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3D Print TCAF Souvenir Inspired by Cartoonist Seth

May 12, 2016 | Ab. Velasco | Comments (0)

Alex Dimitrov
Digital Innovation Hub staff member Alex Dimitrov with his 3D print out that he designed based on Seth's poster for the inaugural TCAF in 2003.

The 2016 Toronto Comic Arts Festival takes place this weekend - May 14 and 15 - at Toronto Reference Library.

For the third consecutive year, Digital Innovation Hub staff member Alex Dimitrov has created a fun 3D object inspired by TCAF. This time, Alex went back in time to the very first TCAF poster, from 2003, illustrated by celebrated Canadian cartoonist, Seth.

Alex took the dog from the poster - if you know the dog's name, please leave it in the comments! - and used ZBrush, a professional-level 3D design software and a Wacom Intous Touch graphic table to create his design. See the photos below for a walkthrough of Alex's process!

You can download the instructions for the 3D object from the Hub's Thingiverse page and print these files using the Hub's 3D printer. ZBrush and the graphic tablet Alex used are available to use at the Reference Library Hub. Here's more info or please speak to staff for details.

Want more? Check out Alex's 3D design project from TCAF 2014 and TCAF 2015.


Here's Seth's TCAF poster that inspired Alex's model:



Here's the start of Alex's 3D model using ZBrush:


Here's a 3D print out of all his parts for his 3D model:


And here's a side-by-side comparison of his 3D model and the finished 3D printed product!


Download the file and 3D print it at the Digital Innovation Hub!

Innovator in Residence to Teach App Development

April 27, 2016 | Ab. Velasco | Comments (0)

Frank Tsonis

New Innovator in Residence Frank Tsonis -- pictured here at InterAccess Media Centre -- will deliver classes and lectures about mobile app development (Photo: Rob Cruickshank, Flickr).


This spring, from May 9 to July 31, the library's new Innovator in Residence Frank Tsonis will give lectures and teach classes about mobile app development at Toronto Reference Library.

His exciting lineup of free classes and lectures include: "Introduction to Computer Programming," "Creating Interactive Graphics for Android," "Introduction to iOS Development," and "User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) Design."

Frank Tsonis is an interactive media app developer and educator based in Toronto. He develops mobile apps, interactive art installations, data visualizations and web-based software. He currently teaches at York and OCAD universities and has previously taught at InterAccess Media Art Centre.

The Innovator in Residence program offers a fun and hands-on way to learn about the technology offered at the library's Digital Innovation Hubs. Past residencies have included programs on 3D printing, filmmaking, audio production, Arduino, 3D design and robotics.

We chatted with Frank to find out what he's looking forward to during his residency, his advice for aspiring app developers and what apps he can't live without.


Welcome Frank, our newest Innovator! What made you interested in applying to be our Innovator in Residence?

I have been teaching Digital Media courses for several years, and when I discovered the Innovator in Residence program at the Toronto Public Library, it seemed like a perfect fit to my teaching philosophy and long term goals. Digital technologies are changing all aspects of our lives and I strongly believe that digital literacy, in particular having knowledge of computer programming, is essential.

The digital media programs that the Toronto Public Library is offering are fantastic and having access to these resources are essential for both youth and adults alike. I wanted to contribute to the goals of the Digital Innovation Hub by sharing my experiences and designing workshops that are both fun and informative.

What are you looking most forward to in your residency?

I am looking forward to interacting with the participants and sharing my knowledge and experience. I am excited to see the diverse set of mobile apps that will come out of the workshops I am offering. People have great ideas and showing them how to realize their ideas in the form of a mobile app is extremely rewarding.

For a novice who is interested in pursuing education or a career in mobile app development, what is your advice to them?

Determine which approach best suits you for learning new skills, be it through courses, books, instructional videos, lectures or blogs. Spend an hour a day learning skills and writing code. Explore online resources like GitHub to learn from other developers' code.

This has helped me the most in the past and I still look at open source code for programming techniques and ideas.

Also, read up on what's happening in the field of mobile app development, be it through news articles or technology blogs. Search the Android App Store and the Apple App store and see what people and organizations are developing. Download a couple a week and test them out and examine the interface and the features in the apps. Try to think about why certain mobile apps work better than others.

