Meet Your Maker: Lee’s Electronic

MYM-Lee's-ElectronicLee’s Electronic was established in the heart of Vancouver in 1993, and has been proudly serving local businesses, manufacturers, and people for more than 20 years. They are one of few remaining electronic component stores in the lower mainland. They provide multilingual technical support for students of all levels, from elementary to undergraduate. They’re huge supporters of the Maker scene in general, and the Vancouver Mini Maker Faire in particular. They answered our “Meet Your Maker” questions the way they do everything else – as a team!

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What is Lee’s exhibiting at VMMF this year?

We are making a wirelessly controlled mini tank using a Raspberry Pi micro-computer (we called it the PiTank). Viewers will be able to navigate the tank through obstacles and hopefully if we can make more than two, the tanks might play soccer or a game against one another. This exhibit is to introduce micro-controllers to the general public and how easily available it is for everyone to join into the fun of building.

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What else do you make?

Members of the team each have their own individual projects, like autonomous romba vacuums, lego machines, car custom lighting, and IOS/Android app development.

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What is your favourite part about being a Maker? Your least favourite part?
Our favourite part about being Makers is the feeling one gets after working on a project for many, many days and when you power it up, IT WORKS! That feeling is extraordinary – everyone needs to experience it! Our least favourite part would be struggling to debug code that you know should work, but doesn’t. It’s tedious – but when you find the problem, it’s very rewarding!
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How else does the passion for making manifest in your life? Where does it come from?
The curiosity for newer and better ways to solve current problems and future problems encourages us Makers to strive forward.
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Have you been a maker your whole life? 

Some of us on the team have been Makers since an early age, and some have just joined the team not too long ago. Our team members come from various different fields of study and work; fields such as human kinetics, computing science, engineering, chemistry, linguistics, and industrial design.

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Who’s your favourite Maker? Other than yourself.

Some of our favourite Makers include Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman (Myth Busters), Ben Heck (Element 14), and historical makers like Thomas Edison.

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Who or what inspires you to keep on making, even when your project falls to pieces?

Other Makers in the community are a huge inspiration. When you see how their projects have changed the lives of so many people, and how you yourself may be using their invention, it makes you wonder how you can contribute back.

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What is it about Vancouver Mini Maker Faire It that attracts you as an exhibitor?

Vancouver Mini Maker Faire is a great way to not just show your projects, but to invite others to also be curious and introduce them to the new era of electronics. We’re really looking forward to seeing all the interesting projects other Makers are working on.

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Your company is a VMMF 2014 Sponsor. In fact, Lee’s has supported VMMF right from the start! What is it about the Faire that draws your organization?

We have been around for more than 20 years empowering students, hobbyist, and Makers of all ages with the parts and tools they need. We -along with organizations like the Vancouver Hackspace- have been working to build communities of makers and all interested in electronics. We are grateful to see an organization like Vancouver Mini Maker Faire also shares this vision with us. We believe that the VMMF is an awesome event that everyone needs to see and experience for themselves.

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Find out more about Lee’s Electronic at the 2014 Vancouver Mini Maker Faire, on their website, or on their Facebook page.

 







MADE IN VANCOUVER: Meet a Sponsor, Zaber Technologies

Zaber L-R: left to right: Andrew "Bruce" Lau, Rob Steves, and Jesse Schuhlein.

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In 1997, Andrew “Bruce” Lau (left, above) and a group of friends from engineering school dreamed of starting their own business. With diverse interests and knowledge of electro-mechanical systems, programming, and physics, the group formed Zaber Technologies. The company designed and manufactured a variety of products (a rowing machine and a 3D scanner to name a few) before settling on precision robotics.

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In the late nineties, precision linear actuators used DC motors with gearbox and encoders. They required complicated motion control cards, bulky controllers, separate driver amplifiers and special power supplies.

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In short: precision motion control was:
•    expensive
•    difficult to set up
•    and cumbersome to use.

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So the group recognized the need for an inexpensive, integrated solution for motion control. They wanted to make motion control products that were easy to set up and ready to use right out of the box, so they created the world’s first precision linear actuator with a built-in controller. It was based on a stepper motor instead of a DC motor, gearbox, and encoder combination.

