Zoom Milwaukee

Some of the folks I know at UWM are putting on a symposium called Zoom Milwaukee, which will focus on craft, culture, innovation and making. They’ll also have a Maker Plaza which they described as a sort of “Mini Maker Faire” environment. They also asked if I could do a hands-on make-and-take workshop, so I decided to do a Learn to Solder activity. I’ll attempt to walk through my process for developing it in this and future posts.


Since I’ve been using Fritzing to design PCBs I thought I would play around with some ideas. The basic Learn to Solder kit tends to revolve around an LED or two, a battery, and maybe a pin of some sort. They are typically wearable badges. (Here’s a prototype and final board from Milwaukee Makerspace. Maker Shed has some nice ones as well.)


Oh, and ignore than second resistor, that was just to determine some spacing issues. Same with the battery. Fritzing isn’t the greatest tool for PCB design, but it (mostly) works and it’s simple to use. I did end up checking a version of this board with OSH Park to determine pricing and specs, but eventually I decided that this isn’t the board I wanted fabbed, and with a deadline quickly approacing I decided to go another direction.

I did use the work from Fritzing as the basis of the design I did in Inkscape though… And why Inkscape? Because my plan was to create this kit as cheaply as possible, which meant I’d be etching my own boards. I visited my friends over at ebay.com and started searching for components. I’ve ordered blank copper boards before so I got a bunch of those, and some LEDs and the appropriate resistors, and some batteries.

PCB versions

The evolution of design. The nice thing about etching your own boards is that you can do a few, test them out, and make some changes, and do it all again. You can do these revisions fairly quickly and very cheaply. Here’s a number of my design tweaks as I etched boards. Some things got larger, some got smaller. I needed something I could easily cut from vinyl using a Silhouette Cameo, so super-small pieces had to be avoided. The minus sign caused the most problems. You can see it change in size as we go. (The outline around each board is to assist with cutting them out.)


Here’s the design 6-up so I could fill a blank copper board for etching. Weeding the vinyl wasn’t a nightmare, but pulling all the tiny pieces off the final board wasn’t fun.


The copper boards I used are about 4″ x 3″ so I did the 6-up layout was loaded into the Silhouette Studio software to cut the vinyl. This worked well as I tend to have a lot of little scraps from bigger jobs to use up. (I did mention doing this on the cheap, didn’t I?)

Vinyl on copper

Here’s a shot of one of the earlier design revisions with the vinyl applied to the copper board pre-etching stage. Once the etching is done all the copper you can see will be gone, leaving copper just where the vinyl is. The vinyl is the resist in this process.

Check back soon for the next post!

Wood/Metal Hammers

While you may be familiar with my hammer-related work, I typically lean towards different materials, such as concrete, or paper, pixels, and plastic, or perhaps ice? And yes, of course wood

This time I returned to wood, but decided to give it a metal look. The above is a 12″x12″ sheet of wood with 1/8″ laser-cut hammers attached to it.

Screen Printed Hammers

The artwork came from Kathy who created it for a screen printing demo I did at Milwaukee Makerspace a while back. We made a vinyl cut stencil for the screen and then I showed people how to print it on a shirt.

Wood/Metal Hammers

I’ve used metallic paint before on wood, but I think a few different colors mixed together turned out well. I tried to keep things rough looking and was a bit loose and crazy with the paint.

Wood/Metal Hammers

Splotches were intentional, of course… I may try a few more experiments with metallic spray paint on wood. I think it gives a good look. I’m wondering if I can layer polyurethane or another sealer on top if it as well.

Wood/Metal Hammers

Traffic Lights

I recently repaired the traffic and walk signals at BBCM. The system had been running on a PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) which failed, and rather than find the proprietary programming cable and find and install the PLC Windows software, I decided to just put an Arduino and relay control board in place.

Arduino and Relay Board

I had a Teensy++ 2.0 I had pulled from another exhibit during an upgrade, and an 8 channel relay board on hand. These relay boards come in different configurations from 1, 2, 4, 8, and even 16 relays. Since I really only needed 5 relays (and 5 pins) I could have used an ATtiny85, but I had the Teensy++ 2.0 readily available. The wiring is all done using female to female jumper wires.

Traffic Controller

I mounted everything to a piece of scrap MDF and added mounting holes to that, with the idea that we’d screw the whole thing directly into the wall. The relay board has mounting holes, but the Teensy does not. That’s probably my one complaint about the Teensy boards, is that mounting them isn’t always easy. My Teensy BOB has mounting holes, but for mounting this Teensy++ 2.0 I just used some 3M™ VHB™ tape. (The “VHB” stands for “Very High Bond”). And yes, there are a few 3D printed parts on there. At some point I should make a 3D printed holder/mount for a Teensy++ 2.0


I try to label things clearly. If I look at this thing in 6 months, or 2 years, or someone else has to look at it, I want it to be somewhat apparent what is what, so there’s not a lot of guesswork as to what is going on. I included a label with the name of the Arduino sketch, and I always like to label power supplies. Sometimes we use 5 volts, and sometimes 12 volts, and they typically have tiny hard to read type printed on the side of the power supply that you can’t see when it’s plugged in.

