Studio711

Maker

R2-E2

Elijah has been watching reviews of Lego Star Wars sets and decided he wanted to be “R2-E2” for Halloween. He came up with that all on his own! Instead of buying a costume, I decided to make one with him.

We bought some cardboard boxes from Home Depot. They sell some heavy duty boxes which thought would work well for the body to keep it from falling apart so quickly. We kind of made it up as we went and eventually we ended up with a body that had arm holes and a head hole. I fashioned a box for the front to hold his candy and also gave him a head. We covered the whole thing with a metallic silver spray paint.

Then came the fun part! I bought some inexpensive electroluminescent wire and an Adafruit Audio FX Sound Board. I wired the sound board up to some arcade buttons and placed those on the front of his costume. He ended up with 6 buttons that he could press to make various sounds. For a speaker, we used a battery powered bluetooth speaker that we already had (it also had a line-in) and I powered the circuit board with a USB battery pack.

The end result was a fun looking costume that lit up and made sounds. It was a quite a hit and he loved showing it off. That excitement was tempered a bit by the fact that it was hard to walk up and down steps and a couple times he got overwhelmed by kids mobbing him trying to push the buttons. All in all, I’d call it a win but he said he wanted to have a simpler costume next year.

Standing Desk Monitor

We have nice standing desks at work. They have electric motors with memory settings so it’s quick and easy to switch between standing up or sitting down. I believe that it’s significantly healthier to stand up at least part of the day, but I find myself being lazy and sitting for most of the day. I also know that it’s relatively easy to motivate myself by measuring whatever I’m trying to improve. Time for a project!

To measure whether I’m standing or sitting, I decided to use a distance sensor that either sits on top of the desk and looks at the floor, or sits on the floor and looks up. I’m sure there are cheaper ways to do this, but I ordered a SparkFun BlackBoard, Distance Sensor Breakout, and a Qwiic cable to connect them. There was no soldering required. I plugged it all in and I was good to go. I laser cut a wood box to hold all the components.

I wrote a simple program for the Arduino-compatible BlackBoard that would send a measurement when it received a keystroke and then I wrote a program that runs on the computer to periodically request measurements (via USB) and upload them to a database in the cloud. I put a website on top of the page and voila!

A friend at work heard about the idea and wanted to compete with me so now we are both running these devices. You can track our progress at http://standupweb.azurewebsites.net/

IOT Candy Scale

I’ve been thinking about building an internet enabled scale for years now, and recently, I finally got around to building it. Sure, there are plenty of WiFi scales these days, but I wanted one that automatically took a measurement every few seconds and uploaded it to the internet where a website would display a continuously updating chart. I suppose a product like that exists, but I thought it would be more fun to make it myself.

The electrical components came from SparkFun. They make an OpenScale board that did almost everything I needed when connected to a load cell. The board was already programmed to have all the features I needed for calibration and taring the scale. Originally I had planned to hook that up to a WiFi-enabled Arduino or Raspberry Pi, but I kept it simple and just plugged it into my computer. The computer ran a simple program that I wrote to communicate with the board and get a reading every 30 seconds. Those readings were uploaded to a SQL database in Azure and then I wrote a website that used the Google Chart Library to display the measurements.

There are a lot of technical terms in that last paragraph, but it was mostly just plugging together a bunch of components to make the solution and I had it finished in a couple nights (after a lot of research to find all the components!) I mounted the load scale on a piece of plywood and connected a bowl to the top of the load cell. Voila!

The scale made its debut at work to celebrate my 12th anniversary at the company. You can see the live website at http://candyscale.azurewebsites.net/ It will always show the data from the last time I had the system set up and running. I’m hoping to try it again at Halloween.

Fun With Vinyl

I’ve been having a lot of fun with the Cricut that we bought as a family Christmas present. I bought a roll of vinyl and transfer tape, and I’ve been having fun experimenting with them. Below are a few photos of things that I’ve drawn and cut. I realize that some of them won’t make sense because they are random words from projects at work, but it’s still neat to see how cleanly and nicely these come out. I have access to a large-format vinyl cutter at work, but it’s a lot easier to experiment and learn with the Cricut at home. Plus, all of the drawing work that I’ve done for the laser cutter in the past transfers very well to being cut out of vinyl too.

Laser Cutter Puzzle

The idea of making a custom puzzle has always intrigued me. I’m partially interested in the computer science problem of generating an random puzzle with an arbitrary size, and I’m also interested in the physical process of making it happen.

That computer science problem has been on my list for a long time, but finally I realized that I shouldn’t block the whole project on getting around to writing that code. It took a lot of searching, but I finally found a good, free online tool: Wolfie’s Puzzle Generator.

The next step was to pick a picture. A good picture has a lot of visual interest so you don’t have huge areas of “blue sky” pieces. I wanted to make this as a Christmas gift for Mom so I also wanted something that meant something to her. I settled on a picture of the Seattle waterfront that I’m pretty sure I took while they were out here visiting. I cropped it down to get rid of most of the boring blue sky.

I printed off a 16×20 version of that at Costco and then used 3M spray adhesive to attach it to a thick art board from the craft store. By the way, at 240dpi, this image was almost exactly 20″ wide with no scaling. The picture looks gorgeously sharp. It’s incredible how good modern digital cameras are!

Then it was off to the laser cutter. I spent a long time messing around with various tapes trying to find one that would help protect the surface from burning but also would peel off easily after being cut. I never succeeded. Maybe my adhesive wasn’t strong enough, but for some reason the tape would always pull off with the picture instead of leaving the picture stuck to the art board.

I settled on doing three light passes to slowly cut through with minimal burning. You can still see some burning around the cuts but the picture hides a lot of it. I wanted to make a 1000 piece puzzle but I only squeezed 260 in there due to the dimensions of the pictures and not wanting to make microscopic puzzle pieces. These were 0.75″ square so they were already pretty small.

I don’t expect this puzzle to hold up to a lot of beating but hopefully it will at least work once! If you want to see a video about this, David Picciuto has a making a laser cutter puzzle.