Sunday, June 10, 2018

Science IDS Reflection

Things I think I did well or enjoyed:
One of my favourite science-related things I’ve done this year is going to the weekly physics and astronomy lectures at UBC. I learned a lot from them, and even when I didn’t understand them, they provided me with a better understanding of how the system works, and also connected me to a few people who I may teach me or work with me in future.
    I also enjoyed building my robot throughout the year and going to the meetups with some other robot builders in Vancouver.
    Although I wish I had made more videos throughout the year, I was satisfied with those I did make.

Things I think I could have done better:
    One thing I regret this year is not making many videos. As a said before I made a few, but I feel like if I had worked to make more I could have had a much bigger YouTube following by now, which would be a very helpful asset to me in an age where we are often judged by what we have online.
    Similarly to YouTube videos, I wish I had worked on my robot more often throughout the year. Progress was very slow on it, and I think I could have learned a lot more about engineering and electronics if I had just done it more.
In general, I wish I had done more than I did.

I have attended at least 17 public colloquiums at the UBC physics & astronomy department, each of which are an hour long. Including travel time, this amounts to approximately 59 hours of UBC lectures. Also, I spent approximately 6 hours making responses for some of the lectures.

I have spent around 25 hours building my robot, including buying parts, research, and attending robot meetups.

I have also spent around 30 hours making youtube videos about science and engineering.

This adds up to around 114 hours on this IDS out of the 100 minimum.

UBC Lecture Response: Experimenting with Spectrumlab

Spectrumlab is an interesting program I downloaded a while ago after seeing an interesting lecture at UBC about sound waves. So you can probably guess what it does. SpectrumLab is basically a sound visualizer, which doesn’t sound exciting, but it is, because it allows you to see sound in a completely new way. In Spectrumlab, new sounds coming in show up at the top of the screen, and their left/right positioning represents their frequency.

This image is of Spectrumlab’s output when I hummed a siren like noise, higher and lower, higher and lower. As you’ve probably noticed, the picture doesn’t just show one frequency though, so what’s up with that? As it turns out, no ordinary sound had only one frequency. Single frequency sounds can only be made electronically. The different frequencies in a sound are actually what makes sounds sound different from each other. 

For example, when I hum a note and play the same one on accordion they look different in Spectrumlab.
Photo comparing voice and accordion notes
See how the accordion note has more higher notes than my voice? That’s part of what gives accordion it’s distinct sound. Also, notice how each frequency line is actually two lines close together; that gives accordion notes a more full or “wet” feeling, and gives the sound a kind of slight vibrato because of the two frequency waves canceling each other out at regular intervals. Here’s the link to a safe download for Spectrumlab (windows only):

Here’s some more accordion music for you to visually enjoy:

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Reflective Letter for English

This year in English I’ve learned several new and interesting things about our language and how I write. I’ll outline a few of them in this letter, and explain how my writing has changed over the past couple of years.
Informative writing:
My style for informative writing has changed a lot over the last couple of years. In the beginning, my writing was never very interesting. It described and said what it needed, and told exactly how things worked, or if it was about something I had done, what I did. But more recently I’ve been branching out, trying to engage and entertain as well as inform. I’ve started trying make my usually quite technical writing more easy to understand for ordinary people not studying physics or engineering, and explored ways to teach effectively and successfully through my writing and videos. I’ve recently been experimenting with using more humour and light tone in some of my videos, blog posts and other writings, which I think makes them easier to read, listen to, and understand.
I’ve also looked deeper then I sometimes would onto the subjects for my writing, researching various parts to make sure of the accuracy of the piece, and have also gotten better at writing more, in general. In the past, I would make all of my writing very simple and to-the-point, which can be good sometimes, but is usually not as interesting to read. Now I’ve been trying to add more details to my work, personal anecdotes, opinions, and explanations for things I would usually write through without a second glance.
I’ve also, more recently, been learning the importance of proofreading my writing, and trying to do so more often and with more care for mistakes and possible improvements.

Fictional Writing:
My developments in my creative writing style recently have been similar to the ones I mentioned above about informative writing. I’ve recently been learning to add more detail, feelings, smells, and textures to scenes, and explain parts that I might not have in the past, like lighting, mood and colour. I’ve started to explore character’s history, mentally and in writing, and tried to deepen their personality so that they can be believable yet unique. I’ve also been researching concepts and ideas used in my stories, even ones of my own invention, so that they can seem more real and accurate.
For example, I’ve been writing a short story or novella which is partly centered around a flammable liquid that I call “ignisium”, the name of which is a combination of “ignis” and “ium”, the former being latin for fire or ignite, and the latter being a common suffix for some chemicals. The liquid itself is partly based on gasoline, being flammable and volatile in nature, but I had decided it would burn yellow in lanterns, so I had to figure out what chemical or additive could cause that. I eventually decided that sodium, or some kind of salt, would be mixed with it, since sodium and certain salts burn bright yellow.
I’ve also been working on adding interest to the plot of my recent stories. I’ve been adding small details which get answered later in the narrative, and weaving a plot that adapts and makes connections between different parts of a story line and keeps readers engaged and wondering what happens next.
Word choice, comparisons, metaphor and poetry are all important concepts to keep in mind when designing an engaging piece of writing. I have recently been trying to put them to better use, researching more unusual and descriptive words to replace ordinary, uninteresting ones, and often looking up definitions and synonyms as I construct the story. I’ve also been using a lot more metaphor and simile in my recent writings, as opposed to some of my older works which worked to tell the story but were often dry or uninteresting. For example, in a scene from the story I’m currently writing, a burning house falls on the man who started the fire, but instead of just telling that, I compare it to a horrible monster slowly crouching to drink from a pool.

    Over the last while my writing has changed drastically; from relatively dry and empty to entertaining and informative. Through humour, better explanations, details and anecdotes, connecting to the senses, interesting plots, simile and metaphor, my writing has gotten much better. I hope you find this useful when deciding on marks, and thank you.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Making a Knife from a Nail

In April I was looking after a fire. We had just finished some yard work, and there were scraps to be burnt. So we made a fire, and I watched it.
Watching fires isn't very interesting. Sure, fire is cool, but after a while you're just sitting there wishing for something to do. That's what I was doing when I decided to make a knife.

Forging things isn't really very complicated, in theory. You just need to make the metal hot enough that it softens, and then smash it into shape. And then repeat, and repeat until it's the shape you want.

Now, the fire I had was big, but not very hot. Not nearly hot enough to practically forge things with. Luckily for me, fires aren't very hard to make hot. they just need air and fuel, which I had plenty of. For the air part, I connected a powerful blower to a metal ventilation tube which I aimed at the fire.

For the raw metal, I used a huge nail. I started by putting the nail in the fire and aiming the blower tube at it. It worked! The nail got red hot pretty quickly, so, I took it out of the fire with a pair of pliers to start hammering it. I did this a few times. Hammering, back in the fire, hammering, back in the fire, h- what?

Well, apparently I had left it in too long. The blade had melted away, leaving a sad jagged edge where it used to be. Let's try that again.

This time I used a bigger nail. Same process as last time, but paying more attention to how hot it's getting. And when it was the shape I wanted, I heated it up and then dipped it in water to quench it, which changes the structure of the metal to make it tougher. The forging was done! I now had a nail with a knife shape on the end. Next step: shaping.

To shape the blade, I used a Dremel (a high speed rotary tool) with a sanding bit to slowly grind away metal where I didn't want it. I also used sandpaper to properly angle the blade on the cutting side, and start to sharpen it. finally, I used a cutting bit to cut the 'handle' to the right length.
Shaping the knife

To finish the handle, I thought string would work well, so I tried winding it up with some ordinary white string. It looked great! I took the string off and did it again, this time gluing it on as I wound. It might seem like this wouldn't make a very strong handle, but in reality it works very well, as well as looking and feeling very nice. It's wound so evenly you can hardly tell it's string!

The last step was sharpening. I had thought it was sharp enough before, but I changed my mind. I decided I needed a sharper angle on the blade, so I took out a grinding wheel and ground! When I was done that it still wasn't sharp enough, so I used a couple sharpening stones. Then, finally, I was satisfied.

Friday, May 18, 2018

My robot is complete! (for now)

I've had and been making this robot since around October, and now I've finally decided it's complete!

Here's the story of it's creation.

I used to take apart Roombas. You know, the robotic vacume that cleans your floor automatically? Right. I took them apart. Three of them, which I found at my local recycling depot. I would start by pulling out the bits that are meant to be unattached; the dust tray and the sweeper and the other thing. I'm not sure what to call it, it's kind of a rubber carpet whacker connected to the sweeper, probably makes it vacume better or something.

Anyway, I would start by taking all those things out, and then I would unscrew and rip the top off to expose the insides of the vacume. There's a lot inside a Roomba. Lots of sensors, switches and wires, which are nice, but the parts I liked the most were the two wheel units.

Each one is a motor connected to a big, knobbly wheel, all well behaved and self contained in a plastic case, with two wires sticking to control the motor, and four others connected to a rotation sensor. And I had six of them! As soon as I saw them all together it was obvious I would have to make a robot.
This was the first stage of robot construction: Hot glue and popsicle sticks.
Quickly after deciding to build a robot, and after a few false starts (you can see the remains of one in the background), I put that together. I decided to go simple: skid steering (like an excavator), and four wheels. Although conventional steering might have been more efficient, it was out of the question; Much to complicated, and likely to break (well, more like doomed to break. It's my robot, after all). And yes, six wheels would have been cooler, but it would also mean the robot would have to be longer, which would mean the skid steering would be even less efficient, to the point of not working at all.

After building that, I wasn't really sure what to do next. I have an Arduino, which is basically a tiny computer that you can control electronics with. I knew I wanted to use it as the brain of my robot, but I didn't know how. I couldn't connect the motors directly to the Arduino- it doesn't put out nearly enough power, and the motors create spikes in the electricity that could damage my Arduino. So, I did some research.

According to what I found on the internet, in order to control my robot I needed something called an H-bridge. An H-bridge is kind of like a complex electric switch. Two of it's wires are connected to a motor, two to a power supply, and another two are connected to whatever you controlling the motor with (in my case, my Arduino). Putting power through one of the controller wires makes the H-bridge power the motor in either one direction or another. That seemed straightforward enough, so I went to an electronics store to buy a couple.

I came back from the electronics store not with H-bridges, but with an Osep Motor Shield, which is basically a bunch of H-bridges incorporated onto a circuit board which plugs into the top of an Arduino. "Even better!" I thought. Now I just needed to figure out how it worked. That was harder then I thought it would be.
The Osep motor shield

I looked online, but there was literally nothing that explained how to use it. But eventually I figured it out. I thought. It turned out I needed to program it with some commands for a different motor controller. Great! So I tried writing code to make the robot go, but it didn't work. Then I copied someone else's. It's still didn't work. Then I switched a couple of wires around. Guess what... they had been backwards. It ran fine! I strapped it to my robot, and it ran beautifully.

I made this diagram after figuring out how everything works.
 All it could do was repeat a series of movements that I programmed it to do, but that was OK with me. Now I just had to figure out how to power it.

I had previously been using a variable voltage power supply to power it, but that power supply plugs into the wall and I wanted my robot to be free. I tried some small hobby batteries I have, but they weren't strong enough and I had no way to charge them. And ordinary consumer batteries were out of the question. Not only would they run out of power fast, they would be way to expensive.

I put the problem aside for a while and made the body of the robot bigger. More room for a battery, if I ever found one. And then I remembered something. The three Roombas I took apart had batteries! And they were the perfect size, too. I just needed a way to charge them. Luckily, I have an Irobot (the company that makes Roombas) power supply. I could charge the battery with that. I just needed to find out how. Usually the power supply would charge the battery while it was still in the vacume, so I couldn't just plug it in. But I watched a couple of videos about it, and decided to try wiring the battery directly to the charger. It was a bit scary, but it worked! the battery charged. My robot was free!
The Roomba wheels

A Backyard Adventure!

I wasn't sure what to do next. There were several options. I could make it into a true robot by giving it sensors and programing it to use them, which would mean it could theoretically drive around by itself, or I could have made it remote control, so that I could drive it around places without pre-programming all it's movements.
What I really need is a use for it. And I don't have one yet.
So I decided to let it wait, and be finished for now.

I will find something for it to do eventually, but for now you can enjoy this montage of it's adventures outside! Music: Hans Hylkema, Backyard Adventure

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Books Read

Here is a list of all the books I've read so far this school year:

  • A Briefer History of Time -Stephen Hawking
  • Counting by Sevens -Holly Goldberg Sloan 
  • Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children -Ransom Riggs
  • Pax -Sara Pennypacker
  • The Marvels -Brian Selznick
  • The Book Thief -Markus Zusak
  • The Fault in our Stars -John Green
  • Quiet Power -Susan Cain
  • Story of your life -Ted Chiang
  • The Inexplicables -Cherie Priest
  • Survival: Species Imperative #1 -Julie E. Czerneda

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Reveiws of musicals

So recently I went to two musicals: Onegin and Fun Home. Here are some reviews of them!

(Arts Club Theater version)

The plot of Onegin is pretty simple. It starts out with Vladimir Lensky (played by Josh Epstein), who is a poet. Vladimir is in love with a girl (woman?) named Olga (Lauren Jackson).

But then Efgeni Onegin (played by Alessandro Juliani) comes to town because his uncle is dying. Vladimir, who is friends with Efgeni, suggests that he flirt with Olga's older sister, Tatyana (played by Meg Roe). Tatyana falls completely in love with Efgeni and writes him a letter, but Efgeni isn't so sure. 

Then, at a party at the sister's house, Efgeni starts flirting with Olga. This is obviously unacceptable to Vladimir, so they battle it out in a duel. Vladimir dies. Efgeni goes traveling, and is never really happy.


Fun Home:

Fun home is about a gay woman's (Alisson, played by Sara-Jeanne Hosie, Jaime MacLean and Kelli Ogmundson) experiences growing up with her father. Her father is the owner of a funeral home, a historical preservationist, a parent, secretly gay, and cheating on his wife. He commits suicide by jumping in front of a truck.

The whole musical is told from the point of middle aged Alison, who is trying to be a cartoonist, making a graphic novel version of her life.

The play is based on the story of the real Alison and her graphic novel.

Here my interview with my sister Rhiannon about these musicals: