As the Great Port Townsend Kinetic Sculpture Race proceeded through the rest of town, the Cotton Building was abuzz with its own creative energy.
The Port Townsend STEM Club’s fourth annual Mini Maker Fair fed its spectators’ scientific and technical interests Oct. 6.
The Whidbey Island Wildcats Robotics Club came from Oak Harbor to show off their Rubik’s Cube-solving robot.
“However you manage to mix it up, the color sensors map out the entire cube,” said Electronics Engineer Marcus Carman. “The robot stores the array in its memory, and then turns the segments of the cube based on what it remembers. Robots have better memories than humans.”
While teammate Taylor Johnson described it as a relatively simple process to assemble such a robot, no more than “two hours, if you don’t know what you’re doing,” Carman acknowledged how programming the robot can prove more challenging.
“Programming is so fickle,” Carman said. “You have to know exactly how to fix every little thing, or it’ll mess it all up.”
Nonetheless, the Whidbey Island Wildcats have created a robot Carman reported can usually solve any Rubik’s Cube within 25 to 30 moves.
Logan Flanagan is in his final year at both Port Townsend High School and the Jefferson Community School, the latter of which he attends for math, and he is old enough to serve as a teaching assistant to the next generation of robotics students coming up in Port Townsend.
His playable video game display not only entertained kids but also exposed the components of a computer, from its central processor to its random-access memory data storage to its graphics card.
“Whether you’re using a word processing program or playing a video game, a computer takes in information and converts it into a displayable format,” Flanagan said. “What I hope kids pick up is that computers are actually pretty easy to build, and often for cheaper than if you buy them from a big manufacturer.”
The Brass Screw Confederacy not only presents an annual Steampunk Festival in Port Townsend every June but is also part of the larger nonprofit Olympic Peninsula Steam, which presents annual Victorian Heritage and Yuletide festivals of its own in town.
Liz Young, presentation coordinator for the Brass Screw Confederacy, was on hand at the Mini Maker Fair, armed with an ornate blunderbuss that shoots Nerf darts.
“Just like the Maker Fair, we encourage people to pursue the STEM fields,” Young said.
Young touted the Brass Screw Confederacy’s annual “Bodgers’ Grande Exhibition” each June as its own steampunk makers fair, for artisans and artifact makers from novices to professions, to showcase art and working devices alike.
Although the Washington State Science and Engineering Fair has been represented in previous years’ Mini Maker Fairs in Port Townsend, this marked the first year that WSSEF Vice President Gary Foss brought his musical Tesla coil to town, playing tunes ranging from the “Star Wars” theme to “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
“I modulate the voltage in time with musical MIDI files,” Foss said, as pink electricity crackled to the electronic strains of “Crazy Frog.”
Foss credited a Tesla coil with sparking his own interest in engineering, as a 16-year-old in Spokane, which led him to get his engineering degree at Washington State University.
“If you want to go into the STEM fields, take all the science classes you can in school,” Foss said. “If you find yourself taking things apart to see how they work, you might be an engineer.”
After all, Foss has had what he considers “a pretty good engineering career,” and it all started with a Tesla coil.
“And mine back then didn’t even play music!” Foss laughed.