Maker Spotlight: John Allwine

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Maker Spotlight: John Allwine

Name: John Allwine
Home: Bozeman, MT
Makerspace: Children’s Museum of Bozeman STEAMlab
Day Job: This doesn’t have a straight forward answer for me. I’m really a software developer, but that hasn’t been my focus for several years. The last couple years I managed the STEAMlab at the Children’s Museum of Bozeman, teaching classes to kids around 3D printing, electronics, and coding among other things STEAM related. I also taught a couple semesters of computer graphics at Montana State University in their computer science department. I’ve taken miscellaneous programming jobs to fill the gaps but nothing long term as I’ve wanted to focus on my own projects. That all came after leaving my position as a visual effects artist at Dreamworks Animation and before that I was a software developer at O’Reilly Media. Now I’m trying my hand at blogging about my projects while taking on various programming jobs as needed.

How’d you get started making?
My math teacher in 6th grade introduced me to programming by demonstrating the classic monkey and the hunter physics problem. The problem involves a hunter aiming his blow gun at a monkey hanging from a tree. The monkey sees the hunter and lets go of the branch immediately as the hunter shoots his dart. The question is, does the hunter hit the monkey? The physics works out that the hunter will always hit the monkey, no matter how hard he blows into the dart gun.

My teacher made a physical representation of the problem using electromagnets, a metal monkey (probably a paint can lid or similar) and a makeshift blow gun, along with a computer simulation of it in QBasic. The physical demonstration was awesome, but the computer simulation is what had me hooked. From then on I was making balls bounce around my computer screen, which turned into making games like Pong and Breakout and led to a focus in 3D computer graphics while earning my computer science degree.

It wasn’t until my dad wanted me to apply my knowledge of computer graphics to his knot tying hobby that I came full circle and began making things in the real world rather than just the digital world. I developed software for providing instructions for tying knots, which of course to test I had to actually tie. That software evolved into 3D printing knots as jewelry and other interesting forms which paved the way for me getting into making in general.

This is an exhibit I built for the Children’s Museum of Bozeman called the Toolbox Piano. It uses a board I designed called MUSE, that is similar to a Makey Makey, but has an attached MIDI port for easy connection to a digital keyboard.

What type of maker would you classify yourself as?
I’m definitely a coder. Coding, to me, is the purest form of making. There are no constraints (almost) when coding. You can make whatever you can imagine. You’re essentially creating something out of nothing. Only recently, did I start applying my knowledge of 3D graphics and coding to make things in the real world. I’ve written 3D widgets for designing tables and shelves which generate material and cut lists. I love Arduino projects because of the ease with which you can program things to move in and interact with the real world. The accessibility of CNC devices such as laser cutters, milling machines, and 3D printers opens up a world of possibilities as a coder.

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What’s your favorite thing you’ve made?
My favorite thing that I’ve made is the engagement ring that I proposed to my wife with. The knot hobby that evolved out of my knot software led to me wanting to weave her ring out of wire. For months, I practiced and experimented with different wire thicknesses, twisted vs non-twisted strands, as well as how I would attach a diamond to it. The end result came out perfectly. Later I documented the process and won a 3D printer in an Instructables contest, which I’ve put to good use!

What’s something you’d like to make next?
I have all kinds of projects planned. I need to install new sprinkler valves in my backyard and would like to make my own custom Arduino sprinkler controller. My two year old is always playing with the remote, so I never know where it is and would like to make a stationary remote station that has just a few large dials and buttons for turning on my TV and controlling volume.

Here’s a table that I finished recently. The design is simple, but beautiful. What I’m really proud of, though, is the 3D widget that generates cut lists for you so you can easily customize the dimensions to build a different table, all using standard dimensional lumber. I’ve made other widgets for shelves and tables for a shop or garage as well.

There are some pieces of furniture that I need to make for the house such as a side table for our guest room and some cabinets for our laundry room. There are some CNC projects I’d like to pursue related to my knot software. And of course I want to document it all on my blog so others can learn from what I’ve done. There’s plenty to do, but only so much time to do it!

Any advice for people reading this?
First, I recommend getting involved at a local makerspace. Find people who are actually making things, and learn from them. Share the things you know. It’s incredibly rewarding to help someone solve a problem that they’re having, and you’ll likely learn something along the way.

Then, I recommend learning to code. It’s so applicable to everything these days. Even if you think you never want to be a software developer, learn how to code something. If you have kids, have them learn to code. Think of it as a topic that should be covered in school, just like math or English. With computers going into just about everything these days from your refrigerator to your light bulbs, it’ll serve you well to have some idea of how they work. It’ll also help you if you ever want to make a website, or any number of other things.

Are you going to any upcoming Maker Faires?
I don’t have any current plans. I’d like to make it to Maker Faire Bay Area, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to swing it this year. It’s always a blast. I went last year helped out at Pocket NC’s booth and had my own booth the year before.

Who else should we profile?
The owners of Pocket NC, Matt and Michelle Hertel. They successfully completed a Kickstarter campaign a couple years ago for their 5-axis CNC machine. Some were skeptical about their ability to make a 5-axis machine for the price point they set, but Pocket NC is going strong. They’re since completed a second Kickstarter for another machine and have some great plans going forward. They’re very genuine people who care about making a quality product, while also supporting their community.

Where can people find you on the web?
I’m working on consolidating all my projects under my blog, Allwine Designs. You can find me under all the usual social platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

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Sophia is the managing editor of the Make: blog. When she’s not greasing editorial gears, she likes to run, ride, climb, and lift things, and make lo-tech goods like zines, desserts, and altered clothing. @sophiuhcamille

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