Also, try to attend tech community events to interact with app developers in your city or community. Meeting like-minded people will help you expand your ideas and you will also get support from the people you meet. You can have them test out your apps and give you feedback. Expose yourself to as much information as you can to get a sense of what specific areas interest you in the field of mobile app development.




Please tell us about the first mobile app that you created. What were the most important things you learned about app development from that process?

The first formal app I created was a contract for OCAD University. I had created several interactive mobile apps as media art projects beforehand, and what I learned the most was that user interaction and experience are key. It’s not just about what information a user is coming to your app for, it's extremely important to give them an exciting experience while they are using your app. Figure out who will be using your app and keep your users engaged. I always apply my knowledge from creating interactive art experiences into building apps. I strongly believe that creating a sense of play is everything. People are curious and the sense of play feeds this curiosity.


What are the must-have apps that you can't do without in your life and why?

I prefer simple apps that have minimal notifications and can be used as tools rather than personal assistants.

My must-have apps right now are Pocket, which is extremely useful for storing and sharing news articles I am reading. It also exposes me to news articles that I would never really find on my own. And Google Keep. Any type of notes or reminders are great for keeping me on task. It has a function for using a photo as a note/reminder, which has proven to be more useful that I thought it would.

I am also drawn to experimental apps that allow for playful experiences. Right now I am playing around with both Grove and Tunnel Vision and thinking about how to create mobile apps that create virtual worlds based on sensing the outside world.


Sarah Goodman Video Editing 101 workshop
Previous residency topics included 3D printing, robotics and filmmaking. Pictured above is filmmaker and former Innovator in Residence Sarah Goodman at the Reference Library.

Toronto Reference Library Hosts Open Data Book Club

April 11, 2016 | Ab. Velasco | Comments (0)

Open Data Book Club Discussion
The Open Data Book Club was previously hosted at Studio Y at MaRS Discovery District.

Starting on April 21, Toronto Reference Library and its Digital Innovation Hub will host the monthly Open Data Book Club.

These monthly meetings invite data miners, analysts and engaged citizens to get a better understanding of their government. At each event, members and other participants review, analyze and find trends using government open data sets alongside the staff members who are responsible for them.

The program was previously hosted at Studio Y in the MaRS Discovery District. The library is the club's home for the remainder of 2016 -- and possibly beyond -- and ties in nicely with the library's recently-launched Open Data Policy and open data sets as well as our recent Open Data Hackathon in November 2015.

We chatted with program organizer Richard Pietro to find out what happens at a book club meeting, why he thinks it's important for public institutions to make their data open, and where he sees Toronto's open data movement headed.


What happens at an Open Data Book Club meeting?

Members experience a free-flowing discussion with the stewards of government open data sets. For example, at one of our meetings we had a representative from the Ontario Ministry of Energy and together we reviewed and offered feedback on the greenhouse gas open data set.

At a different meeting, members of the Open Data Book Club prepared online tools for the Toronto Wellbeing Map. These tools were so good that the steward in attendance chose to publish them on the Toronto Wellbeing Map and sent them out to his stakeholders in the city.

I like to say that what happens at an Open Data Book Club event is true and impactful collaboration between the public and government.


Why did you choose to partner with the library on this program?

The Open Data Book Club couldn't possibly find a better home than Toronto Public Library. In addition to the fact that TPL is actively growing its digital and new media programs, the Reference Library is centrally located, well recognized, has the facilities needed for our events, and a team that wants to help grow Open Data literacy in the City of Toronto.

Besides, partnering with a library for something called the Open Data Book Club seemed to make quite a bit of sense. *smiles*


For someone who does not know a lot about open data, what's the best way to get a primer and to engage with the community?

Open Data is machine-readable data that can be re-purposed freely by the public, organizations and not-for-profits. Some of the most high profile open data sets are Weather and GPS data. However, in the last few years we've seen many other types of Open Data that have greatly influenced our daily lives. For example, all those wonderful TTC Transit apps are powered by Open Data.

If you’d like more details, don’t hesitate to watch this quick “once-over” video below created by the Open Data Institute.




The City has an Open Data Catalogue and the library recently launched an open data policy. Why is it important for public institution to make their data open?

Open Data (and by association, Open Government) are the tools that have been created to make our government more transparent, accountable and collaborative. They usher in a massive cultural shift in how things are done and are drastically changing just about every corner of the bureaucracy and legislative assemblies.

