‘Make: Drones’ – A hobbyist’s how-to guide – #bookreview

Yes, drones are controversial. And drones of any size or type make many people nervous. As someone who built and flew seemingly thousands of model airplanes in my youth, I have decidedly mixed emotions about drones. They can be used for many good things, for many evil things, as well as for actions within virtually any gray area of human endeavour.

Drones now are with us for the present and the future, and many young people and adults fly them for fun, the same way I flew a few radio-controlled model airplanes. Good advances in technology someday may result from the enjoyment a kid currently is getting from flying a tiny plastic drone.

Therefore, as a book reviewer, I will now mostly put aside my personal reservations and offer a few comments on the contents of Make: Drones, a new how-to hobbyist book from MakerMedia.

The book offers several hands-on, do-it-yourself (DIY) projects for crafting your own drones, using some existing frames.

By the way, you don’t worry much about aerodynamics when flying multirotor ‘copter drones. Your concerns are the spinning rotors, the control system that receives your radio signals and adjusts the drone’s movements, and the drone’s battery. Multiple rotors provide the lift, propulsion and steering. If the rotors quit turning for some reason, your drone instantly becomes a stone. And, if the battery overheats, your drone may become a flaming stone.

Make: Drones presents projects covering three classes of multirotor drones.

In the small drone category, author David McGriffy notes: “First we take some measurements and try to improve the performance of an existing small drone, the Hubsan X4C. Then we build a new small drone using a Hubsan frame and an open source flight controller. It’s called the X4Wii since it uses an X4 frame and MultiWii flight control code.”

In the medium-sized drone category, he explains: “Once again we start with the frame from an existing drone, the Syma X5. We use an Arduino Teensy 3.2 as the core of our new flight control system, adding modules for power, sensors, and radios. A custom circuit board ties it all together. Finally, so people can see this new custom controller, we put a clear lid on it and call this project the Visible Drone.”

And the large-drone project “is based on the S500 frame kit,” McGriffy states. “For flight control, this one uses the powerful Pixhawk Lite control and ArduCopter flight control software. Combined with a high-performance GPS unit, this system can fly completely autonomous missions–and it has the power to carry a useful payload while doing it. This one will make a great aerial photography platform.”

McGriffy’s book offers good, clear writing, plus a sufficient number of photographs, drawings, diagrams and code examples. Many different issues are covered, from choosing propellers that give the most thrust, to dealing with vibration, and picking good failsafe settings so your drone automatically will return to the takeoff point if you somehow lose control of it.

You also get good advice for dealing with assembly quirks and wiring issues involving some of the frames.

As for safety, McGriffy predicts: “I believe we will learn to build a class of drone that can be safely flown in and around people. People fly their drones close to people all the time now, regardless, so this will be good for everyone, pilots and bystanders alike.”

Until the creepiness factor goes away, however, I predict I will instinctively swat at any drone that flies anywhere near me.

 

Si Dunn

Make: Drones

Teach an Arduino to Fly

David McGriffy

Maker Media, paperback, Kindle

 

‘Make It Glow: LED Projects for the Whole Family’ – #bookreview

Back when I first learned basic electrical and electronic circuits, I also learned how to burn my fingers on a hot soldering iron and how to accidentally cut and pinch my digits with wire cutters and needle-nosed pliers. Years later, I learned how to make printed circuit boards, using nasty, corrosive chemicals and an electric drill with tiny bits that frequently broke. It was not all that much fun.

Make It Glow: LED Projects for the Whole Family, written by Emily Coker and Kelli Townley, offers some kinder, gentler approaches to learning basic circuits and how to wire together batteries, switches, light-emitting diodes (LEDs), conductive thread, and electroluminescent wire.

The new book from MakerMedia presents some two dozen projects divided into skill levels 1, 2 and 3, with Skill Level 1 projects being the simplest. “No special skills or experience are required for these projects,” the authors note, ” though hot-glue guns, craft knives, and other common materials and tools may be needed.”

