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Articles by Bob Melamud

In Makerspaces workshops, you can make most anything

     My latest project is building a steam engine for a model railroad. 
     For project-hounds like me, each new ambition means new tools, which are fun but pricey. That’s a big commitment for a beginner. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a way to try a project, get some guidance and use some tools and supplies before having to buy your own? 
     Now there is.
 
Makerspaces? Places to Make 
     “A Makerspace is a shared workshop where members work on projects, collaborate with others and learn skills,” explained Russ Miller of the new Annapolis Makerspace. “Think of it as a gym where members pay a monthly fee, but instead of weight machines, members have access to many types of tools and equipment.”
     You might first take a Makerspace class to learn basic skills and safe operation of the tools and machines. Likely you’ll find other people with similar interests.
     Each Makerspace has its own facility, organization, specialty and funding, with monthly memberships discounted for students and seniors. All are reasonably priced considering what you get.
 
The Annapolis Makerspace
     “Everyone has their own interest, and they are varied,” said Jack Warpinski, president of the group of electronics hobbyists, programmers, 3D printer enthusiasts and woodworkers who merged their skills as the nonprofit Annapolis Makerspace. They rented a space off West Street by the National Guard Armory, donated or loaned tools, built workbenches and, by early August, were up and running. 
     “Right now we’re in startup mode,” Warpinski told me.
     Facilities include a computer lab with CAD software, an electronics station with test equipment, 3D printers and a wood shop with a CNC (computer-numeric-controlled) router. Membership is by the month, and classes are offered.
     “The Annapolis area is large enough to support a more substantial organization,” said Warpinski, “so I see us growing in members, square footage, tools, equipment and programs.”
     Microcontroller open houses Thursdays at 7pm, general meetings fourth Tuesday each month at 7pm: 42 Hudson St., Annapolis: www.makeannapolis.org. 
 
Chesapeake Arts Center Makerspace
     The Chesapeake Arts Center, housed in the old Brooklyn Park High School, since 2001 has been northern Anne Arundel County’s Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. Now it’s broadened its plan to include technical arts.
     “It meshed with our community’s blue-collar roots in manufacturing and ship building,” headwoman Belinda Fraley Huesman told me. “There were a lot of things made in this area. We wanted to embrace who we were, who we are and lift up the neighborhood.”
     The new Makerspace has its grand opening Saturday September 30. It offers instruction and tools in wood shop, metal fabrication and welding, screen printing and textiles and electronics. There is also a computer lab, laser cutter, a CNC router and 3D printers.
     Mollie McElwain, the center’s education director, is in the thick of preparing for operations.
     “The curriculum for all the safety training is designed,” McElwain said. “We’re now looking for instructors with the specific skills and putting out a call for proposed classes.”
     Anne Arundel County and the state made grants of $90,000 for design and renovation of the space plus $100,000 for fit-up. Annual operating costs will be supported by Makerspace memberships and the Arts Center’s operating budget.
     Open house Saturday Sept. 30, 10am-5pm; open weekdays 10am-6pm, Saturdays 10am-noon. 194 Hammonds Ln., Brooklyn Park: www.chesapeakearts.org/makerspace.
 
Unallocated
     Unallocated is what Annapolis Makerspace could be seven years hence. In 2010, eight people with a shared interest in information security met in a local bar. Today Unallocated is a non-profit, membership cooperative with a facility in Severn and an extensive calendar of talks, seminars, classes and interest-group meetings, many open to the public.
     Stocked with some of the same tools common to other Makerspaces, like woodworking and 3-D printers, Unallocated focuses on all things computer: hardware, software and security, microprocessors and gaming, to mention just a few. There is a large server farm and many computers where members can tinker with both hardware and software. Unique offerings include ham radio and analog — traditional board — games. Most supplies were donated or loaned by members. Various levels of membership available, providing different levels of access
     Open houses Wednesdays at 7pm; check website for additional openings: 512 Shaw Court, Severn; ­www.unallocatedspace.org/uas.
 
The Foundery
     The Taj Mahal of local Makerspaces, The Foundery is a flourishing private enterprise. The facility is huge and very well equipped for a wide variety of hard and soft projects. The wood shop is extensive, and the metal shop well equipped with both machine tools and fabricating tools. Also on-site are a finishing shop with paint and powder coating booths, a blacksmithy, 3D printing, laser engravers and textile working, with embroidery and sewing machines and dress forms.
     The Foundery has recently switched from monthly memberships to pay-as-you-go. With discounts, a day pass can cost as little as $5. 
     The Port Covington area of southern Baltimore, where The Foundery is located, is an easy drive up Rt. 97, only a half hour from the Annapolis area.
     Bi-monthly open houses; open weekdays 9am-10pm, weekends 10am-5pm: 101 W. Dickman St., Baltimore: http://foundery.com.
 