What Open Data and Open Government are doing is taking our “vending machine government” and transforming it into a platform. Here’s what I mean: Apple and Android are not in the business of creating Apps. They are in the business of creating an environment where people can create Apps.

In other words, government is a “doer” when it should be an “enabler.” Perhaps more accurately, government has become a "one-size-fits-all" machine in a world that expects customization and agility. Open Data and Open Government are the mechanisms we’ve developed to make this transition.

As a sidenote, I also like to say that Open Government & Open Data are the mechanism that will restore trust between people and government.


Where do you see Toronto's open data movement going in the near future?

You have to think of Open Data and Open Government like Social Media back in 2004. It is new. It is a weird concept to understand. And for the most part, most people have never heard the terms, and if they have, it is a catchphrase or headline that bears very little context or meaning. And much like Social Media in 2004, no one truly understands the potential impact that Open Data and Open Government will have in the future.

For example, no one could’ve predicted that NFL would be streaming games on Twitter or that it would influence journalism as much as it did. So, I don't know exactly where the open data movement is going, but I do know that Toronto has a rich community of engaged citizens who want to make Open Data & Open Government a reality.

Here’s something else I know: being part of these movements allows you to help mould the direction Open Data and Open Government will take.


Open Data Book Club Discussion
The Open Data Book Club was previously hosted at Studio Y at MaRS Discovery District.

New Software at the Digital Innovation Hub, Toronto Reference Library

March 30, 2016 | Dawn | Comments (0)

We have added all sorts of great new software at Toronto Reference Library's Digital Innovation Hub. We hope some of these will work for your next digital project!

To use these, and other tools and tech in the Digital Innovation Hub, all you need is a valid Toronto Public Library card in good standing. You can reserve a workstation for up to two hours per day and you can book up to three days in advance by calling us at 416-393-7007. You can even specify which workstation you need.

What's new:

Sibelius Logo
is the world’s best-selling music notation software. We offer the full bundle which includes Sibelius plus PhotoScore (powerful software you can use to scan in, play back, transpose and print scores, and even save audio files) and AudioScore, the full-featured audio transcription software. With it, you can turn recorded audio or a MIDI or live mic performance into transcribed music notation. Check out these tutorials to learn more. On Mac workstation #4.


ABBYY logo
ABBYY FineReader
is an optical character recognition (OCR) software that provides unmatched text recognition accuracy and conversion capabilities, virtually eliminating retyping and reformatting of documents. Up to 190 languages are supported for text recognition. Learn more about OCR technology and ABBYY FineReader. Available for PC users on workstation #6 and for Mac users on workstation #3.


Scrivener Logo
is a powerful content-generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents. While it gives you complete control of the formatting, its focus is on helping you get to the end of that awkward first draft. Learn how to use Scrivener. Currently available on all Mac stations (coming soon for PC users).

Zbrush logo
ZBrush is a digital sculpting and painting program that has revolutionized the 3D industry with its powerful features and intuitive workflows. With the ability to sculpt up to a billion polygons, ZBrush allows you to create limited only by your imagination. Check out the ZClassroom to start learning today. Now available on all four Mac stations.

Linda.comLearn More - If you are not sure how to use these software programs, try out the tutorial links above or check out, now available for free through the library website when you use your library card and PIN to login: includes more than 3,500 video tutorial courses led by experts on web design, software development, photography, business skills, home and small office, project management, 3D + Animation, graphic design audio, music, video editing and more. All free with your Toronto Public Library card!



Choosing Your Book Size for Asquith Press

March 22, 2016 | Dawn | Comments (0)

Asquith Press is a book printing service that lets you design and print quality perfect bound paperback books at a low price.

Asquith Press

This is the first in a series of tip sheets to help you format your book for a professional look.

Because you are your own publisher, you can design your book to look the way you want. One way you can customize the look of your book is by choosing the size of your book -- this is also known as trim size.

Trim Size

The trim size is described as width by height in inches. For your book to print properly, you will want to make sure that your page size matches your desired trim size.

Most paperback books range in size from 5” x 8” to 6” x 9”. However, you are not limited to pre-set trim sizes. You may choose any combination of width and height as long as it falls with the minimum (4.5” x 5.0”) and maximum (8.25” x 10.5”) limits used by Asquith Press.

The trim size of a book also depends on the number of pages and spine width. If you’re considering a long, larger format book, check our maximum trim size guidelines below to make sure that your intended book size can be printed on our book machine.

trim size

So how do you set up your page size? 

You can use any one of a variety of software packages to create your book (for example: MS Word, Pages, WordPerfect, Open Office, InDesign, etc.).

In this example, we are using Microsoft Word 2013 (available on all Toronto Public Library PCs). For other versions of Word, use the Microsoft Office Support site. For MS Word 2011 for Mac, instructions are here.

Customizing Your Page Size in MS Word 2013 (for PC)

Note: this example assumes a trim size of 6” x 9”.

1. Click on the ‘Page Layout’ tab.
2. Click on ‘Size.’
3. If the required size is not listed in the list of pre-set options, select ‘More Paper Sizes.’

Customizing Your Page Size

4. The ‘Page Setup’ menu will open.
5. Change the settings as required.
6. Check to ensure that changes apply to ‘whole document.’
7. Click on ‘okay.’

Customizing Your Page Size


It is that simple!

Remember -- you can design the book you want. It can be square or portrait- or landscape-orientation as long as it falls with the minimum (4.5” x 5.0”) and maximum (8.25” x 10.5”) limits used by the Asquith Press book machine.

Asquith Press Books have high-resolution colour covers and black and white interior pages that are great for illustrations and photos. You can print as few or as many books as you like.

We are located in the Digital Innovation Hub at the Toronto Reference Library. Contact us at 416-393-7007 or



Coming Soon: LulzBot TAZ 5 3D Printer

March 17, 2016 | Greg Astill | Comments (0)

The Digital Innovation Hubs at Fort York Branch and Toronto Reference Library are each getting a new LulzBot TAZ 3D printer, adding to the MakerBot Replicator 2 3D printers that we have at our branches.

The LulzBot TAZ 5 has received positive reviews, including being named the “Best Overall 3D Printer" by Make magazine and the title of “Best 3D Printer Under $3,000” by 3D Forged. 

Lulzbot Taz 5
LulzBot TAZ 5

The main difference between this and the MakerBot Replicator 2 is the larger bed size. This allows for larger prints to happen. The second biggest difference customers will notice is the heated bed. The heated bed will give the prints a much smoother surface, prevent warping, and most importantly, get better adhesion so adding a raft to your design will become less of an issue.

Lulzbot Taz 5
LulzBot TAZ 5

Customers who are interested in using this new printer will have to use Cura LulzBot Edition to slice and prepare their files, instead of using the MakerBot software. The program is free and will convert your models into a GCode file. You can also expect some changes to the terminology, but overall, the software programs have a lot in common.

Cura LulzBot Edition
Cura LulzBot Edition Software for Slicing and Prep

We will announce when the new printers are available on this blog, so be sure to check back for the date and latest news.

Here’s a quick video of the 3D printer getting setup and in action. 


And lastly, here’s a 3D print we made inspired by St. Patrick’s Day.

3D Printed Shamrock
3D Printed Shamrock


Youth Hub Visitors Get Introduction to Virtual Reality

March 16, 2016 | Ab. Velasco | Comments (0)

Virtual Reality Demo
Teens at Sanderson Branch's After School Youth Hub tried out virtual reality apps.

During the March Break, participants at the Youth Hub at Sanderson Branch visited London, England, survived a haunted house, journeyed through the deserts of Jakku in Star Wars, and attended a Paul McCartney concert - "Who's Paul McCartney?" asked one teen - thanks to virtual reality.

Staff from the library's Digital Innovation Team piloted an Introduction to Virtual Reality program that combined a talk about VR with hands-on demos of a variety of apps using the Google-certified Knox V2 cardboard viewer.

Virtual reality (VR) allows people, using equipment like a viewer/headset, to experience fully immersive virtual environments. Advocates predict that the technology will revolutionize our world - much like computers and the Internet in the 20th century.


Cardboard VR Viewer
Cardboard VR viewers such as Google's provides an affordable way to experience VR. A smartphone is required to download and view apps.


