Have you been to the Fab Lab yet?
If not, you're missing out on one of Tulsa's new hidden treasures. The Hardesty Center for Fab Lab Tulsa, which just celebrated its first anniversary, is just one of 53 fab labs spread out across 17 countries. The next-closest one is in Kansas City.
Even Texas doesn't have one.
Fab labs are centers loaded with the latest in fabrication technology that can allow you to make almost anything cheaply and easily.
Nathan Pritchett, executive director of Fab Lab Tulsa, said the 300 current members are from a wide spectrum of fields. There are tinkers looking to give their hobbies a boost, engineers making their designs physical for testing, entrepreneurs prototyping new products, artists wanting to bring their inspiration to life in a new way and many more.
"There's a lot of people in town with ideas, but they didn't have the tools to bring them to life," Pritchett told me.
Students are finding out how rewarding it can be to learn how to make things for themselves. Schools, groups, clubs and organizations are sending middle through high school students for a hands-on tour, with 150 dropping in on one recent day, Pritchett said.
He's lost track of the huge volume of things Tulsans have invented there, though he still has plenty of examples. A sign- maker used the precision milling equipment to make a sign for Spirit Aerosystems. A local artist uses the mills to cut and stain wooden bow ties.
An inventor used a 3-D printer to fabricate hundreds of pieces for a prototype child's car seat. Another entrepreneur was able to create extremely detailed figurines for a prototype board game he hopes to sell. (He previously had to contract an overseas manufacturer to make prototypes for him.)
One enterprising person was able to use the machines to make a fully functional spinning wheel for yarn. Want to make one of your own? That design, as well as thousands of others, are shared online.
Better still, the $125 yearly membership includes materials you might need - computers loaded with designing software, circuits, wires, LED lights, motors and more in the electronics lab, recycled wood, acrylic and other materials for the laser cutter and plastics for the 3-D printers.
The lab has done well in its first year. Pritchett said they've been able to increase their 2013 budget by 30 percent and hope to emphasize the design side of things more.
New types of hardware and increasingly sophisticated software are sparking a revolution in personal manufacturing, and we're lucky enough to be able to experience it at Fab Lab Tulsa.
App of the week: Star Wars Angry Birds (Android, iOS, Windows Phone)
One of these days I'll be able to stop writing about Rovio's apps, but as long as they keep being innovative and absurdly popular, my hand is forced. I keep thinking they've finally taken Angry Birds as far as they can go, but they keep proving me wrong.
It's not just that the birds and pigs have Luke Skywalker and Stormtrooper getups. The birds now have Star Wars powers and things like lightsabers, Force pushes and blasters add a surprising amount of strategy to knocking blocks over on pigs. It's especially satisfying to use a lightsaber or a shoved mirror block to reflect a pig's blaster shots back at him.
Microsoft executive's departure may not be such an odd move
By now you've probably heard that Steve Sinofsky, head of Windows, suddenly stepped down from Microsoft. That's a very odd move - who leaves a company a couple weeks after a major product launch with no notice?
It might seem like the company is panicking over the reception of Windows 8, but there's more to this story if you dig deeper. All Things Digital reported that the company had been preparing for his departure since before Windows 8 launched. Neither Sinofsky nor CEO Steve Ballmer gave any hints as to why, but Ballmer did say that his replacement, Julie Larson-Green, has a "proven ability to effectively collaborate and drive a cross-company agenda."
I think that statement is the key. Sinofsky was famously hard to work with and tended to structure the company around sheltered and somewhat combative segments that didn't communicate.
On top of that, he clashed with many other Microsoft execs who all left in 2010, such as former chief software architect Ray Ozzie and Microsoft Business division head Stephen Elop. Worse, he ran off Robbie Bach and J Allard, the former heads of Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices division and the fathers of the successful Xbox gaming console, and canceled the tablet device they were developing even as the iPad proved to be a monster hit.
Add it up and it seems that Sinofsky had simply become more of a liability than an asset to Microsoft. The jury is still out on Windows 8's legacy - and the timing is definitely odd - but I'm not convinced his departure is a sign of failure.
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