Related to MAKE 04, Kits For The Holidays
More Kits for the Holidays
by Arwen O'Reilly Griffith
October 20, 2005
Bell Labs CARDIAC Kit $19.95
In between getting a Selectric in 1976 and a TTY in 1977, we had a brief period in my household where my dad was transitioning from being a programmer to going to teacher's college. He brought home a "cardboard computer" that you assembled by punching out parts, inserting tabs into slots. It assembled to something about three-card-thicknesses deep and about 10" by 6". It had little tokens that represented bits, and a table of operations. You could write a program to calculate, say, 2 + 2, then move the tokens around from one part of the computer to another, simulating the shunting of bits through logic-gates, until you got the total. I was completely enchanted with this thing--I spent days and days making it add up very small numbers, fascinated by this look into the universe of a Von Neumann machine.
Years later, I saw Tron and was unimpressed--sure they had speeder-bikes, but they weren't a patch on my cardboard tokens. After a little research, it turned out that the long-lost cardboard computer was a Bell Labs' CARDIAC: A Cardboard Illustrative Aid to Computation.
There are a lot of fans out there, and there may even be a vendor still selling original, left-over CARDIACs!
Film is not dead, at least not among those of us that use large format view cameras. In simple terms, a view camera is a light-tight bellows with a lens at one end and a sheet of film at the other. The bellows allows each end to be tilted, turned, raised, and shifted to control for perspective and focus in the scene. Ansel Adams used view cameras for his landscape photos.
The Bender 4x5 kit is an inexpensive introduction to large format photography. The kit comes as what one Usenet poster described as "... a rather small box full of sticks," along with a bellows, ground glass, and hardware. The various parts are glued together using simple butt joints reinforced with screws. I am an experienced photographer, but not a woodworker. Nevertheless, I built a beautiful, functioning Bender camera in a few weekends using simple hand tools. My very first picture with the Bender was a large oak tree in winter. I still have that picture hung on my wall, 12 years later.
In addition to the camera, you will need a large format lens (available used), a couple of sheet film holders, and a tripod. Using the View Camera by Steve Simmons is an excellent introduction to the subject.
-- Steve Holzworth
Greasel Me Up
Greasecar Vegetable Fuel Systems wants you to know that tree-hugging dirt worshippers aren't the only folks interested in alternative fuels. Extensive online customer profiles quickly dispel that myth.
Their deluxe kit provides all the parts you need (and then some) to convert any diesel engine to run on straight vegetable oil. Our 1984 Mercedes Turbo Coupe Diesel was itchin' for some grease with diesel prices in northern California hovering dangerously close to $3 a gallon.
Our initial excitement died down a bit when Greasecar took two months to deliver, but the kit was all that it claimed to be when it finally did arrive (and the website did warn of their backorder status). The instruction manual aptly contained a disclaimer that it was in the process of being revamped. It was a bit minimalist. If you don't have a solid auto-hacking foundation, it helps to have a buddy around who does. For the die-hard maker, Greasecar does sell individual parts so you can put together your own kit.
Post successful, two-day conversion, the Mercedes is officially a grease-guzzling beauty, running quite smoothly on FREE waste veggie oil. The kit also includes a simple dash-mounted switch that allows you to toggle between running diesel and running straight veg. Definitely prepare to get intimate with filtering the oil and making restaurant back doors your new hangout.
-- Goli Mohammadi
Walk Softly and Carry a Big Stick
My parents used to get us moccasin kits when we went on car trips. They were either Minnesota regional Ojibway products or leftovers from the Daniel Boone mania of the 50s. Maybe both.
At that time, the Ojibway were still called Chippewa, and the Lakota were called Sioux. As I recall, those names mean turtle and snake in each other's languages and were the insults they called each other. When the Lakota won a big battle, they built a turtle mound headed in the direction of the retreating losers to insult the Ojibway. When the Ojibway won the next battle, they built a snake mound around it with the head pointed in the direction the Lakota ran.
Anyhow, tribal names have changed to what the tribes call themselves, but some still like to be called "Indians" because it's a reminder of how confused the Europeans were, thinking they were in India.
The kit consisted of precut and punched sheets of suede and some leather thongs. You'd lace them together through the pre-punched holes; it was pretty easy and the end result was really nice. It gave us kids something to do and then we'd walk around in the woods wearing them trying to be quiet like little Indians.
The most recent kit I built purely for fun (and for no other reason, which made it a true hobby adventure, something I don't get to experience very often anymore) was an EKG machine that connected to an oscilloscope to give you a realtime display of your heart rhythm. Made by Ramsey Electronics, it was a fun winter weekend exercise. It took about 15 minutes to put together and test to confirm that it worked (yes, my heart actually WAS beating). Given my personality, short attention span, and need to go experiment and build other things, I ended up selling the kit a few weeks later at our yard sale for $5. It was well worth the time and money spent, though.
Speed of Light
Standard, easy-to-make pinhole camera kit, using 35mm film. The parts are printed on scored, heavy-duty cardstock, and the finished product is charmingly reminiscent of an old 35mm SLR. There is no lens (the image is exposed when the shutter lets light in through the pinhole), so the images are slightly fuzzy, but that only adds to its allure. A great way to learn (or teach) the underlying principles of photography.