At the Youth Hub program, library staff and youth discussed the variety of ways that VR could change our world:

  • Education – VR can make learning more immersive. For example, history students can learn about the past by experiencing simulations; science students can tour planets using an app like Titans of Space.
  • Research – The research field is benefitting from VR. The health care industry is using VR for training and therapy (e.g. Samsung's #BeFearless simulation seeks to combat fear of heights - see video below). Similarly, the military is using VR to train soldiers for deployment overseas.
  • Communication – Just as e-mail, instant messaging, texting, and video chats changed how we communicate, VR is expected to transform communication further. Imagine getting a 360° view of a friend in his living room in Australia, or a colleague in her office in Brazil.
  • Storytelling – If a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine the possibilities with a 360° VR, it is expected to change the way stories are told and experienced – from a passive to an interactive experience. The VR medium can also enhance viewer empathy. For example, UNICEF 360° transports viewers into the daily struggles facing the world’s most vulnerable children, and provides a first-hand testimonial to support UNICEF.
  • Gaming and Entertainment – Imagine being in Resident Evil, or Dawn of the Dead – hearing Zombies shambling behind you, their ragged breath wheezing through torn-out windpipes and sputtering blood. You look down to see a shotgun in your hands. What do you do? This is the possible future of gaming and entertainment with VR!




The Google Cardboard is one of many ways to view VR content - and at $35, cardboard viewers like Google's provides an affordable way to experience VR. You will need a smartphone and to download VR apps to your phone.

Many free apps are available for iOS and Android – as well as apps you have to pay for. Tuck your phone into the Cardboard, plug in the earphones, and enjoy!

The Knox V2 cardboard is available to borrow and use at the Digital Innovation Hub at Toronto Reference Library; you will need to provide your own smartphone. 

Later this year, the library plans to purchase other VR equipment - such as the Occulus Rift - for use at our Innovation Hubs. Other major companies such as Samsung, Sony, and Apple are also invested in/getting into VR - so it's shaping up to be a big and exciting year for VR.


VR Demo
The Star Wars app was a hit with the teens.

Staff who presented at the Youth Hub are by no means VR experts - far from it! - but it's been wonderful for us to learn about this new technology and seeing firsthand from users the potential of this technology to educate, entertain, and enlighten.

Feedback from the dozen teens, university students, and one mom in attendance was positive. They were excited about seeing the technology applied in gaming and entertainment, as well as for educational purposes.

The Digital Innovation Team hopes to do more of these informational/demo programs in other library branches in the coming year. As newer equipment becomes available and with feedback from our guests, our program will also evolve.


Try Out Some Free Virtual Reality


Sisters VR App
Sisters: A Mobile VR Ghost Story (Photo: Google Play)


Downloading a VR app to view on a cardboard viewer like Google's is an easy way to experience VR. Most apps are free and can be downloaded from Google Play and iTunes. To get you started, here are a few suggested free apps below - some of which were sampled at our Youth Hub program.

YouTube’s 360° Video channel also provides great virtual reality content for viewing.

  • London VR – VR can take you to far off places without leaving your home. Numerous travel apps have popped up with more expected in the future – like this award-winning app that lets you immerse in the sights of London. Available on iTunes and Google Play.
  • NYT VR – Just as TV and the Internet changed the news is told, VR promises to transform journalism once again. With NYT VR, the New York Times promises to put readers “at the center of the stories… stories reported by (staff) all told through an immersive video experience.” New VR stories are posted every month. Available on iTunes and Google Play.

  • Paul McCartney – VR will bring immersive entertainment experiences to viewers, such as concerts. Sample the potential by trying out this app. See music legend Sir Paul McCartney performing "Live and Let Die” in 360° via this Jaunt VR app. Available on Google Play.
  • Roller Coaster VR – Ride a deserted roller-coaster on a tropical island. This app will show you the fun and fabulous potential of the virtual world. Available on Google Play.
  • Sisters – Love a good scare? VR is expected to take movies - such as horror films - and games to a whole new level. Try out the creepy Sisters app to get a taste. Turn the lights off, put on your earphones, and have fun! Available on iTunes and Google Play.
  • Star Wars VR – Awaken your force! In this Cardboard experience, you are placed into the role of a Resistance secret agent on Jakku, the desert world of the (new) Star Wars universe. Available for iPhone and Android devices. Available on Google Play.


New York Times VR
This New York Times VR video shows the refugee crisis through the eyes of children (Photo:

Asquith Press Author Appears on the Marilyn Denis Show

February 21, 2016 | Dawn | Comments (1)

When Crystal Adair-Benning needed 80 copies of her forthcoming book Wedding Planner Problems for her appearance on the Marilyn Denis show she turned to Asquith Press, Toronto Public Library’s book printing service, to get the copies printed quickly.

