An Open House at BCIT

This morn­ing I went to the BCIT Cam­pus where Pam works dur­ing the week. It was entire­ly a coin­ci­dence that a focus group that I was invit­ed to be a par­tic­i­pant in was being held hap­pened to be on the cam­pus. As a fur­ther coin­ci­dence, this was a big week­end for BCIT. They were hold­ing their Open House, which comes around once every oth­er year. It’s a com­bi­na­tion Career Day, Car­ni­val and Sci­ence Fair. Stu­dents and Fac­ul­ty vied for who could come to their par­tic­u­lar demon­stra­tion, be it weld­ing, food tech­nol­o­gy, con­crete fab­ri­ca­tion, robot­ics or any oth­er tech­no­log­i­cal or trade-ori­ent­ed field you could imag­ine. For me the high­light of wan­der­ing around tak­ing in all these giz­mos and oth­er fun (and some­times daz­zling) equip­ment and stu­dent projects was com­ing into close con­tact with a device that I’d only read about in Wired Mag­a­zine: a 3D Print­er. The idea here is that there’s a device about the size of a large office copi­er with a bin full of corn­starch. Lay­er by lay­er, it cre­ates a sol­id mod­el of what­ev­er you send to it, much like send­ing a 2D image to a laser print­er. You can see a typ­i­cal one here. It’s used these days to make pro­to­types of designs. The pro­fes­sor who was on hand to show it dis­played a bot­tle and a small Egypt­ian-style sculp­ture, and an entire ball-bear­ing assem­bly, all ‘print­ed’ on the device. This was the cheap­est type of stere­olith­o­g­ra­phy, he said, and the corn­starch in this one could be replaced in oth­er types of these devices with plas­tic pel­lets that could be melt­ed pre­cise­ly so that you could get a real, usable squeeze bot­tle. Onboard the Inter­na­tion­al Space sta­tion, he said, rather than ship items up from Earth, they planned to fab­ri­cate items right there using some­thing like this. So those trans­porter-based food repli­ca­tor units from Star Trek are real­ly not that far away!

Lat­er, when I got home, I kept think­ing of that ball-bear assem­bly (which was cre­at­ed not piece-by-piece, but all at once!), I was remind­ed of the scene in Woody Allen’s ear­ly film Sleep­er. It’s when he and Diane Keaton have infil­trat­ed the Orwellian gov­ern­ment build­ings and are imper­son­at­ing doc­tors who are going to clone the dic­ta­tor, who’s nose is all that’s left from an acci­dent. Des­per­ate­ly bluff­ing (and squab­bling) as they stall for time, Woody lays out the cloth­ing on the bed and places the nose where it would be on a face, claim­ing that they would clone the leader right into his clothes. “When we’re done you’ll have a ful­ly clothed man lying here.” Those lit­tle balls of corn­starch rolling around in the corn­starch flange or what­ev­er it was are what remind­ed me of the Fear­less Leader being cloned into his clothes.

The teacher quot­ed William Gib­son: “The future is here. It is just not wide­ly dis­trib­uted yet”. 

What a cool place to get some fresh future.