The Bender Pinhole Camera kit is a work of art in itself. Sturdier than your average pinhole camera, the kit comes with the wood required to build yourself a 4x5 box camera that will take both 4x5 sheet film holders and even a Polaroid back for pinhole Polaroids.
Recycled Candle Making Kit $31.19
For the truly frugal among us, this kit makes sure the burnt-out ends of smoky days don't go to waste. Collect candle fragments and drips and give them new life as tealights or votive candles. The kit includes instructions, wicks, and reusable molds for both.
LED Game of Life Kit up to $350
While technically a simulation of a cellular automata invented by British mathematician John Conway, the original makers at Spare Time Gizmos call it "art, and a performance piece at that." A 16x16-inch LED wall hanging that lets you play Conway's game of LIFE, it's controlled with an infrared remote, so the work of art on your wall is interactive as well as attractive. Kit comes with schematics and firmware, PC board, display driver chips, a kit of all the electronics parts needed, and an LED alignment tool (pieces can also be bought separately). A wooden enclosure kit is in the works.
Rocket To Me
A downloadable PDF that has the plans for your own paper rocket, it goes sky-high (or at least 5 meters high) with the help of a pneumatic launch pad you fold yourself. Folding the bellows can be a little tricky, but once you do this, making an origami spider will just come naturally.
Single-Motor SX Kit $349.99
For those of us who live in San Francisco, the thought of an electric bike converter kit is like a cool drink on a hot day. Pedaling is great, except when you hit one of those famous hills. This four-pound electric battery takes the edge off: with an electrified power assist vehicle, you can go up to 14mph. Kit comes with motor, motor control, battery, and a battery bag which attaches to your bike.
Fuel Cell Car Kit $124.95
This kit takes model cars to the next level: with it, you can build your own experimental reversible fuel cell car that runs on water. The kit includes a solar panel, which provides the electricity needed to activate electrolysis. The resulting fuel is then stored in the fuel cell. The kit also comes with all the materials needed to build the car, the complete reversible fuel cell, a digital multimeter, and a lab manual with 30 experiments. Cheapskates that they are, water is not included. Great for kids, but the parts are comprehensive enough that they can be a great building block for further experiments.
Some other particularly good kit sites:
An eclectic mix of components, transformers, remote control kits, temperature kits, kits for your car (back-up noises, screen-wiper robots, home-built car alarms and ignition amplifiers, among others), solar and wind (solar panels and wind turbines of all sizes), train kits, and sound kits (someone tying up your phone line? Install the Telephone Interception Kit). Definitely a good choice for finding kits you might not stumble across otherwise, like the Deftness Kit, a basic electronic circuit which is designed to test dexterity, or the Metronome Kit.
Kit-makers for over 25 years, they offer kits of autochords to wind instruments, with everything from bouzoukis, cardboard instruments, and lutes in between. They also have recordings, books, blueprints, and supplies for building instruments from scratch, and will even finish your kit for you if you get stalled.
Intricate model kits of spacecraft from the Hubble Space Telescope to the Mars Polar Lander, the Keck Telescope, and the Voyager, just to name a few. The parts are laser-cut paper embellished with lithography and bonded metal foil, and incredible attention to detail (the Keck Telescope kit comes with reflective metal foil-clad mirrors). At $8.95, they can hardly be said to replicate NASA price tags, and even have free kits you can download online and print out.
A really well-designed site with a plethora of robotics kits, from Jr. Science levels to Advanced. The distribution channel of OWI kits (see the WAO Kranius review, above), they have a great grouping of fun-looking robots with special features (the Spider III moves around in the dark, and the Hyper Line Tracker has a sonic sensor and can follow any course you design for it).
Claiming to have the world's most complete robot offering, this site offers kits, completed robots, tools, materials, and books. They're also working on offering a selection of robot pets (see our profile of maker Natalie Jeremijenko in Volume 02 for some ideas on what to do with these).
Mostly electronic kits (duh), they also sell plans for constructing kits, including the schematics and PCB layouts. They have a good selection of robotic kits, electronic test equipment, and, best of all, supplies for your spy and surveillance needs. Who doesn't need a voice changer?
These people are serious about rockets. Calling themselves "the new kids on the rocketry block," the founders of FlisKits are hoping to revive an interest in classic model rocketry kits. The fabulous black and white illustrations in their catalog offer us rockets with names like Spitfire, Cougar 660, and Deuces Wild (online you can search for rocket kits by rocket type or skill level). They also sell launch pads, controllers, and components, and have a great photo library of various rocket launches, including a wonderful panoramic shot taken at an elementary school, of a row of kids with upturned faces, watching their rocket take off.
Official website for Edmund Scientific, this site features a wide range of kits, from radon test kits and clean water testing kits to one that shows you how to make your own light bulb. They also cover the supremely silly: make your own water wiggly, or a super super ball.
Great site full of fun and bizarre kits, some of which will give you a better understanding of various scientific principles, and some of which are just plain cool. Offerings include an ion propulsion motor kit, an anti-gravity levitator kit, and a vocal sounds effects kit.
All the kits are redesigned specifically to make it easy for soldering beginners to build: nicely silkscreened circuit boards, through-hole parts whenever possible, extra large solder pads, etc. For some kits, you can purchase just the circuit board.
To save paper, the easy-to-follow-with-lotsa-pictures instructions are all available online, at ladyada.net/make
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