Monday, January 23, 2017

That's a Wrap!

When I came into this class, I had no idea what to expect. All that I knew was that I had walked into a room full of things that I didn't know how to use. The 3D printer was a foreign concept and I'd never even heard of the Silhouette Cameo or Little Bits, but I had to start somewhere. I remember bringing out the huge "How To" binder, and I was horrified because it was so unorganized.

Nevertheless, I had to learn something from it. I saw the little drawers with the circuits, and wondered what someone could even make with those. They turned out to be the Little Bits, which I learned more about in the binder. They were like little puzzle pieces, but the end product was up to you. You could put some together to make a prank buzzer,  a "massager," or a little fan! As I had mentioned in a previous blog, I understood how to operate these more than an actual remote operated vehicle. This was the start of my fascination with the technology in the Hack Shack.

After conquering the Little Bits, I had moved on to explore the Green Screen. It seemed simple enough, until I actually started using the software. I didn't think it would be so difficult to change the background. I don't know if the app was just glitchy, or if I was just being stupid. But I had to refresh the app a few times to actually get it to work, but the important part was that it worked. My friend Holly came in, and we spent about a week just messing around with different backgrounds, and ended up taking some weird pictures. My one regret was not figuring out whether we could upload GIFs as backgrounds, like a GIF of snowfall to use in a video.

The Silhouette Cameo has become my favorite piece of technology in the Hack Shack. I spent the most time with it, and ended up learning how to use it in various different ways. I was too lazy to even read the manual, so I tried to learn it using the best method I had up my sleeve: winging it. It didn't work too well for me because there were weeks where it seemed like I couldn't accomplish anything with it. The cuts were either too deep or too shallow, and the paper that was cut wouldn't come off the way I wanted to.

So I abandoned my method of winging it, and actually started to consult the tutorials. I learned about changing the blades, cut mat settings and the design page settings. After every week, the projects started to improve, and the feeling was priceless. I've learned how to cut out vinyl stickers, make stencils, and even make temporary tattoos (which I didn't even know you could make on your own!).  This semester, I have learned so many things that I wouldn't have if I hadn't taken this class. I'm so excited to see what the next group of Hack Shack staff members have in store, and to also bring this new knowledge into my life.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A “Blueprint” to Game Designing With Unreal Engine 4

Ever wonder how events and functions in a game are made, like triggering a cutscene of a boss or even shooting a gun? Well there are many many variations and alternatives to the tools that allow us to make these but specifically in Unreal there are 2 primary things: blueprints and C++.

What is a blueprint?
Well to answer that question one would have to understand the term "visual scripting", so what is it. The easiest way to describe it would be to compare it to programming--the two are very much alike. Coding or programming can be described as writing a series specific instructions that work together for the computer or program to follow, so imagine it as a putting together a puzzle which shows a completed picture after putting together all the pieces correctly.

So a blueprint would basically be the same thing as coding but displayed in a more simplistic and visual way compared to code. It has a visual set of instructions that tells the game engine what to do, very similar to coding right?

The boxes as seen above are what we call "nodes", these are what replaces lines of code that we would have had to write. The lines connecting them allow them to work together and send each other information such as relaying the position of a certain object to another box or "node". These lines can have varying colors which represent different types of values being sent (Ex. Green would mean a float, red would be a boolean etc).

When to Use C++ or Blueprints


Although using coding languages such as C++ can replace many functions of blueprints, there are many things blueprints cannot do as well that C++ can. When you are firing an automatic gun (such as above) a TON of information is relayed and used to calculate in so little time, the trajectories, the damages, all that needs to be gathered and used in milliseconds. This is where using a blueprint would not work. C++ is generally used to do the heavy lifting, all of the fast and intricate calculations and executes like firing that rifle in the picture.


So in contrast to C++, blueprints are useful for the more simple functions such as an elevator system. All that needs to be done is determine whether something is done or not and the object or lift will rise up. Of course C++ could do this as well but by using blueprints for functions such as these you are saving yourself from having to write so many lines of code which could be replaced with just one node. When I was first starting out using Unreal Engine 4, I made a lift system in C++ which took hours. After I taught myself blueprints, I made a lift system in 10 minutes, so learn from my mistake folks.

If You're Interested
This is a very basic and in depth tutorial by Unreal to teach you how to make a light turn on when playing It helped me out a lot in gaining an understanding of blueprints.