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Now with more than 30 employees, Zaber Technologies manufactures motion-control products for a variety of uses, including bio-technology, optics, physics and industrial applications.

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I sat down with Andrew to find out more about Zaber, what makes it an inspiring local company, and why they’re a strong supporter of the Maker community.

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Who uses your products?

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ABL: They’ve been used to find cures for cancer, for space-bound instrumentation, drug discovery, lab automation, a space elevator… even for tracking worms! Basically it’s a tool for people to use, like a very elaborate screwdriver.

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Zaber - row of products on a shelf

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You’re a Vancouver-owned and operated company. Can you tell us what this means and why it’s important to you?

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ABL: We are fully employee owned, which means that all our shareholders are current or former employees, and all our employees get stock options. If you ask me, a business exists to support the people who work there — not the other way around. At Zaber, we treat everybody the same. Though we’re a growing company, we still have that small company feel, and in order to create this you need to care about the culture and the people.

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Also, I think it’s really important to think locally when manufacturing products. Our customers are based all around the world, but the electronics we manufacture are created right here in Vancouver.  We don’t want to outsource overseas just because it’s cheaper. For example, when we work with a local supplier to manufacture circuit boards, we visited their shop to make sure they have high work-place standards. We understand every aspect of our process, and this includes the environmental impact.

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Speaking of the environment, how important is sustainability to Zaber Technologies?

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ABL: Very important. We do our own composting. We recycle everything. We have a secure bike shed. We’ve even won Bike to Work week for the past four years!

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I think as a Maker it’s really important to understand the upstream and downstream of your products. You can’t ignore the fact that after you’re done making something, it will end up somewhere, so this is why all of our parts are replaceable. This means that a customer can return a product that was made 10 years ago and we will repair it and send it back to them. In fact, this just happened the other day.

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Why did Zaber choose to sponsor Maker Faire?

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ABL: The culture at Zaber is rooted in making things from scratch instead of accepting the status quo. Everyone here makes things in their spare time, and we all believe in DIY culture. We think it’s important to understand how things are made.

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Also, at Zaber we think that Makers are really good employees. People who make things with their hands, they fit in well with the culture here. Vancouver Mini Maker Faire is a really good organization benefitting a lot of really smart, motivated and passionate people, so it means a lot to us to give back to this community. And we hope that in turn, Maker Faire will help us grow our community.

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Zaber - Dave working with product
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So visit Zaber’s booth at Vancouver Mini Maker Faire on June 1 and 2 to learn more about the work they do and the company they’re creating. Oh, by the way Zaber is always looking for passionate makers. If you want a job, don’t forget to tell them what you make!







‘Biopoiesis’ Project Profile: Carlos and Steven Invite Makers to Help Create Cybernetic Art

 

 

Carlos Castellanos and Steven J Barnes will be showing their project Biopoiesis at this year’s VMMF. They are members of Dprime Research and Carlos is a graduate student at SFU’s School of Interactive Art and Technology. You can see Biopoiesis at the SFU booth, or check it out June 5-10 during an interactive exhibition at Gallery Gachet.

 

Biopoiesis is an electrical device that grows its own wires. Before I saw it in the gallery I didn’t even know that was possible. Can you tell us more about how it works and where the idea came from?

 

The project is based on cyberneticist Gordon Pask’s work in the 1950s on electrochemical computational devices [in electrochemical solutions electricity causes a chemical reaction]. In Biopoesis, the solution is held between two plates of glass with wires running into it. When we send electricity into it, the solution grows its own wires, or “threads” as we often call them.

 

 

The threads are made of conductive crystal structures and they grow unpredictably, but we can make them react to their surroundings by hooking the wires up to a sensor, like a microphone. So in Biopoiesis, the threads are capturing information about their environment in the way they grow. We’re also recording the growth of the threads with a video camera and using that to alter the electricity going into the solution. This is a classic cybernetic feedback loop, the threads grow based on electricity in the wires, and the electricity in the wires is altered based on how the threads grow.

