Category Archives: Making Stuff

So, You Want To Use Your Hands

Anything that can be done on a computer or telephone can be outsourced. Get used to it.

Read X-Rays? Code C#? Provide customer support? Give legal consul? Maintain servers?

All of that can, and will (if not already) be outsourced. If it can be done cheaper elsewhere, it will.

So, what to do?

Well, either do things that can’t be outsourced — yea, all that blue collar stuff you scoffed at (like plumbers, stage crew, or whatever) — or invent your ass off.

Let’s say you don’t want to have your arms elbow deep in shit all day — don’t get me wrong — a good plumber is worth his/her weight in gold — just try to get that fucking leak to stop. Want to make something?

Well, speaking as a WASP (though the P has turned to A), you can do stuff like woodworking. Or dabble in the dark arts, like laser cutting, CNC, or 3D printing.

If you want easier, the order would be: laser, CNC, 3D.

Laser is tried and true. You can’t cut anything really strong — your limits are usually 5 mm plywood — but it’s super reliable and you get great results.

CNC is also super reliable. I put it as #2 because, well, you can kill yourself. A solid carbide bit spinning at 18000 RPM needs some respect. No matter how fast you hit “STOP” it will fling into the air. I’m making it sound dangerous, which it’s really not, as long as you are paying attention. But, if it hits you, well, sorry about your eye. No worse then any woodworking power tool. If you haven’t chopped off something with a saw or a router, then no worries about the CNC.

The 3D Printer. What an over-hyped piece of technology. Want something to take 30 hours to print? Want it to fail half way though so you have to restart? Want something that jams for no reason, yet gives you a model that looks like it was put together by 4 year old? Then this is your tool!

I’m being harsh. Because, well, 3D printing deserves it. The hype is well, well, well, well, well beyond the technology. Will it get there? Sure. Is it there? No fucking way. At least 80% of the stuff that we ask to be printed could be done better/faster with another technology. ┬áThe other stuff is better done in casting — there is a reason it’s so expensive.

Let’s slide away from the cutting stuff for a while.

The programming / micro-controller stuff is robust and time tested. Want to start? Look at the Arduino stuff. There is no better place to start. With that, you can flash LEDs, move motors, make sounds, and whatnot. Tons of examples. Tons of code. We’ll documented. And hobby friendly.

Yea, I know, there are plenty of other chips out there. We’ve used them. Good stuff. But, if you are starting, and want something that everyone else is using, something Arduino compatible is where you want to be. It’s the Windows of micro-controllers.

From there, you can do some interesting stuff. Lilypad — fabric based electronics (conductive thread! LEDs in shirts! crazy shit!). Make cat toys. Animate Halloween props. Do Whatever You Want. That’s the cool thing about it.

Once again, I think this post has gone nowhere, but I don’t care. Here’s the thing:

Teach Your Kids To Use Their Hands

I don’t care how. Build, paint, write, draw, code — whatever. Innovate. Innovate. Innovate. Focus on stuff that you can have produced, or which can’t be shipped to cheaper labor. And there is always cheaper labor.


DIY Cat Laser Toy

I’ve had this project sitting around for ages now. An automated way for the cats to have their laser fun without having to sit there with the laser pointer. (We get tired before they do, and by “we” I mean Evelyn.)

I got one of those DART laser toys, and they are pretty good. But have one huge drawback (besides sucking up batteries) — while their motion is random, they only draw the laser in a circle. The cats, of course, figure this out VERY quickly. So, being the lazy kids that they are, end up sitting around the DART and just pawing as the laser goes by. So much for exercise!

I was originally going to attach mirrors to two servos, then shoot a laser at them. One X, one Y, so you’d be able to “draw” with the laser beam. But you get a lot of power loss when you bounce off my cheapo mirrors (didn’t have any front surface mirrors on hand, and they are expensive and easy to damage).

So, I went searching again and found a design where the laser is mounted directly to one servo (to provide X) and the servo/laser combo is then attached to a bigger servo (to provide Y). Think how those robot welding arms work, and you get the idea.

This Instructable shows you what I mean: CatBot

Here is my work in progress.:

DSCN3877 (Large)

Toward the upper right, you see the laser module I scavenged from a dollar store laser pointer. It’s hot glued to a little servo. That little servo is zip tied and hot glued to a piece of erector set. The bottom piece of erector is screwed to the bigger servo (which is, for testing purposes, clamped in a vise).

I originally was trying to drive the laser using a 3.3V regulated supply. But, there are no specs on the laser, and I blew up two by over driving the current. This is why I use dollar store lasers. So, I went the hillbilly route and used a 3V coin cell. I call it hillbilly because you can see my header pin kludge to hold the cell. I tossed a switch on there so I can manually shut the laser beam on/off.

Toward the left is my go-to board for Arduino development. The Evil Mad Science Target Board. Because these servos don’t take too much current, I’m driving them directly off the Arduino pins. PWM (pins 9 and 10) handle the yellow/white signal line. I use the servo library to drive the code, so that’s pretty simple.

Now Evelyn is laser cutting a box to put the big servo and control board into. This will then get mounted on the ceiling, with the laser moving all over the house.