Crossbeams Makes Building Cool for Adults Too

Crossbeams Makes Building Cool for Adults Too

Sparking creativity in young engineers, kids, and more

“My twelve-year-old made this,” Charles Sharman explains.

I nod, still looking at the scale model of the Mars rover Curiosity in my living room.

(Crossbeams' rover model in a Mars-like environment.Image credit: Gabriel Salter)

This model is the latest of Sharman’s Crossbeams kits, a building toy he began developing in 2003 which easily appeals to both adults and kids.

“I had to help [my son] with a few things,” Sharman says modestly and then points out some of the model’s features, even removing one section for me.

I move the stainless white plastic pieces in my hand, marveling at the fact such small objects can hold as much as twenty pounds.

Definitely more durable than other building toys I’ve tried.

Crossbeams, as Sharman describes it, began in 2003 when one of his sons asked if they could build a maglev train.

Being an electrical engineer, Sharman was used to taking a breadboard -- similar to the device school children use to rig a battery to a light bulb -- and quickly attempting all kinds of projects at home.

Electrical engineers can use breadboards as basic tools to easily experiment.

Unfortunately, Sharman discovered there weren’t any easy methods for building maglev trains.

Mechanical engineering, which focuses more on building machines, didn’t have a breadboard-like tool people could use to easily try different projects.

Later, Sharman noticed something in the Sunday School classes he taught: many young kids loved creating things with LEGO sets and other building toys.

Eventually, though, those kids gave up creating things in favor of “passive entertainment,” such as video games.

Sharman decided that since no one had a building toy that interested older kids, he would make one himself.

This toy would also serve as a basic tool for mechanical projects, allowing anyone to cheaply try out mechanical ideas.

After several years of developing the toy in his spare time (including teaching himself how to machine-make the parts) Sharman quit his day job in 2009 and launched Seven: Twelve Engineering in 2010.

The first Crossbeams kits hit the market in 2014.

Since then, Crossbeams models have gained praise from toy reviewers, bloggers, and Sharman’s alma mater, Caltech.

As Sharman explained to Michael Cochrane of WORLD magazine, he designed Crossbeams to be more versatile than other building toys, which he says are really “assembly toys.”

When people buy most building toy sets, they quickly discover those sets have highly specialized pieces for making only one design.

“When your pieces have limited uses, you have limited the types of designs you can make,” Sharman explains.

“Now, you could stock up with 1300 assembly toy piece types to build anything. However, that gets expensive, and it becomes an organizational mess.”

Various people have made the same criticism, claiming companies such as LEGO have lost their creative edge by investing in highly specialized sets.

In contrast to LEGO (which has at least 33,000 distinct pieces across various sets), Crossbeams kits have only 47 distinct pieces.

These pieces are versatile so people can build numerous sets, from a model horse to a dirt bike.

With the Crossbeams Modeller program, people can even design their own sets and share their designs with others.

“The possibilities are endless to what you can create,” former Crossbeams model designer Mary Bell says. “Because of this, it can also be used for prototyping which allows designers of all ages to make models.”

Sharman has several future plans for Crossbeams, including adding electronic components and releasing his book “Designing with Crossbeams.”

Once the electronics get added, he’ll be able to finally create the maglev train he wanted to build years ago.

As Sharman said in one interview though, the real goal is encouraging young adults to start making things again.

“Whether it’s Crossbeams, musical compositions, stories, or painting, once young adults are known for their creating instead of their consuming, our work is done.”

Cover Image Credit: Gabriel Salter

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Snapchat Could Be On Its Way Out As A Top Social Media Platform

Snapchat is suffering a long slow death.

I remember when Snapchat first came out. It was a big deal. The next big thing since Facebook. It came out around the same time Instagram did. Both were geared toward using pictures as a means for sharing your social life. It was a movement against Facebook status updates and lengthy paragraphs.

Rather, the two apps have focused on the mantra "a picture is worth a thousand words." The only problem is Instagram is changing and constantly has the room to advance as a formal platform, whereas Snapchat is dying a slow death do its dwindling audience and minimal areas improvement can happen for this informal platform.

The most recent Snapchat updates could have been the ones to send people over the edge and away from using this as a social media platform.