 

The project is part of an exhibition called Proof-of-Process where visitors can interact with and change the work on display. What led you to organize a show like that?

 

Much of interactive or new media art is what they call “process-based”; the work is often characterized by continuous prototyping and testing. Typically the artist creates several pieces that explore a central concept, and then displays them in an exhibit.

 

We wanted to open that process up. Basically reversing the standard gallery exhibit, where you see the finished product but not all of the work that went into it. This is pretty common in the art world these days, and this is just our particular take on it. When we started DPrime Research we wanted to try and make interesting/weird art-science projects but also bring them and the ideas surrounding them “down to earth”. So there is this tension between our complicated ideas and theories and this sort of community-based, open-sourcing of the work, where people can come and change the art without knowing all the theory behind it. I think having that unresolved tension can be good.

 

I’ve often heard members of local makerspaces talk about how diverse the maker community is, and the School of Interactive Arts and Technology is an interdisciplinary department. Has working with people from different backgrounds had an impact on your art?

 

I think it has but probably not in the way I may have imagined. I should say that my background is originally in music, I never really wanted to be an “artist” in the stereotypical sense. And I have always been interested in technology. Being at SIAT is probably what got me interested in alternative modes of computation like Biopoiesis. It’s like I said to myself, “everyone else is coding all the time, let me try and NOT do that”.

 

What’s your favorite part of the project so far?

 

It’s open-endedness. All of the projects in Proof-of-Process can be configured in so many different ways. We are really looking forward to others coming in with their ideas. I’m sure they will come up with things we never would have thought of.

 







Meet your Sponsor: Plush on Main

Interview with Brigitte Stroud of Plush on Main
 

 
If you came to Vancouver Mini Maker Faire in 2011, you probably came across Plush‘s booth, where you could have made a bottle cap pendant, or purchased a felting kit. Or, you could have seen or worked on the giant felt egg that they brought to the Museum of Vancouver Fundraiser party back in March.

 

 
For this year’s faire, they’ll be back at it again, with a sponsored booth and even more felting demonstrations. Plush on Main, located on 4296 Main Street, hosts regular workshops on sewing and felting, and features art and crafts made by local artists. If you haven’t had a chance to check out Plush and you’re wanting to get your felt on, or check out some really great handmade goods, I highly recommend checking out their shop! It’s full of creativity, hand-made art, and knowledge-sharing.
 

 
I recently caught up with Brigitte, and learned a bit more of what Plush is all about, and what they will be bringing out for Maker Faire. (Note, Plush is also one of our official ticket sellers for the event, so if you’d like to purchase paper tickets, you can stop by one of these 3 locations and pick them up). Here is a bit of what she had to say:
 
 
1. What do you plan on demonstrating at Vancouver Mini Maker Faire this year?
 
We just got in a fresh batch of lovely wool roving that we can’t wait to mess around with, so we’ll be teaching people how to make felted beads, which is a quick and easy introduction to wet-felting.
 
2. What was your experience like at Vancouver Mini Maker Faire in 2011, and at the fundraiser party in March?
 
Amazing on both counts! At last year’s Maker Faire we helped people make nearly 400 bottlecap pendants, which was both inspiring and exhausting. The giant needle-felted Easter egg that we had people working on at the fundraiser was a ton of fun, and it was incredible to watch it turn from a blank (albeit fuzzy) surface to an explosion of different colours and textures by the time the evening was over.
 
3. Who are some of the feature artists’ works in Plush? What items go the quickest?
 
What’s best-selling changes week-to-week, sometimes day-to-day! Perennial favourites are Kris Brownlee’s (AKA A Cagey Bee) art panels and lockets, the Naked Soapworks’ line of bodycare products, and the whimsical feltings and DIY felting kits from Blushing Lotus Designs.
 

 
4. Can you talk a bit about some of the workshops you have hosted at Plush?
 
Opening up our studio for public workshops has been super-exciting! And a little bit scary at first… akin to inviting a whole bunch of strangers over to cook in your kitchen! We have a regular rotation of needle-felting, wet-felting, hair fascinator, and t-shirt modification workshops. We’ve recently added a card-making class and a home-made bodycare product class, both of which we think will become regulars on our roster. We also occasionally open up the studio for free craft drop-ins, and every month the Vancouverites for Steampunk meet in our space for their monthly craft meets.
 
