Tag Archives: Reinventing Edison

2011 was a Great Year for Harris Educational

2011 was a fairly trying year for the world as a whole with man-made problems of economic turmoil and political strife, as well as natural disasters and bad weather. But in spite of the environment Harris Educational had a wonderful year in 2011. I’m attributing this to hard work and dumb luck on our part but I know the biggest reason for our success was due to our readers, our fans, our customers, the good folks at ShopBot, Make Magazine, and all the wonderful resellers of our Reinventing Science kits.

Our year started out with an upgrade to our science kit production capabilities in the form of a new CNC Router. Our goal was to automate the production of some of the parts of our Reinventing Science kits and also to allow for new product development of parts that would not be easy to achieve using other more traditional methods. To learn how to use the new router my first project was to build a custom computer case and a new computer that we could use to edit and produce more video. The Ingenematic Visitron was born and I’m proud to say that the story was picked up by Hack-a-day sending quite a few visitors to our blog and making us a few new fans.

2011 saw my first trip to Maker Faire in California. In May my nephew Brian and I traveled to California to exhibit the Reinventing Science kits to throngs of people at the Maker Shed inside Maker Faire. We met a lot of interesting people, made some new friends, and caught the attention of Popular Mechanics who mentioned Harris Educational and the Reinventing Edison kit by name as one of the reasons that the Maker Shed was one of the top ten coolest things to do at Maker Faire! (TONS of photos from Maker Faire are on our fan page here, here, here, and don’t forget the video we posted “The Motion of Maker Faire” below)

One of the big events at Maker Faire in California was the Hackerspace Challenge, and I met a lot of interesting people from different maker spaces from around the country. On my flight back to North Carolina I kept thinking how great it would be to have such a place here in my home town of Burlington. I started brainstorming for ways to make this happen by expanding Harris Educational (a project I’m still working on)

In June my nephew Brian helped me again and we exhibited Harris Educational and the Reinventing Science kits at Maker Faire NC in Raleigh. (Tons of Photographs Here, Here, and Here) Maker Faire NC was in its second year and it was great to meet and become involved with all of the folks responsible for making this faire a reality. Two other great things came out of this mini maker faire. Thanks to a sign in our booth asking Alamance County people to say hey to us I met a couple of folks who have become founding members of our new Alamance Makers Guild. The second thing to come out of MFNC is our new relationship with ShopBot tools of Durham NC. Harris Educational is now working with ShopBot to create STEM based curriculum materials around Digital Fabrication technologies such as their CNC Routers. The second half of our year has seen quite a bit of development on this project, not to mention the addition of a ShopBot desktop CNC Router to our list of tools.

In July and August more people learned about Harris Educational thanks to some local news stories. The first was a full page article written about us in the Burlington Newspaper, “The Times News.” This story then got the attention of WGHP Fox 8 news out of Greensboro NC who interviewed me for the evening news segment “Made in NC” You can see the video above.

In August I set up a “Meeting of the NC Makers” including the folks from ShopBot Tools, Roy Underhill from PBS’s Longest Running DIY Show “The Woodwright’s Shop”, the folks from Maker Faire NC, and some others for a fun day of woodworking in high tech and in historical contexts. In the morning Roy Underhill visited ShopBot tools to see CNC Routers in action, and after a great lunch at Ted Hall’s house in Durham, everyone visited Roy Underhill’s Woodworking School in Pittsboro NC. While there I shot put together the following videos.

With support from the folks I met at Maker Faire NC I’ve officially launched “The Alamance Makers Guild” through a meetup.com group, a fan page on facebook, and a twitter feed. We’re now holding regular monthly meetings and members have shared their talents and their creations including some really cool wood turnings, steam punk art pieces, and even a home made tesla coil! Much more with the Alamance Makers guild in 2012.

This year also saw our first international sale of Reinventing Science kits with the addition of a new reseller in the Republic of Korea.  The year also saw the addition of Pasco Scientific as a dealer, and Educational Innovations adding our Reinventing Morse kit.  We’ve also laid some groundwork for the setup of some more new resellers for 2012. Sales for the kits continue to increase, a great accomplishment for such a flat economy.

The year finished out with some very positive recognition of our Reinventing Science kits! The Surprising Science blog at the Smithsonian picked our Reinventing Edison: Build your own Light Bulb science kit as one of the top 10 best gifts for Science lovers. We were also highly honored to have been picked by Make Magazine as one of 12 Science Kits reviewed in their “Ultimate Kit Guide” special edition. We received a 5 out of 5 for the quality of our instructions and our materials! I was also very happy to read all of the comments about the kit when they gave one away at their blog.

2011 was a great year for Harris Educational and I’m sure 2012 will bring all new challenges and opportunities.  Thanks to everyone who supports us!

 

My Visit to the FREEDM Systems Center (part 1)

My Visit to the FREEDM Systems Center (part 1) and the answer to our Identify It Challenge from 7-7-2010

On July 7th 2010 I was the guest of the FREEDM Systems Center at North Carolina State University where I gave a presentation to a group of high school students and teachers about “Engineering, Energy, and Edison.” The presentation included a demonstration of my Reinventing Edison: Build your own Light Bulb kit that was very well received. After the presentation I was treated to a guided tour behind the scenes at the center.

The Keystone Science Center (NCSU) home to the FREEDM Systems Center

The Keystone Science Center, home to the FREEDM Systems Center

This is the first of a two part article about my visit focusing on my educational presentation. It will also reveal the answer to my “Identify It Challenge” from 7-7-10 that by design was integrated into my presentation. The second part of this article will be posted soon and will focus on my tour of the FREEDM center.

Light Socket Electrical Adapters (Circa 1930's/1940's)

Light Socket Electrical Adapters (Circa 1930's/1940's)

The above picture was the “Identify It Challenge” from our fan page on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/HarrisEducational) from 7-7-2010. After introducing myself, sumarizing what I was going to be talking about in the presentation, and teasing the audience with a few vocabulary words to look out for I passed these objects around the room and asked everyone to think about what they were, what they were made of, how old they might be, and what they were used for.

The items are (from left to right):

1) A light socket adapter (with standard Edison style screw base and two non polarized non grounded electrical outlets) This adapter allows a bulb to be used simultaneously while other electrical items are plugged into the adapter.

2) A light socket adapter (with standard Edison style screw base and one non polarized non grounded electrical outlet) This adapter does not allow for the simultaneous use of a bulb while an electrical item is plugged in.

3) An electrical outlet multiplier (makes one plug into three) non polarized and non grounded.

All three of these items are made of Bakelite plastic and were manufactured at some point in the late 1930’s or early 1940’s. Bakelite was one of the first natural plastics and was used to replace wood, paper, and other less suitable materials as an electrical insulator in early electrical devices.

So why did I include these items as the opening of my presentation about energy and Edison and why did I also choose them as the Identify It item for the same week? The answer lies in the use for these items and the circumstances that lead to the need for that use. That need also exists today, simply in a different form.

So why were these items needed? Edison created a demand for electricity to be brought into homes because his light bulbs demanded a D.C. Supply from HIS electrical power stations. Before the light bulb there were no electrical appliances or devices in peoples homes. So houses and buildings were retrofit for wiring. Later, after A.C. Power won out over D.C. in the “War of the Currents” homes were still being retrofit.

The first wiring was simply for electrical lighting, the only electrical device you could buy for a home. Each room may have had a single light switch leading to an overhead light fixture and no other connections. Soon the commercialization of electric motors and heating elements spawned hundreds of devices that people wanted to use. Later in the 1930’s and 1940’s people added electronic devices like radios to the growing list of electrical items they needed to plug in.

So a home owner found themselves with a hand full of gadgets and only one electrical outlet in a room, and that was taken up by a light bulb! As a result these adapters were invented. With them you could plug a device into the overhead light fixture and the miracles of modern conveniences were at peoples fingertips. Miracle at least until many home owners suffered from electrical fires by plugging in too many items and drawing much more current than the simple lighting circuits were designed for!

There are two points to be made here (the reason for my picking these items, including them in the lecture and in the Identify It)…

The first point is one of infrastructure. Edison is not actually the inventor of the incandescent light bulb. He’s credited with the invention but he was not the first. He did make it to the patent office faster than most (even before he had working examples) which is one reason he is hailed as the inventor of the bulb. But the real reason he is considered the father of electrical lighting is because he didn’t just make the bulbs, he created the entire infrastructure needed to manufacture, market, supply, add wiring, supply electricity, and bill for that electricity. He wasn’t selling bulbs, he was selling devices that used electricity. The profit was in selling electricity! In the process he (and his muckers) created fuses, junction boxes, conduits, the light bulb’s screw base, switches, dynamos, power meters and hundreds of other items needed before you could ever see white light stream out of a heated cotton thread.

The second point is about being able to foresee the future and forecast future demand. Edison created a need for electricity and the addition of electrical wiring to homes and buildings. His business model was similar to that of gas lighting companies (early light fixtures were even made of brass and mimicked the gas light fixtures). Edison for all his brilliance did not really foresee the hundreds of electrical devices that people would also want to buy and use. As a result wiring went from a single bulb fixture mounted to the ceiling of a room, to a bulb adapter crowded with cords hanging from that fixture posing a fire hazard, to expanded more modern wiring and the addition of more circuits. Even so we still use power strips (more modern safer ones) to keep all of our stuff going. But with every new device we add more load to the system.

