not constitute any advice or recommendation (professional or otherwise). In general, the design of a site-constructed masonry heater is dependent on site conditions and the applicable regulatory environment, neither of which is accounted for in these plans.   You should not rely upon any information or materials in these plans for making or refraining from making any specific design decisions. the use of any information or materials in these plans is entirely at your own risk.   I, Chris Newton, accept no liability whatsoever. Particularly, no liability for any direct, indirect, special or other consequential damages of whatever kind, resulting from whatever cause, through the use of any information or material obtained either directly or indirectly from this plan set.

Click on the following links to see PDF samples from the book.

Table Of Contents


Step 5 – Place Base Round Of Fire Bricks

Step 16 – 8″ Horizontal Heat Exchange and Flue×819.jpg