Archive of January 2012

the next six months

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These are the ideas I'll be working on over the next few months. If they work out ok then I'll be fully open source licensing them; if they don't I might keep quiet about them (but more probably not — one learns a lot from failures).

First up are two projects is to increase my ability to 'make stuff'. One is some sort of 'pick, place, fix' system for SMT, the second a CNC platform for milling, drilling, and fab'ing. This second one is looking like being a two-axis 'bed' with an interchangeable one-axis head for the 'business' bit, using a Nanode as the controller.

NanodeIn the fab department, I've recently purchased some Nanode bits and will use them (either directly, or as a programming base for some other PICs) for (a) a traffic/noise monitor, and (b) an in-room oxygen partial pressure monitor.

The first of these will be wireless as the monitor end will be planted in an earth bank about 100m away from my lab, so will need IP66 rating or better and be pretty robust. The second is because I worry that many modern homes are almost hermetically sealed, and with gas central heating and no open windows to create the — legally required — air exchanges, I'm concerned that, like aircraft in flight, there is too little oxygen reaching the occupants. This project is to get some data on the issue.

An additional 'bubbling under' idea is reviewing the options for small-scale plastic injection moulding. Specifically the reuse of bottles into cases for small boards.

I will be blogging the updates on these here, and whatever comes of it which may be of use to others will make its way to OPENhax too.

31-Jan-2012 19:54 · | ·
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30-Jan-2012 22:01 · | ·
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a Fab-ulous meeting

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On Thursday night I went along to a very interesting of a Meetup group new to me - 'Future Manufacturing '.

Now my original plans for the evening were to go (with a different meetup group!) to the 'Lates ' event at the Science Museum, but when I caught the sniffles last Sunday during a meal celebrating the Chinese New Year I cancelled that, thinking that I wasn't going to be well in time. But then I saw the FM group listed and changed my mind as I was feeling a lot better.

Though I almost didn't get there: I'd planned to take the bus into town (a bus being 'green' and not needing parking, plus it can use bus lanes without being fined) but there were no buses waiting at my stop (it's a 'head stop' where they turn around) which meant a wait of at least twelve minutes or so, which would make me very late. So I drove on a bit further, intending to catch a bus further down the line.

Didn't quite work out that way, as I found myself crossing Oxford Circus still looking for a sensible parking spot near the right bus routes. And then I got stuck in a traffic snarl up. So much so that I could turn the car engine off for ten minutes and took about 40 all told to get out of the gridlock. I decided enough was enough and pointed the car towards home, then thought 'sod it' and headed back towards Haymarket (where the pub was for the meetup.) Didn't take too long to find a space either!

So then, about a dozen of us — two women, ten or so men — and a range of topics associated with fabrication of prototypes and in bulk floated around alongside the beer. After a round of introductions, including what our plans might be, we discussed suppliers, what pop rivets are, how much is reasonable to expect to be capable of if they purchase a kit of parts, and the alternate options of 3D printing against moulding and milling.

A great evening all round and one I shall definitely try to make next month.

30-Jan-2012 21:41 · | ·
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Where it all started

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When I was six-and-a-half I was a very inquisitive little thing. Having a father who was an electronics' engineer had, I suppose, piqued my interest in technical things and it was the early 1960s when 'the White Heat of Technology' was just around the corner.

And one Saturday afternoon in early September my desire was to discover whether electricity went through string.

Now, for a six (and a bit) year old, this was clearly 'heavy stuff' but, of course, I didn't actually know that! I'd just got it into my head that I had to know the answer to this oh-so-important question. So I set out to experiment … My parents, meanwhile, were out in the back garden, enjoying the late summer sun.

The piece of string was easy to find, and I carefully cut a length off the ball; something around 6" as I recall. But then came the question of how to find some electricity. Which was soon solved by going into my parent's bedroom where the socket was easily accessible next to their bed. Those of you who are very young will not understand when I say that the socket was the three-pin round style, but this meant that there were no automatic plastic shutters in front of the live pin holes as there are nowadays.

Trouble was I couldn't get the string to go in firmly — it was too 'floppy'.

Immediately my mind solved this by realising that I needed something solid to tie the string to, and went off to find a couple of nails! Success? Well, no, as I was still having problems getting it to go in cleanly. So I looked around in kitchen drawers and the like and found something to hold the nails parallel while I plugged it in.

Now I was cooking! Indeed, I'm damn lucky I didn't cook my own goose as I'd chosen a piece of metal (with holes in) to hold the nails and, as I pushed it into the socket, there was a VERY BIG BANG and bright light and, suddenly, instead of being sat by the bed in front of the electricity socket I was now lying on the bed and near the window!

I concluded something was wrong ;-0

In part this was because I noticed the electric bedside clock — which had a little rotating dial which flashed white and black to show it was working and was usually very noisy — was not doing a thing. In fact, after trying the light switch, I discovered nothing was. Whups.

Now you may very well say that I was lucky to be alive — and I certainly won't deny it — but I was fast realising that I had (probably) done something that my parents would deem to be very very bad and were likely to smack my bottom, hard. So I wrote a letter along the lines of "dear mummy and daddy. I am ever so sorry for what I have done. love, alison" and left it downstairs. I then ran upstairs and locked myself (for safety) in the bathroom, it being the only room with a lock on the inside. Yes, I was very worried how they were going to take this!

Some hours later I hear my mother come indoors to prepare the evening meal and hear her call out to my father than "nothing’s working!". It didn't take much longer for them to find that indeed nothing was working at all in the house, and the reason why.

They didn't smack me — so far as I've ever worked out they were just so thankful that in almost blowing up the house I hadn't actually killed myself, but my dad did discover that not only had I blown the circuit fuse and the main (sealed) electricity board fuse, but somehow I had also blown the main (sealed) fuse for next door too! Which by any edition of the electrical regs should never be able to happen. Anyway, the board fuse was eventually replaced and things settled down.

Except — and not that surprisingly I suppose — my father decided that I had been be taught how to do things safely in future and not that many months later I was the proud owner of a 'Philips Electronic Experimenter Kit'. And an awful lot of extra components which my dad brought home. I built my first radio and first amplifier therefore when I was only seven, and have been at it on and off ever since.

Oh, and my mother still has the letter …

30-Jan-2012 21:38 | ·
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