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Hardware Into Art: TVIC/Geekosystem Crossover

What will this become?

Come to The Valley in Christchurch this week (Tuesday!) and don't just find out, make IT/ART happen!

Here's some of the details, check out the event announcement for more details:

The Valley In Christchurch February dinner and hack events

When: 6:00pm Tuesday 19th February 2008
Where: The China Kitchen, on Hereford St, opposite the Flight Centre

And then join us post-dinner for a special TVIC-exclusive Geekosystem session:

When: ~7:00pm—10:00pm-ish
Where: The Physics Room, Second Floor, 209 Tuam Street, Christchurch

Rumour is that some pizza and beverages will be provided while you work on your hardware hacking masterpiece.

Thanks to Adam and the Physics Room for organising this special after-hours session for us!

The photo above (courtesy of Adam Hyde) shows some of the "raw materials" that will be on hand.

Tending Networks: The 5th Aotearoa Digital Arts Symposium

As it happens, the Geekosystem coincides with the The 5th Aotearoa Digital Arts Symposium produced by The ADA Digital Arts Network.

Self-described as "New Zealand/Aotearoa's only digital artists' network. ADA was born of the observation that although new media artists were often highly networked in terms of both their own practice and their professional relationships, there was no national organization drawing together those with a common interest in digital art."

The symposium is an opportunity for New Zealand's digital/new media artists to meet face to face. Check out the upcoming weekend's programme.

I've actually been invited to present a brief overview of some of my Arduino hacking to the group during their "lightning talk" session on Saturday afternoon. A pleasant parallel to the symposium topic is my most recent project has been an ethernet expansion shield for the Arduino. I must write some more on that.

Foo Fruition

Speaking of needing to write more... My presentation at the ADA Symposium and the TVIC/Geekosystem crossover are a direct result of my attendence earlier this month at Kiwi Foo Camp 2008 (a.k.a. Baa Camp) and some people I met there. I must write some more on that. :-)

Syndicated 2008-02-17 17:12:07 from follower

That tall transmitter tower in San Francisco

Ever since I saw it, I'd wondered about the tall transmitter tower in San Francisco. Turns out it's the "Sutro Tower" and supports radio and television antenna. It can seem quite a menacing structure as it towers over the hill.

Further Sutro Tower details can be found—unfortunately it seems no live web cam views now exist. The view from the top must be pretty awesome and somewhat freaky, I would imagine. It is possible to find some links to "satellite" views of the structure on various mapping sites.

Actually, I also just found a construction photograph: (Yay for libraries! :-) )

It's all very Triffid/Tripod-ish...

Kite Photographs

I happened to be looking for the Sutro Tower after I found a reference to this famous picture of San Francisco damage after the 1906 earthquake—apparently taken from a kite-mounted camera:

I'd been intending to track down the photographs after I read of their existence in Adventures from the Technology Underground but then they were featured on Digg.com which saved me the trouble of looking for them.

Syndicated 2008-02-12 15:30:00 from follower

Belated Ponoko Update

In case you were wondering, no, i haven't been waiting for my Ponoko package since December. The package arrived within the estimated time—I think it was about a week, but I can't recall exactly now. My blog post delivery has just taken a bit longer.

Here's the puzzle design:

(The reflection in the puzzle pieces is because I took the photos outside.)

And here is the bracket for the WIZ810MJ with a RJ45 in place:

For thoses interested, check out more Ponoko "unboxing" pictures.

Overall I think this has been a successful experiment and hope to be able to use Ponoko again in the future—I think the "personal manufacturing" revolution is only just beginning...

Syndicated 2008-02-11 01:00:00 from follower

Summer hacking

Last week I caught up with Marek and the elusive Phillip (finally!) and showed off my Arduino connecting to IRC:

It turned out jandals and shorts weren't actually the best wear for the weather on the day but still good to catch up.

Syndicated 2008-01-09 22:10:00 from follower

Playing Geppetto at Ponoko

A couple of nights ago I placed my first order at Ponoko to take advantage of their free shipping in November offer:

Since I originally didn't have anything specific in mind to produce I thought I'd try my hand at designing a simple 2D "fit the pieces together" puzzle. I created the design in Inkscape and the final puzzle version (the piece on the left) can be seen in Inkscape's outline mode here:

The smaller "P" will be a "Heavy Raster" etch while the other lines in the design will be cut through. (Feel free to assume the "P" stands for Philip or Ponoko... :-) ) Here's a sample of the "Heavy Raster" effect on the black acrylic the puzzle will be produced from:

I ended up selecting 4.5mm thick acrylic but it would have been around 25% cheaper in the 3mm thick variety—because I'm not sure of the rigidity of the material I decided to try the thicker option.