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Space America Museum director turns his focus to film thriller

A murder at a Department of Defense facility and the theft of top secret files leads to the discovery of a dangerous spy organization operating in our nation’s capitol.
    Such is the plot of Fatal Deception, The Archuleta Files, a film written by Alan Hayes, of Owings, who also heads the production company, Spaceman Productions LLC.
    Hayes is best known in Calvert County as the director of the Space America Museum in Prince Frederick.
    Most of the filming is being done locally, key scenes shot in Washington, D.C., as well. The company will be traveling to Los Angeles shortly for a few days of additional shooting, then back to Bay Country for the final scenes.
    Expect to see Fatal Deception, The Archuleta Files later this year or early next year, with the full-length sequel Fatal Deception arriving late next year or early 2018.

The capacity of herons

The discovery that a heron was plundering my catch solved the mystery but did not end my ­curiosity. There was more to be learned.
    Apparently, herons are quite intelligent and know an easy meal when they see it. Almost immediately, a pattern became evident. If I was on the dock to use the boat or to check the crab traps, heron was nowhere in sight. As soon as I picked up my fishing rod, the bird would appear from nowhere and wait about 10 feet down the dock for my catch. At first I fiercely protected my perch. But heron was persistent and cute, and I gave into temptation, tossing an occasional fish. Eventually the bird was getting my first fish. Neighbors kidded me about having a pet heron, and when I gave him a name — Harry the Heron — I knew they were right.
    Having heard stories about adopting wild animals, I checked on potential dangers.
    My wife agreed. She thought I should see a shrink.
    But it was the bird I worried about. Dave Brinker, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources bird expert, told me blue herons cause the biggest trouble for the state’s goldfish and koi farmers, who must protect their fish from these predators. The stately birds are not picky eaters.  “If they can catch it and subdue it, they will eat it,” Brinker said. “While we usually think of them eating fish, they will eat frogs and voles and even small muskrat.”
    I was amazed they could eat perch up to eight inches, but their bodies are designed to stretch. Perch are a favorite food because the fish’s shape is conducive to swallowing. Herons are smart enough to know what they can handle, and a bird choking on a meal is very rare.
    Brinker confirmed it was not a good idea to keep feeding Harry, but not for the reason I thought. Once a bird learns to fend for itself, it never forgets and can always go back to self-sufficiency. There are, however, other good reasons to avoid the practice. First, these are smart birds. Once they find an easy meal, they will stick around. This can be problematic at migration time. If Harry decided to stay for the winter, and it was a bad one, it could be hard for either of us to find him food, even if I’m willing to brave sub-zero temperatures to fish for a bird. The second is one’s neighbors. While mine think it’s cool to have a resident heron, not all would agree. Especially fish pond owners.
    I have to sever relations with Harry, and I will in a few weeks. We’ll both go cold turkey. I will stop fishing from my dock; he will have to catch his own dinner. I’m not sure which of us will suffer more.


To see the video of the solved the mystery, go to YouTube and enter Bay Weekly Newspaper Missing Fish Mystery Solved in the search box.

Who dunnit?

It wasn’t quite the mystery of whether aliens landed in Area 51, but around Casa Melamud everyone was perplexed and spending considerable brainpower trying to solve the case of the missing fish.
    It is my habit to go out every evening after dinner and cast my pole from my dock, trying to catch fish for our lunch or to bait my crab traps. I have been consistently getting a handful of medium-sized white perch. Unhooking the fish, I’d tossed them on the dock. But when I went to pick my catch, there were fewer fish than I remembered. This was happening evening after evening. I heard nothing and saw nothing. The fish were just disappearing.
    My wife was sure I was miscounting; she called the missing fish a “senior moment.” Maybe the first time, but not night after night. It’s easy to remember whether you caught two or three fish.
    My daughter thought a feral cat was stealing the fish. This sounded reasonable, except that in the almost four years we have lived in this house, I had never seen a cat outside, feral or otherwise.
    For a better explanation I went to the mother of all knowledge: Google. Search results made the answer clear.
    Aliens are no longer slaughtering and abducting cows. They are eating healthier as they are now abducting fish. I found some compelling arguments, but I reasoned that if I were an alien looking for fish, I would be after sushi-grade tuna, not white perch.
    Finally, I posed the question on the fishing bulletin board I participate in. About 15 other members chimed in with their thoughts on our mystery. Seven said all fishermen are liars, so none of this was happening. Seven told me I was using the wrong lure. If I used the one they recommended, I would catch enough fish to not care about a missing few. One supported the alien abduction theory.
    I was resigned to living with my mystery. But one of the keys to success is luck and timing. About a week after the mystery first posed itself, I happened to turn my head at the precisely right moment, and I saw my answer.
    Who’s got my missing fish?
    See for yourself.

