A Year (and a bit) In: Assessing the Douglas College Maker Lab / Space / Whatever

Assessing the Maker Lab, Maker Space, Hacker Lab, Digital Cultures Lab

We’re a year in; it was a year ago today that we opened a space where people could use 3D printers and play with other forms of technology. It’s been an interesting year with more valleys than peaks, but one that we’ve learned a lot from. We got lots of great press, met some really interesting and engaged people, and kept a few students employed doing fun stuff. And, if those are our key takeaways, that’s a successful venture.

What’s in a Name?

As can be told from the title above, one of the first issues we had with the space was what to call it. As you can see from the photo below, the space is pretty small–just over 300 square feet all in. It’s also a fishbowl, but more on that in a moment. Point is, it was never going to be a Maker Space in the sense that most conversations imagine such a space to be; it was simply too small, lacked adequate ventilation, and was ill-equipped for the demands of a true Maker Space.

That said, we didn’t really give the name much thought. We had been looking at bigger spaces and our motivation was to start a Maker Space and so that was the name we gave it in all our dialogue about the space and what eventually everyone started calling it. In hindsight, calling it a Maker Space as we did in the beginning was a mistake. It set expectations way over what we actually had and sent us on planning missions the execution of which was well beyond our means. The key takeaway here was that we really should have thought about the name more and called it a “hackerspace” or something esoteric and opaque: “digital cultures lab.” Doing so would probably have meant less press and hindered our ability to capitalize on a wave of discussions about Maker Spaces, but it would have made it much easier to manage expectations.

DCL - labshot
The lab all ready to go. Three workstations.

At the same time, the name set us on a course I’m not sure we should have been on. The name hurt us because it made us think beyond the capacity of the space. The result was a series of failures and half-starts to say nothing of that sinking feeling where a potential partner might feel that you’ve wasted their time. All this to say that the name is important for these spaces because it guides expectations both inside and outside the space itself. Not only are others using that name as a signal for a set of expectations, but the team responsible for the space is using that name to guide their activities, actions, and outcomes.

Location, Location, Location

We were so incredibly fortunate to be given our space–a purpose built, brand new space–by the New Westminster (British Columbia) River Market. I can’t imagine doing this venture with anyone more gracious, patient, and helpful than the folks who run the River Market. That said, the distance between the space and the College (about 5 city blocks and over a railway bridge) has been hard to “bridge.”

Ready for one of the Lab’s early workshops outside the lab.

The bottom line is that students where I work are commuter students. They are not, typically, out in the community hanging out and living near the College. That fact alone makes it difficult to generate interest in a space that students do not encounter as part of their day-to-day interactions with the campus. Before we started this venture, I was an advocate of putting spaces like Makerspaces or Hackerspaces in the College library and that hasn’t changed. If we had the facilities that would allow for a move to the library, I would jump at a transfer to that space.

Peter (left) and David (right) lead the session outside the Lab
Peter (left) and David (right) lead the session outside the Lab

The other interesting sidebar is that being out in the community comes with a series of unforeseen complexities. One of the most frequent is people who recognize the branding of the Makerspace and stop by to query anyone who is in the space about the activities, policies, and general politics of the institution itself. Rather than engaging with the space as it stands, these people want to engage in a makeshift town-hall on the direction of the College or the political processes it might represent. The result, particularly if students are staffing the space, can be an uncomfortable confrontation or clash of directions. In short, some interesting training scenarios have emerged.

Time, Time, Time is Not on Our Side

A persistent issue at the Lab has been staffing. While I am the director and I run the show, I have no devoted time professionally to give to the space. I have teaching, coordinating, and living to take care of and I don’t get paid to run the Lab. I knew this going in, so I give it as much time as I can, move things along on the scheduling and equipment front, and generally manage the space as best I can. The plan for setting up the Lab included hiring one student research assistant (RA) from the College to staff the space during the week and take care of interactions, activities, and generally execute anything we needed done at the Lab. To this end, the two student RAs have been fantastic and I know they have both learned a lot from being left on their own a lot of the time to figure out the machines, processes, and workarounds. Our first RA, Cora Fanucchi did great helping get the space up and running and generally figuring out some of the initial processes we would need to pull it off. Our current RA, Douglas Raymond has pulled the lab in new directions and really pushed getting the machines working on a consistent basis. They’re both awesome.

