A generous school parent purchased a 3D printer for James Hilburt's math classes at the J. S. Jenks Middle School in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia and Hilburt is getting the students excited about designing their own projects by printing out 3-d stackable cups, a rubik's cube-like 3d puzzle, a complete chess set and small replicas of the Disney Castle and the Eiffel Tower. To help the students understand design and construction, Hilburt is first having them build a bridge with Popsicle sticks. For the 3d printer projects, Hilburt downloads digital templates onto his computer and loads them into the printer; a rapidly moving arm lays down layer after layer of threadlike strands of melted plastic through a small nozzle head to build the creations from the ground up, taking nearly a day for the more complicated ones. Watch video here.
Dental hygienist Kara Hershey assiduously removes tartar from your correspondent's teeth while more than holding up her end of the conversation and guardedly discloses her ideas for inventions that she thinks could revolutionize dental care!
Kyle Gerckin, head of the caster department at Wendell August: American Made Gifts in Grove City, PA shows how to pour pewter into a custom-made mold to create an ornament. Next to its flagship store featuring hand-hammered metal gift items, the forge, in operation since 1923, is open to the public and offers tours. According to Gerckin, the pewter mixture Wendell August buys as ingots and melts down is composed of 90 percent tin, bismuth for its bonding properties, copper and a little bit of silver. The advantage of pewter, Gerckin says, is that it looks like silver but is less expensive and easy to work with.
Elizabeth Fink has been using the new composting toilets near the Wissahickon Environmental Center (formerly Andorra Tree House) at the northwestern edge of Fairmount Park, Philadelphia. It never smells, she says and there's Purell for hand sanitizing. She thinks it's a big improvement over the old "Johnn(ies) on the Spot". She's careful that her cell phone is in a zipped pocket, however, lest it inadvertently fall into the pit! She and a companion had been taking a walk in the woods and recommended I check out the toads mating in the pond above the tree house. Watch video here.
Your correspondent took his wife’s car to Dr. Ralph’s Automotive Services Center in Roxborough after she discovered one morning that it had been bashed overnight. While a technician was dusting off the last traces of the repair job, body shop manager John Klimowicz began explaining the business. While high strength steel is still used in car construction, thermoset plastics are becoming more common. To point out the strength of the repair work, Klimowicz relates that the same epoxies used to weld airplane panels are employed for car panel bonding repairs. If repaired properly, according to manufacturer specifications, “you can hit it with a sledge hammer and it will not break.” As to a future when driverless cars are expected to reduce collisions? “That remains to be seen.” In the meantime, Klimowicz believes there is plenty of work for Dr. Ralph’s and for the other nine or so car repair shops tightly spaced alongside this industrial stretch of Umbria Avenue. Watch video interview here.
A father and son "mine" bitcoins and litecoins 24/7 in their unfinished Chestnut Hill basement.
These "coins," son explains, are virtual currencies not under the control of any government. As such, the world of digital money has attracted illegal activity such as the Silk Road online black market that the U.S. government has shut down for dealings in drugs.
Rocky relates that bitcoins are convertible to dollars and that when China recently clamped down on their use, the price crashed from upwards of $1200 per bitcoin to $700.
These exchanges depend upon an army of computer geeks called miners (like the duo) to verify transactions through the use of computers installed with software that solves complex mathematical formulas. As explained in an Internet video, miners may work together in "pools".
The son enjoys both the technical challenge of configuring and adding hardware and the money-making aspect of mining. A friend of theirs, he says, has earned $100,000 with a shed full of equipment. For now, the duo are transitioning from bitcoin to litecoin which uses the same peer-to-peer network protocols as bitcoin but can be mined using consumer level graphics cards. They currently earn about $16 a day from running their set-up around the clock out of which $2.50 a day covers additional electricity charges.
Dad is not new to home industry; he also keeps bees.
The Lego Company has been fantastically successful. In each of the last 5 years sales have risen 24% and profits, 40%. But it was not always so. For most of its 80-year existence, its reach did not extend so far beyond Billun, Denmark, where Ole Kirk Christiansen, a carpenter unable to secure enough wood to build furniture during the 1930s depression, began experimenting building wooden toys.
The company under Christiansen’s progeny soared in the last couple decades but tie-in products to the Star Wars and Harry Potter movies nearly doomed the company in 2003; sales of those products crashed when the movie franchises hadn’t yet come out with new films.
This, according to Wharton Professor Dave Robertson and former LEGO Professor of Innovation and Technology Management at Switzerland's Institute for Management. Robertson, a Chestnut Hill resident, discussed his new book, “Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry” at the William Jeannes Library in Lafayette Hill this past Thursday evening.
He began his slide talk by distributing baggies, each packed with the identical same six logo pieces, and instructed the audience to “Build a duck” and gave us only a minute or two. Participants then brought their “ducks” up to the front table. At the end of the talk, Robertson pointed to the wide variation of these Lego “ducks” as evidence that incredible creativity is possible even when severe constraints are imposed, a major thesis of his book.
He credits Lego Company’s resurgence to its imposition of key constraints: drastically reducing the number of parts (about 14000 different ones at peak) that had made the manufacturing process unwieldy, getting back to products that are more “Lego-y” and subjecting product proposals to the approval a committee of 3 seasoned Lego designers. And, ultimately, insisting that projected profitability be a constant constraint.
What Lego pioneered was not just a toy, Robertson maintains, but a system of play. And that system “is about the brick.”
Moviegoers attending the Chestnut Hill Film Group’s inaugural screening of the season this Tuesday evening were delighted by the artful musical accompaniment of veteran keyboardist Don Kinnear. Kinnear improvised as he watched, for the first time, two silent short films chosen by Jay Schwartz (founder of the Secret Cinema) and employed the operatic style of playing and interweaving themes assigned to different characters for the silent main feature he had seen before, W.C. Fields’ 1926 “It’s the Old Army Game.” With his electronic keyboard and a laptop loaded with a digital version of the Wurlitzer organ of the Virginia Theater in Champaign, Illinois he reproduced the music, sounds and special effects (“toy counter”) the original audiences in the 1920s may have experienced. Watch video interview here.
We arrived at the Museum of Math one hour before closing on a Saturday in late summer and zipped through it. The exhibits deserved more than the limited time we gave them and these videos, summarized below, will help us understand what we experienced with the intriguing interactive demonstrations. GO MO MATH!
SHAPES OF CONSTANT WIDTH You sit on a boat-shaped platform above a field of irregularly shaped objects and yet glide rather smoothly over them because these objects, such as the Meissner tetrahedron, all have the same constant diameter whichever way they roll.
SQUARE WHEELS, CATENARY CURVES You ride a tricycle with square wheels without any problem. This is because the surface you are riding on is catenary curved (hyperbolic cosine). And, for any shaped wheel, there is a corresponding road that will facilitate locomotion.
A SPECIAL SQUARE When you and others step upon this large lit-from-below square, the square divides into as many differently colored geometric areas as there are people and each point within any one’s area is closer to that person than to any one else.
THE HUMAN FRACTAL TREE On a projection screen, a copy of your body is copied where your arms are and on those projections, your body is again copied where your arms are and so on, forming a fractal pattern of you as a tree.
SOLIDS OF REVOLUTION SLICED TWISTED, REATTACHED AND ROLLED Solids of revolution are cut along the axis of symmetry and then twisted and reattached to form an asymmetric object which then describes a distinct path when it rolls and it’s your job to match up each object with the trail it makes.