After 9 years, Coast Guard mascot Rosie gets First Class promotion

At a Coast Guard station, where the crew is often separated from friends and family, the extra boost provided by a dog goes a long way. About half of all Coast Guard stations has a mascot dog.
    “It’s about morale” says fireman Justin Singleton, who’s been at Coast Guard Station Annapolis for a year. “She keeps us in good spirits.”
    Rosie, a black Lab, had served as station mascot for nine years without a promotion. All Coast Guard promotions — even First Class Dog — must be earned. So with dedication and a generous supply of training kibble, Rosie’s crewmates helped her master the skills and commands to rise to First Class.
    With three gold stripes to signify her new rank, Rosie continues her primary duty at the station.
    “She’s usually the first to greet visitors,” say Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Andrew Vardakis.

Read more about Rosie at: http://tinyurl.com/n57v2xz

Sign on for the DataBay Reclaim the Bay Innovation Challenge

     It’s the irony of our modern technological society. For most of history, we have craved more facts, more data. We had no problem putting these data to good use as fast as we gathered them.
     In the last couple of decades, that situation has reversed. We now have much more data than we can possibly use. This holds true for the Bay, where data ranges from water samples collected by citizens to reports from orbiting satellites. Just one example: We have water quality data for the entire Chesapeake. You can go online and find maps showing the daily water temperature and clarity.
    The challenge is figuring out how to use all this data for positive change.
    Can more brains help?
    Bring motivated people with the right set of skills and experience together for a weekend of intense collaboration to develop innovative ideas. That’s the plan behind the DataBay Reclaim the Bay Innovation Challenge.
    “We want to get environmental scientists collaborating with information technology people to foster new ideas,” explains Mike Powell, chief innovation officer for Gov. Martin O’Malley. “Most people are one or the other. This is an opportunity to get the best from both.”
    Similar plans have worked in other places on other problems. An event last year led to the creation of Baltimore Decoded, which provides citizens with user-friendly web access to all Baltimore city laws.
    The Reclaim the Bay Innovation Challenge runs from Friday, August 1 through Sunday, August 3 at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater. So far, some 50 IT pros and environmental scientists have signed on. There’s room for 50 more, including you.
    Bring a team or join one at the event. Together, you’ll generate ideas for using available data to restore the Bay and involve more people in that important work.
    On Sunday evening, teams will present their findings. Top-rated ideas win cash prizes and will be presented to O’Malley and a panel of entrepreneurs, investors and environmental scientists.
    Is this challenge for you? Learn more at: http://databay.splashthat.com.
    Curious about what types of Bay data are available? Answers at http://databay-data.splashthat.com.

Local author shoots for the stars

     Thomas Michael of Edgewater knows exactly what he wants for his recently published, locally set baseball murder mystery novel: a Barry Levinson movie. It’s an ambitious goal, but Levinson has done a baseball movie (The Natural), Baltimore movies like Diner and Liberty Heights, and mysteries like Sleepers. Ambitious, but less probable things happen all the time. 
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These young inventors can make a robot to solve it

Steve Jobs. Bill Gates. Dillon Mandley. Kevin Lin. Everyone knows the first two names. The last two — not yet. In 1980, Jobs and Gates were a couple of 20-somethings working in their garages on what they hoped would be the next big thing. These two icons started in the west; the next two can rise anywhere, maybe even Southern Maryland.
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Dave Newman catches some 40 games a year in his quest to see one in every Major League stadium

In our affection for America’s iconic trio — baseball, hot dogs and apple pie — we are not all equal. I am fond of baseball. You might well be fonder. Crofton’s Dave Newman is fondest.
    Newman was born a baseball fan — specifically a New York Yankee fan. The Brooklyn Dodgers and Giants had fled to California. The Mets had not yet arrived. New York was a Yankee town, and Dave’s a Yankee family.
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Time, not effort, yields top-notch results

We find corned beef at delis, restaurants and at this time of year in groceries ready to boil for St. Patrick’s Day. This year I made it at home.
    Do-it-yourself corning is neither complex, expensive nor labor-intensive. The challenge is finding the right containers for curing and cooking the beef. And maybe finding the refrigerator space.
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