A Summer with the Thing-O-Matic

Cyrus Tabrizi, 8/17/13
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      When my junior year at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology approached its close, I started thinking about what projects I would be able to work on during the summer. Sitting in the Robotics lab working on my Handuino remote control, the first thing I realized was that my summer would be one spent without access to the great resources of our school and its labs, including our 3D printers. I then thought about how backwards it was that the only time we could get access to the printers was during the school year when we didn’t have time to spend with them! It was sad to think that the printers would be sitting at school for an entire summer and that I couldn’t be there sitting with them.


      As luck would have it, the Robotics lab’s old Thing–O–Matic (TOM) had been completely abandoned when our new Makerbot Replicator 2’s rolled in the year before—it wasn’t technically broken or unusable, but with its cumbersome setup and occasional glitches, it was certainly more of a hassle to use than the two Replicator 2’s sitting next to it (the difference in heating times alone was enough to justify its abandonment). At the end of the day, though, it was still a working 3D printer and I couldn’t resist asking to take it home over the summer to fix it and bring it up to date. It was an opportunity not only to improve the lab, but a chance also to get myself deeper into the 3D–printing game than I already was, and to have 24/7 access to the future of manufacturing from my very home.


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      Anyway, I got my own TOM for two months. Pretty exciting no? I thought so…at least at first. I left it on my desk and every night when I would go to sleep I would see it and imagine all the things I could print (and all the modelling constraints that I would have to work around too). Then, after a few days of getting used to not going to school, I began tinkering...


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The first thing I realized was that I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into.


      The second thing I realized was that there was something I had wanted to do for a while and had never gotten to: join a local makerspace. A year or so ago, I had searched for local makerspaces in an attempt to work on my robotics projects more effectively when I wasn’t in school. I had been able to find one only a few minutes from my house (close enough that it’s not that bad of a drive, but far enough that I couldn’t bike), but since the space was only open on Thursday evenings, and it was during the school year that I had stumbled upon its website for the first time, I never got a chance to visit or join. Then summer happened. The first Thursday that I was free, I got myself to the meet and found myself in awe. Not only was the space a dedicated environment for Makers, but it was one that specialized in 3D printing—there were 3D printers EVERYWHERE. I won’t list the 3D printers by name or by number, but I knew the moment I walked in there that I would spend every Thursday I could there working on my projects and getting the TOM back up and running.


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TO BE CONTINUED! Stay tuned for the next part where I detail my adventures in Skeinforge, ReplicatorG, and gcode as I figure out how to bring this old monster back to life!