Teaching Kids to Fly Micro Quadracopters, (and Perhaps a Life Lesson) at the Champlain Mini Maker Faire in Vermont on Lake Champlain.

documentation, General, How-Tos, Make & Fablab, Product Reviews, Video

As an experiment I gave micro quadcopter flight lessons to kids this weekend at the Champlain Mini Maker Faire. I learned a lot. My back is sore from picking up crashed drones ever 10 seconds for two days because it was a very popular booth! The lesson I learned (perhaps a life lesson) was, “When in trouble, turn off the motor; and fall gently to the grass, then get back up and try again.” In other words, resilience, persistence, and the practiced discipline to avoid uncontrolled crashes that prevent trying again, in favor of controlled crashes your craft can survive unscathed. 


Photo Slideshow
Link to Slideshow

On breaks, I managed to get some video to test the craft’s camera. With a lot of crashes, I ended up with shots of a rocket launch, lake views, inside flights, and in-tent flights of the Northern New England Drone User Group next to my table.  

The micro quad I used for this test is about the size of my hand. It’s safe since its blades spin in place if they hit skin, leaving only a sting. And it had prop guards and I stood right next to the kids with my hand near the throttle. They cost about $70 (including an HD camera now, which amazes me). Here’s a great unboxing and review of the model I usedUnboxing the Hubsan X4 H107C v2 HD. Considering it’s cost and size, and that is it designed for mostly indoor use, I think the video is remarkable. But the site is remarkable too!

The experiment worked. Kids lined up both days. It was very exhausting, since I was the only one manning the table both days (note to self). I’m still sore from running around finding the crashed copters in the grass every few minutes. It took me a day and half to realize the kids loved finding the crashed copters…duh…

The kernel I found to the teaching was helping these young new pilots turn off the motors and have a controlled crash before they had an uncontrolled crash. Controlled crashes are when you stop all the motors and the craft tumbles out of the air. This little copter doesn’t usually get hurt if it lands from any height on grass. It’s spars have break away parts that clip back together and it’s very light. It does get hurt in high speed crashes with the motors grinding the props into the ground. 

It takes a lot of practice to fight the human instinct to power up when the craft starts to get in trouble. I saw almost 100% of kids and adults power up whenever the craft got out of control or near obstacles! And everyone, even ace pilots, get in trouble. Human nature though is to save the craft and keep it flying. But, powering up almost always leads to higher speed crashes, often with the motor on causing the props to try to spin the grass, on fingers, rocks, dirt, etc. Even worse, after a crash, our instinct is to rush over to the downed craft. Rushing over to a downed craft often makes one’s hand slip on the controller causing the motors keep on struggling. This then was our challenge, to practice fighting on initial instincts. 

We only broke one craft in two days of flying, and that was because it hit a metal bar on the tent roof at just the wrong angle at full speed and I wasn’t quick enough to stop the power that one time.

Most people quickly break small RC copters and miss out on the joy of flying. I hope now there are a few more folks you there who can control their crashes, try again, and slowly near to fly in interesting places and ever higher.

My advice on moving to Vermont. The short answer from a liberal-ish democratic perspective.

General, How-Tos, Travel Reports

My Short Answer After Moving To The Town of Brattleboro in Southern VT in 2008.

Generally – A great state! I find myself amidst the voluntarily lower middle class. My friends and colleagues are mostly relatively happy hippie-ish democratic liberals who are into protecting the environment, education, local community support, and healthy living. There are also lots of retired folks, republicans, a few rich, a more poor. There’s the few homeless (more in summer) and those suffering visibly from psychological issues and drug and alcohol abuse.

The tone I experience here is somewhere between New Hampshire’s “Live Free, Or Die” independent, self-sufficiency, and the West Coast’s hippie-dippie liberalism and innovation.

Under that, I sense a deep commitment to community, family and education that crosses political lines. Most Vermonters I know seem to be able to agree on being there for one’s neighbors, supporting good public schools, farming, effective social programs, healthy local food, being outdoors, and spending time with family and friends.

Finally, it’s a very small state, less then 700,000! So scale back the numbers in all your factoring.

