University of PEI

A Dream Realized: The Charlottetown Guardian Archive Goes Online

I met Mark Leggott at the Access conference in St. John’s, Newfoundland in 1994. We kept in touch over the ensuing years, and renewed our acquaintance when Mark moved to Prince Edward Island in 2006 to become Chief Librarian, University of PEI. In the years since we had the occasional lunch or coffee and would often chat about the projects that Robertson Library was undertaking and how I might become involved with them in some capacity.

At our first such meeting I mentioned that, on my list of dream projects, was a digital archive of Prince Edward Island’s newspaper of record, The Guardian: as someone occasionally interested in plumbing the depths of the Island’s history, I knew firsthand how cumbersome using the microfilm version of the paper’s archive is, but also knew, from those times when I braved it, how rich a resource the historic Guardian is.

Mark is nothing if not a digital-projects-generating-dynamo, and he took this idea and ran with it, rallying resources, funding, expertise – and the cooperation of The Guardian itself – and it is with much joy that I can invite you all, all these years later, to attend the formal unveiling of the digitized Guardian, covering issues from 1890 to 1957, tomorrow, February 11, 2014 at 2:00 p.m. at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery in Charlottetown.

As a special incentive, we’ll be distributing paper copies of the February 11, 1914 newspaper, being printed in Borden as we speak. It was municipal election day 100 years ago tomorrow, so the day’s paper is full of election coverage.

The archive is online at right now, and I encourage you to take a look, plumb its depths, and offer the project team feedback. Their work to date, from the physical process of digitizing to the digital process of archiving, OCRing the text, and building a web front end, is impressive, and they each deserve a hearty congratulations at tomorrow’s opening.

Of course, as Hacker in Residence, I had to dip my own toes in the water, and so in addition to the site itself, I’ve leveraged the openness of the project to build some side-projects around the 100-years-ago-today newspaper:

I encourage you to befriend / follow / like any or all of the above and, even more so, to become a reader of the daily paper 100 years on: I’ve been reading The Guardian from 1914 every day this year, and the context the emerges watching stories evolve from day to day provides a new view into history. This will become even more interesting as 1914 marches on, with the 50th anniversary of the Confederation Conference and the start of World War One still to come.

Fablab Open House 24 Hours Late, But Awesome Nonetheless

Early last Saturday morning I ran into Andy Trivett, the Adama of the nascent Fablab at the University of PEI, at the Charlottetown Farmer’s Market.

Are you coming to our open house?”, Andy asked.

What open house?”, I replied.

We’re having an open house for the Fablab on Tuesday afternoon, you should come!”, he exclaimed.

Reasoning that this was an event that deserved the full-on Hacker in Residence publicity machine behind it, I jumped into action. I created a Facebook Event. I tweeted about it. I even created an event on the UPEI events calendar.

For Wednesday.

And so I showed up on Wednesday for the open house.

I’m here for the open house!”, I declared to the single person – an engineering student – present in the lab.

Uh, that was yesterday,” he told me.


Somehow I ended up publicizing an event 24 hours later than it was scheduled for.

Fortunately, people showed up!

So, in true Fablab hacker spirit, I soldiered on and had my own exclusive Fablab open house.

And, better yet, every single person who showed up, save Oliver, was a woman, which defeated the “only men use Fablabs” stereotype. What’s more, they were all curious and had lots of questions and obvious use-cases for the Fablab. They were the kind of people that Fablabs exist for.

So while I may have been 24 hours late to the party, the after-party that I held in its wake was, to my mind, a success. Apologies to all those who showed up who had to make do with my “making it up as I go along” approach to teaching about the Fablab; I hope I got most of the broad strikes right, and I hope you come back!

The Nascent UPEI Fablab

I spent this morning being trained to use an Objet30 Desktop 3D printer up in the nascent fablab in the Engineering Department at the University of PEI.

Remember last week when it was announced that an “old line” 3D printer company called Stratasys was going to purchase the “young upstart” 3D printer company Makerbot? Well one of Stratasys’s projects is the Objet30, and as of today there’s one set up and running on the 3rd floor of Dalton Hall at UPEI.

Andy Trivett, Chair of Engineering at UPEI, has been spearheading an effort to create a Fablab at the university, and in addition to acquiring equipment – 3D printers, a laser cutter/engraver, a CNC milling machine – he’s been working hard to involve the university community and the community at large in the effort, with hopes that it will become a broadly-used laboratory for making and experimenting.

