Julie and Carl of Scoops Ice Cream & Candies of Kenosha, approached new Makerspace member, Brandon Minga, with their project. They were given recommendations from other projects he’s done in the are including Mike’s Chicken & Donuts and the Modern Apothecary. Scoops was looking to enhance and draw more attention to their new location with a large exterior sign. Going through the concept and design process Minga quickly decided that the sign design was also going to become their new logo. Once the final design was rendered he quickly learned how to CNC a template to hand plasma trace the design out of sheet metal. The middle of the sign was also hand cut, roll bent and broke to match the bubbly ice cream cone shape. With a little help from friends a the Makerspace, he ground down welds and drilled 44 holes for the light bulbs. After all the holes were drilled Minga fit the sign with sockets, wired up the sockets and tested the electrical. Working with Prodigy Sign in Kenosha he also coordinated the hanging of the sign.
I’ve been on a laser cutting kick lately. In the last two weeks, I made 9 travel coasters, two of which feature neighborhood maps of places I’ve lived. Though I could have just raster cut these very small coasters, generating the vector version allowed me to create this big map of Milwaukee, Wisconsin! This wall hanging map is the maximum size of our largest laser cutter: 24″ by 18″! Boom!
This map was inspired by a project made by my friend NJStacie a while back. While she has both the infinite patience and the limitless awesome that allowed her to use an X-acto knife to cut out all the city blocks of Boston from an actual map, I used a laser cutter and software. To create images for my roadtrip coasters, I simply took screen captures of google maps, and processed them into vector files using GIMP and Inkscape. There are so many extraneous details in google maps (lines for buildings, the text labeling street names, etc), that it was clear I needed an alternate approach for making this map.
Its easy to get a small google map without text labels, check out the url of this page. My first approach to get more than 512×512 pixels was to use the Google Maps API, which is a toolset to imbed an interactive google map into webpages using Java. The great thing about it is that the rendering style is completely configurable. Even better, there is a GUI to quickly configure your desired style, and automatically generate the JSON object to pass to the style property of the MapOptions on your webpage. Instead of investing 10 or 15 minutes reading about how to integrate all these steps, I just created the style, and took a few .png screen captures. I opened them as layers in GIMP and combined them to create the following grey and black image:
I saved it as a .png, and imported it into Inkscape, selecting Embed Upon Import. I created vector data from this raster image by first selecting Path -> Trace Bitmap, opening a dialog box with many choices. I really only experimented with the top two import choices, Edge Detect and Brightness Cutoff. I found that Edge Detect gives two outlines, one of the streets and one of the city blocks. For this reason, Edge Detect seems to be the best choice to create the widest streets, and therefore the strongest paper cutout. It required some cleanup though, so I selected Path -> Break Apart, adjusted the Fill and Stroke, and then just deleted all the street outlines (thereby widening the spaces between buildings, which is effectively the streets). As some of the streets were to narrow to really form one continuous outline, they formed a lot of smaller street segments that I deleted in five or ten minutes of fast and furious clicking. After all those steps, a vector version of the following image was produced:
I did a few test cuts to find a power/speed that cut all the way though some colorful, 98lb, 25″ by 19″ acid-free archival paper I picked up. The goal is to use enough power to cut though, without using too much power, which widens the kerf (laser cut width), thereby undesirably narrowing the streets. This ended up being 100% power, with 52% speed. Check out the laser cutter in this real-time (not sped up) video. Note that one typical problem of having both air assist and super-power fume-removal suction while cutting is that the laser cut bits tend to flip over into the cutting path, potentially resulting in an incomplete cut. That meant when the laser cutting was complete, I had to carefully punch out the 15 or 20 stubborn city blocks that weren’t completely cut though.
I also cut this design into a coaster, and made one with my old Massachusetts neighborhood too. Naturally this was a lot of data on a small surface, but the results are pretty good despite the vector cutting time approaching that of the raster cutting time! I cut these at 100% power, 100% speed, like the other coasters.
After I completed all these steps, I learned about a way to access vector map data directly. The Open Street Map site allows export of .svg vector data just by clicking the share button on the right side of the page! Even better, one can zoom in to Milwaukee, and press the big green Export button on the upper left to export an .osm database of the visible section of the map. This OpenStreetMap archive can be opened in Maperative! and a style can be applied to the rendered map. Maperative has several styles built-in, and I simply edited the google maps-like style to omit all the buildings, and draw all roads, highways, on-ramps, etc in a black with no border. Maperative can export .svg files, but I found the content of these files are a bit of a wreck. For example, each different road type is a separate vector path, meaning that there are many separate paths in the file. Ultimately I found I’d taken the wrong approach, as I should have rendered all the city blocks as black vector outlines, and omitted the roads – as that is what I really need to laser cut. With a bit more work, using Maperative would likely be a quite quick path from map to laser cutter. However, I abandoned this approach as I’d already created a somewhat reasonable workflow.
Milwaukee’s a great city, but like any large city, there are some parking regulations, and the one we have to deal with is “alternate-side parking overnight” which means that people who park on the street overnight have to all park on just one side of the street. Usually overnight parking doesn’t affect us that much, as we’ve got a small lot near the alley for about a dozen cars, but for public nights, or any other nights we have things going on, we need to try to park on the OTHER SIDE of the street as the residents do, as a courtesy to them, leaving them space to park.
So I therefore present to you, makers and guests… MM Park! MM Park is a mobile-friendly web site you can view on your iOS or Android device. You can launch it when you pull up to the space and determine where you should park.
Just fire up the browser on your mobile device, and go to the handy short URL mkemake.us/park
You’ll see SAME or OPPOSITE. If it says SAME you park on the SAME side of the street as Milwaukee Makerspace. If it says OPPOSITE you park on the OPPOSITE side of the street as Milwaukee Makerspace. This works for Lenox Street and Otjen Street.
If you want to get all fancy, add an icon to your home screen so you can launch the app quickly and easily every time you pull up to the space at night.
What could be easier!? Will the wonders of technology ever cease?
(Note: Thanks to Shane for the awesome logo, and to Audrey for piloting Lil’ Driver. This is an alpha release, and while fully functional at this time, the words and/or images used may change in the future. Check the project page for updates.)
And if you’re in town for a visit and want to see the place, Tuesday or Thursday night at 7pm is a great time to stop by. (Those are the “open” nights.) Otherwise, hit up the mailing list and find a member who might be available some other time, like the weekend, or Wednesday at 2:45am. Or something like that.
(And yes, we do have a giant robot arm capable of crushing innocent metal chairs.)
Next year when people ask you what they might see at Milwaukee MakerFest, show them this. :)
Join us for The Greatest Show (& Tell) on Earth at Wisconsin State Fair Park September 23rd & 24th, 2017. Admission is free. A joint presentation by Milwaukee Makerspace and the Betty Brinn Children's Museum.
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