My Advice

  • Have quick plans for food you can make for pot-luck dinner socials. So many pot lucks! And you’ll waste money if you always buy prepared food or bring booze. Sometimes I wish someone would just host a dinner, just once…
  • Even one job with low salary, but full benefits, is very valuable here. Then the other person can freelance, farm, finagle, etc.
  • Lock you car during zucchini season if you have out of state plates. If you don’t it will be full of folk’s surplus zucchinis that they are trying to get rid of.
  • Join the COOP
  • Find a CSA for local veggies and/or meat
  • Get a big freezer for blueberries and homemade pesto all year!
  • Join a board *but not too many.
  • Vote and go to town meetings and public hearings.
  • Trim your expenses and dept.
  • Get some tools
  • Plant a garden
  • Get really good snow tires in the winter (Michelin X-Ice for example).
  • Draft proof and insulate your house (consider a heat pump with Efficiency Vermont help).
  • Find the swimming holes.
  • Okay, on the snow tires…With an AWD cars, some say you don’t need ’em, but I got kids now and they make a huge difference. If you don’t have AWD, get ’em for sure.
  • Get wool socks, sweaters, hats, and wear layers. But wait for a sale if you can, at the end of winter.
  • Keep a blanket, water, and a flashlight in your car in winter.
  • Keep a swim suit, towel, blanket, sun screen and water in the car in summer.
  • Leave time to drive on the little back roads when you can, there’s so many cool little discoveries.

My Makerspace wishlist for K-12 Schools and College Makerspaces (aka fablabs, STEM labs, STEAM labs, hackerspaces, etc)

General, How-Tos

Folks have been asking me what I think it takes to make a Makerspace.

The short answer is people. The right person can make a space successful for very little money. Conversely, a lot of money can go to waste on equipment if the wrong person is running the show. I think the person needs to be have “EdTech” type humanizing technology skills and  the ability to use social media and media production to constantly market, document and publicize activities in the space. More support for the people aspect of Makerspaces is here: MIT FabLab Foundation, scroll down.

In terms of equipment, here’s my rough thoughts below, as of the publish date only. Check with me if it’s after that, things are moving fast in Makerland!

No Budget (It’s the people stupid!)

  • A champion who’s job it is to champion the space, as a volunteer, or as part of their existing job.
  • Check out the book Invent to Learn from the library.
  • From the recycling bins: Cardboard, cups, bottles, etc. (Wash them!)
  • Donated stuff: old toys, glue guns, duct tape, office supplies, old electronics, bike parts, scrap wood, kitchen supplies, (often from soliciting parents, community, and business donors – you’d be shocked at how much stuff arrives if folks know kids will be using it at school!)
  • Space: With windows that open. An empty closet, garage, tent, shed, or make it mobile with donated bins
  • Furniture: Folding tables and old chairs or stools. They will take a beating!

$5000 to $10,000

(Prices assume 10-20% education discounts on sites, just ask and use your teacher work email).

  • At least a paid part time champion (existing teacher, new hired, staffer, etc)
  • All the above plus more kits, tools and supplies.
  • A sustained yearly supplies budget of about $3000.00 to $5000.00
  • At least one dedicated fast Mac or PC  and projector ($2500 or in a classroom already)
  • Student access to modern Web browser tools.
  • 3D Printer and supplies. 1 Afinia H480 ($1500), or 2 PrintrBot Metal Simples ($1500)
  • Vinyl Cutter and supplies. US Cutter ($500)
  • 8th? grade and up. All with good curriculum and support. My favorite for STEAM skills. Adruino.cc starter kits ($100ea). For more STEM skills, Sparkfun Inventor’s Kit ($80). For more choices on configurations, Adafruit kits.
  • <6th? grade MakeMakey kits ($39ea) or Littlebits (expensive).
  • Sparkfun ProtoSnap E-Textiles Starter Kit ($24 each)
  • Sewing Machine (~$150)
  • Multimeter (~$30)
  • A few key tools (~$200)
  • Extra electronics (~$200)
  • New glue guns, tape, wire, string, tinfoil, office supplies, etc (~$300)
  • Existing or inexpensive folding tables and chairs, or stools and benches, a fan, lights. (~$600)