The rest of the order is made up with some mostly test designs, including the piece on the right which is designed to make a 3D "L" shaped object that includes a slot to hold the RJ45 adapter from a WIZnet WIZ810MJ module.


According to the Ponoko Manufacturing FAQ the turnaround time is "between 5 to 10 days" with shipping time on top. We'll see what happens!

The free shipping was the major motivator for trying this now, though it meant I probably spent more on cutting/materials than I would have...

My overall impression of Ponoko is it has a lot of promise but is still rough around the edges. While the site graphic design is impressively slick the design/price/order process doesn't flow very easily. If you're price-conscious and frequently want to know what a particular design change will mean to your cutting cost the upload/quote process is down-right tedious.

It would be great if Ponoko could produce plug-ins for the supported design packages to allow you to calculate the cutting cost from within the application. If I didn't already have multiple projects on the go I'd probably consider moving this from the "nice idea" stage—but I don't envisage that happening any time soon...


My unsolicted Ponoko marketing suggestion of the day: Produce a bunch of puzzles with the Ponoko logo and brand them with "Make it yourself at Ponoko" or something... Bonus points for 3D...

Syndicated 2007-12-02 14:10:00 from follower

Swapping, Meeting and Buying

I've read for ages that Ham Radio Swap Meets are great places to get good deals on various electronics bits and pieces (and, admittedly, junk too). A while back I discovered the website of the local Christchurch, New Zealand Ham radio branch. Unfortunately their most recent events page mentioned a swap meet in March but with no indication of which year!

Until a couple of weeks ago I hadn't followed up on the idea any further but on a whim I decided to email them. In a happy coincidence it turned out that their next annual swap meet was to be in two weeks time (this past weekend).

The shopping list

Although I got to the event later than intended I still picked up a few interesting items. Indeed, it was probably easier on the wallet having less temptation in purchase choice. :-)

Among a few other bits and pieces I managed to pick up three oscilloscope probes and related items for $NZ1, a partially used wirewrap set for another $NZ1 and some small project boxes. It will be interesting to see if having proper probes makes any difference when using xoscope—the Linux sound-card oscilloscope.

Also purchased a box of assorted ICs for $NZ5 which may turn out to be both a convenient and reasonable deal. I'm around halfway through cataloging the contents of the box and about two-thirds of the 70+ ICs seem to be useful with a good assortment of 7400 series, 4000 series and op-amps amongst others. It's taken ages to do the cataloging (Octopart and similar sites have been very helpful) but hopefully it'll pay off in the long run—if nothing else I'm learning things along the way. Looks like there's a few "historical" items dating back to around the late 70's/early 80's too.

Acquiring vices

My largest purchase (something approaching "real money" :-) ) was a PCB Soldering Vise which I later found advertised here at a price that made my purchase price seem reasonable.

Described as a "Mark III Circuit Card Fixture" seemingly made by Technical Devices Company of Torrance, California it's like a PanaVise circuit board holder but presumably cheaper and less well made...

(original image source)

The device looks like this, but less shiny:

(original image source)

It's likely to be larger than what I need but should hopefully be a useful addition to the tool chest. I even found a scan of Mark III Circuit Card Fixture assembly instructions (original image source) in case I unassemble it accidently...

All up it was an interesting time—I ended up stopping in at the SuperShed and a few garage sales on the way home but only added an ethernet cable to the purchase pile. :-)

Syndicated 2007-11-26 12:30:00 from follower

TVIC : Six geeks, Seven CD-ROM drives, One Pub—The Movie

Seth's blogged and uploaded the video from this month's The Valley in Christchurch tech dinner and CD-ROM hackfest.

Here's the finale, just in time for the Christmas lights season:

Links to all the videos on YouTube:

Thanks Seth!

Syndicated 2007-11-19 00:50:00 from follower

TVIC : Six geeks, Seven CD-ROM drives, One Pub

I've just got back home from this month's The Valley in Christchurch (TVIC) tech dinner. It was goood... Real fun.

After dinner at our now usual haunt we ended up at our (fast becoming usual) follow-up haunt.

Last month—after visiting the recycling oasis Supershed—I had brought along an old CD-ROM drive and dismantled it during the post-dinner conversation. (Hey, why not? ) Apparently inspired by the fun I had had, this month Marek had organised to bring along seven old cd-rom drives supplied by Morris. By this stage we had six people at the table, various beverages and enough screwdrivers that we could all attack the task of drive dissasembly with gusto. And we did.

The highlight of the evening (warning: non-geeks may not understand) was when—following a comment I made—Morris managed to hook up a tray-eject motor to a pair of green and red LEDs (salvaged from a drive), making them flash alternately when he pulled the tray in and out. Seth took some photos and video so hopefully it'll be online soon.

In spite of all this frenzied electrical activity the bar staff never asked us to leave or stop, so I apparently mass cd-rom drive disassembly counts as an acceptable activity at the Bohemian.

Next month: printers!

Syndicated 2007-11-08 10:20:00 from follower

Gratuitous Update

In a transparent attempt to not leave the month of October blog entry-free here's a quick and gratuitous update.

One-way wiki

As noted back in July, I've been running a personal "one-way wiki" as an experiment. My primary goal was to get more of my in-progress hacks off my harddrive and onto the public net where they might be of more use to someone. The secondary goal was to try to reduce the number of browser tabs I had open and chewing up memory.

Overall I think the experiment has been a success with a (very) rough count of about ten-thousand words over about thirty pages in the wiki. While many of those words are only links there's a few in-progress projects partially documented also.

I still probably have more tabs open than I'd like but I think I'm making progress on that front.

The wiki has definitely been a plus for documenting in-progress projects and keeping track of details for recovering from context switches. Hopefully the notes—such as they are—are of use to others as well.

I think the only down-side is that my blogging activity has become even more curtailed than it was—mainly because I'm documenting items in the wiki rather than on the blog. It is entirely possible of course that I wouldn't have posted anything more to this blog even if if I hadn't had the wiki. In light of this however (and a couple of requests in this direction) I'm thinking of generating blog entries from the "recent changes" record of the wiki so people who are interested can still keep track of what I'm up to. When or if this idea actually gets implemented remains to be seen. :-)

Recent changes

In the interim here's a few links into the wiki:

Syndicated 2007-10-31 10:20:00 from follower

Ponoko has two dirty little secrets

It's true, Ponoko has two dirty little secrets:

  1. It's actually affordable.
  2. It's crack for Makers.

I've been attracted to the idea of Ponoko since I first heard about it—particularly once I knew they were New Zealand based. But I was always put off by the fact it seemed an expensive service—or at least the "flag ship" products available for purchase made it look that way.

Now that they've opened the beta up to New Zealand users and I've spent a bit of time with it I can reveal that Ponoko seems to have been holding out on us. (It's basically impossible to find pricing information for your own project until you upload something—which isn't without its issues.)

The first price-related figure for a personal project I saw was this one:

Cutting Cost (x1)  $0.56
Material Cost (x1)  $2.27
Add $10 for delivery in New Zealand and "You could be manufacturing something today and get it delivered for less than $15!". Now as it happens the object in question was a small acrylic square :-) but that's not the point. I later managed to design an ~150mm square acrylic puzzle with a delivered price of under $20.

I haven't as yet ordered anything (I don't need another habit :-) ) but if you've been wondering about Ponoko but been put off by the price of getting started it looks to me like it's worth investigating further.

Inkscape and Ponoko

While Ponoko mention using Inkscape to produce the required EPS files on their site I was unable to open the templates they provided—and it seems I wasn't the only one having Inkscape problems with Ponoko. The good news is that Inkscape 0.45 seems to produce the required EPS files okay—I can't say yet if they'll manufacture okay, but if you want to try just ignore the templates. (I'm hoping Ponoko will soon provide a Inkscape-compatible template set.)

Customer service

And the funy thing is while I was writing up my experience of the site I actually had received two emails from one of the Ponoko's development staff (at nearly 11pm!) who noted I'd encountered a couple of errors while using the site. The first email was to let me know they were working on the issue I'd encountered and the second around an hour later was to let me know they'd fixed the issue. Nice.

Syndicated 2007-09-27 15:40:00 from follower

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