Some of the Skill Level 1 projects include soda-bottle ghosts and simple bug-like creatures with glowing eyes.

The intermediate Skill Level 2 projects “introduce new materials, tools, and techniques–from paper folding (origami) to simple sewing skills–and they may require participants to follow more precise instructions. Adult supervision suggested.”

Some of the Skill Level 2 projects include an origami firefly that flickers and a wearable, glowing cuff.

And the “more challenging” Skill Level 3 projects “may take longer or require more complex skills, including sewing and soldering. Some introduce new components, such as resistors. Adult supervision highly recommended.”

Typical Skill Level 3 projects include a glowing pinwheel and a glow-in-the dark dog collar.

The key items in the projects at all levels are light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and 3-volt coin-cell batteries.

The book is well-organized, written with clarity in step-by-step format, and well-illustrated with color photographs. The book also uses coil binding, so it lies flat on a table.

I have not seen this binding used in previous MakerMedia books I have reviewed. It is  a very practical choice, especially for family projects where several children and adults may be trying to work with the book at the same time. (A Kindle version of the book also is available.)

Si Dunn

** Get the book here **

Make It Glow

LED Projects for the Whole Family

Emily Coker and Kelli Townley

Maker Media, spiral-bound paperback, Kindle

 

 

Maker City: How to reinvigorate local economies and cultures – #bookreview

Reinventing a city does not have to start from the top down.  You don’t need big government initiatives and huge funding, this noteworthy book contends.

People within America’s growing “Maker culture” can rework and improve a local economy. They can bring needed and worthwhile changes to a city’s culture using significantly smaller budgets and much less government intervention. And the reinvigoration can happen in small, rural towns as well as in large metropolitan areas, the authors of Maker City believe.

What, exactly, is Maker culture? Here’s how it is defined in this book:

“Today’s Makers are crafters, artists and artisans, technologists, hobbyists, amateur scientists, entrepreneurs, engineers, woodworkers, roboticists, and many others. They are young people engaging in hands-on projects that introduce them to science and technology in creative ways. Makers are also adults who see themselves as inventors and experimentalists. Some have PhDs and others are self-educated. Makers are practicing a craft or challenging themselves to learn a new hobby. They are creative problem-solvers who gain the confidence that they can tackle ever-larger problems.”

The movement brings the local “best and brightest” together with other Makers around the globe, linked together via the Internet or in person as solutions to problems are sought, made and tested.

A key tenet of city-level Maker culture is “Open Innovation, the idea that the best solutions do not lie with any one individual or institution inside city government but must be created through collaboration and engagement that looks outside for answers and examples of what to do to affect change.”

The notion of city reinvention typically puts spotlights on big cities where factories and industries have been lost and large buildings and neighborhoods have fallen into ruin. For example, efforts to find a major new role, such as commercial shipyard, for the old Brooklyn Navy Yard repeatedly failed, until a new, Maker-oriented approach was tried. That’s when the Brooklyn Navy Yard “started to make a comeback as a community housing many smaller businesses made up of Makers, artists, artisans, and manufacturing concerns. Today over 330 businesses and 7,000 people work out of the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 3.5 million square feet growing to 5.0 million square feet by 2018,” Maker City reports.

Small towns also can benefit from Maker innovation and talent, the book emphasizes. Ways can be found to take advantage of local history and draw visitors, as well as new residents. Old, unused buildings can be upgraded to emphasize and celebrate local history and serve as meeting centers or performance sites. Other buildings can be converted to innovation centers and incubators that give local residents places or other help to start businesses and hire other local residents.

The book is well-written and well-organized and offers a wide range of ideas, case studies and trend reports. For example, big assembly line jobs are not coming back, unless robots provide the “labor.” But small-scale manufacturing is expanding, thanks to 3D printers and other devices and innovations. Small-scale manufacturers also are often selling their products directly to customers from their sites. And customers are showing a stronger preference for buying locally made products.

Whether you work in business, government, science or education or are simply concerned about urban renewal, Maker City deserves careful consideration.

