Three more things in my house require a remote control now, and one of them is the streetlight in front of my house. Ever since I heard about a hacked streetlight at the Guerrilla Drive in for Back to the Future in 2009, I have been turning off the streetlight on Darien Street by carefully aiming a laser dot at the light sensor on top of the streetlight. The light sensors on most streetlights face west to catch the last photons from the fading sunset before illuminating for the night—and this one faces right into the third floor of my house. It is very important to me to be able to choose to sit in the cozy dark, save my city some money, and not contribute to light pollution for a minute.
Just recently I revamped the process with a new, permanent laser and remote control system. Here it is in action:
I’ll show you how …
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Let’s make a tablet!

UPDATE: I’ve since returned this unit to the vendor. It’s really bad. The native screen resolution is abysmally small, plus is a weird value such that none of my OSes could handle it. The device did its own down-sampling, but did a terrible job of it. Also, the touch sensing was almost completely broken.

Apparently, there is a thing with these small displays where they advertise them as “1080p input!”, meaning they will make attempts to downsample a 1080p data stream to whatever their native resolution is. The resolution on this one was actually 800×480. I couldn’t get Linux Mint or Windows 7 to display on it at the native resolution. It would take other resolutions and do some pretty awful down-sampling, but it always managed to cut off the edges enough that the taskbar and window title bar were never visible.

The touch feature was also almost completely broken, as well. I tried it on Linux Mint first, trying a variety of different drivers available for the device. All Linux drivers from this manufacturer were compiled from source. I tried the one copy named “Linux” on the included CD and tried two copies downloaded from their website for “Ubuntu 6.06″ and “Debian K26″. Of course, if we’re compiling from source, why would we need separate sets of source code? But anyway, at first it didn’t seem to work, so I thought I just failed to install the drivers, but things that happened later changed my mind. Windows 7 found a HID driver for it, identified it correctly, but it still didn’t work correctly. I also tried to download the latest driver off of their website, but their ZIP file is corrupted and won’t open with either the Windows Compressed Files utility or 7-Zip.

Moving on with the driver found for me by Microsoft, I now tried using the touch screen as the primary display, disabled my main monitor, unplugged my mouse, and restarted the computer, thinking it might help stabilizing the situation. I finally realized that I had seen the same behavior on Linux, I just hadn’t yet figured out what was going on because Mint wasn’t showing a cursor for the touch events and Windows did. It had the axises completely swapped, and also reversed, so dragging down the screen moved the cursor left. Also, it had no concept of a continuous drag event. It would sometimes drag, sometimes spawn a series of rapid clicks instead.

In other words: complete, unworkable garbage.

I’d be interested to hear from people if they have a recommendation for a simple touch screen. I think I’d like at least 15″ size, and I’m a little concerned about the popularity of multi-point capacitive sensing over the older-style, one-point-only resistive sensing. Yes, the capacitive is more precise, but the resistive doesn’t freak out if it gets just a little damp.

unbox14

So here is my latest toy. It is the Lilliput 7″ SKD Open Frame Touch Screen VGA Monitor with HDMI, DVI Input (note: this is not a referral link). You can see more pictures of the device on my Tumblr page. I’m thinking of either building my own tablet computer or a sort of remote control system. It’ll end up being a little chunky, but I don’t mind.

The natural DIY platform for such a project is the RaspberryPi. I’m thinking I want to take the stock Raspbian distro and hack together my own window manager for it to suit the small, restricted dimensions of the system. I’d like something halfway between a CLI interface with its infinite possibility and a GUI interface with its emphasis on geometric arrangement.

Anywah, I’ll keep everyone posted with my progress.

 

I have been “hanging out” with a research group at Penn (alas, there is not a more dignified way to describe this relationship .. but at least I am there by invitation and it’s awesome).  We needed to create some electrodes that were resistant to electrolytic degradation, and we were interested in some clever alternative to the old (and rather expensive) stand-bys, like platinum and gold.

It turns out that graphite is right up there at the tip-top of the Galvanic series, so it is about the most robust electrode material we could want.  However, we also wanted to be able to draw arbitrary electrode geometries and, while graphite is definitely suited to drawing, pencil lines are too resistive and too inconsistent to function as electrodes in our application.  Graphite in “bulk” form conducts well (in fact, too well for our needs), and it is hard to machine.   We wanted a technique that would let us “draw” relatively conductive lines  easily, and it quickly became became apparent that we needed something a little novel.  Somehow, I vaguely remembered seeing a few hacks where folks used light-scribe drives to create patterned graphene for super-capacitors, and I got to wondering whether I could make graphene too.  I am happy to report that the light-scribe method works as advertised and that it was every bit as easy as I had hoped.

GRAPHENE-0-PASSES

Graphene Oxide “Puddle” on plastic substrate adhered to Lightscribe CD

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It didn’t take me and Robert long to find an RGB LED pushbutton. I composed a short part number using the NKK data sheet and found a KP0215ASBKG03RGB-2SJB. I made a simple perf board shield with the proper resistors for my Arduino Mega 1280 and re-learned Arduino to light it up.

Gaussian curves from https://www.desmos.com/calculator/zkmpvehya3
Gaussian curves from https://www.desmos.com/calculator/zkmpvehya3

When I wanted to smoothly fade between all the available RGB colors, I couldn’t find a good solution. So I made my own using Gaussian curves. Here is a picture and link to the online graphic calculator desmos that was very helpful visualizing the LED levels.
There is more:
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FOSSCON 2013

FOSSCON is right around the corner, and Hive76 is gearing up for another run. Our very own Jordan Miller is presenting the keynote talk on building Open Source Infrastructures for Science. We’ll be in our own room again this year showing off our latest gadgets and creations, our tools and our know-how.You can expect to see a 3D printer in action, Circuit Bending, Piezo madness, Battlebots and more. We’ll be there August 10th, 9AM-5:30PM.

Consider registering and getting a FOSSCON T-Shirt and helping us come back next year! As always, feel free to come and ask us questions via WordPress, Twitter, E-mail, or IRC.

 

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Our friend John Abella (of the Maker Faire 3D Printer Village and Delaware Makerspace Barrel of Makers) is running a two-day RepRap build workshop in Wilmington Delaware, October 5th and 6th.   Attendees will be building Prusa i3 printers with all top-shelf parts:  milled frames from Josef Prusa, genuine J-head hotends from Hotends.com, stainless threaded rods and hardened chromed smooth rods.

The workshop is being held at the Wilmington DoubleTree Hotel, and will have catered food for attendees.   Every person attending will leave with tools and basic supplies to maintain their printer and get started printing.   The workshop fee – all inclusive –  is $999.

Click here for the official flyer for the event

More info and class registration can be found here:  http://botbuilder.net/classes/

 

Genetic Algorithm Visualization Toy

Some explanation for a program I posted here a little while ago.

 

New Hydroponics Set Up!

I finally finished the hydroponic garden I’ve been building at Hive76 for the past few months.   The plants have just started to sprout, so it will be at least another month before they can be harvested.  But when they are ready, if you want to take some cuttings for yourself at open house you’re more than welcome to.  Right now I am growing basil, thyme, oregano and morning glories.

Unfortunately, I’m spending the rest of the summer in Germany so I won’t be at open house to answer any questions in person, but I will be back in september. In the mean time I’ll start posting the blueprints of the hydrogarden, so anyone will be able to build one if they want.  Hope to have more of the details next week!

Thanks, to Pete for agreeing to watch my plants while I’m gone, Rob for letting me steal his wood and carpentry techniques to build the frame, and Jordan for helping to design the caster flat bed and general support!

Hydroponic garden inside of its wooden frame.

 

 

A Quick DIY Hydrophone

“Hey let’s take the boat out.”
“Hold on, I wanna build a hydrophone first.”

All three major construction methods represented: tape, glue, zip ties.

All three major construction methods represented: tape, glue, zip ties.

And so, using the parts left over from the day’s Piezo Transducer Class, some wire, a spraypaint cap, red solo cup, and two sticks, the Hive76 Aquaphone was born. With a battery powered amplifer and some groovy headphones, we had ourselves a mobile underwater listening apparatus. Globs and globs of hot glue waterproofed all connections. (more…)

 
BC_Screen - cropped

Super-wide screen made from a single large sheet of bacterial cellulose “paper”

PJ and a number of other Hive members have been fortunate enough to participate in preparations for the Drexel Design Futures Lab “Projects 12/13” exhibition.  PJ was almost certainly the most involved Hive contributor — he helped with the development of a number of key software elements for several of the exhibits.

Home_Sample

Side view of a BC culture, showing the cellulose pellicle (white “gel” on surface), growth medium and some bacteria/yeast colonies (dark brown structures).  The bubbles are CO2 produced by the yeast.

I wound up getting involved in the creation of a special display screen that was part of an interactive piece which allows people to “play” with a computer model of bacterial swarms.  This piece was part of Tashia Tucker’s exhibit, and she wanted an “organic looking” display surface. After some brainstorming that included condemnations of the high price of silicone etc., PJ suggested bacterial cellulose.  What!?  The idea of a movie screen made by real bacteria to show movies of simulated bacteria was too “meta” to pass up.

I had grown some fairly large sheets of bacterial cellulose in the past, and was interested in having an excuse to grow something even larger — so sign me up!  Tashia wanted a sheet that started out about 4′x8′ so that the final screen could be cropped to dimensions that were about the size of a slightly gigantic person.

Yikes — this was literally a tall order.  Bacterial Cellulose (BC) is created by the same organisms that are used to ferment Kombucha — in fact, the “Shroom” or “Scoby” in a Kombucha culture is a big lump of cellulose.  So this was simple, in principle, but the scale of the piece left a lot of novel details that had to be worked out.

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