DCL - douglas-raymond-fall2015
Doug – the most aptly named Research Assistant ever.

All that said, they are/were undergraduate students. I note this only because it means they have a lot of external pressures in terms of coursework–often a full load or more–and through no fault of their own, they do not possess the motivations of a graduate student working through their own research program. They’re busy with other awesome things in their lives, as they should be. The problem for the Lab then is how often can we be “open”? And the answer is, rarely. We manage a few hours early in the week, and one semi-full day a week. But the weekends and evenings, and even some consistent opening times over weeks have been difficult to cover. All this to say that staffing, and then finding something for this staff to do rather than just stand there, has been difficult to manage. It’s a tangled mess of needs: skills, time, tools, ideas, projects, people, direction, experimentation, competition. All of these things need to be clearly demarcated in order for me to feel like the Lab is being used to its proper extent–note I didn’t say “maximum productivity”; I said, “just enough to justify its existence.”

Amorphicisms and “Others”

All of the above leads to the inevitable: “so what are you doing, anyway?” Well, the direction has certainly changed. We’re working on a few different things, all of which are very different from what we thought we would be doing–sort of. As I noted above, one of the important takeaways, and the thing we got really right, was to let spaces like this emerge rather than trying to dictate the outcomes from the beginning. This is especially true when you don’t really know what your getting into in the beginning. So, we’ve targeted a few students who have expressed interest in the 3D printing parts of the lab and we’ve printed some things for them. This direct-line, one-on-one interaction has worked out well and it leverages our equipment but doesn’t take up too much time (see above). We’ve also started to work with faculty to see what they would like printed; fossils, topographical maps, are all on the radar now and we are filling a need in that area.

DCL - popup-lab-dave-3
A pop-up maker lab introducing students to what the Lab does and what 3D printers can do and how they work.

We’ve also starting doing “pop-up labs.” The labs, which take place in the library concourse the second Tuesday of every month and wherever else will have us, allow us to do some outreach, make the Lab across the tracks more visible at the College. These labs have been more effective than I ever thought they would be. Sure, these labs attract people because they present a novelty rather than because they do some sort of valuable task or perform a service, but these labs might show a different way to implement new technologies when all the above factors might be inhibiting that implementation.

DCL - popup-lab-doug
A pop-up lab attracting attention in a high traffic outside the library area.

We often forget that the tools that are new tech are often incredibly portable. The MakerBot machine we have, the biggest one we have, still fits on a cart and is only about as big as a desktop computer. I can easily throw it in the trunk of my car. The other machines we have, which are even more portable, fit in a shopping bag and aren’t that difficult to manage on public transit. We’re pressed for space at the College so the Lab isn’t getting a dedicated space in the College anytime soon. That said, there’s no reason we can’t occupy display or common spaces–concourses, hallways, lobbies–in the College and deploy our “making” there. While this introduces some constraints–print time being one–these constraints offer interesting questions about the deployment of new technologies such as 3D printers. For instance, how is time itself one of the key “ingredients” in adopting new technology? Even a brief scan of the literature will tell you there’s a big Western irony in the hobbyist’s time–that she has time to play, tinker, and produce what a team of under-paid workers in China can produce 1,000,000 copies of in only a few days.

DCL - NWlibrary-summer2015-brenna
At the New Westminster public library. Kids loved staring at the 3D printer working–but they steal the trinkets! (And hey, that’s alright.)

In short, I think these pop-up labs and mini-sessions will be a direction we pursue with more vigour going forward. While having the space itself is certainly more sexy, and more prestigious, and generates way more press, I’m not sure it yields the results we want.

The other thing we wanted to do from the beginning is make emerging technology accessible to those who might not have access to it. I think we overshot when we thought of this as a priority, here’s why: we didn’t account for the systems of emerging technology. So, we have an Oculus Rift. But, the computer hardware needed to run the Rift was beyond the scope of all but a very few of our students and we didn’t even have the in-house resources to assist–there’s a rant about faculty motivation here, but I don’t want to go there. Suffice to say, we now lend the Oculus out to whomever wants it with the caveat that they share their code when they’re done. It works, but it’s not what we wanted. The access mandate has changed then to a “give it to whomever can do something with it” mandate.

