Of Makerspaces and Math

Jeff Powell
5 min readApr 8


Greetings everyone!

I see I have a few new subscribers here on Medium. Thank you, and welcome! You’ve jumped into the middle of something, and there is generally no going back to explain things. You can always read past entries, but here’s a very quick summary:

I’m an American who moved to Canada a bit over five years ago. I studied art for the first three years, and have since become a Canadian citizen and homeowner. These posts track my life at some level, and the primary audience was originally my friends back in California, but it has grown and shifted over time. While I was in school I wrote about my art and classes, then I focused on home renovation. In the latest twist, for the past few weeks I’ve had a full time job that I didn’t expect, so the topics covered here have shifted yet again and now I discuss work, among other things.

Anyway, on with the show.

My usual lament remains: I worked a lot last week. The job at the Langara Makerspace continues unabated, and shows no signs of ending. The students are finishing up their projects though, and fewer appear each day as a result. In another week or two the term will end (exactly when depends on how the various instructors make up for snow days and the long weekend we’re in the middle of right now) and then I get to do other things.

First on my list is to completely rework the ventilation for the laser cutter. I’m going to replace multiple metres of flexible vent hose with rigid duct, which should greatly improve the effectiveness of the exhaust fan in that machine. I will share pictures of that, I promise.

After that, I really don’t know. There are things that Philip (the instructor in charge of the Makerspace) wants reorganized, and there is a CNC milling machine to figure out. If the job goes on long enough, I will also have to remember how to use the CNC machines we used in my Advanced Design class, as they will be in use during the fall term.

I hope the job doesn’t go on that long, though. I really don’t need or want a full time job, and there are others who do. Only time will tell how that gets sorted out. All I can do for the moment is hang on and keep working. The only other possible action is quitting, which would put Philip — a friend — into a very bad place. I can’t do that to him, so I work. My destiny is not currently my own.

Allow me to share a work story. One afternoon a student approached me to ask for help. Using the laser cutter she had previously cut some circles from something. Now she needed to know how big around they were.

“Oh,” I said, “You need the circumference. That’s 2πr, or πd.”

She looked at me, and her eyes got really big. “Math” she said in a very quiet, and quite possibly distressed voice.

“Well, yeah. There’s really no other way to do it. We just measure the diameter of your circles and multiply by 3.14. That’ll be close enough. It’s easy.”

She looked at me again, and it was pretty clear she was experiencing flashbacks to a high school math class, which were perhaps aggravating some underlying PTSD.

“It’s really not that hard.” I grabbed a piece of paper, drew a circle on it, and showed her the calculation. “So we just measure the diameter of your circles and do the math.” I finished.

This was not going well for her though, and she decided it was time to leave. As she made her way out of the Makerspace I said “It’s really not that hard. It’s not like I’m trying to teach you physics.”

“I’d run away if you tried that.” I heard as she turned the corner into the hallway and fled.

I don’t think I’ve seen her since, and I have no clue if she’s finished her project.

I haven’t done much else. One evening I attended a board meeting of the community association, and I attempt to keep up with the overhead of life when I can. Laundry is in process as I type this. Very exciting, I know. I’d hoped to have a new piece of art ready for this post, but it isn’t done yet. Actually it’s barely started. I’ve done some research, but not the actual creation. Maybe next week. Sorry to keep putting that off.

The only other thing of interest was that the power company (called BC Hydro, or just “hydro” by the locals, as in “Did you pay the hydro bill?”) replaced the utility pole in front of our home. I was working so I missed all the fun, but apparently it was several hours of work, and our house and a neighbour’s were without power during the event. We were back online shortly after noon, but the neighbours had a problem. Their wires had worn through the insulation where they entered the house, and it was lucky there’d been no fire. Hydro would not restore their power until the issue was resolved, and that required an emergency electrician to come out and get things fixed up. I think their power was back on around 9 pm.

As is usual in these cases, the power company replaced the pole and reattached the power lines to it, but they didn’t touch the communications lines lower down. Instead they shortened the old pole — leaving enough to carry the communications lines at the proper height — and then attached the old pole to the new one. Someday a contractor will remove the old pole completely, after moving all of the phone/cable/fiber optic lines and hardware to the new pole. My bet is that doesn’t happen for at least five years, but who knows.

In any case, I wish I’d been home to see this work done. I’m sure the equipment was interesting, and the process was probably fascinating.

That’s it for this time. I had an additional section here based on all the awful news from America, but I deleted it. It was just too depressing. You can thank me later.

In any case, I hope you are doing well. Keep safe and sane.



Jeff Powell

Sculptor/Artist. Former programmer. Former volunteer firefighter. Former fencer. Weirdest resume on the planet, I suspect.