The folks at the FREEDM center that asked me to give the presentation wanted me to focus on energy and on innovation and this is where things all tie together. If you buy a home today that was built in the 1960’s or early 1970’s its not uncommon for a room to have one electrical outlet on each wall (or perhaps not even on each wall). Designers and code makers then assumed you might have a lamp or two, maybe a TV or Radio, and may plug and unplug other gadgets as needed. Today it would be great to have six outlets on every wall because of all of our gadgets. Computers, cell phones, mp3 players, fax machines, phones all the things that need power. Most devices actually run on D.C. power converted from A.C. by an internal power supply or a power brick plugged into the wall. All of this was not foreseen in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Flash forward and ask yourself… what will electricity supply and use look like in the future? If we do move away from gasoline powered vehicles to electrically powered vehicles then we’ll need to recharge those vehicles (another kind of electrical supply, more outlets… how many? 1? 2? what will the plug look like? Will it be D.C. or A.C.? Will folks have dangerous Y-adapters to split their charging output so that they can charge their own two cars and then also Juniors new car at the same time?)

Its impossible for anyone to fully predict the future. Changes in technology, availability of resources, and millions of other factors make futurism impossible to get right. But the high school students sitting in my demonstration and lecture are going to be the next wave of electricity consumers, inventors and engineers, technicians and educators and so its important for them to try to foresee the implications of their ideas and be prepared for the future in order to prevent the need for things like quick/cheap/possibly unsafe adapters like those pictured above or their equivalent in future technology.

The electrical grid we use today is the legacy of over 100 years of almost organic growth and expansion. Its not to say that reasoning and planning did not go into the design of the components of that grid because in reality it represents a monumental engineering feat that most of the time we can take for granted as we switch on our latest gadget and have that gadget “just work”. But its important to think about energy related issues in our day to day lives. How can we cut down on energy use. How can we stop energy waste? How can we safely and economically expand and create a new smart grid that will adjust to demand. How can we comfortably switch from non renewable centralized generation of energy by burning coal and fossil fuels and move to a distributed system where every home or device might produce as well as consume electricity. All of these questions are being researched at the FREEDM center, and the curriculum taught to students in their program on innovation reflects these questions.

A copy of the presentation slides used for our presentation can be found at our page on Scribd at: http://www.scribd.com/doc/34436294/Engineering-Electricity-and-Edison-July-7-2010

Stay Tuned for Part II and keep an eye out for future Identify It Challenges. (thanks to everyone who attended my presentation at the FREEDM center, and thanks to everyone who played Identify It).

Jeri Ellsworth Reviews our Reinventing Edison: Build your own Light Bulb science kit!

We were VERY pleased to have self taught electrical engineer, entrepreneur, chip designer, pinball aficionado, and roller girl Jeri Ellsworth review our Reinventing Edison: Build your own Light Bulb science kit.

Jeri Ellsworth in her new "Nerd Dungeon" reviewing Reinventing Edison (image by Simon Langhof)

Jeri Ellsworth in her new "Nerd Dungeon" reviewing Reinventing Edison (image by Simon Langhof)

Jeri did a review on her live stream and also did a video that she posted to YouTube.  Other than accidentally calling us Harrison Electronics in the introduction (we forgive you Jeri) she gave us a very positive review.   See for yourself:

We are very happy that Jeri had a good time with our science kit.  Here is another photo of the Light Bulb kit in action.

Reinventing Edison: Build your own Light Bulb science kit in action (Image by Simon Langhof)

Reinventing Edison: Build your own Light Bulb science kit in action (Image by Simon Langhof)

To learn more about our Reinventing Science Kits (including other kits like Reinventing Morse) click on the “Science Kits” tab at the top of our blog.  OR visit one of our social media sites like our Fan Page on Facebook:

Find us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/HarrisEducational

The kits can be purchased through many educational and scientific/electronics hobby catalogs such as Edmund Scientific, Educational Innovations, Science Kit, The Vision Forum, and more.  (coming to more catalogs soon!)

An Engaging Demonstration for Reinventing Edison: Build your own Light Bulb

It never fails.  I get the same reaction, whether I present to seasoned physicists, grade level science teachers or even from the most discerning audience I’ve had; a group of fifty – fourth grade students, jaws gape and sounds ofoohsaahs and wows issue forth.

Lee Walker Demonstrates Reinventing Edison to Educators

Lee Walker Demonstrates Reinventing Edison to Educators

I’ve been in rooms surrounded by hundreds of artificial light sources, from the simplest incandescent bulbs to the most advanced OLED displays, and even so, when a person closes that knife switch and current begins to flow and a simple piece of pencil lead held suspended inside a partially evacuated chamber starts to glow brighter, brighter, and finally white light illuminates the chamber, something happens in the person’s brain.  At once they are connected with the wonders that Sir Humphry Davy, Swan, and Edison felt when they experimented with the world’s first electrical light sources.  Questions start to form; How does that work? How could we make it last longer? What would happen if we changed the carbon for some other material?  All at once, the passive viewer is thinking scientifically, asking questions, and yearning to do more.

I’m talking about “Reinventing Edison: Build your own Light Bulb, a science kit that I am proud to have designed…..

If you want to read more then please click here to read the entire entry.

(I was recently a guest blogger for Educational Innovation’s teacher resource blog, a great source of tips and tricks for science educators, you can read the full blog entry at their site).