What We’d Say to Others

We’d say what we always say: “go for it!” Figure things out as you go. Make sure you have some sustained institutional support. Always do a reality check and be totally honest with yourself. Pull the plug when it’s not working and change directions. Learning is about failing a lot of the time.

And, in the interest of full disclosure, here’s what the lab has cost us so far:

Costed Item (what we have / get in Canadian Dollars) Actual Cost (what is costs in real world) Real Cost (what it costs us) Comments
Space $1200 x 12 months = $14,400 $50 x 12 = $600 As I note above, couldn’t do the Lab at all without the generosity of the River Market. We pay $50 a month for maintenance.
MakerBot Replicator $4000 $4000 Our biggest machine, but the one most prone to breaking
Afinia 3D printer $750 x 2 $1500 Solid printers, but small print size; our most reliable machines
Oculus Rift $500 $500 Development version. Needs a powerful computer to run, and we don’t have money for that, so…
Research Assistantships $2500 a semester x 4 $10,000 We staff the summer too, but that’s really hard to do
Other costs $1500 $1500 This is a ballpark figure to cover filament, brooms, dustpans, cleaner, gas, etc.
Director time (as portion of salary) $8500 $8500 This amounts to 1/10 of my salary or 1/10 of my time at work

These costs will continue as is, or go up. The costs of maintenance for the machines and the need to update the technology itself will eat up any gains made in efficiency. And, as the space gets used more, it needs more maintenance and more staffing. So, these numbers will probably stay pretty consistent over time, or go up, depending on how the Lab is scaled.

Brenna and Dave take the Lab on the road…

In the End

I’m not sure I want to say whether I think the Lab has been a successful venture. It’s certainly raised some interesting questions and problematized a lot of institutional processes and assumptions. At the same time, it takes up resources and I’m not sure the outcomes are worth the implementation. I think we have a long way to go before institutions of a medium size–like the College where I work–can sustain this kind of venture when it is not directly tied to program implementation or a core research concern that is spread across faculties. The Lab is in many ways the tip of the pencil, and if there’s no wood in the middle to support it during periods where the leaders, like me, lose energy then it’s dead in the water. All that said, there can be no doubt that the Lab has left a lasting impression on me and my approach to teaching and researching. As well, the students and faculty who have encountered it speak highly of it and most importantly ask questions related to technology and its implementation in Education–particularly in the Humanities because that’s where I’m at. Here’s to more years to come… or not. Evens.

Using new things to make old things

At the lab we got a new ‘smart’ extrude on our makerbot. In case your keeping score, this is the 5th one. They may be a bit finicky from time to time but when they work, oh boy, do they ever print some great stuff!

3D printing has opened up a new world of hands on learning. Over time large plaster casts of fossils and elaborate, expensive models can be slowly filtered away. Anthropologists are starting to create imaging files of their finds. Some of the iconic discoveries can be scanned and printed at home, at school or here in the lab!


Things such as the famed missing link, Afropithecus can be scanned and printed out in plastic for the curious passer-by and researching scientists alike. So naturally, we made one. The printer provides greater detail by printing in finer and finer layers. This allows the contours and cracks in the skull to be replicated perfectly.


We don’t just work with things of the past though, trying to keep informed and educated about the living things around us. By studying their bones we can learn about their ancestry in the same manner we study those ancient fossils. Right now we’ve got all sorts of things churning out of the printer, human vertebrate for example. But not everything has to be a hominid. Creating other mammalian replicas provides a great way to study other species.
Check out this spotted hyena skull!


As we type right now there something that is soon to be a giraffe skull printing out as well. Really looking forward too see how it develops.


When using 3D printing as a tool to create replicas of bones some issues occur when utilizing them as tools for studying. First is one that is almost instantly apparent. The scale of the object. The hyena skull printed is about 1/8th the size of the actual skull. Probably even smaller. To the layman this is no problem, but when looking in depth for studying and as a teaching tool this becomes clearer. Smaller details are less visible and the supports that are generated during the printing process become more distorting. Which leads to the second issue of using a 3D model instead of the bone like reconstruction. The resolution. Despite when printing at the finest layers that our Makerbot can go, 0.1mm, it can still leave some detail out of the final product. Not only does it create faint lines when there should be a smooth texture but the details separating teeth and smaller cracks in the bones become less apparent, and more difficult to gauge. For example where the tooth meets the mandible lacks the appearances and smooth difference that is available with other types of modeling.

Come down to the lab at New Westminster River Market anytime to check these out!

Don’t forget to keep an eye out for our next open lab session, where we bring some of the cooler prints and the makerbot for everyone to check out.



Trial and Error

It seems almost on a monthly basis that something new and exciting is released. A new piece of technology that will change everything as we know it. The Oculus Rift was one such item several years ago when it was announced. Limitless potential, roller coasters in your living room and an immersive virtual reality experience. With the official release date looming in the first quarter of 2016.

After working with the Developers Kit 2 over the past few weeks here at the culture lab, it has instilled an excited yet uneasy future for the final release. Setting up up became the first, natural problem. After downloading the software and plugging in the USB and HDMI cables, when finally turning it on being greeted with the following message was not what anyone was excited too see.


When solving a problem on a computer there are usually a few steps to follow.
Firstly, update everything. We ensured that we had the latest Oculus runtime software installed. Check. Then the latest graphic drivers on the PC itself. Updated those, however that did not lead to any fruition. That still left us in this normal world, not the virtual one we wanted.

Secondly, use a search engline. When working with technology, both new and old it’s important to recognize that odds good someone has had the same problem already. Sure enough, I found countless people with the same problem posting an message boards all over the world. They oozed potential solutions, reinstall everything, update the drivers, change the cables, get a new Oculus, get a new computer, or add in premade sections of code in order to re-configure the software. After going through the ones that seemed like viable solutions, We were still left at a desk with our heads in our hands.

Thirdly, the option is to call a friend. So that’s what we did. When Sean our helpful tech arrived, he immediately went through the process listed above. Watching as those failed him help solidify that calling someone was the right decision.  Sean then started fiddling, moving around, checking connections. This is where he found it. When plugging in HDMI cables, many computers have multiple ports, This one was no exception. Like countless other users it was assumed that sll ports are created equal and serve the same function. This we learned was wrong. Essentially the port the Oculus headset was plugged into lead to the mother board. Of course given the high requirements for the Oculus Rift, it needed to be plugged into one that was attached directly to the graphics card. So after a quick switch of the plugs, we had virtual reality.

The worlds created are in most cases smaller experiences designed to showcase what the technology is capable of. The immersion is wonderful, however the true engine for real immersion is not photo realistic graphics, a platform to walk on, or even specialty controls. After long term usage, it became noticeable e that the issue was a need for more precise, smooth motion tracking.

Our brains are amazing at adapting to what we see. For example we can’t see our noses, unless we close one eye or really focus on it. It’s there, however we just filter it out. It’s the same with virtual reality. Once in your VR enviroment with smooth and accurate tracking, when things move as your touch them, then your brain will stop say “it’s just a game” and will start making assumptions that it does in the real world. When you look over a precipice in virtual reality, right now there is a sudden moment of dizzyness, but it passes very quickly because what’s below isn’t the abyss, its just your rug, so you can jump and experience the sights of free fall. But if the mind believes that truly is the edge, then no one would jump. Total immersion and issues like this are expected to be improved in the official release of the Oculus Rift.

Working with this technology has been an enlightening experience, and one can’t help but look forward to the drastic changes that virtual reality will bring to the new media landscape, from gaming to teaching; everything can change.

Innovation Series #2 – Recap

On Tuesday, May 26, 2015 around 12 people gathered outside the Maker Lab in the River Market, New Westminster, to take part in the second Innovation Series session entitled “3D Printing ad Scanning: Possibilities and Limitations.” The session tackled the emerging world of 3D printing. Directed mostly at novices, those with no experience working with 3D printers, or those who wanted to think about how 3D printers might shape the future, this workshop took participants through the main conversations about 3D printing. While we didn’t have time to print individual projects, participants were encouraged to bring their ideas, questions, or prototypes and discuss their potential. In the end, the workshop offered abroad overview of 3D printing, leaving participants well-equipped with information and context within which they might better understand how 3D printing might apply to them.

As is our way, we discussed errors too; particularly because that's part of the research we're doing at the Lab.
As is our way, we discussed errors too; particularly because that’s part of the research we’re doing at the Lab.

The session was led by David N. Wright and Cora Fanucchi of the Douglas College Digital Cultures Lab and began with an overview of the equipment on hand at the lab and a recap of our most recent research directions. Luckily, after this brief overview, the participants all jumped in with their questions and the session went forward on its own trajectory. Highlights included a participant who brought in a 3D print of himself (using talcum powder and a crazy glue-like substance as filament) and some interesting queries about the possibilities for printing biological products in the future. In short, the participants came prepared and it was great to engage with questions both about the future of 3D printing technologies and the possibilities the confront us at the stage 3D printing is in now.

Interesting to think about... can you copyright yourself? Who owns this guy? Or, more precisely, his source file?
Interesting to think about… can you copyright yourself? Who owns this guy? Or, more precisely, his source file?

Soon after the question and answer session wrapped up, participants moved into the Maker Lab wherein they meandered around the machinery thinking about other modes of representation and the potential fun of 3D printing tactile objects. Cora did a 3D scan for all to see and we got all the machines up and running so that participants could see for themselves how the equipment worked.

The last forty-five minutes in the lab was the best part, with participants sharing tip and tricks, asking questions, and reacting with delight seeing and hearing things working. In short, for those in attendance, it was a great Tuesday night!

Our next session, on June 16, 2015, is about Working with Academics – a session that will combine elements of our first two workshops through a discussion about what it’s like to engage Colleges and Faculty in research and development projects for local SMEs and entrepreneurs. We’re looking forward to it!

Innovation Series #1 – Recap

On Tuesday, May 12, 2015 around 15 people gathered outside the Maker Lab in the River Market, New Westminster, to take part in the first Innovation Series session called “Multimodal Thinking: Comics, Infographics and Essential Skills.” The session was aimed mainly at “outside-the-box” thinkers, tinkerers, doodlers, and those individuals who want to think about how to synthesize a large amount of information into a succinct form. The participants were led through a series of activities–mostly drawing stuff–by Peter Wilkins and David N. Wright of the Douglas College Digital Cultures Lab.

Looking at comics by Jason
Looking at comics by Jason

Peter started the session by exploring how essential skills–the ability to interpret, write, and execute commands–collides with comics. He brought up examples from Ikea instruction manuals and other signage to show how infographics tend to foreground “multimodal” forms of communication–that which includes images and text (or no text at all). The group discussed what kind of information or “cultural education” was needed to interpret these signs and act upon them. In particular, the group discussed how important and common misinterpretation was to the process.

Drawing stuff to sort things out
Drawing stuff to sort things out

Through a series of activities, participants drew there impressions of the River Market and of psychological states, discussing the impetus behind each–looking at the decisions they made and trying to understand why they chose to represent things the way they did. All the participants drew excellent stuff and really pushed their thinking about representation and conveying information or feelings. One of the more interesting questions we asked was: “how do you draw a feeling?”

More drawing!
More drawing!

Afterwards, participants were invited in the Maker Lab wherein they meandered around the machinery thinking about other modes of representation and the potential fun of 3D printing tactile objects. Judging from the comments collected about the event, everyone had a fun and stimulating burning through and hour and a half on a Tuesday evening.

The next session, on May 26, 2015, is about 3D Printing. We’re looking forward to it

Oculus Rift Immersive Learning Platform

Oculus Rift Immersive Learning Platform
Project “FlashFlow”
Douglas College Digital Cultures Lab Project – Feb 2015 – May 2015
@Douglas College Maker Lab

What We’re Doing: This project involves the utilization of the Oculus Rift as an immersive learning platform. An advanced flash card app will be developed to boost retention rates, shorten study time, and induce optimal mental “flow” states during exams.

Why We Are Doing It: In accord with the mandate of Douglas College to be a centre of experiential learning we seek to explore the capabilities of the Oculus Rift as an enhanced educational medium.