The Hack Shack Needs the Holo Cube from Merge VR

By: Owen Moore

As I was doing my daily routine of procrastination, eating, more procrastination, and finally doing my homework, I was scrolling through my news feed and came across CES 2017. Naturally, I got sucked in. I read the entire article, and then decided to start researching CES and all the venues and companies that were attending.
For those who don't know, CES is a yearly trade convention organized by the Consumer Technology Association, and is the abbreviated form for the Consumer Electronic Show. Although this title may seem boring, CES is the melting pot for the newest trends in technology for the coming year. It occurs every January at the Las Vegas Convention Center, and hosts presentations of new technologies in the consumer electronics industry. And this year was its 50th anniversary!
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As I was losing myself to the countless vendors and subcategories of what was at CES, I came across this company called Merge VR. When I saw this name, I found myself mindlessly clicking on the link. "No more, I need to my homework," I said to myself putting my arms in front of me as if I was creating a wall between myself and the computer. (of course, I proceeded to click on the link).
What I found was that Merge VR is similar to many other attempts to make virtual reality cheaper, and more accessible. One site called it " one of the most colorful Google Cardboard clones you'll see on shelves in stores," (Holly, "Holocube by Merge VR Was the Coolest Surprise from CES"). Although this is interesting and all, the item that fascinated me the most was the Holo Cube, which they created as well. This cube uses AR (augmented reality) to perform a variety of tasks. According to its website, it is the "world's first interactive, holographic toy that you can hold in the palm of your hand" (Merge Labs Inc.). With this, you can play games, and so much more. When watching its promotional video (link at the bottom)  it showed clips of the block being transformed into the brain, the heart, and the skull. This makes me believe that you could even use it to study for classes such as Anatomy and Physiology.
The cool thing about the Holo Cube is that you don't need the Merge VR headset. With the Holo Cube you can use any type of headset that uses a smart device. For example, you can use Google Cardboard (which, the Hack Shack possesses) with the Holo Cube. All you need is the Merge app and ta-da! You can use the Holo Cube!

Link to Merge VR's Website where you can find the promotional video:

Works Cited
"About Us." CES. Consumer Technology Association, Jan. 2016. Web.
Holly, Russell. "Holocube by Merge VR Was the Coolest Surprise from CES." Android Central. N.p., 09 Jan. 2017. Web.
Merge Labs Inc. "HOLO CUBE | Merge VR | Virtual Reality, Powered by Your Smartphone." Merge VR. N.p., n.d. Web.
Picture of CES. Digital image. Panasonic Newsroom Global. Panasonic, Jan. 2012. Web.
Stein, Scott. "We Held the Mysterious Holo Cube and Survived." CNET. N.p., 05 Jan. 2017. Web.

3D Designing and How To Get Started (A Look at Two Different Programs)

By: Jarrod Bernier
    The Oyster River Hack Shack's star attraction is the 3D printer that we allow students to print almost any design on. To make these designs we rely generally on two programs: 123D Design and Sketch-Up. These two programs are both modeling softwares that can be used to create designs for you to print. I wanted to make it clear which one you should be using at what time, and what the benefits of using one over the other are.

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    First, I'll say that the more simple of the two is easily 123D Design. It is much more user friendly and beginner friendly. For anyone who is just getting into designing I would strongly recommend starting on 123D Design. It starts you off with basic 3-Dimensional shapes and allows you to manipulate them in order to achieve your goal. The downside is that because you only have those starter shapes, it limits what you can do in the program. However for a beginner, the pre-designed shapes are extremely useful. For simple builds 123D Design is certainly the way to go.
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    Sketch-Up, the more difficult of the two, is much more complex to learn. Its interface is less user friendly and the whole program itself is based on the idea that the person using it already knows how to design. Instead of providing starting 3D shapes, it only allows for the creation of 2D shapes and lines to start out with. At the beginning, this only adds steps to the construction process. Instead of being able to drag a cube out of a menu, you have to construct it with 12 separate line segments. However this allows for more creativity because it does not limit you to the manipulation of preexisting objects. Instead it allows for the creation of complex shapes that may not necessarily fall into one of the categories given by 123D Design. 
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    For beginners I would recommend learning the basic concepts of 3D design with 123D Design. Start there and once you feel comfortable with that I would move on to Sketch-Up. Sketch-Up allows for much more complex designs but they will take a long time to complete. I personally like Sketch-Up more because it gives me more freedom. These two programs are just the programs that we use at the Oyster River Hack Shack. Many more programs do exist that will also let you accomplish the same projects. 

Image result for picture of the Hack Shack at Oyster River

    If you're interested in learning how to design, stop by the Hack Shack to get started.

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AGU 2016

Ethan Fahnestock
This December, I had the opportunity to present a poster at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco. With over 24,000 people attending, the meeting was spread across four enormous buildings called the Moscone Center.
Half of one of the buildings making up the Moscone Center. Apologies for the blurry photo

On the first day, the Bright Stars Program - an initiative supporting high school research - hosted a field trip to various scenes around San Francisco. We started by driving down to a national park, where we learned about whaling and hiked a trail or two before heading back towards the city. Next we toured a facility doing ocean research with car-sized ROVs. The tour included a visit to their manufacturing space, where they were in the process of building autonomous torpedos to map the seafloor. After the tour, our guide talked about some of the discoveries their ROVs had made. He explained that there was a backlog of species waiting to be officially “discovered” because they didn’t have the time to do all of the paperwork.