$10,000 to $50,000

  • Fulltime champion
  • All of the above, plus more kits, tools and supplies.
  • Out of my depth here, but I’m guessing a roughly 20% of initial budget for yearly supplies and IT (Spend $50K, need 10K year).
  • All of the above
  • Laser Cutter. Full Spectrum Laser cutter ($4000). Or Epilog Zing 30w Laser ($9000)
  • CNC rig? Or more electronics? Or more wearables?
  • Great furniture and lighting, natural hopefully, ($Lots)

$$$ Dreamy

MIT Fablab budget list

Basic Skills

  • Tinkering
  • Failing
  • Surfing the Web
  • Google searching
  • Shop safety
  • Documenting skills and habits. Finding files  and organizing them, and doing a little every day (videos, photos,  screenshots, writing summaries and notes with resources used and links. Exploring problems, surprises, solutions)

Some Software Thoughts (Thanks Jaymes Dec)

A computer that has, or can install and use:


ITP Camp 2014 report on National Maker Day

documentation, How-Tos, lessons learned, Travel Reports

National Maker Day

I started this post on National Maker Day, so here’s some info on that. The White House just released this: FACT SHEET: President Obama to Host First-Ever White House Maker Faire: A Nation of Makers: Empowering America’s Students and Entrepreneurs to Invent the Future. It’sFull of leads on grants and resources for Making in higher ed, and K12 here. And the White house had the first Maker Faire Day today: http://www.whitehouse.gov/maker-faire

ITP Camp 2014

I’m in NYC for three of the four weeks of ITP Camp 2014 telecommuting for Marlboro during the day as I refresh the skills I learned while at ITP in 2006-2008.  The camp is part of New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program in the Tisch School of the Arts. Camp is for folks who want to come workshops after work, and on weekends, in making, physical computing, digital fabrication, e-textiles, programming, etc. It’s like a mini-graduate school! But without the credit, or the loans.

Here’s my project, the Grass Saver Garden, v1, aka “The Plant Killer”

Here are my photos from ITP Camp 2014 Photos on Facebook

ITP Camp 2014 Photo Album Cover

ITP Camp 2014 Photo Album Cover

I’m focusing on skills around 3D printing, laser cutting and basic electronics with solar panels by making a project that uses all three called the Grass Saver Garden. The project is kind of silly, but it’s a learning project. Simply put, I want to have a solar powered raised bed garden that will allow people to grow a garden, without digging up any of their lawn.

Toy Hacking: Stripping a $20 RC Helicopter (Syma S107) down in weight to carry payloads around the office.

General, How-Tos
Toy hacked stripped Syma S107 RC helicopter

Stripped in weight Syma S107 RC helicopter

Payload paper clip added to Syma s107 rc helicopter

Payload paper clip added to Syma s107 rc helicopter.

Payload paper clip carrying a Post-It "airmail" message on a Syma s107 rc helicopter

Payload paper clip carrying a Post-It “airmail” message on a Syma s107 rc helicopter

Can now carry an emergency packet to office friends via "airmail"

Can now carry an emergency packet to office friends via “airmail”


Parts I took off of the Syma S107G RC helicopter

Parts taken off of the Syma S107G RC helicopter to reduced weight and enable more payload carrying capacity.

Toy hacking Christmas presents time! I got my first inexpensive indoor Radio Controlled (RC) helicopter, a Syma S107/S107G R/C brand one, this holiday season. I’ve only flown a MOTA brand UFO ball around the office for a while before this, but it used the same prevelant four blade weighted rig that are on so many rigs for sale now. I wonder who got that patent!

Anyway, that UFO ball was very hard to control due to the plastic cage, and my newbieness, so when I found out regular helicopters had dropped to amazingly low prices of around $20, I pounced.

Syma S107 RC helicopter as shown on Amazon, Jan 10th, 2014.

Syma S107 RC helicopter as shown on Amazon, Jan 10th, 2014.

I got the Syma helicopter from Amazon Prime, for about $20. This is for a metal bodied, metal screwed together, helicopter, with a controller. Amazing. I don’t have much experience, but it flies pretty well in all directions I’ve found. The key of course, is practice. And careful slow practice. Also, like roller blades, if you just keep moving forward and steering you learn to trust the control, vs trying stop in a straight line if there’s trouble. This model does go rather slowly forward, but I don’t mind since I use it in an office and use it during breaks to flex and move around bothering people.

My first thought after flying it for about 15 minutes a day for two days, was that there was an awful lot of plastic on it that might be able to be taken off. Lighter weight might also improve battery time, responsiveness, and forward movement – but even if it didn’t, I like toy hacking!

Over the next 4 days of flying it a few minutes a day, I took more and more parts off, testing it each time. Now it’s much lighter, a little less stable, but still able to be finely controlled. Now I’m going to stop taking off parts before I break it. We’ll save that for an upcoming crash.

Here’s the results in two videos.


How I bought a small used daysailer sailboat for our family.

General, How-Tos
As delivered

As delivered

Months of obsessive research and fantasizing about sailing has ended – mostly. A 12 foot long 1979 AMF Puffer sits in my yard. It’s been painted, varnished, and good sails, and a new centerboard, rudder, motor mount and lines. Cost = $1200.00. It holds 450 lbs, and has a main sail and jib. The trailer is a 1970s rig reconditioned with springs, shocks, and a winch that holds the front down, making tying it down for travel very easy.

Lots more coming, lessons learned, pics and vids. For now here’s other folks media on the Puffer via a Google search for “AMF Puffer” and here’s the Puffer’s specifications.

Treadmill Walking Desk. Under $200. DIY How-To and First Week Results of Usage


I just finished building a treadmill walking desk for about $150 and 5 hours. I love it! We humans are such natural walkers, and now I can be a much more natural worker. We weren’t meant to sit for long.
treadmill walking desk diy how to - 01

My wife (above) was the first tester!

My wife and I at our desks

My wife carrying our 7-month old son on the treadmill.  I’m at my sit down desk which I also use.

I got the treadmill off Craigslist locally for $150. All you really need is one that will go 1/2 mile an hour and has sturdy handles. I use:

  • Two boards
  • A 2’x8′ sheet of pink board insulation foam
  • Screws
  • Shock cord
  • Tube of glue.

The Good: I’ve used it four times for 30 to 60 minutes at about 3/4 of a mile an hour. I set it at a very slow walk, flat. Basically just shifting your weight from foot to foot. Because it’s slow, and walking uses skills we’ve had for a few million years, I find I can type and mouse with ease. And I find that the time passes very quickly, and I think better. There’s research out there supporting walking desks positive effects, see bottom of Wikipedia Page on Treadmill Desks, or search “Treadmill Desk” on Google. I believe an hour or two a day is something I can achieve, and along with my short walk to work, something that will help me feel better than sitting. Also, I hope to lose some weight that I’ve put on with a new baby in the house.

The Bad: The treadmill is loud, being a cheap one, and 5 or 6 years old. But the hummm is actually kind of like a white noise canceller, and I have headphones if I need them. You can find very quiet walking treadmills for desks though, if you have the money. You can buy used treadmills that have straight handles, which might be easier to work with. Newer used treadmills might be quieter. I wish I had money for a new treadmill like the Signature S100 walking handle-less treadmill.  A colleague uses one and likes it, but it’s way too expensive for me. And I’d have the treadmill under a desk that is separate so there’s no shake.

Here’s some how-to photos.

treadmill walking desk diy how to - 02

8 pieces of cut foam pink board in a slope, for leg room.

treadmill walking desk diy how to - 03

Center board screwed down with cheap Sheetrock screws (short enough not to poke through top). On one side I angled the screws to pull the two pieces of wood together.

treadmill walking desk diy how to - 04

Foam glue (Liquid Nails ok too) on the layers of foam and on the wood, then weighted down with rocks for 24hrs+ to dry.

treadmill walking desk diy how to - 05

Angled pieces of foam to level the desk because the treadmill handles were angled. I didn’t glue it in, the weight and elastic cord holds it.

treadmill walking desk diy how to - 06

Elastic shock cord to hold it down on the treadmill.

treadmill walking desk diy how to - 07

Cord pulls on front edge to counter rear weight.

treadmill walking desk diy how to - 09Notched the corners to hold the cord better.

treadmill walking desk diy how to - 10

Works well with a laptops, but the screen is low for long usage.

treadmill walking desk diy how to - 11

Holds an older iMac, and the screen his higher, for better neck posture.


Walk on!

Blogging, portfolio, personal website tips and how-to


A post, about posting.

Someone recently asked me for tips on personal, public blogging. Here’s what Iwrote in 10 minutes. I’ll update as I think of more.