Si Dunn

Maker City

A Practical Guide for Reinventing Our Cities

Peter Hirshberg, Dale Dougherty, Marcia Kadanoff

Maker Media, paperback, Kindle

New how-to book from Make: ‘Props and Costume Armor’-#bookreview

It’s not easy to create realistic-looking costumes, weapons and accessories for fantasy and science-fiction characters. Nonetheless, many people do it, some as part of movie and play productions and others for everything from comic and anime conventions to costume parties, live-action role-playing events and holidays such as Halloween.

Props and Costume Armor , written by Shawn Thorsson, focuses on how to “Create Realistic Science Fiction and Fantasy Weapons, Armor, and Accessories.” And the author clearly knows his subjects. He operates a “custom production shop specializing in costume, prop, and set fabrication services,” based in Petaluma, Calif.

His new book brings together an impressive array of how-to steps, photographs, cautions and encouragements for readers who want to learn the art and craft of creating costume armor, fake but impressive-looking weapons, and assorted accessories for fantasy and sci-fi characters. He also provides information on tools, materials, techniques and safety tips.

It is not enough, of course, to create shiny new armor, swords, axes or laser rifles. To really get into character and play a role, you want your creations to appear somewhat weathered and battle-scarred, as well. After all, you don’t want to look as if you are fresh out of a Barnard’s Star boot camp.

“Verisimilitude [the quality of seeming real] is where a prop maker really proves their worth,” Thorsson writes. And: “In order to add the element of verisimilitude, you must embrace the general state of filth that is reality.”

In other words: Use the filth, Luke! Or: May the filth be with you.

Thorsson gives excellent, well-illustrated tips for how to add scorch marks. scratches, wear marks, rust and other combat blemishes to your creations.

Very importantly, he includes a chapter on how to make costumes stay strapped on and wearable (without falling apart), as well as accessible (when inconvenient calls of nature strike). And his final chapter, “Showing Off,” has excellent suggestions for how to behave when going out in public in full costume. You may be dressed as a superhero, but you should have at least one civilian friend along who can stop little kids from attacking you or help you get up and down stairs, or assist with crowd control.

People likely will want to take pictures and pose with you. So  you will need to rehearse “at least one or two iconic poses that show up in the comic, game, or show” associated with your character, Thorsson advises.

Props and Costume Armor is an excellent guide that can help you set up your own workshop and create fanciful, realistic-looking sci-fi and fantasy gear, using a variety of techniques, tools and materials.

Si Dunn

Props and Costume Armor

Create Realistic Science Fiction and Fantasy Weapons, Armor, and Accessories

Shawn Thorsson

Maker Media, paperback, Kindle

 

New book ‘Tools’ shows how to cut, shape and assemble wood or plastic projects – #bookreview

Maker Media’s new book Tools is subtitled “How They Work and How to Use Them.” But the Tools title seems a little too broad for what is covered. Most of the tools described in the book’s pages are associated mainly with working with wood or ABS plastic, not with metal or other materials.

That is a minor criticism, however. The book is well written and nicely illustrated with photographs and other graphics that show how to use particular tools and how to avoid creating splits, ragged edges or bad cuts across wood grain.

Even readers who have some experience with do-it-yourself projects can learn some helpful techniques and information from this book. And younger readers who have grown up playing video games and tinkering with cell phone apps rather than making things may be able to learn many useful tool-handling skills from these pages.

Tools presents more than 20 “hands-on projects that don’t require a big investment in time and materials.” The projects range from puzzles and bookcases to picture frames and a Swanee whistle (a slide whistle from 19th century England), as well as an adjustable paper towel dispenser.

Meanwhile, the promise that you won’t need a workshop may be true, because “everything can be done on a kitchen table.” Yet, you might prefer to not risk a good kitchen table while learning tools and building things. One slip of a screwdriver, file or glue pot could permanently damage the table. As the book suggests, however, you can cover part of the kitchen table with a large piece of plywood or Masonite and use that as the work surface.

