Maker Faire

I’ve been to a lot of Maker Faires in the past five years, but it’s mainly been in the Midwest (Detroit, Kansas City, Madison, Fort Wayne, and of course, I help produce Maker Faire Milwaukee) though I did make it out to New York a few years ago, and Washington D.C. for the National Maker Faire last year…

But I’ve never been out to Maker Faire Bay Area… until now. Yes, friends, I’ll be out there this time around, and I hope to see you there.

I won’t be wearing my Maker Faire Producer hat though… This time around I’ll be working the booth for Brown Dog Gadgets, who just completed their (successful) Kickstarter Campaign for Crazy Circuits, which is a LEGO Compatible modular electronics platform. Yes, LEGO bricks and microcontrollers mixed together. Fun!

I’ve done a number of projects for Brown Dog Gadgets over the years, and while I didn’t have lot to do with the new Crazy Circuits project, I pitched in where I could with a few ideas and a bunch of code. It’ll be exciting to share the work with a large crowd! (And exhausting, from what I hear. Even though Maker Faire Milwaukee is the largest free Maker Faire in the U.S., the Bay Area crowd still has us beat!)

(I’m not sure if we’ll make it to #BringAHack or other fun events, so if you want to meet in person, look for the Brown Dog Gadgets booth.)


SpringTime4 was inspired by something my former student Maks showed me, which he called a Victorian Amp. I couldn’t find any good info on it (Oops! I should have looked up Victorian Synthesizer instead) but since I still had a large speaker left over from the Sonic Titan build I decided to build something similar.


Instead of paper clips (or solder) I used two stretched out springs to complete the circuit. This worked well, because as the speaker coil energized the top spring would bounce up and break the circuit, then fall and complete the circuit again.


To make things interactive, I added a button that could be pressed to start the device. This allowed people to interact with it, and also added another piece to complete the circuit. The whole thing is powered by a 9 volt battery, which I also left exposed, so people so see what provided power. I didn’t want a full enclosure that would appear to hide things.


I used alligator clips to connect things, which allowed for disconnecting the button unit from the speaker, which makes it a little easier to transport.


I took SpringTime4 to the Madison Mini Maker Faire and I really enjoyed watching people interact with it and then asking them if they knew what was happening. Some people sort of figured it out, and for those that didn’t quite get it, I explained how it worked. I think as a maker you tend to forget that even a really simple device can be difficult for people to understand, depending on their familiarity with things like electrical circuits.


One of my favorite parts was when an 8 year old kid tried to makersplain to me how I should improve it. It’s nice to know that even kids think they’ve got great ideas about how someone else should do things. ;)


The one improvement I’ll like to see is making it louder (if possible). It’s typical that I test things in my shop and they are fine but when I bring them into public and the environment is noisy, it’s hard to hear things. Since the visual component of seeing the springs move around is a large element of the piece, if I can’t make it louder it’s probably not a huge deal.

Here’s a short video showing SpringTime4 in action. Enjoy!

Les Yeux

One of the pieces I displayed at Maker Faire Milwaukee in 2016 consisted of two monitors showing a pair of eyes. I was (slightly) inspired by Ben’s Video Wall of Terror.

Les Yeux

I started by filming Dr. Prodoehl to capture the movement of her eyes. The crop lines show where I planned to crop the single video into two separate videos. I also used filters on the videos to get the old TV scan line effect and add a bit of distortion. (The cropping is for a 4:3 aspect ratio display to be compatible with the old computer monitors I had on hand.)

Les Yeux

The two videos were then exported and one was trimmed to be about a half second shorter than the other one. Since the installation would be running for two full days this meant that we’d see some interesting time drifts between the two videos.

The videos were played using a pair of Raspberry Pi Zero single board computers. Like nearly every installation, there were problems involving technology, this time I think it was a bad SD card, but I quickly swapped it out and got up and running again.

Here’s a short video showing Les Yeux Times at Maker Faire in 2016, along with the two videos that were used.


On the durability scale it goes from “Consumer” to “Commercial” to “Industrial” and then finally to “Children’s Museum”.

While most adults can figured out how things work, and most will actually use things the way they are designed to work, children will use things every way possible, not (usually) maliciously, but because the are still figuring things out. Install a lever that goes up and down, and they’ll move it up and down with all the force their small bodies can muster, so you might want to add some hard stops on the inside.


Kids also can’t read/don’t read (to be fair, many adults don’t read either) so add some arrows showing direction of movement. Also if those arrows are just vinyl you applied to the surface, they’ll get peeled off. Every interaction needs to be thought about in great detail, and sometimes you need to think like an angry vandal hell-bent on destroying things.

Plan for things to break, because they will, but make them easy to maintain and repair. Use off-the-shelf parts when you can, so replacements are easy, or if you fabricate the parts yourself, make spares, and document how to make more spares in the future. Use Loctite. Use set screws. Use Loctite on set screws. Use hot glue. Use lots of hot glue. Use screws and bolts, not nails and staples. Make sure you can take it apart and repair it.

Stay Durable, Friends!


Calling this RepRap Report #4 is probably not even close to a proper title, but I’m going to use it anyway to cover the latest changes to my old MakerGear RepRap Prusa Mendel, which is a Prusa Mendel (iteration 2) I started building in 2011 and finally finished in 2012. It worked well for a few years, and around 2015 I seemed to have a lot of issues making it work reliably.

I eventually got a cheap clone E3D hotend so I could switch over to 1.75mm filament, and it didn’t work well so I eventually got a real E3D hotend and then it seemed as though I just could not print ABS. It never seemed to be able to maintain a proper temperature. I gave up on it when I got a Maker Select Plus and put the RepRap to the side…

I figured that since there was a problem getting up to heat for ABS, maybe I could try PLA, since it uses a lower temperature than ABS. I grabbed a file I recently printed on the Maker Select Plus and gave it a go.


In the photo above you’ll see the MSP print on the left, and the RepRap print on the right. The print on the right is a bit smaller in diameter, and it’s not round… it’s oblong. We’ve also lost the hole in the center, but that’s pretty much always been the case. The MSP print is probably at 0.15 or 0.2 layer height, and the RepRap print is probably 0.3 or 0.35 layer height.


The bottom also looks pretty bad on the RepRap print. Those round holes are looking pretty oblong and a bit uneven overall.


And here’s where we really see an issue. The MSP print is 9mm tall, while the RepRap print is just over 6mm tall. We’ve lost nearly 3mm in the z axis. Not great! I figured I should try a second print to see what I’d get…


I got this… Wow. It’s, uh… terrible. Now, I did not use a cooling fan while printing this. I always printed ABS with the RepRap, so I didn’t even have a cooling fan installed. I may try some tests with ABS again, or I’ll add a cooling fan if I try PLA again.

I’m not convinced the RepRap will even be a good printer. I mean, five years ago, it was decent, and I made a lot of things with it, and they were good enough. I’ve thought about upgrading it into a Prusa i3 since I could reuse most of the parts, and would just need a new frame, which I could probably just laser cut. That might be a good option, but I’m also half convinced that if I take the whole thing apart I’ll never get around to putting it back together!

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