My short answer for public (Google searchable) WordPress type blogs is:

  • Most important: Make your site usable by humans. Blogs are a visual medium that is usually experienced alone, find out what users are experiencing. Test with friends and family, on computers and phones, and listen to patterns of agreement from testers.
  • Make good links, and lots of them. Never make a link that is “Click here” and never “http://…&#8221; but instead Descriptive links that tell the user where they are going such as here’s my blog calebclark.org which is in constant disarray. Or if you must use (link) like Boing Boing sometimes does.
  • Study a few top-ranked blogs in your area. http://technorati.com/blogs/directory/
  • Design should not overshadow your content, unless you are a designer.
  • Write original short posts, with fact and typo checked content.
  • Use more bullet and numbered lists, and shorter paragraphs, then you would for print.
  • In a long post, use headers and/or bold, but sparingly.
  • Study CRAP design principals (Book | Deck). Colors, design and navigation choices send messages! Know what they are.
  • Include graphics, photos and embedded videos whenever possible.
  • Save posts as Drafts. Schedule ahead of time for publication. This enables you to have regular posts over breaks and lapses in creativity and motivation.
  • Fill in Tags with the same key words about your over all blog, and a few words about that specific blog post.
  • Fill in all “Alt” spaces on graphics for blind people, ADA compliance, and SEO
  • Only use clear, well sized graphics and photos that are not breaking copyright, and sourced when needed.
  • Own your words
  • Support the Creative Commons
  • Answer comments
  • And remember, blogging is like exercise – It’s easy to do conceptually and technically. Very few actually do it consistently. Many try in fits and starts. Almost everyone will tell you they don’t do enough.
Universal life church wallet id

Officiating my first wedding. Report and ceremony text.


Shocked a few months ago was I, when an old friend asked me to marry him. I’ve included my ceremony below. The most interesting part of the experience is that while the ordainment was trivial, I found that I was pulled by duty, pushed by the bride and groom to became very involved in not only the ceremony’s design, but the couple’s relationship and future.

Universal Life Church wallet ID card

Universal Life Church wallet ID card

I knew legal ordainment was not an issue. The Universal Life Church has been ordaining instantly since the 1959. First via mail order, now on the Net. The ordainment cost is free, but it costs a few bucks to get an  ID wallet card, framed certificate, or even a “Clergy” parking or press pass (not sure what legal rights this gives you, but others won’t be sure either.). I have two uncles in the ULC since the 1960s. They did it to marry friends too. At the wedding I met four other ULC folks! All relayed that they too always take the role very seriously and it’s a lot of work.

My friend is married now. It was terrifying for me! But also one the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done. The bride and groom and I became a triad of support. We looked at each other a lot, for strength in the face of the 100+ guests starting at us, and to help us with the seriousness of the commitments begin made and the emotions flooding. I made a few mistakes, but nothing serious. People could here me in the back, and it was “funny, philosophical, a little unexpected” and under 30 minutes – all goals of the bride and groom.

Here’s the ceremony that the bride, groom and myself created over several weeks. I’ve changed their names and taken out their vows.

Wedding Ceremony


Caleb under Chuppah, wedding party walks in, bride last.


Caleb: Hello! Welcome. My name is Caleb Clark. Thank you for coming. I have known Jane since she and Joe met. Joe and I first met when we worked together in 2002. I am deeply honored to officiate their wedding. While my legal ordainment required only a few trivial clicks, the honor is anything but trivial.

We are gathered here today in support of Jane and Joe uniting as a couple in the bonds of marriage. In the chaos of everyday life, weddings are a most humanistic gathering. This ancient and instinctual ritual is a common thread across cultures and religions.  Weddings bring out our better nature; community, family, love and commitment. We are here to support, to witness, to give Jane and Joe a good kickstart on the adventure that is marriage.

And what an adventure! Here, today, thanks to Jane and Joe, we are spared of many of the bizarre wedding traditions that have developed over the millennia. For example, groups throughout history that have been barred from marrying, had to invent undetectable ceremonies, such as jumping over a broom. No brooms here today. In some cultures the bride and groom change not only religions, but clothes, during the ceremony. Only one dress here. Some folks have naked weddings, which, despite the weather,  I myself am thankful we’re not doing, as I’m sure you are. Grooms in some places have to give gold to everyone present, sadly not happening here. There is no dowry for back dues for mother’s milk today, and fathers will not be made to loudly repeat their approval while in a public square. Wild geese, while wonderful creatures, will not be exchanged here. We will not spend 3 hours on temporary tattoos. Our Hebrew skills will not be tested. The smell of burning of flax spindles is absent, and thank the gods above, there will be no required Lord of the Dance.

What we will have today is a ceremony and wedding designed completely by Jane and Joe, right down to this chuppa we are standing under. Today they start a lifetime of working together as a loving team. By the looks of it, things are off to a great start. As an old friend of Joe’s, I would like to take the liberty of starting off the readings-by-friends part of this wedding.


Caleb: Joe and I supported each other through the single years. Our long walks in the park saved us thousands of dollars on therapy. When Joe met Jane, we walked and talked as their relationship found its path. As the path revealed its destination as here, peace and happiness slowly replaced wandering and wondering. Our walks became less frequent. Since their engagement, when Joe and I call each other, sometimes the other answers with “is anything wrong?” almost wishing it were so.  But nothing is wrong, and it’s mostly Jane’s fault. I have grown to trust and love Jane, and I have seen the strength and kindness in their relationship. I am glad she will now be walking with Joe in the park.

Jane has chosen her sister, and Joe has chosen his good friend, to read a poem written by the bridal party for them.


(Table needed for house model pieces made by Joe. Music plays.)
Caleb: This Chuppah,  built by Joe and Family, is an ancient symbol of the home Jane and Joe will live in. The walls are open on all sides to symbolize welcoming and hospitality. There is no furniture here. This is to remind us that the most valuable things in a home are not things at all, but the people who live there.

Now, to extend this symbol of home to the coming together of their two families, Jane and Joe have designed a home that needs building.

  1. Mothers build foundation.
  2. Fathers build wall.
  3. Jane and Joe put the roof on.


Caleb: Jane and Joe have been inspired by a wonderful Tradition from the Quaker religion. Those among you who feel moved to speak, please stand now. We will move left to right of the dealer, starting with

(Caleb points to the first person standing to his left).

Community Vow

(1 minute, call and response)
We will now ask you to bless this wedding with a community vow. Please repeat after me.

  • We promise to provide
  • love and support,
  • guidance and wisdom,
  • and the occasional brunch,
  • to Jane and Joe
  • throughout their lives together.

Jane & Joe Speeches

Jane and Joe will now take a moment to share their thoughts.
First Jane, then Joe

Jane & Joe Vows

Caleb: Marriage vows are sacred and ancient . Religions bless marriages, and governments recognize them as a legal construct, but what is far more important is what Jane and Joe want to promise to each other. As such, they have written their own vows.

Caleb: Reads each line
First Jane, then Joe

  • [Deleted. Every couple’s vows are their own. These were very simple, short and meaningful, about seven lines. My own vows were longer, and we had prints to read from.]


Caleb: The rings you are about to share are a symbol of union, earth and peace. Your lives are about to be joined in an unbroken circle. Wherever you go, these rings will go with you.

First Jane, then Joe

Caleb: Jane Full Name, do you take Joe Full Name to be your lawfully wedded husband? (I do)
Please place the ring on Joe’s finger.

Joe Full Name, do you take Jane Full Name to be your lawfully wedded wife?
(I do)
Please place the ring on Jane’s finger.

Glass Breaking
Caleb: The breaking of the glass is a Jewish tradition that reminds us that every relationship is fragile, and requires gentleness and kindness. Jane, Joe, please step forward and break the glass!
[ Break glass ]
Caleb: May your relationship last as long as it would take to put these pieces of glass back together!

Pronouncement & Kiss

Caleb: And now…by the authority vested in me by the State of New York… and those here today….I pronounce you Husband and Wife!. You may now seal the deal with a kiss!

Thank You & Instructions

Caleb: Please join us on the lawn for appetizers and drinks. Let the celebration begin!

The ULC main tenants are:

“‘Do only that which is right.’ Every person has the natural right (and the responsibility) to peacefully determine what is right. We are advocates of religious freedom. The Universal Life Church wants you to pursue your spiritual beliefs without interference from any outside agency, including government or church authority. You may become a legally ordained ministerfor life, without cost, and without question of faith.” – http://www.ulc.net, August 2012.