2023 is shaping up to be a BIG year for Vector Space. With the support of our Board of Directors and community partners, our team has secured the perfect location for the makerspace of our future: 2004 Memorial Avenue. This high-visibility location includes infrastructure for both industrial shop space and clean workspace to accommodate diverse maker mediums. The new building will increase our footprint by 60%. With the expansion of our welding and machine shops, the addition of pottery and printmaking studios, and increased shared workspace, our new location solidifies our future and our role in Lynchburg's legacy of making.
The second annual Math Marathon has come to an end, and though the problems got harder, after 26.2 hours, we're proud to have collectively solved 43 problems this year, earning 5 more awards and reaching level 3 on projecteuler.net. The hardest problems of the event (144 and 169) were solved by Emily Griffen, Andrew Burks, and Jesse Hyatt. Two participants, Jesse Hyatt and Adam Spontarelli, completed the full 26.2 hours, though their productive output was logarithmic.
There were several memorable moments throughout the 26.2 hour event, from 5 hour attempts at single problems, to conversations about our math educations, to the infamous correctly-guessed solution, but there's one story in particular that I'd like to delve into. At hour 24, when working together with a high school student, we had found what we thought was the solution to a problem, and in order to submit the solution to projecteuler.net, we also had to complete a captcha challenge. We talked about how captcha questions are becoming more difficult for humans as computers are better able to solve them, and I suggested that captcha questions should just be challenging math problems if someone really wants to ensure that a human is on the other end. The student responded saying, "that doesn't make any sense, computers are great at solving math problems."
This certainly isn't the first time I've heard this sentiment, despite it being grossly misguided. Computers are as good at math as hammers are at building houses, which is to say, quite poor. Computers have no idea how to find prime numbers or how to check for pallindromes or search for common factors. Computers turn on and off bits and store the resulting state, nothing more, and it's only by the intervention of human-made code that this extremely rudimentary task can be made to do what we call math. Then why bother using computers at all? Because they're able to perform these manipulations quickly, in fact very quickly. If you're skeptical of this computer-as-simple-tool perspective, try it yourself, ask your computer for the equation of a circle that passes through 840 integer coordinates.
It's understandable where this confusion comes from. Few people outside the computer science professions know what it means to program a computer, and in their interactions with computers, they often ask questions for which the solution is already known and obscured from view, in other words, someone else has already programmed the solution you're looking for. What is the sine of 22 degrees? Even your calculator can solve this one, but have you ever thought of what the algorithm might look like or even the fact that there must be some programmed calculation of the answer in the first place?
This student's common misunderstanding was a powerful reminder of why professionals need to take the time to step out of their seclusion and show others what it is they do, and why it's so important. All communities, Lynchburg included, need people who can wield computers as tools to solve difficult math problems, and more generally, this depth of understanding is needed if we hope to make any original work. These lessons can't always be found in the home or in the classroom, lessons I'm glad for the Math Marathon to have instilled in at least one person.
In addition to solving Project Euler problems as a means of recognizing math in our community, we asked local elementary school students to share stories of when they use math outside of the classroom. You can enjoy listening to some of the excellent responses below.
Thank you to all of our problem-solving participants and to everyone who sponsored and supported this event.
Dawn Thomas - U.S. Navy
Jason Thomas - CCRI
Derek Schmell - Cisco
Jesse Hyatt - EDM
Kerry Silva - Engineer
Andrew Burks - Engineer
Emily Griffen - Engineer
Luke Chapman - Randolph College
Shauna Shepard - Randolph College
Peter Sheldon - Randolph College
Todd Matthews - Framatome
Jonathan Stephens - BWXT
Greg Troyer - Framatome
Bo Browder - VES
William Henderer - VES
Aruind Misra - Framatome
Mike Coco - University of Lynchburg
Adam Spontarelli - Vector Space
Read about our first Math Marathon here.
Outreach Coordinator Job Posting
Summer Programs now open for enrollment!
We are offering three sessions for teens to build their maker skillset. Woodworking, public art, and environmental science are available for registration now.
Learn more and register: https://vector-space.org/projects
Maker Faire Lynchburg is coming BACK to the campus of Randolph College on Sunday, April 3, 2022!
We have missed this weird and wild hands-on event SO MUCH! Our producer team is unleashing 2 years of stored up maker ideas, so mark your calendars for this epic return! Come out and enjoy hands-on activities, amazing exhibits, locally made products for sale, food trucks, a group build project and more! This event is free and family-friendly. There will be activities for kids as young as 4, plus fun for grown-up makers too.
Don't miss these live demonstrations and hands-on activities:
We can't wait to see you at the Faire! Register today and be entered to win a 3D printer: https://lynchburg.makerfaire.com/tickets/
What is Maker Faire?
Maker Faire is a gathering of fascinating, curious people who enjoy learning and who love sharing what they can do. From engineers to artists to scientists to crafters, Maker Faire is a venue for these "makers" to show hobbies, experiments, projects. We call it the Greatest Show (& Tell) on Earth - a family-friendly showcase of invention, creativity, and resourcefulness. Glimpse the future and get inspired!
