roof-rack-05

I’ve come to love my Honda Element more than any previous car I’ve owned. The fact that I can pull out the back seats and use it to haul all sorts of things is awesome, but sometimes things still don’t fit, and need to go on the roof. The one advantage my Honda CR-V had was a roof rack, but luckily the Element was designed with a roof rack option in mind, and a DIY version is pretty simple.

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This forum post got me started in the right direction, and gave me a template to use. There were also a few useful YouTube videos on DIY roof racks that helped a bit…

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I used the PDF template to create my own template in Inkscape and then printed it on paper, which I found to be less than ideal in getting the holes precisely lined up, so I did what I often do…

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I turned to 3D printing. I took the SVG file and exported it to a DXF that I could pull into OpenSCAD and extruded into a 2.5D shape. From there I printed a nice (solid) template that I could use to drill the holes for the pieces that would hold up the rack.

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The parts that hold up the rack are some scrap pieces of HDPE plastic, which is very solid and resistant to wear from the elements. The template worked great (with a drill press) for making the needed holes. There’s a 6mm bolt that holds everything in place. Yeah, I ended up just using one bolt instead of three on each piece, so in the end the template didn’t matter as much.

I didn’t use stainless steel bolts, so I expect they may rust out, and I might replace them. The main reason was I bought a bunch of bolts from Bolt Depot in various lengths because I didn’t know which I would use. Now that I know the length I should probably replace them. I also used Aluminum washers which are left over from using a hole saw to drill out button holes from guitar pedal enclosures. (Long story!)

roof-rack-01

The rack itself was just some square steel tube I got from Speedy Metals. It’s 1-1/4″ SQ x 1.084″ ID x .083″ Wall, BTW. (I ended up painting the tube black with an enamel paint, which was supposed to stand up to the elements but has done a terrible job and the metal has rusted quite a bit since these photos were taken.) I’ve been told grill paint or marine paint might work better. At this point I’d need to pull everything apart and sand off the rust if I want to make things look better. (Which means I probably won’t.) The other nice thing about getting the square tube from Speed Metals was that I was able to just have them cut them to length, so I didn’t need to cut the metal precisely.

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The other piece for the roof rack are the end pieces. Yes, they are green instead of orange or black, but that’s due to the filament I had loaded into the 3D printer at the time…

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Amazingly enough, they are printed in PLA and have held up quite well through one winter and one summer. They didn’t melt in the summer or get destroyed by the cold and wetness of winter.

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They are not held in place as securely as I’d like, and are easy to remove, but they’ve stayed in place without falling out for over a year now. I should really print some replacements in another color… though it does make it easy to spot my car when other orange Elements are nearby.

So how does it work? Well, it’s a roof rack, and it works fine. If anything, I’d consider raising it a bit higher, and to be honest, I think I use it a lot more frequently when I need to tie down the back window when hauling things that stick out the back, which is good enough for me. In total the cost with the square tube, hardware, and paint, was probably around $30, which is a lot cheaper than a roof rack purchased.

giant-led-cube-02

This year my “big” project for Maker Faire Milwaukee was a Giant LED Cube. In this post I’ll talk about designing it, and in a follow up post I’ll talk about building it.

I should mention that the idea for this started maybe three years ago. I think it was during a meeting for Maker Faire at Milwaukee Makerspace and I tossed out the idea of building a giant light sculpture using light bulbs. Lance and Chris talked about it a bit and Tom started looking up parts on Alibaba. Nothing came of it that year, and I sort of forgot about it for a while. In fact, I really didn’t think about it again until after we completed the DecaLight last year. Once the two dimensional relay controlled light bulb thing was done I thought going three dimensional would be a good idea.

I modeled the cube in OpenSCAD, and then animated it just for fun. I figured out how many pieces of each PVC joint I would need, and while I originally thought a 20′ cube would be a good idea, after some initial tests (and the unavailability of 10′ PVC pipe) I ended up going with a 10′ cube so the 5′ PVC pipe I could get would work.

I picked up Jordan Bunker’s book PVC and Pipe Engineer: Put Together Cool, Easy, Maker-Friendly Stuff last year and then ended up learning about FORMUFIT which allows you to build furniture using PVC pipe. I had a plan!

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Here’s the first sketch of the Giant LED Cube. By now I had decided that I would use LED light bulbs and standard household lamp sockets. The nice thing about using such common parts is that they are very cheap. I found these Black Bakelite Fixture Socket with Terminals and ordered some so I could test the fit. It was close enough that it would work, and I just needed to make a small adapter. Well, at least 27 small adapters.