The Objet30 is complex enough that the dealer – Javelin from Halifax – insists on sending over a technician for a familiarization exercise, and that’s what I attended this morning, along with a motley collection of people from the university community.

Objet30 Scholar 3D Printer at UPEI

The Objet30 is quite different from the consumer 3D printers that are becoming popular (and cheap) these days: it uses (rather expensive; ballpark is $7/square inch) photo-polymer liquid to “print” in much the same way an inkjet printer prints, albeit with a third axis to allow it to print in 3D, and with a second “support material” jet to allow it to print material that will later wash away but that can support overhangs and other complex bits.

The 3D objects that the machine can produce seem awfully impressive, and lack the “jagginess” that you might be used to if you’ve seen the projects of printers with lower resolution.

What’s unclear to me at this point is whether the cost and complexity of the Objet30 will be worth it for everyday hacking around; fortunately now that UPEI is host to (at least) three 3D printers (the Objet30 and a uPrint in the Fablab and the Ditto in Robertson Library) it’s possible to contrast and compare.

If you’re interesting in “making” and would like to participate in getting the UPEI Fablab up and running, I encourage you to drop Andy a line, he’s very approachable, very committed to this not being a “university only” lab, and a man full of advice and eager to try new projects to boot.

How I printed parts for my desk (and felt the promise of 3D printing)

About 8 years ago the word on the street here in Charlottetown was that you could get a great deal on adjustable desks at the Summerside Clearance Centre. I ended up buying two, one for myself and a smaller one for Johnny, and the boys at silverorange bought a number of them as well. They are great desks: solid, durable, and easily adjustable up and down. Here’s what mine looked line on moving-in-day at the old office:

Reinvented Office

There are two types of plastic parts on the surface of the desk, one type for the “cable pass through” holes and one for the crank that allows the desk to be adjusted up and down. Over the years we’ve had both go missing here in the office, and with nowhere to turn for replacement parts, we just lived with this.

With the availability of 3D printing at the University of Prince Edward Island, however, I realized that I could simply fabricate my own parts, using the originals I still have as models. The return of the browser-based Tinkercad design tool last week coincided with this inspiration, and so I set to work with my Canadian Tire digital calipers to take the measurements of the originals and translate them into Tinkercad models.

Once you grasp the basics of Tinkercad – assembling simple shapes together to make complex shapes – it’s surprisingly easy for a know-nothing like me to make a complex model:

Using Tinkercad

That model is two cylinders in the base, with a box on top, four boxes for the “legs” and four “round roofs” for the little nubbles that hold the part in place inside the desk.

With the model designed and measurements checked, I fired up Tinkercad’s fuction for generating a .STL file:

…and sent the .STL file off to Don Moses at Robertson Library for 3D printing. The next day I got an email back from Don that the part had printed and was ready for pickup. And so here it is:

3D-printed Desk Wire Passthru Cover

And here it is snapped into place in the desk:

3D-printed Desk Wire Passthru Cover in Place

If you have the same or similar desk, you can go and grab the Tinkercad model for this part, tweak it as needed, and print your own.

This was so much fun that I kept on going and designed up the “crank cover” in Tinkercad too:

It came out of the 3D printer looking like this:

Desk Crank Cover 3D Print

You can grab the Tinkercad model for that part too.

Both parts, I was delighted to find, find into their respective holes like a glove.

To this point I’ve thought of 3D printing as a novelty, an impression only strengthened by the propensity of people with 3D printers to print cats and key chains and parts for more 3D printers. Being able to print parts for my desk, parts there was simply no way to produce until this point, has me thinking there might be something to all this.

I’m going up on Monday for a tour of UPEI’s about-to-be-a-Fablab, which is an exciting development in this regard; I’ll report back on what I learn.

Ten Years Later

Ten years ago, on June 16, 2003, we held a session at the University of Prince Edward Island about blogging called “Weblog Night in Charlottetown.” To promote the session, Catherine Hennessey and I visited Mitch Cormier at CBC Mainstreet to talk about blogging:

I love Catherine’s answer to the question “What was it that attracted you to blogging?” (“I wasn’t attracted at all…”).

Here are our three panelists, Steven Garrity, Catherine and Rob Paterson (all of whom are blogging to one extend or another, some more actively than others). Photo by Nick Burka.

Weblogging Panel

And here’s Steven and Stephen Desroches and Rob chatting after we finished up:


Interestingly, the blogger blog that we created as a demonstration of how easy it was to set up a blog is still sitting there, unloved.