A Good Week for a World-Wide Maker . . .


A man from Australia checked in to share the progress on his model railroad that was inspired by my Dawson Station. He is using my backdrop photos, but has taken it a step further by using Google Earth footage of the mill to help plan the layout.

My "Message in a Chip" Instructable has had more than six thousand viewers in about two weeks. I've helped someone from Finland interface with the chips and sent a couple of them to a school teacher in Canada who wants to use them for a Mother's Day project for his students.

A lady (from Netherlands, presumably), contacted me about the magnification program I wrote for my niece. After trying it, she responded, "this truly is brilliant, really, to me you are a genius! You solved the problem i had been struggling with for the past 15 years." You can see how talented she is in this video:



And finally back on the home front, I made some progress on a soft-circuit prototype that I think will cut the cost of my workshops in half!

It was a very good week . . .

Raspberry Pi Cable Management

The Raspberry Pi is an awesome project, but I've had trouble implementing it into our after-school program, probably because I dread hooking everything up. I think I've solved that problem, and will share the broad strokes with you here.

People are always impressed when you tell them it is a $35 dollar computer, but what that gets you is just the circuit board. You are going to need the following:
  • A HDMI or DVI monitor. Smaller is better for portability. VGA is a no-go since the cable to go from VGA to HDMI is too expensive. Fortunately, you can get suitable monitors at the thrift store for $15 - 25 (make sure it is DVI, not VGA). Onboard speakers is a plus (Sonic Pi!). A suitable new monitor can be had for $100 (example: http://amzn.com/B004N5AH1U).
  • The appropriate video cable. Shorter is better. If you obtained a DVI monitor, you would need a DVI to HDMI cable like http://amzn.com/B000QYZZFK.
  • A USB hub if you have a Model B Pi, which only has two USB ports, and you want to add a WiFi dongle. A plus is if the hub can power the Pi (one less connection). You can see a confusing list of hubs at http://elinux.org/RPi_Powered_USB_Hubs. I've had luck with this Belkin Slim-line: http://amzn.com/B005A0B3FG
  • USB Cables. Shorter is better. Right-angle connectors is a plus. You need:
  • WiFi adapter. If had luck with the Edimax: http://amzn.com/B003MTTJOY
  • A power strip, especially if you are powering more than one Pi, and an extension cord depending on how close to the outlets you are.
  • 4 GB SD Card.
  • Protective case for the Pi. An opening over the GPIO header and camera connector is a plus.  http://amzn.com/B008TCUXLW
  • Oh, and lets not forget a keyboard and mouse.


So, depending on the monitor you obtain, you are closer to the $100 - 200 range by the time you are done. Still a bargain in my book.

I've set four of these up, each with a different monitor and USB hub, so I can't provide detailed instructions. For attaching the Pi Case to the monitor, I removed the monitor back and drilled matching holes in both the case and the back and attached them together with tie-wraps. Depending on the hub, you can use the same tie-wrap method. I've also used two-part epoxy, or double-back tape may do the trick.

Since you have to take the monitor back off to attach the case, you might as well see if there is room to run the USB power and data cables from the hub to the Pi inside. Drill holes large enough for the smaller USB connector and thread them through. 

Even with the shorter 3-foot video cable, you still have about two and a half feet too much. I just loop it around the monitor mount and tie-wrap it together.

The final detail I add is to wrap and tie-wrap the USB hub power cable and the monitor power cable together. Since I had different hubs, I didn't want to have to figure out which cable went with each set up each time.

So there it is. Your mileage may vary. Let me know what you come up with. In the future I'll detail my experience with MineCraft and Python on the Pi!

ChickTech Highschool OSU 2014

Another awesome two-day workshop put on by ChichTech! The girls were super-creative.

The girls had an ice-cream social in the evening, watched the movie Miss-representation, and slept over in the OSU dorms.  At lunch on the second day they got to create "electronic" jewellery using components and some unused circuit boards from previous workshops.



My favorite part was at the close of the second day when the parents and public were invited in for a "Tech Show". There was cake and ice cream and the girls could show off their hard work and see what the other workshops were like.


Hopefully, I've recruited some Teen Makers for the Fall!

Bring Your Child To Work Day 2014

We had an awesome Bring Your Child To Work Day this year. I headed up three different programming activities in the same room with the help of friends from the HP Arduino and Python Groups. We had well over 200 children attend.

Program Your Parent was a paper and pencil exercise for younger children to get a faulty robot (the parent) to retrieve a sample of "candium" from a bucket. The robot could only move forward or turn right, and had to maneuver around a shield.  The activity teaches how literal computers are at following instructions, and how complex tasks can be achieved with sequences of simple commands.

I also had programmable Arduino microcontrollers and my FunShield. The first activity is to get an LED to blink. Then you see how fast you can get it to blink and still see it. This leads to interesting discussion about how the eye works and how fast computers actually are. Participants still interest at that point could continue and learn how to blink a series of LEDs using For loops or play sounds, detect light, or measure temperature. Arduinos are a great way to interface a computer with the physical world.

Finally, we had Raspberry Pi computers running MineCraft. Instead of just playing the game, kids used Python programming to interact with the world. There was a hide and seek game and a maze. They could create a code to place their name or initials using blocks. The idea was to introduce how algorithms can be used to perform repetitive task such as designing a building and then being able to place multiple copies anywhere in world.

Kids got to take home their worksheets which had links to online programming activities like Reeborg.ca where they could continue to learn JavaScript and Python. I also pitched the library's Teen Makers program, which unfortunately is on hiatus for the summer. The activities were not too much different from last year. The big improvement was recruiting volunteers to help at teach of the stations. I've already got some ideas for improvements next year, but first I need to get a paper rocket activity setup for the site picnic in August!

Eugene Mini-Maker Faire 2014

I got invited to bring Dawson Station back to the Eugene Maker Faire. It is one thing to talk your way in to an invitation to an event like this. It is another to get invited back. Not only that, I got asked to give a talk! Well, I may have talked my way into that last part this year.

There were a number of new exhibitors this year. The only one I remember from last year was Fertilab Thinkubator who had the awesome chromatography and spectroscopy projects.

I think a lot of people think making is only about electronics and science, but I think it is much more fundamental than that. I was glad to see groups like the Eugene Weaver's Guild invited to the Maker Faire. They had a spinning wheel, a loom, and some hands on weaving projects for the visitors to try.

I think my favorite exhibit this year, given my recent disassembly activities with the Cub Scouts and Teen Makers, was Next Step Recycling. They brought a number of electronic devices and let the visitors take them apart. I wish I had more time to help them use Arduino to bring the components back to life.

My talk was in the planetarium in front of about thirty people. I gave a rambling account from my first time at trying to build a computer (disaster) up to my recent class on how to build a computer (success). I tried to express that "making" and "sharing" are fundamental human characteristics that have always existed, and that current technology is allowing us to share ideas and projects with more and more people. I closed with some pictures of my decidedly low-tech chicken coop and challenged the audience to find a project they were interested in and make it.

Exhibiting (and speaking) at these events is a lot of work. The Makers exhibit for free. The visitors pay to get in. It is an interesting dynamic that I'm still trying to grasp. At any rate, it does give me a chance to share, learn, and connect, so I feel it is worth it. I've been feeling a bit over-committed lately, but definitely think this event was well worth it. It might, however, be Dawson Station's only public appearance this year.  It is time to follow my own advice and find a new project to learn, make, and share.

How to Make an Egg

Step 1. Get some chickens.

Step 2. Build a Coop.

OK. That is a bit out of order,  but that is how we did it. Building a coop is a bit daunting. There are a lot of designs out there, and a lot of really cute looking coops. It is overwhelming, to say the least. Luckily, my wife spotted a coop that looked perfect for the rainy Pacific NW, and there were detailed plans available. When I am overwhelmed, I will gladly pay for some well documented, well thought-out plans.



Of course, that doesn't mean you have to follow the plans. My first deviation was to switch the siding to vertical. I don't know why, but I think it looks better, and it matches our house. Unfortunately, that meant I had to transpose all cut layouts in the plan.

Deviation number two was the roof. The original design had an angled support piece that messed up feng shui, like I know what that means, so I adapted the plans from the larger coop plan they sell (and we bought). This coop is intended as an intern solution and practice run for building the full size one that the adult birds will need. 

The other changes are less obvious, but more original. I'd been following a forum post where they were talking about using a horse stall freshener like kitty litter in the roost. I thought it would be nice to have a removable tray to facilitate cleaning. Turns out an inexpensive washing machine drip tray was close to the inner dimension of the planned roost, and only required adding a few inches here and removing a few there.

Somewhere else, I had read about water nipples. The standard feeders have two problems. The first is that the birds like to roost on the top of them. The second is that they like to poop when they roost. That leads to lots of water changes. Most people put water nipples on the bottom of five gallon buckets and then hang them, but with a small coop, there wasn't the space or access to do that. Enter PVC. I integrated 2" PCV piping so that it could be easily filled. I used the remaining PCV to make a feeder attached to the door. Now food and water move with the coop and don't take up any floor space.

And then there is the paint job. Hope the hens like it. We want them to be happy. After all, the rest of the egg making is up to them!


Where Are They Now?

I've sold about twenty kits now. They've been going to some interesting places. I was trying to figure out a way to keep track of them all (graphically), and here is what I've got:

MakersBox Kits in the Wild:

I'm getting a lot more overseas orders than I expected. An interesting "hot-spot" is the Netherlands, which must be a United State's equivalent of the Bay Area. A Maker's Nerdvana. It would be cool to visit some day.