Makerspaces bring to their communities a value that can be hard to quantify or even succinctly describe, it's not job creation or number of students served or products produced, though those outcomes certainly do exist, it's something a little less predictable and perhaps best conveyed by a story.
Three years ago one of our members told me about a friend of his who ran a manufacturing company in town and was trying to get rid of one of their large, industrial CNC routers, they'd be happy to donate it to us. On the surface this may seem like a no brainer, CNC routers are commonly found in makerspaces, and a full size router like this one is extremely valuable. But at the time, we were smaller and space wasn't plentiful, and what seemed a great gift would have only served as an obstacle to more making. Fast forward two years and we get an email directly from the owner of ABLCo, repeating the same offer. The difference this time is that we have since expanded, adding another 4,000 sqft to our makerspace. While there were still a number of logistics to figure out, I took up the invitation to come take a look at the machine.
There it was, a behemoth, sad and neglected, shoved into a corner and buried by other equipment, including the Pentium I computer, fully equipped with 3.5" disc drive, used to control the machine. There was a bit of water damage on one corner, some swelling of the wooden table and rusting on the linear rail, but nothing too bad. Alongside it was a 10 horsepower vacuum pump, and from my inability to move it or even to bump it any detectable distance, I'd estimate it weighed 500 pounds. The router itself, we were told, weighed another 1300 pounds.
The owner of ABLCo, Bill, bought this machine back in the 90's with the goal of going into business for himself. He taught himself what he needed to know, started finding work, and before long, outgrew his basement and started acquiring newer, more powerful machines. It became clear in talking with him that the reason this machine found itself in the corner was that it was no longer productive compared to the newer machines, but it remained as an artifact too sentimental to let waste away in the scrap yard. But the rest of the employees seemed to have Bill convinced that the time had come to say goodbye and make room for the future.
Moving heavy machinery can be a difficult task, though it can certainly be done by oneself or hired out. The same goes for machine restoration, electrical work, the necessary electronic retrofit and software configuration. The trouble is that this combination of skills almost never exist in a single person, and for a company to justify the cost of contracting the experts needed to complete this work, they need to see a net return on investment. And this is why a machine that cost $37,000 in 1992 can languish away in a corner or find itself on its way to the dump without having any major deficiencies. For those not well versed in CNC routers, I'll simply point out that this isn't the equivalent of an old computer or even an old car. An old CNC router is just as accurate and powerful as a modern one, it's major failing is that it isn't as fast, but what a production environment would call slow still qualifies as swift for the hobbyist and would hardly be considered a flaw. There is of course the obsolete computer once used to drive the machine, but this can be modernized at a relatively low cost. So you have a machine that companies find unprofitable, and therefore not worth rescue, and one that individuals meanwhile salivate over, but don't have funds or knowledge necessary for rescue. You're left with a makerspace that cultivates and collects the necessary knowledge and skill required to bring this machine to the hands of people who still see a great deal more life in it.
Once our homework was finished and we knew what needed to be done, we put together teams for each aspect of the rescue and got to work. Our movers brought their trucks, trailers, pallet jacks, and gantry cranes, while our member who owns a climbing gym rigged the machine with climbing ropes, and together they transported the machine to our building, up the ramp, up some stairs, smashing through an undersized doorway, landing gracefully in its target position. Others took to the task of restoration, replacing a worn linear bearing, cleaning and re-greasing the rails, replacing and leveling the spoil board, and adding new emergency stops. We ran two new electrical circuits, one for the router and one for the vacuum pump, which also needed to be vented out the roof. We gutted the control cabinet, throwing out the computer and motor controller, replacing them with modern controls that can be interfaced to a modern computer and ultimately driven by a Bluetooth Super Nintendo controller. It was three months of work, shared between a dozen members of the makerspace, all bringing their expertise to help get this machine operational again. In truth, it's likely working better than ever before, as we even added features like spindle speed control that weren't originally in use.
In the end, we have a machine that hobbyists and entrepreneurs are already keeping busy, prototyping inventions, making interactive art, signs for their businesses, and furniture they can snap together like a 3D puzzle. But while the robot does its work, the users stays busy exercising their brains, learning from one another and thinking of the next thing they'll make.
I would like to thank Bill and Adam from ABLCo for their generosity and patience, as well as our invaluable volunteers; Chaz, Ken, JB, Jeremie, and Darrell.
Maker Faire Lynchburg is thrilled to be back on the campus of Randolph College on April 3, 2022.
Join us for a gathering of fascinating, curious people who enjoy learning and who love sharing what they can do. From engineers to artists to scientists to crafters, Maker Faire is a venue for makers to show hobbies, experiments, projects, and products.
We call it the Greatest Show (& Tell) on Earth - a family-friendly showcase of invention, creativity, and resourcefulness.
Are you a maker?
We are seeking creative, hands-on makers of all types to showcase their work at the event. Commercial makers, student projects, hobbyists, and artists are all invited to apply. Vendors that are selling goods pay a $50 booth fee, while makers that are exhibiting but not selling can participate at no charge.
Learn more and apply at: lynchburg.makerfaire.com/call-for-makers/