Learn more about Plush and check out their upcoming workshops on their website, or check them out on Facebook.







Meet your Sponsor: The Hackery

Interview by Vincent van Haaff

 

 

 

“Fix more, buy less.”

 

I was fortunate enough to meet with David Repa, founder and owner of The Hackery and co-founder of Free Geek Vancouver. David and I sat down to chat about what The Hackery is, and its role in the community here in Vancouver. I learned that it is actually a full-fledged, local, cradle to cradle computer centre where they repair, provide parts, and offer recycling services for all your computing needs!

 

… So how did The Hackery get here?

 

 

David: I used to be in the auto industry…. recycling automobiles is a bit easier than recycling computers which require a bit more reverse engineering and problem solving. The auto industry has other business that sell tech manuals and software that tell you what parts fit what, making the re-use aspect easy to accomplish. With computers you need to dig around for this knowledge, but it is out there.

 

I was lucky to have trained with the old guys in the auto parts industry. They didn’t have all the parts software modern dealerships have. They learned by talking to techs, understanding measurements and ratios, and by personal experience with the parts. They had a much more intimate knowledge of how everything fit together as a system – it was not simply A fits B. I think that I was part of the dying tradition of apprenticeship, which is really a failure to society. There’s not much download of knowledge like that anymore.

 

David: I really wanted to get into computers because, for one, it was cleaner, and I liked how the used parts aspect was like my experience in the salvage yard.

 

I was amazed over the quantity of knowledge and generosity that was housed within the doors of The Hackery, and was in awe over their willingness and openness towards information sharing. With three full time and two part time employees, The Hackery is a great asset to have in the city of Vancouver.

 

One thing to really note here is that The Hackery believes in that apprentice model, the model of knowledge sharing and openness. That doesn’t mean they enforce Linux on all the computers they service. It means that he and all his staff are very willing to help any customer that comes in with many different problems.

 

If they know the issue is fairly simple, they will try to save client’s spending money by recommending known procedures, Google searches, or going to various open help night’s around Vancouver. David sees it being a unique institution Vancouver in that as much as it is a business, they are always willing to share information. And he sees it mostly with John, his vintage specialist.

 

David: John will take a 1/2 hour trying to get a customer’s Apple II working. And while it’s very proprietary hardware and software that they are working with, it’s still information and knowledge sharing, and there always seems to be a a laugh or a story attatched to it. You just can’t get upset talking about an old Apple II or PDP 11[zomgwtfbbq].

 

[Continued below the gallery…]

 

David took some time to show me around the space and I totally and completely geeked out.  Walking past Ataris, wall mounted desktop towers with their innards exposed like a Hieronymus Bosch painting, a self repaired forklift, and a flat of Apple IIs (yes a flat!!), I began to get a feeling for what this place represents. Not only do they repair, educate, and recycle computer equipment but they also curate them. It’s almost like they preserve the history of an era in computing where you could still find breadboards in production-level products, when word processors were written in basements, and the internet was run by a motley crew of people like us.

 

 

David: …sitting down with racecar guys is very much like the Hackspace or Maker Faire: their talk about rear ends and gear ratios is very much like taking about phones and hooking them up to an Arduino. The new hot rods are computers, and phones [and robots!], because hot rod cars are too expensive and are now a rich boy’s atmosphere. Back in the day, anybody could do hot rod-ing. It was very accessible. I like where I am because I can blend the automotive old timer self-learning and the new kind of hotrod-ing that I am a part of today.

 

And a quote from The Hackery website:

 

At The Hackery, our favourite pastime is computer equipment. Our founder has over a decade of experience in the recycling industry. While we always prioritize re-use of our equipment, there comes a time when some electronics need to be recycled. The Hackery takes ethical recycling seriously. We do not ship any of our laptops or computer scrap overseas—even the really ancient ones.

 

Here’s to The Hackery!