The new layout is disorganized and makes it difficult to watch other followers stories. Not to mention Instagram has also added stories that are more organized and overall more attracting to look at. You have to scroll through your chats in order to watch peoples specific stories and you can't go through all the stories with just a tapping motion anymore.

They put adds and big names to put their own stories that are annoying and time-consuming. Going through Snapchat stories now could take me over thirty minutes. Social media apps are supposed to be designed to be a convenient and quick way to stay in touch not over an hour of your time to watch what people are doing.

I have found that as we move away from the high school scene the appeal for Snapchat also fades. Many college students are busy with classes or joining on-campus activities that no longer requires them to live their lives through the phone. I have not had the time or the desire to go on Snapchat in the last four months because of the time-consuming nature and the immature stuff posted on Snapchat.

It was how people got attention in high school. In high school, having Snapchat was how the cool people stayed cool and the uncool people watched everyone else's lives. It was a platform for people to be able to do immature and illegal things without anyone finding out. It is the app parents can't seem to figure out or have the desire to use. Becuase Snapchat is so appealing to the middle school/high school realm it is only targeting a small audience than an overall larger audience.

You may not agree with me and still find Snapchat as appealing as it was when it came out years ago. Social media cannot last forever and this was already observed through the downfall of Facebook. People will start to move away from something so informal, time-consuming, disorganized, and unsafe as a platform on to the next big thing.

Cover Image Credit: Luke Porter via Unsplash

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If You Answer Yes To Any Of These 10 Questions, You Might Need To Breakup With Social Media

Don't let social media make decisions for you.


Look, I know I sound crazy, but just bear with me on this one. Think about it: how many times are you hanging out with a friend, and both of you are just sitting on your phones? Maybe you're even sitting right next to each other and just texting them instead of verbally communicating (call me crazy, but I feel like humans have vocal chords for a reason).

And maybe even worse: you guys can't have a real conversation in person because who you are online is different than who you are offline. You know, the absolute worst part is that this kind of scenario is just the tip of an iceberg larger than Mt. Everest. There's also cyberbullying, an increase in self-esteem issues, and even more (maybe that we don't even realize yet).

Giving up social media for lent really opened my eyes to the issues with social media and the burdens it places on both society's shoulders and an individual's shoulders.

Honestly, I felt so much happier with myself when giving it up that when I could finally use it again, I didn't really want to use it. In fact, using it kind of stresses me out now, so I've decided to break up with social media for good.

Well, kind of. I'm keeping Facebook so my family, especially those in England, don't think I'm dead or missing. I'm basically remodeling my personal twitter account so I'm just following poetry and topics I actually care about (and memes but I like to keep that part on the down low).

As for Instagram, I'm going to delete my personal and keep my photography account. Lastly, I'm just going to use Snapchat for communication and keeping up with my friend's lives. Basically, anything that makes me unrealistically self-conscious or more selfish, I'm getting rid of or modifying it to not be that way.

If your relationship with social media is at a crossroads, ask yourself these 10 questions:

1. Do you tweet more to your drafts than to your actual feed?

2. Do you constantly check Instagram to see how many likes (or comments) your selfie got? And/or do you check Snapchat to see how many views (or replies) your selfie got on your story?

3. If you didn't get enough likes, comments, replies, views, etc., do you delete the selfie?

4. Does scrolling through your feed make you feel self-conscious about characteristics of yourself that you normally would not be self-conscious about, or even self-conscious about characteristics you love about yourself?

5. Do you find yourself scrolling through social media while hanging out with a friend rather than talking to them in person?

6. Do you get in fights with friends, family, or significant others when one of you misinterprets something that someone said on social media?

7. Do you find yourself acting completely different on social media than you would normally in person?

8. Are you getting fewer things done (homework, projects, etc.) because of spending time on social media?

9. Is it hard for you to talk about uncomfortable, controversial, and/or significant topics in person?

10. Do you struggle to connect and converse with people in person?

If you answered yes to 5 or more of these questions, or honestly even any of these questions, I would strongly suggest taking a hard look at your social media: who you follow, what you post, how you act, etc.

You don't need to cut social media cold-turkey if you don't want to, but I think you'll find that your life is much simpler without the stresses and burdens it places onto your shoulders. Trust me, the process isn't easy, but it is liberating in every way imaginable.

Don't let social media wear the pants in your relationship, people.
Cover Image Credit: Pexels

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