Astronomy 101

The FFL's Telescope

Last summer, the Fayetteville Free Library acquired a telescope: a Celestron NexStar 8 SE. We used the telescope once during the summer for a program called Daytime Astronomy which unfortunately happened on a rainy day so we weren’t able to view the sun through the solar filter. For the rest of the summer and into the fall, I eagerly anticipated that days when the sun would set early enough I could run a night-time astronomy program during library hours.

On January 20th, 2015 I finally began a 5-part Astronomy series for teens and families at the library. The purpose of this program was to introduce members of our community to the technology available in the library and to give them an introductory understanding of astronomy. I began each meeting by introducing a concept in astronomy. At the first meeting it was the names and orders of planets in our solar system followed by a description of how telescopes work. We were favored with a clear sky so we took the telescope outside to look at the stars despite the bitter cold. For every day that we had clear skies, we took the telescope outside for at least half an hour. That was usually enough time to set it up, focus on something, view it for 10 minutes, and then go back inside because our fingers were numb and our noses frozen (the average temperature was around 10 F). We got some very nice views of Jupiter and counted at least 5 of Jupiter’s moons.

Here are some of the activities we did:Measuring Craters

Observing Jupiter through the FFL TelescopeThere were at least 9 and as many as 19 participants at each meeting. Everyone participated with enthusiasm and curiosity and worked together for the activities. They all asked questions that I answered as best as I was able, sometimes writing them down so I could research the answer and give it to them at the next meeting. All of the parents who came were just as interested in the activities as their children, participating alongside them instead of the usual passive observation that you get from parents in most family library programs.

Because of the interest in and success of this program, I will be running it again in late October when there is at least an hour and a half of night before the library closes.

The First FFL Minecraft Games

The second movie in the Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire, was released on in theaters on November 22nd, 2013. In anticipation of this exciting event, the FFL had a few Hunger Games programs. Namely, we did a screening of the first movie in our community room and we ran a specially themed Minecraft program. I have written previously about our experience with Minecraft, but this was completely different. I got the idea for this program listening to the boys in my First LEGO League team (more on that some other time) talking about playing Minecraft on various public servers.

These boys were talking specifically about a bukkit server that was set up like the Hunger Games. I did some research and found youtube videos, blogs, and instructions on using mods with Minecraft servers. With Pete’s help (our Director of Technology Integration and all around technology genius), a lot of cursing, hair pulling, and you tube watching, we were able to set up a bukkit server running the World Edit, Survival Games, and Essentials plugins. I learned a lot about commands, permissions, and general Minecraftery.

It took Pete and I probably 20 hours total to set up the server and I am quite proud of what we made, considering it was our first experience designing a Minecraft server. I really wish I had thought to take screen captures of the server when I was done… Oh well. There was a cornucopia of sorts, basically a collection of chests, around a central beacon around which everyone spawned. For the first 20 seconds of the game, nobody could attack other players, but after that there were no rules. When the field was down to only 3 players, lightning would periodically flash to show where the survivors were. At elimination, the player would return to the lobby to await the next round.

We planned the program for 30 players in 2 hours because we had 10 laptop computers we could set up and we were sure that 30 players could play at least one round each within a 2 hour period. The community room was set up something like this:

The ten players would sit at the laptops set up on tables in a kind of square and those waiting for their turn would sit in the seats surrounding them. Each wave of the game would have 3 rounds of 10 players each so that everyone would get to play at least once before anyone got a second chance. Pete set up a spreadsheet where we recorded every player’s name and kept score by who were the last players standing. One point for being third to last, 2 points for being second to last, and 3 points for the winner. Scores were really only being kept for bragging rights, since there were no prizes to be won. The rules were easy: 10 players at a time would fight until eliminated, there was to be no name-calling or foul language, everyone would get to play once per wave and we would play as many waves as we had time for, and they were to have fun doing it.

First FFL Minecraft GamesOn November 21st, 2013 at 6pm, the First FFL Minecraft Games began. We had 29 teens and children (one had to be asked to spectate only for violating the foul language rule) and several parent and friend spectators. On the projection screen we kept the list of names and scores. It took about 10 minutes to explain the rules of the game and how the server was set up and then we played one practice wave so everyone could become familiar with the arena-style gameplay. By 8pm, each player had participated in 4 games which means that we ran a total of 12 individual rounds not including the practice. Players formed alliances with others while waiting their turn to enter the arena and negotiated strategies. They even tried to persuade me to allow 2 winners per game, like in the Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. I attempted to announce the goings on a’la Caesar Flickerman, but the action happened so fast I was having trouble keeping up, also I lost my voice after the first hour. I set my laptop up at one end of the playing area so I could spectate (and moderate) within the game as well as watch the players at the tables. After the first wave, most of the waiting players were hovering behind the current players to watch the games and call out advice and warnings. I had about 5 kids watching over my shoulder once they realized that I was spectating.