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I designed and 3D printed over 30 of these using clear ABS, which is remarkably close to being white, and since you wouldn’t really see them, I was fine with the close match. I cranked these out so I’d be ready when they were needed. Like many parts of this project, they are just press fit into place. The entire thing was designed to be easily assembled and disassembled for making transport and storage an simple affair.

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I had the basic design of the cube figured out, so I decided to work on the controller. Since we’d have 27 LED light bulbs I decided to use an Arduino Mega, which had plenty of I/O pins, along with two 16 channel relay boards. LED light bulbs are pretty lower power (compared to incandescent bulbs, anyway) so even though they’re 110 volts AC, 27 bulbs all on at the same time probably pulled less than 6 amps.

The image above represents my first attempt at layout out the controller, which I eventually abandoned. The screw terminals ended up not being a good idea. I would be pretty busy running Maker Faire so I assumed that I could find helpers able to strip wire, put them into the screw terminals, and get it all right. After attempting this myself on a small scale I decided that it needed to be even simpler, and clear enough that almost anyone could do the setup. So I scrapped the screw terminals. Around this time I also decided that running all of the power cords inside the PVC was going to be tedious and difficult, so with the decision to just run the cords on the outside (at least for this installation) I decided to just use standard household plugs. This would allow nearly anyone to just match up some numbers and plug things in. Simple wins!

The design process for the Giant LED Cube wasn’t too difficult. Doing this like this (designing, specifying parts, building, etc.) is pretty much my day job. The wiring was definitely tedious, and required at least one unexpected hour-long troubleshooting session due to a bad connection. I had a lot of help with the wiring of the lights from Adrian, and a lot of help with initial assembly from Becky. Without their help things would have taken me a lot longer. (Thank You!)

I think I’ve spewed enough about this project for one post (which I wanted to get out last month!) so I’ll end it here and get working on Part II ASAP.

printmaking-0999

I came across this DIY Printmaking Press from the Open Press Project and since I’ve always been a fan of printmaking I thought I should 3D print a printing press on my 3D printer so I could print paper on a 3D printed printing press.

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The (3D) printing went well, and all the pieces turned out good. I did add support to the rollers, to ensure they’d print well without sags. The one piece that is weird is the roller pin, which seems too small. It falls out a lot and doesn’t fit tight in the roller or the roller wrench. I may design a new one that fits snug.

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I also did not have any 5mm bolts of the right length, so I used 6-32″ bolts. I’ll have to glue in the nuts so they don’t fall out, but that’s pretty minor. I’d also consider using hex head bolts and 3D printing little knobs to put on the heads so you can adjust the pressure without needing a screwdriver.

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I did not have any press blankets, so I used some foam rubber sheets I had on hand. It seems to work okay. I may ask my printmaking friends for some scrap blankets.

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For my first printing plate I grabbed a vector image of Makey and laser etched it using 3mm Baltic Birch. (Sidenote: LightBurn is awesome.) I did not seal the wood as I was anxious to make some prints!

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This is a small press, and my plate was 57.5mm x 65mm. This might be a good press for making business cards or maybe printing stickers. The nice thing is that since it is so small, it’s portable, and you can make a lot of tiny prints for pretty cheap.

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This was a fun little project and I’m guessing the cost of making this printing press was maybe a few dollars worth of filament and hardware. The press blanket is probably the more difficult thing to get cheap, though perhaps an alternative like some thick felt (or layered up thin felt) could be used.

Happy Printing!

roman-prodoehl-snowshoes

The following is an article about my grandfather that appeared in the Milwaukee Journal (or Sentinel, I’m not sure which) on February 26, 1981.

If you know me, this article will probably seem familiar to you… and if you don’t know me, reading this article may give you some insight into why I am the way I am, and tell you a bit about my family.

When the Boy Scouts of Troop 501 in Greenfield needed snowshoes for their winter hikes in deep snow, they turned to an American Indian design—and Roman Prodoehl.

Although it was his first venture into snowshoes, Roman Prodoehl of 4429 S. 66th St., Greenfield, has spent the 10 years since his retirement from Falk Corp. concentrating on his woodworking hobby.

One of the boys in Troop 501 knew all about Prodoehl’s work.

Peter Prodoehl grew up knowing how grandpa could turn pieces of wood into something magical.

The scoutmaster did the research and found a snowshoe design developed by the American Indians of the northeast-tribes that lived in the area that is now the state of Maine.

Roman Prodoehl took the design and started working on the snowshoes in mid-September.

Now Troop 501 has 11 pairs of snowshoes, and an easier time of it when they hike (with full backpacks) through the deep Wisconsin snow.

“I do it for the love of the work,” says Prodoehl. “My son Ron (Peter’s father) says it keeps me out of mischief!”

Prodoehl didn’t have much time for mischief when he started on the snowshoes.

The troop supplied the two 4 by 8 sheets of plywood and Roman supplied the know-how and the help of his wife, Lucille.

Each snowshoe was soaked in hot water for half an hour. Then Prodoehl curved the tips in a woodpress for four hours.

The three-foot long snowshoes, stained brown, are not only authentic but also “custom made”—coming in different sizes depending on the boy.

On a recent hike through Whitnall Park, Troop 501 reported that the snowshoes worked beautifully.

Prodoehl didn’t know it at the time, but 50 years ago, while attending Boys’ Tech woodworking classes, he was learning the techniques needed for the snowshoes. Later he used the same principles in his job in steel fabrication at Falk Corp.

On and off while working at Falk Corp., Prodoehl made use of his woodworking skills—fixing the family wood toboggan after a run-in with a tree, for example—but it is in the last 10 years that he says he begun “to tackle anything.”

That includes a dollhouse for daughter Fleurette and later, over 300 pieces of doll furniture for Fleurette’s children. He patterned all the pieces after furniture in his house.

“I’ve made refrigerators, stoves, davenports, beds, rocking chairs…everything,” he says.

Even a grand piano made out of black walnut.

One Christmas Roman Prodoehl presented family members with handcarved horsedrawn sleighs. Used as centerpieces they are perfect for holding Christmas cards and candy.

Now he is working on a series of shadow boxes for son Ron. One is a miniature old-time saloon.

When summer comes Prodoehl puts away his miniatures and concentrates “on the big stuff”—picnic tables and benches, for example.

“I could be very busy every day of the week,” he says. “People call up and ask if I can make something…”

But although he prefers to take his time “and do what I want to” he can be quickly caught up in a challenge.

That happened recently when Prodoehl was walking through a store and noticed some shoe-boxes-the kind that hold polish and buffing material-selling for $25.

“I looked at them and thought, ‘Oh boy, I can put that together for five bucks,” he says.

So he did. Several of them. And gave them to his grandchildren.

Even after making 22 snowshoes and an entire Boy Scout troop happy, Roman Prodoehl remains stubbornly modest.

“A little whittling. A little carving. It turns out real nice.”

Leave it to grandson Peter to tell the whole story:

“Grandpa can make anything.”

Reading this 37 years later brings back a lot of memories, and brings with it a new perspective on where I came from, and who I am. I don’t think this article would have resonated with me so strongly 10 or even 15 years ago, but right now, it sure means a lot.

low-res-video

For the past few years I’ve been creating weird videos that (often) celebrate retro-computing with modern day low-power computing by making a Raspberry Pi connected to an old Apple display monitor play videos. You may remember Apple Watch and Apple Wait from past years of Maker Faire Milwaukee.

I’ve struggled a bit with the process of using modern software to create low-resolution videos, and I’m sure there is more than one way to do it, but I thought I’d document my process so that the next time I do it I’ll have a simple guide to follow. I’m calling this my “Guide to creating Standard Definition Video files for Raspberry Pi”.

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When I create a new video file in Final Cut Express (yeah, I’m still using it) I just pretty much assume I’ll want an HD version, so that’s what I create, even if I plan to have a standard definition video as my final output. Video files get created at 1920×1080, also known as “1080″, for short. Let’s make a 1920×1080 file in Photoshop.

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Our final file will be 640×480, but since SD is 4:3 versus HD which is 16:9, we need to adjust for that. If we put in 480 for the height of the file, we see it proportionally scales down the width to 853. (I remember this number from my video editing days!)

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853 isn’t what we want… we want 640, so subtract 640 from 853 and what do you get? Well, it’s 213. Maths, duh! (Remember, we’re going from 16:9 to 4:3 aspect ratio, so we need to lose some of the image.)

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Divide that 213 in half and we get 106.5, but since we need an integer and not a floating point, we will use two numbers, 107 and 106. Those are the number of pixels we need to crop from our video file.

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I still use MPEG Streamclip because, wow, it’s awesome and it works. I’ve highlighted all the important settings I need to care about. We are loading in our full HD (1080) video file, and then scaling it down to 853×480 and also cropping it, 107 pixels on the left, and 106 pixels on the right. (Selecting “Deinterlace Video” can help too, depending on the look you want.)

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If the export preview from MPEG Streamclip looks wrong, you probably did something wrong. If it looks right, then you are probably in luck! Once your MP4 file is saved, you can check it out.

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I open it with QuickTime Player to check the resolution. It’s 640×480, so everything is good. So now I’ve got a Standard Def 640×480 MP4 video file that is all set to be played on a Raspberry Pi connected via composite video to an old fashioned 4:3 video display.

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