Thursday, June 10, 2010

30 Days of Creativity - #7

Progress has slowed. However, I have done a few things in preparation for upcoming projects. One problem I have to deal with is the fact I will be traveling to a conference soon and will have to have some sort of portable project(s) to keep the creativity plan going for several days away from home.

Soma Cube Project

Today I put on two coats of clear acrylic as a final finish (Figure 1). They came out pretty well. Nice and shiny. And red. To top it off I solved the puzzle (Figure 2). It took me about three minutes. Maybe I just got lucky.

Finished Soma Cube Pieces
Figure 2. Finished pieces of the Soma Cube
Assembled Soma Cube
Figure 2. Assembled Soma Cube


On a related note (sort of) I have figured out how to add captions to images in Blogger (see Figures 1 and 2!). There is a lot of information about how to do this on the web. Some ideas work, and some don't so I figure it might be helpful to write a clear explanation of a couple of ways to do it that definitely work. That will be written up elsewhere.

Monday, June 7, 2010

30 Days of Creativity - #6

The Soma Cube Project

It's almost done! Today I put two more coats of red paint on the pieces. Tomorrow I will put on a couple of coats of clear acrylic and it should be ready to solve!


Today was the day I got the right sidebars on this blog set up pretty close to the way I want them.

Not much else. It still counts!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

30 Days of Creativity - #5

The school year is over and I should have more time to do fun stuff now!
The Soma Cube Project

Okay the primer is on. It's oil based light gray paint from a spray can. That stuff is amazing because it has been on the shelf for at least five years and it's still good. However, the topcoat red is not oil based. I do not think that will be a problem so long as I let the primer dry well before applying the finish coats.

I put on two coats so the graininess of some of the wood surfaces would not be so obvious. The paint also tends to fill some of the gaps between the cubes as well. Dang I forgot to take a photo of the primed pieces!

Technical Writing

Writing is also a creative process, even it it is non-fiction writing. I recently became a feature writer at for the science/tech books section. That means I have an obligation to post four articles a month that somehow relate to science/technical books. So far so good. I wrote up a review of Quantum Leaps by Jeremy Bernstein. Overall, I liked it.

As a Feature Writer, I also get a blog there as well. If you've got blogs use 'em I say. I wrote a piece on a pretty good technical book series called What Every Engineer Should Know. Good stuff in that series. In blogs you get to be quite a bit more creative in your writing style than you do when writing a book review to conform to site style. Does this count as part of 30 Days of Creativity? You bet!

Sixty Days in a Library

Here is a long-term personal learning project that I started today. It involves lots of reading and research, but the creative part for the purposes of 30 Days of Creativity is that I wrote a blog post about it. In Sixty Days in a Library I outline my plan to become skilled in the art and science of information theory with application to problems in biology. You should try something like this too!

30 Days of Creativity - #4

And it continues on Day 4...
The Soma Cube Project

Today I tried to paint the seven pieces of the Soma Cube. It's been awhile since I pained anything. Which explains why it did not turn out very good. The purple base color is too hard to cover with the red spray paint I chose. It's going to need a coat of primer. Duh!

Too late in the evening to do anything on that now. I'll let the crummy red coat dry overnight and then put on the primer tomorrow.

I Made This Blog

Today was also the day I set up this blog to start looking like I wanted. This involved editing a PSD file in the header to get the blog title to say "Sci-Tech Stuff" and then I had to upload it to a server and then figure out where in the template to reference it since the instructions at the place where I got the template were clearly wrong. No biggie. Still some work to do in the sidebar, but it's a start.

Day #5 is next.

30 Days of Creativity - #3

Here on Day 3 of my adventure I have accomplished several things. Note: It is too stressful to try and make a post each and every day, so I record what I am doing and make the posts when I can. Today is the 6th of June and I am actually six days into this 30 Days of Creativity.
The Soma Cube Project

Today I touched up the sanding on my 27 unit cubes and then glued them together with some good quality wood glue. Hopefully they will withstand the abuse of 11-13 year-olds that they will be subjected to. I'm letting the glue set overnight for good strength before continuing with finishing.

The Broken Weight Problem

Today was also the day I finally solved a number problem I have been working on. It was "The Broken Weight Problem" which I saw posed at a good blog called The Math Less Traveled. It took me awhile and, although I did not ask for one, I was inadvertently given a hint. No need to recount the entire experience here, as I have done so in some detail in The Broken Weight Problem at Mister McIntosh Says.

There is certainly a creative aspect to mathematics. It's about patterns and relationships. As stated so well by Paul Lockhart in his Mathematician's Lament, pure mathematics is certainly as much an art as a science. Certainly math has practical applications, but it is at its best when done just for fun.

What Others Are Doing

Hey I just discovered a website called 30 Days of Creativity. People are posting all kinds of stuff they do there. From what I have seen there, it looks like people have a broad definition of what it means to "create" something. Good, so do I.

Maybe I'll post my Soma Cube there when it's done. I suppose I'll have to actually solve it too. There are so many ways to solve it, surely I can find just one.

On to Day #4

30 Days of Creativity - #2

On Day #1 I had achieved total failure in attempting to make a Soma Cube. Then again, the only experiment that is truly a failure is one from you you learn absolutely nothing. I did learn two things (1) you can't expect to cut foam on a table saw; and (2) it is difficult to properly make small cubes on a table saw.
The Soma Cube Project

So I rounded up ready-made cubes from school. I figure this is a perfectly legitimate diversion of property since the main use for this puzzle is to stimulate the brains of middle schoolers.

I brought home 27 purple cubes and arranged them in accordance with the pictures at Minds in Bloom. I then sanded the sides that would be glued together so the glue joints would be stronger. That is all I had time for today! (But, I did do some reading that had some relevance to planning for  future project. More on that later)

One thing that bugs me is the difficulty of adding captions or other annotations to images in iPhoto. Of course I am using an older version. Must try something else. My iMac is a G5 so I can't run Picassa (Intel only). Dang! I have downloaded Gimp, but I have to scrape up my system disk from somewhere to install X11 before that will work. It's always something!

On to Day #3.

Friday, June 4, 2010

30 Days of Creativity- #1

It was a tweet from Make Magazine that got me interested. This gist was this--do something creative every day for 30 days. Sounds cool. I figured I'd sign up (figuratively speaking, you really don't have to sign up). To learn more about the challenge see the 30 Days of Creativity post at the Make blog.

What to do? Well I have been into providing manipulative brain teaser puzzles for the kids in my math classes, so I though it would be good to add to my puzzle collection. After searching around for some ideas I came upon the famous (in some circles at least) Soma Cube. Looks easy enough.
Figure 1. A cheap plastic sponge mop refill
The Soma Cube Project

My first idea was to look for some dice to glue together. Couldn't find any. How about foam? Maybe a sponge cut into cubes? Seemed like a good idea. No sponges either. The wife recommended I zip over to the local Big Lots and pick up some cheap sponges. Good idea! So I did. I came back with a sponge mop refill that seemed to have the desired mechanical stiffness to be able to hold its shape (Figure 1).

There are plenty of sites where on can see how to make a Soma Cube. One that works is at Minds in Bloom. That's where I saw how to make the seven shapes. The plan was to cut the foam into cubes, glue them together with super glue and maybe paint them.

Figure 2. Peeling off the plastic mounting fixture

An initial cut on a table saw to remove the scrub bar from the edge of the sponge worked well. So, buoyed with hope, I carefully (sort of) removed the plastic mounting fixture from the sponge (Figure 2). I figured that would be the side I'd glue on so some damage was tolerable. Then reality set in.

Additional trial cuts on the saw were a failure. The first cut worked because the scrub bar added sufficient mechanical strength to allow the cut to proceed without snagging the sponge and bunching it up in the saw blade.
Figure 3. That is one unsuccessful sponge cut

After that, smooth accurate cuts proved impossible (or at least very unlikely--see Figure 3). I have always wanted to build a foam cutter, and that is what it would take to cut a foam plastic sponge into cubes. No time for that now though.

A last ditch effort to save Day 1 found me attempting to to use some wood on hand to cut cubes about 9/16 of an inch on a side. Fail! You can't really make accurate cubes (not quickly at least) that small on  a table saw. A chop saw might work, but I don't have a chop saw.

So much for Day 1. I think I know where I can get some ready-made cubes for a retry on Day 2.

Next Day