That night, I presented my poster at a “practice session” of sorts. I talked to around 40 people over the next few hours; many talked about the interesting research they were involved in. One woman had spent the last three years working on a very similar problem as the one my research addressed, with a very different approach.
I suppose I should explain my project. Over the last few months I have been attempting to create cloud masks for satellite imagery. NASA has launched several satellites under the LandSat program to image the earth and researchers use these images to watch the earth change. A problem with spaced-based earth imagery is the presence of clouds rendering an image useless. Spending time sorting through these images take a lot of time and makes their use difficult for researchers.
My goal was to ease this process by writing software that can identify clouds in images taken specifically over Greenland for the purpose of glacial termini tracing. I worked with a glaciologist based at the University of Bristol and data from project GO-LIVE to accomplish this. In summary I used GO-LIVE’s data on how well images correlated with each other to build cloud masks for images. These masks can then be averaged over a specific area to determine if clouds are covering the landform of interest in the image. This is described in more detail in the poster above.
A NASA researcher presenting on CO2 emissions

The following day I manned my poster at the main session (first picture in this post). After presenting in the morning, I was free to look at other’s research and explore the exhibit hall. I met other high school students doing everything from analyzing soil’s effect on plant growth to predicting solar flares using tensor flow and machine learning. The exhibition hall was full of presentations from big companies like NASA and private companies selling research equipment.

After a busy couple of days, it was time to say goodbye to San Francisco.

Apple vs. Android

By James Kahn
Android is Google's software child, what some might consider iOS’s ugly cousin. I don't consider it that at all though, even if I can understand where it is coming from. Android being open sourced is used by most smartphone companies which are competing at various levels. Unlike Apple that produces one phone at a set price of  ~$800, you can buy an Android for just $20 at Walmart or spend over $92,000 on a GoldVish.
This means multiple things. First, not all Android phones are meant to compete 1 to 1 against an iPhone.The hardware in Android can vary from very basic to extremely powerful. This leads to point 2: the software is not as optimized. Google simply can't optimize it for thousands of devices. Inevitably, it’s less stable and not as fast at running software, but it also means that depending on my budget I can pick up a phone for cheap or a really high end phone if I want to. I can also find a phone that will suit my use, like one with a big battery, a nice camera, or fast processor.
With Android you can’t guarantee a lot, it all depends on the phone brand. But if you want to learn how to do a little bug fixing or just learning how a phone’s software works, a cheap phone can be more than perfect. I have had more issues with my Android phone than I ever did with my Apple, yet I would never go back to Apple. The ability to modify anything on my phone and really make it my own is extremely nice. Simply going to the movies, I saw 8 plus iPhone users with the same background and same style body--nothing new or interesting. I, on the other hand, bought a phone you had to be invited to buy, something only people really into tech would even know existed. Android vs Apple comes down to what do you want: simplicity or adaptability.

Think before you buy, do a little research and find what fits you best, because how can one phone that Apple designs possibly fit the needs of every person?

Rockets: An Introduction

by Ethan Fahnestock

An important ability of any rocket is the ability to get off of the ground. To do this, the rocket has to overcome the opposing force of gravity. Different types of rockets do this in different ways. The type showcased in this blog post - essentially an overpowered stomp rocket - uses air pressure to throw the rocket skyward.

An easy way to represent the forces acting on the rocket is using something called a free body diagram, or FBD. As visible in the picture on the right, the “rocket force” is larger than the gravitational force, resulting in a net upwards force. Physics students will remember Newton’s second law, depicted to the right as well. Dividing the net force by the mass of the rocket gives you the acceleration the rocket experiences upward.

Physics Sidenote: As a rocket expends its fuel, its mass decreases and the same force packs a bigger punch. You can see this effect on SpaceX’s livestreams.

An Example

Alright, enough physics! Over the past semester I have been messing around with different rocket designs I would like to share with you. I encourage you to play around with some of these ideas if they intrigue you.

Now most large scale rockets use some form of combustion to propel them upward. Unfortunately introducing combustion to your homemade rocket can be difficult to do right off the bat. As mentioned earlier, this rocket uses pressure to propel it. This means that the rocket doesn’t require an on-board tank to hold propellant, making it easy to build.

Making your own propellant isn’t impossible - I plan to do it soon - but it requires more precautions. Starting a forest fire is not a fun thing to do. If you are interested in making your own propellant, check out this video.  

The Launcher

Here is a video of the launcher. It uses a bicycle pump, PVC, and a sprinkler valve. After everything is put together, the launcher can get up to an astonishing 120 PSI! If something gave out, plastic shrapnel would go everywhere, so be careful. After pumping it up, a button is clicked to trigger the sprinkler valve and the rocket flies. Check it out in the video. If you want to make your own, check out the guide this one was based off of.

The Rockets

The rockets shown above were all grouped into the “Mk1” series. Most of the rockets were made of paper or tin foil combined with tape and a 3D printed nose cone. Besides occasionally blowing up, these rockets did quite well. Using rough trigonometric estimations, we measured the maximum height to rest around 55 meters! They made a satisfying thud when they crashed back into the ground. The “Mk2” series was defined by their rigid build qualities and housing of a data logger shown to the left below. The rocket on the right was completely 3D printed! The larger rocket - shown in the video above - launched to a height of 80 meters!

The data logger was made using a cheap pressure sensor and an Arduino Micro. Check out this website for more information on the circuitry.

Alright, that brings this to a wrap! I hope you learned something about DIY rocketry. If you are looking for an interesting weekend project I couldn’t recommend this highly enough.

The Voice of the Hack Shack

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The Voice of The Hack Shack
By: Jarrod Bernier

    Last year I was asked to join the Hack Shack, so this year I gladly accepted that invitation. I've been in the Hack Shack for almost a semester now, and what a ride it's been. I, unlike many of the Hack Shack employees, was not recruited for my aptitude in technology, but rather for my public speaking ability. I quickly stepped into the unofficial role of Student Voice in the Hack Shack. Image result for speech

It started when I was the sole representative of the Hack Shack at the Open House, where parents came to see what their students were taking for courses. The next thing I did was talk to the administration about making the Hack Shack course count for a computer credit. The newest thing that I was asked to do was to assist in giving a presentation at the  Christa McAuliffe Technology ConferenceImage result for christa mcauliffe technology conference
for 2016.

I graciously accepted the invitation and was very excited to get to see what the conference was all about. When the day arrived and I finally got there, I was a bit intimidated. I've been pretty casually involved in my high school makerspace and here I am surrounded by the people who actually work in this field. It also struck me as interesting that I was one, if not the, only students there. But once I got over the initial shock I strapped myself in for a fun and informative day.

The first activity on the agenda was the Keynote speaker. The day I attended it was Jenifer Fox (Shown Below) who gave the Keynote speech. For me it was a very aggravating speech. She spoke a lot about the maker movement and what you can accomplish, but she did so in ways that, at least to me, seemed to not quite make sense. One of these points was that you don't need a tools to have a makerspace. Which I thoroughly disagree with, I think an analogy is in order. If you were a pool player without a pool cue or a pool stick, are you actually a pool player? Despite all of the comments she made along those lines I still thought it was a very informative speech. I still learned a lot about the movement itself that I hadn't previously known.Image result for jenifer fox CMTC

After the Keynote Mrs. Pearce and I actually attended a second speech by Jenifer Fox. This covered the maker movement as a whole. But what I actually got the most out of was when, near the end of her speech, she transitioned the speech into a Q&A. Here I got to hear some of the ideas, hardships, and questions that other Makerspace's representatives had. Some of them were very interesting questions that I myself had never thought about. I also got some insight into different sides of problems that I had never seen before.

The rest of the day was more presentations and more speakers, but one interesting presentation that I attended was the presentation of a new software called FableVision Learning. It's a software that has three different programs all for educational purposes. The first is a publishing software, meant to help elementary schools "publish" large amounts of their students books. However this provides the student/parent with higher quality books that will last a much longer time. The second program is an animation software that teaches kids about the basics of animation. It even has three built in difficulties that allow for students to progress at their own rate. And the last program was a design program for 3D paper models. This was what I was most interested in. It allows for students to easily design things like Pop-Up cards, and buildable shapes. It was really easy to use and could be used to save the 3D printer for the jobs that actually need to be plastic. They were very interested in getting my opinion on things because they were, at the time, in the process of redesigning a high school friendly version of each of the programs. The programs were all pretty easy to use and well designed and the presentation was actually a lot of fun. After the presentation they offered me a free trial of all of the programs and all I had to do was email them, which was awesome!

Then came the moment of truth, we were going to present. The presentation we were giving was about the story of our Hack Shack. It was titled "Vast Amounts of Testosterone & Plenty of Sharp Objects" (which I'll have you know does not apply to me). The presentation went amazingly well and we even got quite a few people. I had a great time presenting and I even got asked some pretty interesting questions.
I had a great time at the conference. It was a great learning experience and a really huge honor to be invited. I got to meet so many interesting people, all of whom knew way more about makerspaces than I did.

If you ever get the chance to go, take it! It really was one of the most fun and interesting things I've ever been to!

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