Wedding Planner Problems copies for the studio audience

We asked Crystal about her experience as a first-time author.

How did you come to write your book about life as a wedding planner?

I believe that all true writers have a book (or 12) inside of them just itching to come out. The timing just has to be right. It's like having a child, getting married or any other big life event. You can't force it. Magic happens when you just let it come, naturally. This book had been in my heart for as long as I can remember. My publisher and friend, Marnie, in one simple conversation, revealed that it was "time".

Was it a long process? Did you learn a lot?

The whole process from start to finish for me was under six months. When I finally made the decision in my head to write, it actually just happened. Organically. Naturally. Without force. It was cathartic and like spilling my soul onto the page for the world to see. Writing was easy; editing was hard. Throughout the journey, I learned, that writing, for me, isn't the hard part -- the process where I hand it over and let others feed input, assist with changes, help align the project -- that was hard. It was like revealing all my cards at poker.

Wedding Planner Problems

How did you design the look of the book?

The front cover was part whim and whimsy mixed with my incredible sarcasm and dark wit. I knew from the moment I started writing that I had to be on the front cover. It is MY story after all. But, I don't DO serious. Sorry. Just not my thing. So instead I came up with the crazy idea of a wedding gone wild with me in the middle. Calm. Poised. But somewhat cheekily "getting on with it". Collaborating with my team -- Gina Humilde from Distinct Occasions, Storey Wilkins Photography, Nicole Richards Makeup, Sweet Celebrations Cakes, Valencienne Bridal, Stemz Florals... it all just sorta "happened". I think I'm still in awe of their magic. The actual design and layout of the book was all Marnie and Meraki. Whirlwind genius -- I stepped back after writing and let them handle the inner layout of my wild heart story.

What was your experience on the Marilyn Denis show like?

Pretty funny actually! I was lucky enough to be on for fashion Friday and get a makeover to celebrate my book launch. There was pre-show back stories to shoot, a shopping day and then of course, the show. I was blessed that Marilyn Denis had actually read my book and could relate. Isn't that what all writers truly want? To connect.

Wedding Planner Problems printed at the library

Congratulations on your first book. Will you be writing another?

I've already started... a sequel to Wedding Planner Problems and something inspired by my adventures in solo female travel I think... who knows where my next writing adventure will lead? Digital Nomads forever.

Crystal sees her book for the first time in print


Asquith_609x609Asquith Press is a book printing service that lets you design and print bookstore quality paperback books at a low price.

Finished books have high-resolution colour covers and black and white interior pages that are great for illustrations and photos. You can print as few or as many books as you like.

We are located in the Digital Innovation Hub at the Toronto Reference Library.
Contact us at 416-393-7007 or   

Building Robots at the Library

December 22, 2015 | Ab. Velasco | Comments (0)


This November and December, Fort York Branch's Digital Innovation Hub hosted an Innovator in Residence program focused on robotics. Resident Myke Predko hosted a series of classes, demos, and other programs for delighted enthusiasts. We're happy to share the following update from Myke - in his own words - below:


The very word “Robot” catches the attention of just about everybody. For something that really isn’t a part of society, they certainly part of our everyday lives; from assembling the products we use to exploring places where humans can’t go, it is rare for us to go through a day without seeing tangible evidence that robots are working for and with us. I think it’s only natural that people want to learn more about them and try to see what robots can do for them as individuals.

While robots are a major part of our lives, they almost belong to the occult – despite seeing them in movies and TV, they are largely behind closed doors, inhabiting factories, research labs and far out in space. Robots in fiction have personalities that range from friendly and helpful to adversarial and destructive. Robots in factories assemble products to fantastic tolerances while detecting and resolving manufacturing issues without human intervention. Robots involved in exploration are experiencing things that we can only imagine: what it’s like inside a volcano, seeing creatures at the bottom of the ocean or providing mankind with a first look at the wonders of space. What is missing is an understanding of how these robots came into being and what was involved in their development.