You start off slow, making a Soma cube puzzle with just a handsaw, a square dowel and some carpenter’s glue. In each chapter, new tools and new challenges are introduced, and the importance of having some mathematical skills quickly becomes apparent as measurements are taken, angles are marked, and various shapes are marked and cut from rectangular pieces of wood or plastic.

Beyond its nonspecific title, Tools nicely meets its goal of helping readers have fun while learning the fundamentals of using numerous workshop tools and materials.

Si Dunn

Tools

How They Work and How to Use Them

Charles Platt

Maker Media, paperback, Kindle

 

 

 

 

‘Forrest Mims’ Science Experiments’: Good projects for the new or experienced amateur scientist

You don’t need science degrees and big grants to perform useful, meaningful research, says one of America’s foremost amateur scientists, Forrest W. Mims III.

In his well-written new book, Forrest Mims’ Science Experiments: DIY Projects from the Pages of Make:, Mims notes that amateur scientists are continuing to do “what they’ve done for centuries. They’ve discovered significant dinosaur fossils, found new species of plants, and identified many new comets and asteroids. Their discoveries have been published in scientific journals and books. Likewise, thousands of websites detail an enormous variety of amateur science tips, projects, activities, and discoveries.”

He adds: “Today’s amateur scientists have access to sophisticated components, instruments, computers, and software that could not even be imagined back in 1962 when I built my first computer, a primitive analog device….”

His new book shows how to use simple, homemade or purchased devices to study and gather data on a wide array of subjects: heat islands, sunlight, twilight, ultraviolet light, infrared light, airborne particles, vibrations from earth tremors, and more. He even shows how to convert tree ring patterns into musical notes.

Generally, the do-it-yourself hardware and projects he describes are inexpensive and do not require fancy tools. Some are as simple as making a basic pinhole camera and using a small piece of blueprint paper to capture an image, and others require a few inexpensive electronic components or devices. For example, in one chapter, he writes: “For  as little as $20, you can begin tracking the atmosphere’s most important greenhouse gas, water vapor. And you can do so at any time, day or night, so long as the sky directly above you is cloud-free.”

Sometimes, you need a personal computer, too, plus some software and a digital camera. Depending on which experiments you choose to pursue, you may need other items, as well, such as a hobby knife, glue gun, clamps, sandpaper and more.

Mims’ book also contains interesting stories from his own career in electronics, inventing and doing amateur science. And he includes a brief but entertaining look at Thomas Jefferson’s life and accomplishments as an “amateur scientist…who made improvements in the design of clocks, instruments, and the polygraph copying machines that duplicated his letters as he wrote them.”

Si Dunn

Forrest Mims’ Science Experiments

DIY Projects from the Pages of Make:

Forrest M. Mims III

Maker Media, Inc., paperback  (Kindle ebook also available)

 

 

 

 

‘The Heavens May Fall’ – A Minneapolis mystery-thriller – #bookreview

The Heavens May Fall

Allen Eskens

Seventh Street Books, paperback, Kindle

In his third novel, The Heavens May Fall, Allen Eskens has created an engrossing tale built around two Minneapolis police investigations and a high-profile murder trial.

In this book, fans of Eskens’s writing will be pleased to see that he has brought along three characters from his previous works: Minneapolis police detective Max Rupert, retired law professor Boady Sanden, and Ben Pruitt, a highly successful criminal defense attorney who is now on trial, charged with murdering his wife.

All three have had dealings in the past–some better than others. This adds more twists and turns to Eskens’s well-written new mystery-thriller. Meanwhile, Eskens’s own courtroom experience brings depth and believability to his fiction. (He is a veteran criminal defense attorney.)

Still, there is one moment in an intense trial scene when I found myself asking, “Wait a minute, how could a crack defense attorney being tried for murder not recall hearing a key bit of testimony in his own trial?”

That awkward moment aside, this novel flows well. The two police investigations begin to intertwine while the courtroom drama plays out. And, the ending unfolds with some startling surprises.

Allen Eskens’s previous books are The Life We Bury and The Guise of Another.

Si Dunn