Some Ways of Thinking about This: From hieroglyphs on cave walls to VHS cassettes, humans have embraced the latest mediums as a tool to educate. Virtual reality is no exception. The Oculus Rift (OC) is the leading VR device on the market and was designed primarily for gaming. Pedagogical opportunities also exist to not only extend where we learn (e.g. remote learning via virtual presence) but in how we interact and assimilate knowledge.

As an introduction to its capabilities, the Douglas College Office of Research and Innovation and the Digital Cultures Lab will be developing the next generation of flash cards. What began as an effective study tool using simple paper index cards filled with bite-size information to self-quiz and memorize, flash cards have evolved into Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platforms like Brainscape that employ research-based cognitive techniques to optimize the learning process (repetition, active recall, etc.).

While also utilizing these techniques, the Douglas Oculus Rift flashcard app titled “FlashFlow,” takes it a few steps further:

  1. Because the Oculus is a much more immersive experience that engages one’s full attention, we seek to improve mental permeability (without drugs!) to yield better retention and shorter study time over existing methods.
  2. Many students perform poorly on exams not from insufficient understanding of the material but because the act of taking an exam or seeing certain course material (e.g. formulas) causes anxiety that impedes performance. Our app will explore embedding into the flash card experience Pavlovian emotional triggers to condition students to reset negative associations and maintain a peak psychological condition during an exam (known as “flow state” or “in the zone”).
  3. Subject to approval, subsequent iterations of the app will explore the use of concomitant psychological techniques during the learning process. These can include EMDR, transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), and induced hypnagogic states.
  4. We will also explore the use of the Oculus as brainwave entrainment device to induce a beta band resonance during a flashflow session for accelerated retention. This is based on an important recent discovery by MIT researchers in systems neuroscience termed “brainwave synchronization” that enables rapid learning. Two brain areas are involved in learning – the striatum and prefrontal cortex – “the striatum learns very simple things really quickly, and then its output trains the prefrontal cortex to gradually pick up on the bigger picture. The striatum learns the pieces of the puzzle, and then the prefrontal cortex puts the pieces of the puzzle together.” What they found is that as the brain shifts from rote memorization to learning categories, there is a corresponding shift in EEG patterns. Brain waves known as “beta bands,” (3-40 Hz) produced independently by both the prefrontal cortex and the striatum, begin to synchronize with each other that initiates the formation of new anatomical communication circuits.


Version 1 of the app is designed to be simple and explore basic Pavlovian effects. It uses pre-prepared flash card content provided by instructors and downloaded into the app. Interspersed throughout the flash deck will be flashed images, visualizations and music that create positive emotional stimulation that gets mentally “wired” to the material. Participating students will be asked to provide a few images of their own that they really like. The flashflow sessions will be designed to be taken in brief doses not lasting longer than 10 minutes at a time. Ideally, at the time of the course exam, the trigger images will be displayed on the class projector to trigger the positive state and induce information recall.

An Application Specification Document (ASD) is currently being prepared to guide the coding process.

The Fabrication of Truth: Re-Animating the Erased

The following is a summary of what we’re up to in the lab, using the Douglas College Makerspace, for the next little while.

What We’re Doing: We want to print 3D objects that are no longer manufactured (ideally, things that were once mass produced, but now have almost entirely disappeared, so things that are rare), or that are symbolic to different cultures in a specific way — not religious symbols, but statues, or other monuments (Easter Island heads for instance).

Why We Are Doing It: 1) We are looking to see how the reproduction of erased objects activates an emotional response. What does the reappearance of a material, tactile, object mean to the individual or group that desires it, or originally produced it? 2) We are thinking about how the fabrication of objects from different cultures might represent a re-colonization of the cultural artifact all over again.

Some Ways of Thinking About This: 1) If we were to reproduce a lost city in small, but accurate, scale, how would the individuals who are connected to that city (ancestors, one-time residents, etc.) encounter the fabrication? How do we account for the fabrication of what has been erased, and what are we doing to that erased space by reproducing it as a model? (The difference between what we are doing and, say, architectural modeling is that 3D printers can re-fabricate endlessly, globally, in a multitude of scales–the simulacrum is plastic.); 2) How do we think about our materials? Does reproducing a ceremonial mask in plastic–a material of the industrial age, the “civilized” world–re-colonize the cultures that contribute the ceremonial mask? If it does, what are the conditions of fabrication–who is in control and who “gives permission” for that kind of material transgression?