The one thing I should start to add to the labels is the URL of the wiki page where the thing is documented. (Next time I’ll do this.)

Controller Mounted

Here’s the controller mounted. It’s not pretty. We ended up re-using the mount that the PLC was in, rather than screwing it right into the wall. In my defense, we did this repair on the floor during open hours, and it’s mounted high on a wall behind a TV. Does it work? Yes… Is it awesome, no… but again, it totally works.

The wiring for the lights was all 12 VDC, not 110 VAC, so those thin gauge wires are fine. Also, they were labeled, which was handy. (Thanks previous person who worked on this and labeled things!)

Wiring Diagram

I try to create wiring diagrams for everything. I use Fritzing because it’s simple and awesome and open and free. I often don’t find the components I need, but you can always just use a note and some text.

Here’s the script/sequence for the lights:

  1. Green Light is ON
  2. Walk Light is ON
  3. Waiting 4 seconds…
  4. Walk Light is OFF
  5. Don’t Walk Light is BLINKING (for 5 seconds)
  6. Green Light is OFF
  7. Don’t Walk Light is ON
  8. Yellow Light is ON
  9. Waiting 4 seconds…
  10. Yellow Light is OFF
  11. Red Light is ON
  12. Waiting 6 seconds…
  13. Red Light is OFF
  14. Don’t Walk Light is OFF
  15. (Repeat sequence)

I wrote this up to figure out how to program things. I find it helpful to plan things out before I start writing the code.

At first I just talked through the light sequence with someone and we made some assumptions about how it worked. We were slightly wrong, which I discovered when I dug a bit deeper into traffic lights and walk signals. I read at least some of the (very long) Wikipedia page on Traffic Lights. I also hunted for other info, and found some on the Signals FAQ page on the Minnesota Department of Transportation web site. (As I mentioned with the 911 Phone I really do aim for an accurate and realistic experience with these things.)

It’s been a few weeks and the lights have been working fine. Hopefully that will continue to be the case. If something does stop working we’ll open a ticket for it so we have a record. And yes, we do use an issue tracker for our museum exhibits… doesn’t everyone?

Hot Dog on a Spring on a Motor

It’s been a lot of fun teaching Electronics and Sculpture, and weird things happen sometimes, so I thought I’d take the time to explain a weird thing, and how it happened. The photo above is a kinetic sculpture titled “Hot Dog on a Spring on a Motor”.

Steak Ballet

The photo above is a kinetic sculpture titled “Steak Ballet”. It was created by Atticus, one of the students in the class. When you open the box, the steak (not a real stake) spins around. It’s like a music box, without music, and with meat. (But not real meat.)

During critique we started coming up with a few crazy ideas, and someone, I don’t know if it was me, or if it was Mike, came up with idea of a hot dog, on a spring, that spins around. I honestly can’t remember if one person came up with it, or it was collaborative, but it became a running joke during critique… and in a few classes afterwards.

Hot Dog on a Spring on a Motor

Steak Ballet was the third project of the semester. By the fourth project (the mid-term) the hot dog on a spring thing was sort of a regular joke. The mid-term projects were awesome, and I was really proud of the work my students did, so I decided to reward them by building something and showing it to them… thus “Hot Dog on a Spring on a Motor” was born. And I gave credit to the class on the bottom of the piece.

Hot Dog on a Spring on a Motor

Now, this also all came together for another weird reason… Joe at BBCM brought a bunch of hot dogs into my office and I asked if I could borrow one. Also, Joe knows Atticus and they used to work together. Weird!

And yes, this does continue some of the ideas I was playing with when I created the Pizza Bagel Bot for a robot battle last year.

Hot Dog on a Spring on a Motor

Here’s a quick (poor quality) video of the Hot Dog on a Spring on a Motor. (At least it’s not a Vertical Video!)


When we last saw the Decagon Light the scale model wasn’t functional… Well, it is now functional!

I spent a bit of time at Kenilworth Open Studios getting things wired up and writing some code. I wrote a bunch of functions to run different patterns. Each function can be called with two parameters, the delay (which specifies how long the light is on) and the number of loops the pattern should run. Right now there are just four functions, but they can be called differently, and put into iterative loops. (I’m sure I’ll write more as this project progresses.)


For this test I’ve got the DecaLight powered by a Teensy with one of my Teensy BOBs. There’s also a USB battery pack from Brown Dog Gadgets supplying portable power. The final version will probably use the Teensy but use an AC adapter for power.

Back of DecaLight

I reused a bunch of JST connectors that were chopped off some other wires to plug the LEDs into. There’s also plenty of pieces of wire and heat shrink holding it all together. At some point maybe I’ll build this into a much nicer looking unit.

Teensy + BOB

The combo of an OSH Park purple board with the SparkFun Pink Teensy 3.1 (Anouk Edition) makes this one of the most colorful PCB project I’ve worked on yet.

Here’s a quick video of the light in operation.

« Older Entries |



buy the button:

Buy The Button

top recent artists: