Make something in real life!

Sometimes I worry that my creativity is stuck in the digital world. So many of my creations (videospodcasts, etc.) are digital. I think about the characters in dystopian novels and movies where society is thrusted backwards to a world without electricity. The lights go out, and all their creations are trapped forever inside a dead iPhone.

Revolution – Season 1, Episode 3

Inspired by some of my favorite woodworking Youtubers (here and here), I recently purchased a new tool that will hopefully diversify my creations beyond bits and bytes.

Dewalt table saw (DW745)

Of course, I’m not looking to leave digital creations behind for good. Instead, I’m seeking out ways that digital and physical creations can work together. For example, I needed a workbench for my new saw. Rather than just cutting away (which would probably result in wasted time and lumber), I designed a digital version of the workbench first.

My workbench in SketchUp (download the model)

After looking at other plans online and watching several SketchUp for Woodworkers tutorials, I was able to iterate until my design met my specific needs. Before a single cut was made, I knew every corner of my workbench because I got to know it in the digital space first. When it came time to build the real thing, I was able to move much more quickly and confidently.

I was filled with enormous amounts of pride after I finished making my workbench. It certainly isn’t one of the best workbenches out their but this one is definitely mine. The feeling of touching something physical is incredibly rewarding – especially when you made it yourself.

I’m starting to finally understand why more people are getting into vinyl and why my daughter has been begging us for an instant film camera (think Polaroid). Sites like Facebook want to make the world more connected but let’s not overlook our connections with the physical world.

So, go print out some family photos, buy a paper map for your next road trip, find those old cassette tapes from high school – take a break from the digital world and make something in real life. You’ll thank yourself for it.

First look at desktop carving machine

Recently I spent an afternoon getting to know Carvey (from Inventables) with help from Brian Bartel.

You can watch our adventure below:

It’s easy to see Carvey stealing the show but the other hidden gem from Inventables is Easel. This is the software that helps you get your designs ready for carving.

Easel is web-based and free to use. You can create designs from scratch or import your own images. The software is intuitive and is worth checking out even if you don’t have a Carvey.

The whole experience was a refreshing change from 3D printing. I look forward to seeing what students can create with tools like these.

Turn your own handwriting into a font

BaslerFontUsually, I never do this.  But recently I didn’t have time at a computer to type up a quiz for my physics students so I did it the old fashion way. I (gulp) hand wrote their quiz.

Sure, it is faster sometimes- especially if you have an elaborate drawing or graph. However, revising and archiving materials is not easy unless you start with a digital copy.

Nevertheless, the quiz went out to students and I jokingly made the comment that I used a special font for this week’s quiz.

I’ve had my fun with fonts before, but it turns out you can actually do this.

Check out

There’s no software to download and install, all you need is a printer and a scanner. Simply fill in the font template, scan and upload it to our website, and download your completed font. The fonts you create using can be used on both Windows and Mac computers.

As I typed out my own letters for the first time, my seven year old son explained to me that he could do a better job with his letters. I think this might be a fun activity for elementary students too.

Build a periscope; stream video to the web

This weekend I had a chance to attend Darwin Day at our local university. It was a fun event and a chance for me to try out This site allows you to broadcast video to the web instantly. All you need is a webcam and an Internet connection.

My Wi-Fi connection at Darwin Day wasn’t as strong as I had hoped but I was still able to broadcast the event and even stored the video for later viewing. Below you can see Brian Bartel (from kick-off the event.

I mentioned that you can use a webcam to capture the video. My MacBook has an iSight camera built in however I wanted to look at the screen while it was recording. Using a Cheez-it box, a mirror and the directions found here, I made a periscope for my webcam. Below are a few pictures from the process. I suspect with a little trial and error, you could make one of these for any laptop.

mirror p1010926.JPG p1010928.JPG
p1010934.JPG p1010933.JPG

You will need to use software to flip the image since the mirror creates… well, a mirror image. I used the trial version of iGlasses from For only ten dollars, iGlasses will also allow you to zoom and pan, adjust brightness and change the colors.

If you’re not in the mood to build your own brackets and cut up mirrors, Ecamm sells the Huckleberry. The Huckleberry has durable plastic mounting brackets and an acrylic mirror. It sells for twenty dollars and comes with iGlasses. (I would have purchased this myself if it wasn’t out-of-stock when I needed it.)

Many camcorders will work with too. A camcorder will give you a high quality video and it’s perfect if you’re planning to broadcast regularly from a fixed location—like a classroom! Below is video stream from Brian Bartel’s class last week on what he calls Combustion Day.

Lastly, I should mention that lets users chat with other users who are watching the live video. This would be great for an evening event that only the teacher can attend. The teacher could broadcast the video while the students are watching online and holding a discussion via chat.