Boundaries: For now, we will restrict our fabrication to what we can find on Thingiverse. But, we should not shy away from printing items that are non-traditional (genitalia, weapons, trigger words), except to say that these objects should be printed out of general view and there viewing should take place in the proper academic context (these conditions, btw, prove the point above–why can’t we print a penis in public?)

What 3D Printing Might Teach Us About Fabricating Truths

This project confronts the following question: if we are attempting to revive erased spaces by re-fabricating them, what responsibility do we have to the corpse’s social, political, economic, and cultural aura. The basic question: how do we consider, integrate or confront an individual—or collective—emotional affect produced by the revival of the previously erased or inert?

One of the first stone tools used by humans, but in white compound plastic. Take that Caveperson!
One of the first stone tools used by humans, but in white compound plastic. Take that Caveperson! http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:248924

The project breaks the intervention into four interrelated sections. The first section deals with the materials used in 3D printing by asking how the reproduction of erased spaces (loosely defined)—demolished buildings, destroyed geographic features, lost / stolen objects—is infiltrated upon by the “plasticity” of their fabrication. By re-producing erased objects using materials sometimes not even present in the original contexts, our fabrication creates a distorted sense of materiality. Even when the materials are the same—the reproduction in the same material as the erased original—the individual or collective reaction to the fabricated materiality suggests a fracture or obtuse connection to the original, erased, object. In short, how do we—or can we—account for the fabrication of materiality as it is manifest through an individual or collective expectation? In other words, is 3D printing reviving, in a tactile format, something that has not been quite erased? That is, while the buildings, streets, and cross-references may no longer exist, the memories, experiences, and cultural signatures do—how do researchers seek to incorporate those things inside the tactile reproduction?

"Old World Trade Centre Site (WTC)" file on Thingiverse
This is the part of NYC erased on 911. http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:693972

The second section asks questions around scale: how can one possibly “recreate” tactile objects without accounting for scale. For instance, does something produced in miniature possess a resonance congruent with the original, and does this matter? Our experiences with 3D printing suggest that not only does scale affect the interpretation of the fabricated object, sometimes rendering once erased objects in miniature performs a reductive act upon the social, cultural, economic, political offence all over again creating a second erasure that at once acknowledges the lie (or fabrication) of the 3D printed object’s resonance, and ends up as a reductive commentary on the nuances of the original erasure.

"Rotary Phone on Base" file from Autodesk
The telephone remediated by sliced code. Supports are needed. http://www.123dapp.com/123C-3D-Model/Rotary-Phone-on-Base/599771

Moving into the third section, the argument moves into a discussion of practice as it applies to the implications of fabricating erased spaces. Can we accurately account for corrections in fabrication—do we annotate the 3D model, track changes for a 3D object, mark up a 3D fabrication? Here, I suggest that material fabrication needs to account for the “permanence” of the physical object that, once produced, cannot accept changes or show the marginalia / evidence of its transformations, particularly given that most reconstitutions of erased spaces tend to look for sources in the margins of society—those neglected, highly isolated, prototypes—where few methods exist to mark cultural, economic, and aesthetic contexts. The 3D printed object has many layers that cannot be peeled back because they have melted seamlessly into one another, creating the perception of smoothness, refinement, and completion. However, the hardware–and its accessibility–used to scan, render, and finally fabricate erased spaces may represent a re-colonization rather than a renewed existence.

"Easter Island Head" file from Thingiverse
How does it feel to have your cultural artifacts reproduced in plastic at 1/50 scale? http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:486339

Finally, the argument concludes with a discussion of what happens when the individual or collective reaction to the materiality of once-erased spaces intercedes upon the intended outcomes, rendering any knowledge creation or production inert. That is, while we may be able to fabricate erased objects—in this case using the case study wherein we tried to reproduce sections of the long razed New Westminster, B.C. Chinatown in a miniature—we do not yet have a foundation for understanding and predicting the triggers—cultural, social, economic—the reproduction of those models may elicit. We may be guilty, in our technological zeal for the socialization of knowledge, of “fabricating” connections between materiality and memory, unduly activating difficult emotional reactions that are not accounted for in the value proposition for re-making erased spaces, which is often about re-establishing erased truths and representing lost heritage. What the fabrication of erased spaces, as a form of technologically-based social knowledge creation, might show us is that these spaces are not artifacts in a tactile or material sense, but rather are symbolic of a set of emotional, cultural, and economic realities that individuals and collectives may not be equipped to process. As we fabricate, or re-fabricate, assemblages of once-erased cultural spaces, what exactly are we activating in the social space and how might we account for the “fixed” truth fabricated by the 3D printing machine?

MakerSpace Coming Soon to a Market Near You!

We’re eagerly awaiting the official opening of the Douglas College MakerSpace down at the New Westminster River Market.

With the 3D MakerBot Desktop Printer showcased in the Douglas College Library last semester, I know the Douglas College community is just as keen and excited as I am. Can’t wait to join forces with other enthusiasts and see what we will make, share, learn and innovate!

Where exactly is this MakerSpace going to be, you say? The New Westminster River Market (aka The Quay) is located @ 810 Quayside Drive, New Westminster, BC – a short walk from the New Westminster Douglas College campus. Look for us on the top floor just to the West of the Circus School.



And here is the completed pod, awaiting furniture and 3D printers:











So…. let’s make something amazing, yeah?!






Fail Blog

Well it’s been an exciting week @ the Douglas College Library. We got to showcase the Makerbot Replicator 3D Desktop printer. The experience as a whole was exciting, but not without some ‘technical difficulties.’ This post is not so much about our successful 3D prints, but our failures. As they say: one of the best ways to learn!

Our patrons have shown a keen interest, in the short while we’ve had the MakerBot Replicator 3D Desktop printer on display in the library. Most people’s first reaction is surprise and curiosity. I overheard one student exclaim, “No way, is that a 3D printer?!?” The onlookers really enjoy and marvel at the 3D printing process and they have lots of questions. We also encourage them to pick up the 3D models and interact with them (ie. attach the nut to the threaded bolt or try on the stretchy bracelet – yes, it’s stretchy!) We’ve even had other 3D hobbyists share their own experiences and knowledge of 3D printing, which really exemplifies the whole ‘maker’ phenomenon: to share, create and learn. The excitement is infectious.

At first, we were able to print a few 3D “things” without many problems whatsoever. But soon we noticed the rafts — the base which prints first to ensure an accurate 3d print — were printing inconsistently, sometimes they looked great, while other times not so much. Here are some examples of the good rafts (left) vs. not so good ones (right):

Good rafts       Fail rafts

We ran into all kinds of issues: homing errors, filament jams, ‘sparse’ inconsistent rafts and prints where the filament would catch on the extruder and start wrapping around in a big clump — one of my colleagues coined the term “bird nesting” as that’s a good description of what it looks like. I think we’ve just about covered every error or issue that could come up with our 3D printer #learning

Here are some comparison shots of our original attempts printing ‘Mr Jaws’ with the natural colour filament and with the new green filament. What a difference! While the green one is not perfect it’s a huge improvement.

       Mr Jaws detail

We got lots of experience troubleshooting our 3D printer: levelling the build plate, unloading and reloading the filament due to filament jam errors — many times — shutting down and restarting the machine, moving it to a different location and changing the filament. Each time, the troubleshooting seemed to fix the printer and we’d produce a pretty amazing 3D print. But alas the 3D printing would fail yet again. This time we tried loading the new green filament, it seemed to do the trick – voila ‘Mr Jaws’ in green and he looked pretty sharp! However, before we could print another ‘thing’ we got another jam, but this time it was one that wouldn’t clear. We tried more troubleshooting to no avail. The filament would no longer extrude! This is where my good friend google came in handy. Hours later….

The bad news: diagnosis – the Makerbot 3D printer Smart Extruder clogged and there’s no simple way to fix it without voiding the warranty.

The good news: A phone call to MakerBot Support and a new Smart Extruder is on it’s way.

So that’s where we’re at. We’ll just have to wait patiently — which is a tough thing to do, when you get to explore a ‘new’ technology that’s as fun and amazing as this!