At 8:05pm, the First FFL Minecraft Games were over and all of the players returned, alive, to their parents. Many of them left having formed new friendships and with promises to meet in the Teen Computer Lab at a later date to play MinecraftEdu together. Every single one of them asked me, either that night or the next time they saw me in the library, when the next Games would be. I can tell you that as a first-time Minecraft arena game creator and as a novice player, I was personally proud of having made my first try such a success. I can also tell you that as a teen librarian, the First FFL Minecraft Games was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had. By 8:10pm, I had already begun planning the Second FFL Minecraft Games.

Training on the 3D Printer

Watching the 3D printer work.

Today at the FFL, the Fab Lab Task Force (aka the Fabtastic 4) learned how to print on the Makerbot Thing-O-Matic. We started with something really small and easy, just learning the basic process of turning it on and sending a design to the printer. We all poked around on Thingiverse, a kind of public repository for 3D models intended for use with the Makerbot 3D printers. Somebody found this design and we all decided it would be fun to print the One Ring.

The process, as I understand it, is as follows:

  1. Connect the Makerbot to the Computer.
  2. Open the ReplicatorG program.
  3. Turn on the Makerbot.
  4. Calibrate it.
  5. Heat the extruder head and build platform.
  6. Open the model and press print.
This is the ring we printed today as practice.

Ta-da! The model prints in shiny plastic and you have a new Thing. You can watch and listen to it print the ring here. When it is printing, the music being made changes depending on the shape of the thing being printed; circles, lines, diagonals, squares, etc. Halfway through the ring print, I realized that all four of us were just staring at the Makerbot. Watching the Makerbot work is like watching snow fall or gazing at a roaring fire. It just pulls you in so you can’t help but stare at it dumbly. We were all guilty of that today (as is evidenced by the photo you see above).

Our next [pre] Fab Lab Open House will be on Saturday, February 18th from 12-2pm and will involve all kinds of making things. And I do mean ALL kinds. Sure, the 3D printer will be there, but so will the juicer, the PS3 Supercomputer, duct tape, and more.

FFL FabLab

While doing my internship, I was honored to shadow Lauren Smedley, the FFL’s Transliteracy Development Director, on the reference desk. If you remember, she taught me about transliteracy at the time and told me a little about a project she is working on called the FFL Fab Lab. This year, I’m honored to be working alongside the other members of the FFL Fab Lab Task Force to introduce the Fab Lab to the library staff and the community at large. On Monday, I’m going to be trained on how to use the software that talks to our 3D printer (a MakerBot) so that we can begin to train the rest of the librarians and begin offering a new service to patrons: check out a librarian for an hour and print a Thingiverse thing! (of course that’s just my name for it, not the official name).

FFL Fab Lab MakerBot printing a cat toy.

Today Pete, Director of Teen Services and fellow FFL Fab Lab Task Force member, was testing out the software on one of our COWs (Computers On Wheels, a nice set of laptops in a rolling cabinet) to see if they would communicate with the MakerBot properly. Thusly, Pete decided to print a cat toy. On the left you can see the MakerBot in action. Many patrons who were in the library at the time and walked past Pete’s desk stopped to chat about the 3D printer and looked very excited when they learned they’d have a chance to try it next month at our next pre-Fab Lab open house on February 18th. The actual physical space that will become the FFL Fab Lab is being renovated and will not be ready for use until probably next year. In the meantime, we’re setting up the community room as a makeshift Fab Lab where patrons can come in and Make. More details to come later….

Cat toy printed by the FFL Fab Lab MakerBot.

The MakerBot prints the 3D objects in one print, so the ball within a ball cat toy is printed with the inner ball affixed to the outer ball by a thin layer of plastic. When it was done printing, I was able to pop the inner ball free using a screwdriver because it was the only thing narrow and hard enough to reach inside and exert enough pressure.

Since I have cats, I was given the honor of bringing the cat toy home with me and letting my kitties test out the printed toy. Darcy was a little wary at first, but she usually prefers toys that are attached to strings. Lizzy on the other hand, had a field day with her new toy (hence the blurry photos).



I have to say, the second rapid response assignment for 511 was probably the most fun I have had doing classwork since 6th grade when we did medieval day and got to wear costumes to school. My group made a video with “interviews” with two fake and two real librarians to kinda show the differences between the stereotype and the real thing. Coming up with the script was fun and then filming was HILARIOUS. There’s even an outtake at the end because we were cracking up so much. Once filming was done, I got to learn how to edit a video. I can’t tell you how excited we were when we realized we could add music to the introduction and the closing credits. Anyone recognize the song? That’s right, it’s Lady Gaga’s Disco Heaven. We just had to put Lady Gaga in somewhere because of this video.

And I am very excited right now because I just got accepted for an internship!!

Here’s our video again: