Thursday, May 19, 2011

Hacking Away at TechShopRDU

As of late, I've been hanging out at TechShopRDU.  So far, it has been a lot of fun.  There are lots of interesting people and the space has a lot of energy.   To make my mobile making a little easier, I picked up a snazzy mobile workbox from Lowes.

My first thoughts for a mobile lab included one of the large Plano tackleboxes.  However, I knew that I would run out of room quickly.  This large box has a few advantages:  The price was right, it has a pull out handle, and it's not too heavy.  Also, there is a neat caddy that fits in the handle.  The caddy is incredibly useful for meters, small tools, etc.

The top of the case is designed to hold saws and saw blades, but I was able to stick my ear protection there.  As an aside, I really dig that style of hearing protection.  They're very comfortable and surprisingly effective.

The box is big enough to hold a number of Plano storage boxes, my soldering station, a box with helping hands and panavise jr, another box with my arduino prototyping setup and a whole bunch more (extension cord, power strip, clamp on magnifying light, etc).

Project 1: Fix the Laptop
One of my previous mobile hacking projects was to fix my wife's laptop (again).  While I was toiling away to fix the power connector on her Toshiba, I gave her my ancient IBM Thinkpad to use.  Unfortunately, our dogs have an infuriating habit of chewing through laptop power cables when they're not getting enough attention.  It's the only thing they chew on.

Pictured here is another pathetic attempt to utilize heat shrink tubing.  I've had a couple of good applications, but this wasn't one of them.

Project 2: Upgrade to Ubuntu 11
Project 1 was successful, so it was time to upgrade to the latest and greatest version of Ubuntu.  It installed without a hitch (except for the fact that the OS reminded me that I had "insufficient hardware" for certain features).

Next up, fun with XBees!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Hackerspace Mania!

 Yesterday morning, I had never set foot in a hackerspace before.  However, as of this evening, I have been in two!  Last night, I had the pleasure of meeting some nice folks over at SplatSpace.  The best way to describe the zone is something akin to the basement of the Ghostbusters HQ.

My phone doesn't take the greatest pictures (and it's pathetic in low light), so I don't have any shots to share. The space has more junk per square foot than my room growing up (I had a lot of junk).   There are discarded computers (lots), in progress projects and all sorts of audio gear.

Now on the opposite end of the organization and scale spectrum is TechShopRDU.  It's a much larger, much more equipped space.  This place has an insane plethora of tools, including metal working (mills, presses, brakes, benders, grinders, etc), woodworking, plastic working, plasma cutters, welding equipment, and much more.  The place currently occupies two buildings and appears to be as busy as a bee hive.

There is an energy to the TechShop.  The laser cutter / engraver is so popular that you have to reserve it ahead of time.  Classes are constantly being taught and people are coming in and out.  It's a very groovy space.

My Next Steps
I've been seriously inspired to up my making game.  Next week I'll be coming to town with more of my gear. My Arduino and Netduino will be in tow.  I'm excited to have access to some more powerful tools.   Now I'm off to devise an efficient way to transport all of my project paraphernalia.

Your Next Steps
If you have the urge to make something and hang with other people making things, scope out hackerspaces.org and join a hackerspace near you!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mobile Making (well, fixing really)

I've just started a new job, in a new city.  We have a rental house lined up, but it's not available until next month.  This means a whole lot of extended stay for the time being.  That's okay - with a little determination and ingenuity, hacking is possible on the road.

My wife's laptop broke again (the power connector broke and I left a ribbon cable loose while fixing the power connector).  This time, the power connector broke loose again.

This time, I used copious amounts of Cyanoacrylate  (aka Super Glue).  After I did that, I used some more (just to be sure).  The power connector is now glued on the sides and the bottom, including the area around where the plug goes in.  If this thing comes loose now, I'm just giving up and hardwiring the power supply into the motherboard.

While I would much rather work on my nice big desk / workbench, this shoddy little desk will have to do for the time being.  Oddly enough, I had already put together a de facto repair kit.  I got the little blue box from a SparkFun component kit I bought ages ago.  That's where I ended up keeping my tweezers, jeweler screwdrivers and now a tube of super glue.  It's great because I can just throw it in the laptop back and run.

I might have to make up a more complete "making kit" soon so I can take advantage of this down time to do some more hacking!  Stay tuned...

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Repainting the Shutters



I was recently inspired by Sherry over at Young House Love to do a surprise project.  I enjoyed reading about her clandestine tree pruning project and couldn't resist doing a little special ops work myself.

Here's a horrible before picture (I had to go through my Facebook profile to find this).  Note that this picture was taken before the driveway was paved.  

Before (long before, actually)

It's a miracle I was even able to find something resembling a  "before" picture.  I'm pretty bad about going all gung ho on a project, then realizing it might be nice to blog about it part way through. 

The first thing to do was take down the old shutters.  This was the biggest pain of the entire project.   I used a combination of an extension ladder and hanging out of the upstairs windows to take down the shutters.   

Who stole my shutters?
Now, to the shutters themselves.  I picked a color that I thought would complement the deck / retaining wall that I had satined last summer.  It turns out the the color I picked matches the stain almost exactly.  That kind of luck doesn't normally come my way, so I'm kind of happy when it does.

Here is one of the shutters just before painting.  Note that I didn't do any kind of sanding - I just cleaned off the surface with some rubbing alcohol.  You can see how horribly faded the shutters were:


Here is what the shutter looks like partway through.  This is the point in any painting project where I usually think "Crap - this looks horrible.  Why did I even start this project?"


But alas, after two coats of rattle can plastic spray, a shiny new shutter is reborn:


Now, it's time to reinstall.  I started with the two shutters at ground level so I could work out the process before going up in the air. 


This is a dangerous part of any project for me.  As soon as I get some tangible results it becomes very tempting to just sit back admire the progress for the rest of the day.

The spikes I bought are a darker brown.  I think it worked out really well to have little pops of color instead of trying to make them blend.

This project is for the birds

As a bonus, I was joined by our new tenants.  We installed this birdhouse last year for decoration.  It must be a sellers market for ornithological real estate because this unit got snatched up early this spring by two really cute birds (I have no idea what species they are).  The more time I spend in the front yard, the closer the birds let me get.  Of course, that might have something to do with the bird seed I keep leaving out for them.


Disclaimer: No birds were harmed during the making of this blog post.