Category Archives: Making

Themes for Study and Learning in April

Themes for March, with my self-assessment:

  1. Continue with Fascism and Totalitarianism.  Will be helpful to an essay I’m trying to write this month, as well as inherently useful.  I didn’t write the essay in March, and probably won’t in April, so the theme is a little moot for my immediate needs.  It continues to be an important issue for America, but so far kleptocracy and incompetence seem like worse threats than fascism (although it’s waiting in the wings).
  2. Read about Intellectual Property.  I have to teach the topic at the end of month, and I’ve always — as a self-respecting software guy — kind of hated and dissed the subject.  Time to know more.  I read a few things, somewhat thin gruel, and had a couple of great conversations.  Probably not on the docket for April.
  3. Read about plot and suspense.  I’m trying to get better at this in my own writing through “deliberate practice”, so I’ll be actively researching the topic as well.  I’ll continue this one in April.  I had a hard time doing this deliberate practice (as all the shills for deliberate practice say one will), but it’s very helpful.  I’m going to keep it up and try to notch it up.

So the April themes will be:

  1. Read about plot and suspense, per above.
  2. Read about Phenomenology and Existentialism .  I got halfway through “At the Existensialist Cafe” this month, with great pleasure, and it inspired me to have a go at Heidegger’s “Being and Time” this month.  Wish me luck.
  3. Learn more about DIY (“do it yourself”).  I’m a moderate DIY-er around the home, but want to learn more, especially about woodworking and plumbing.

Next Thing Co. and CHIP

I had breakfast with Alden this morning, always an eye-opening experience.  And he was most excited about Next Thing and CHIP.

CHIP is a credit-card sized computer with mainstream Linux, built-in WiFi, BlueTooth, composite video output, 512 MB of RAM and 4 GB of flash…

For $9.

Alden’s excited because he can target his IoT development efforts towards this chip with no compromises.  He’s been working with other single-board computers, but the power, specs, ease-of-programming, and price are all there with this.

(I think I’m allowed to show the picture of CHIP… at least I can’t think of any reason why Next Thing wouldn’t want me to.)chip1

In any case, very cool stuff, even to a coming-back-into-the-software-world guy like me.  I have to admit I was having a tough time getting worked up about coding for Arduino.

Cheap Home Automation

My son is a new homeowner, so we naturally have a boatload of homeowner-ly things to talk about now.  One of them was home automation.

I’ve been automating lights and timers for many years now, going back to the X.10 days.  For the past ten years I’ve pretty much used Insteon equipment, form SmartHome, because it’s pretty cheap, pretty broad in terms of kinds of switches and sensors and controllers, and because, although it’s proprietary, you can get the APIs and hack at it.

So I told him about Insteon, and got as far as, “well, smart lightswitches and smart outlets in Insteon cost about $30 each…”  He said, “Whoa.  That’s not cheap.  How can I get home automation cheap?”

So we both started looking, and found a boatload of open-source work on home automation.  Most of it involves someone writing controller-side code — or even a whole controller-side platform — to command “various” peripherals.

OK, that’s great.  If you wrote your own controller and put it on an old computer — or a new cheap Pi-class computer — you could save the cost of a controller and its software.  These run about $150 for Insteon, and seem similar for other protocols.  The Zonoff hub (full disclosure: my firm Valhalla Partners is an investor in Zonoff), found in Staples Connect home automation sets, retails for maybe $50, but you get the idea.  That’s not chump change, but if you have 20 peripherals at $30 a pop, the total system cost is (20*$30)+$150= $750, so by doing your own controller you’re only saving 20%.

The main question seems to be: can you get down the price of the peripherals from $30 to something more Earth-bound?

My first attempts at 3d sketching

Thanks to a generous friend I got a 3doodler handheld 3d printer as a holiday gift.

My daughter took a look at it and said, “it’s basically a hot glue gun, right?”

She’s right, except that instead of clear glue you get several varieties of colored plastics — ABS, what I had always thought of as the “standard” 3d printing plastic, PLA, which melts at a lower temperature, and FLEX, which, I guess, is more flexible.

The colors are pretty garish for the most part, reinforcing my notion that 3d printers in general and handhelds in particular are really just good for making junky toys.

My immediate reaction was to delay and dither.  I kept the stuff in the boxes and bags it had come in.  My friend kept asking, “so, did you make anything yet?”, and I kept saying, “any day now.”  I was procrastinating.

Frankly, I was unsure of my abilities with a handheld.  Building an object out of plastic from scratch is no mean feat.  I’ve always wished I were better at drawing, and now that my drawings were going to be sort of permanently etched in plastic, I was shy.

I looked at a couple of YouTube videos to get my courage up, and this video of a young woman making a plastic fake hamburger, was particularly charming in a funny quirky way.

And empowering.  If she could make a fake hamburger, I could certainly make something too.

I finally resolved to make a small model of a ukelele.  I have a tenor uke sitting in my study at home, barely used.  I keep meaning to learn the chords — I play very rudimentary rhythm guitar and so know a lot of the chords on the six-string — but they are different enough on a uke to make it daunting, and my project — to re-record an old song of mine with a rhythm uke part — is foundering.

So if I can’t use the real uke, at least I can make a model of it.

I wanted to find some ABS color that was near the brown of my real ukelele, but that was not an option.  I chose garish blue instead.

As I had watched the YouTube woman do, I sketched the outline of the uke body first.

Handling the end of a “line” was immediately a challenge.  The plastic wants to pull away from the work with the pen,  and the nozzle leaves a little thread connecting it.  You have to tease the line down onto the work surface and then clip it with a wire-cutter or the like.

It began to occur to me that you had to be pretty dedicated to make anything this way.

Then I set about filling in the body with solid blue made by line after line of goop.

My first attempts here were really bad.  I couldn’t get the lines to sit next to one another and every time I ended a line the whole rat’s nest pulled away from the work.

Then I had the inspiration of not lifting the pen at the end of each line.  This went much better.

You can see the partially-finished result in the picture.  The upper right is the later stuff I did, and it’s getting pretty fluent, if if not smooth or solid.

But then the plastic inexplicably stopped feeding out of the pen.  I tried the various troubleshooting steps outlined in the manual, and got some blocked plastic plugs out of the combustion chamber and the nozzle.  But the plastic still wouldn’t flow.

I put the work down for now while I mull over next steps (and begin the working week).

The overall plan is to do two body parts like this, then join them with a “depth” piece which makes an actual hollow-bodied shape, and then tackle the nect, the fretboard, the strings, and the tuning pegs.  At the rate this is going, might take a while.

Anyone have 3doodler or other experience with handheld printing?  Please let me know it’s easier than I think :-).