I think people realize that when they see robots there was a lot of effort that went into their creation. Character attributes and responses aside, fictional robots are the products of many hours of design, machining and assembling by craftsman that have taken years to learn their craft. Manufacturing robots are the result of many generations of trial and error; learning what works and how to create assembly instructions for robots quickly and efficiently. Scientists and engineers that have spent years learning have designed robots tasked with exploration so they can add to the body of humanity’s knowledge. It is obvious that today’s robots are not the result of a few hours work in a home workshop or garage.

So where do people go when they want to learn about robots and start the process of learning more about them so they can see what goes into their design and what kind of issues do developers have when designing robots?

The logical answer is the library; where resources are available for learning about subjects and technologies. Unfortunately, robotics is a bit of a stretch for libraries that don’t have the experience to bring robotics to its customers. I’m excited to be the Fort York Innovation Hub’s Innovator in Residence for robots and bring robotics and its technology to the library in an accessible way.

One of the things that I have discovered over the years is that robotics is what I call a “superset technology”. The basic technology used in robots is easy to understand, driving a motor, making a sound, reading a sensor are all very simple to work with but, in a robot, they are integrated together into a system which is then used by other systems within the robot. At the top of these multiple systems of parts is a single system that is responsible for the operation of the robot. Working through these different systems can be overwhelming and difficult to understand.

There are products, such as Lego “Mindstorms”, which does a good job at integrating the electronics, but can require a significant amount of work (and skill) to create a robot in them; it is not unusual to need more than 20 hours to build one of the example robots and much longer to design, debug and build your own creation. Coupled with this is the large number of (small) parts provided with the kits that adds to the construction time as well as the need for storing and organizing the parts.

Fortunately, technologies are available to simplify this process while still providing the experience of creating your own robot design from scratch. The Arduino and Raspberry Pi small board computer systems are excellent robot “brains” with thousands of different example programs and circuits that can be used as the basis of the robot design. Servos from radio-controlled models provide easy to work with and precise motion actuators that can be used in a variety of different robot functions. 3D printers are becoming more available which allows the design of robot structures very quickly, especially compared to options like Lego as well as providing the ability to easily replicate successful designs and “tweak” the unsuccessful ones without having to take everything apart and start over. Bringing these technologies together allows lay people to create their own robots effortlessly using the resources available at Toronto Public Library.

Over the past four weeks, I have been doing a number of sessions with Fort York branch customers helping them to understand the different technologies involved in robotics as well as designing a chassis along with a basic set of components that will allow for the design of rovers and stationary (arm) robots. One of the things that I have learned is the importance for people to see their creations “coming to life” and making sure that in the sessions we end on a positive note. This was exemplified by the afternoon spent on the creation of “cardboard robots” in which customers make some robots out of foam core and then animating them with Arduino’s with servos – it was so much fun, we’re looking forward to doing it again before the end of December.

Going forward, I expect to have a number of basic robot designs available (Wheeled Rover, Six Legged Robot and robot hand) along with adapters for light and distance sensors. I will also list a number of books, available in the library system, that people can use as a reference and start working on a robot that will catch everybody’s attention.

- Myke Predko, Innovator in Residence at Fort York Branch

Introduction to Green Screen Studio Space Classes

December 9, 2015 | Greg Astill | Comments (1)

We’ve just launched the new studio space, and now we’d like to show you how to use it. We want your time in the studio space to be efficient and the quality of what you produce to be top notch.

Audio recording workstation
Audio Recording Workstation

The sessions are 60 minutes long and participants will learn about the equipment available for use. We'll focus on how to properly set up the equipment for both audio and video recording.

The goal of the class is to make participants feel more comfortable using the equipment and to gain a better understanding of the following:

  • Audio recording (voice and instrument)
  • Video recording
  • Lighting
  • Audio and video equipment (cameras and microphones)

We also want you to be able to record at the best quality, because after all, you might only get one shot at capturing the perfect moment!

You will have time to play with the cameras, lights and microphones and learn some tricks and quick how-to’s that might make your session a bit easier. We'll spend a little time on using the Apogee Quartet (audio interface and studio control centre) to record vocals, instruments and other music equipment at studio quality.In addition to the hardware, we will have a demo on the accompanied software (Audacity and Garageband) to record and capture your audio.

Digital Innovation Hub Green Screen
Digital Innovation Hub Green Screen

The class is not required but a great option for anyone who wants to use the space.

Note: Classes will be held in the Green Screen Studio Space located in the Digital Innovation Hub at Toronto Reference Library.

We look forward to seeing you soon!


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