The Golden Rule from Phillip Burgess at Adafruit Industries: Iterate, iterate, iterate.

Don’t be discouraged when your case doesn’t work on the first try. Or the second. Once I thought I’d nailed a design on the third try, but was wrong. The most extreme has been our Pi Box enclosure for the Raspberry Pi…this took 23 attempts to get just right! The first few didn’t even hold together. Other projects were initially so discouraging, one was known behind the scenes as the “Piece-o-Crap-o-Tron 9000” …but many attempts later it’s become one of my favorite kits.

Fail quick, fail hard, fail often. Failure is part of the process — perhaps even key to the process. It’s how we learn and improve, and ultimately make a better product. Make mistakes now so your customers don’t have to.

I’ve known for a long time that design is an iterative process, and sometimes I think that’s what I love about it. I tend to be a fan of the process.

I remember once I asked Michael Curry how many attempts it took him to design something and 3D print it before it worked. I thought he said “two or three times”, but maybe he really said “twenty three times”. ;)

But seriously, there’s a lot of great tips not just for laser cutting things, but for designing things in general.

Sound the Alarm!

Here are the ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos of a piece I presented at UWM’s Arts+Tech Night titled “Sound the Alarm”, which lasted either 45 minutes or 3 hours, depending on how you want to look at it.

My plan was to build a (mostly) useless machine from (mostly) scrap material. That part worked fine. I added an IR sensor that would trigger a servo to hit a wooden hammer against a frying pan. The sound was really nice. Sort of.

I built this really fast, and did some minimal testing, and it worked fine, but the Law of Deployment, which states “It will work fine with minimal testing, but fail when put in place” took hold…

It worked fine for 45 minutes, and scared a few people. I made a sign with small type that you had to get close to read, and when you got close enough, CLANG! The hammer would hit the pan. It was lovely.

After 45 minutes or so, it just kept hitting the damn pan every few seconds. I assumed the IR sensor failed, or maybe a wire came loose (nothing was soldered) and Vishal from Milwaukee Makerspace (who just happened to stop by) even tried to repair it.

Sound the Alarm!

So after 3 hours of clanging loudly, with me stuck just 10 feet away, I shut it down, and wheeled it into the elevator where it promptly toppled off the cart and broke. Which was sort of perfect, as the text on the sign suggested we must “sound the alarm on questionable construction techniques”.

I ended up connecting the Diavolino to my computer to debug things with the serial monitor. To my surprise the sensor was doing the right thing. I then assumed it was the servo that went bad and decided to just trigger all the time. I threw a different servo in place and it seemed to work fine again, for a while.

Eventually I gave up and left right before midnight and went outside to discover I had a flat tire. Awesome! I then used a toy air compressor from Harbor Freight to put enough air in my tire to drive home.

Despite what sounds like a bunch of crap it was a really a great day!

Pegs and Pieces

I’ve been working on a project that involves stacking of laser cut pieces of wood to create blocks. In theory the laser cutter is a precise CNC machine that has an (almost) negligible kerf. (The kerf is the part that gets cut away. With a saw it’s the width of the saw blade, and you need to account for it.)

Height Difference

Typically I’ve been using this 3mm Baltic Birch plywood from Woodcraft, and it’s been pretty darn close to 3mm, at least within 0.1mm. For most projects this is fine. Even at 3.2mm things will fit together, though perhaps a bit snug. You can always sand things a bit to make them fit.

Stacking presents a new problem though, because the extra height adds up and throws everything off. For the last batch of blocks I assembled I wasn’t aware of the issue, even when the pegs wouldn’t fit. I assumed I screwed up the peg slots, so I just sanded the pegs down a bit until they fit. Even then, they were not the right height in the other direction.

Height Difference

After assembly I noticed that the blocks were different heights than the first batch I created! I went back and measured the sheet of wood and it was 3.4mm. I checked a few more and got ranges between 3.0mm and 3.4mm. The image above shows what happens if you use 3mm wood and 3.3mm wood to construct the same block. At just four layers you’re already off by 1.2mm. For small things that can make a huge difference.

So what’s the solution? I can attempt to sand the sheets before cutting, or partially assemble the blocks and sand them to the proper height before the final step. A colleague suggested getting one large sheet of wood assuming the height would be consistent across one piece. I may try all three solutions, but will probably start with the first, and apply the second solution if required.

So yeah, even with digital fabrication, and laser cutters with almost no kerf… Measure twice so you only have to cut once!


I’m thankful for my recent discovery of QuickRes.

My 2009 MacBook recently died so I replaced it with a newer MacBook, and while I was considering the Retina models, I ultimately decided against them. It was mainly the resolution of the Retina MacBooks that interested me…

So when I connected my new MacBook to my old projector, I got nothing. Nothing! The old projector maxes out at 1024×768, and this fancy new MacBook only had two resolutions. What?


Wow, so many choices! 1280×800 and 1024×640. Why would you ever need more than two resolutions!?

So just to test the MacBook I grabbed a Mini DisplayPort to HDMI dongle and plugged it into the nearest television. I saw what appeared to be 1920×1080 not just on the television but also on the built-in display. What?


So after installing QuickRes, here’s a look at the resolutions that are now available. Sweet! I’ve been using the higher resolutions for certain tasks, and the lower ones for things like old projectors. So the real question is, why does Apple not want to make these available without a third-party hack to reveal them?


I stopped by the Bay View Printing Co recently to get some advice from Ashley Town about a project I’m working on. She was kind enough to give me a tour and show me some of the presses and other equipment, and I got to check out some of the type they have, including some of the wood type. which is just… beautiful.


They’re about half way to their goal with an Indiegogo campaign to raise some funds. Here’s the pitch from Ashley:

I’m raising funds to be able to offer classes, workshops and open studio time focused on the art of letterpress printing and to transform a portion of the current space into a community gallery. The vision is to transform this Bay View institution into a creative hub for artists, designers, writers and letterpress novices and enthusiasts.

I personally think this place is a great addition to Milwaukee’s creative community, and would love to see it get fully funded.


And hey, who else uses the hashtag #drinkandink? Check out the rest of the photos and their campaign video below.





Wood & Lead Type!

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