National Week of Making

The National Week of Making is coming up! It’s June 17th through June 23rd, 2016. (These dates contain not only my birthday, but my wedding anniversary to Dana.)

This year I figured that I’d observe my birthday by attending the National Maker Faire, which happens to be on my birthday. Yes, I’ll be in Washington D.C. for my birthday, and hanging out with makers and seeing other Maker Faire Producers from around the country. Neat!

It’s also (somewhat of) a work trip. Carrie and I from BBCM are both headed there, and while I get to goof off do my own thing on Friday she’ll be representing Wisconsin and attending the President’s National Week of Making kick-off event at the White House, hanging out with Lady Ada no doubt…

See you at the Faire!

Maker Faire




The Sonic Titan

The Sonic Titan was created for Bay View Gallery Night in June 2016 and was displayed at Milwaukee Makerspace.

The Sonic Titan

Similar to the piece I created last year, The Sonic Titan has a musical connection, which is fitting for Bay View Gallery Night which is “A celebration of local art, music, business and community.”

The Sonic Titan

You can find out more about this device/object/thing by checking out the project page for The Sonic Titan.

Copper versus Tin

When I created the PCBs for my Learn to Solder kit I was going for quick and dirty and cheap, and I achieved those goals, but for better PCBs it would make sense to tin them. Tinning the boards puts a thin layer of tin over the copper, which helps prevent oxidation, which can make soldering more difficult.

For a Learn to Solder kit the last thing you want is something that’s difficult to solder. (Or maybe you do want that, so it’s a challenge!) Anyway, for the PCBs I made I was able to easily scrub them with some steel wool before using, and didn’t really see much oxidation when we used them, but take a look at the photo above and you’ll see the condition of the copper just a few weeks after I made some of the boards. The one in the middle is the exception, because it has been tinned.

Liquid Tin

Just like etching, there are a number of ways to tin a PCB, and since I haven’t done it before I chose to go with the easy/expensive option. MG Chemicals has something called 421 Liquid Tin in a 125 ml Bottle. At $15 a pop it’s more expensive than other methods, but doesn’t involve heating chemical solutions, or mixing up a bunch of chemical. Don’t worry though, this stuff is still pretty dangerous, as the label on the back of the bottle will warn you.

Copper versus Tin

Warnings aside, it was dead simple to use. I just put some in a plastic container with my PCB and a few minutes later it was all tinned!

This isn’t something I would have done to all of the PCBs in my Learn to Solder kit, mainly because one of the goals was to make the kits as cheaply as possible. I will be exploring the use of tinned PCBs for some future projects, some of which are more at the intersection of art and electronics, where aesthetics and how the final piece looks really matter.

MacBook Pro Power Adapter

This is a Hack. This is a Hacked thing. This thing was Hacked.

Hacking is an art form that uses something in a way in which it was not originally intended. This highly creative activity can be highly technical, simply clever, or both. Hackers bask in the glory of building it instead of buying it, repairing it rather than trashing it, and raiding their junk bins for new projects every time they can steal a few moments away. [1]

I decided to clean my MacBook Pro power adapter cable, which was good because it was filthy, but bad because in the process of (gently) wiping it, I somehow destroyed it. I didn’t realize until I was at work a few hours and noticed it wasn’t charging my computer.

I was down to 30% battery which would not last the day, and no one else at work has the same power adapter (Damn you, Apple!) I contemplated running to the Apple Store during lunch to get a new one, but instead decided that since it didn’t work, I had nothing to lose, so I cracked it open.

Oh wait, before I cracked it open I verified that no power was getting to the connector. I grabbed a multimeter first, got nothing, and then cracked it open. (Luckily the MagSafe Wikipedia page has some useful info.)

Cracking things open is sometimes the most dangerous part of hacking. I occasionally stab my own hand with a screwdriver. (It didn’t happen this time.) With the power adapter opened I saw two wires (black and white) leading to the thin round cable.

I checked the voltage on the black and white wires and got about 6 volts, which is way under what it should be according to the MagSafe info… but I figured that was due to there being no load, and that was correct, as verified by a note at the bottom of the MagSafe Wikipedia page.

I ended up chopping about 6 inches off the thin round cable and stripped the ends, then slid on some heat shrink, soldered things together, shrunk the heat shrink, and it all worked fine again. I had my power adapter back.

I fixed a broken thing rather that buying a new thing. I also managed to fix it in much less time that it would have taken to get a replacement. #HACK

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see this as some amazing feat that will be celebrated by hackers everywhere, but it’s just one more reminder that if something is broken, you may have nothing to lose by trying to fix it. I mean, you could make it more broken but if it doesn’t work to begin with, there’s a chance you can revive it and get on with your day.

Keep on Hacking!

Mike's Light Sculpture

The Electronics and Sculpture class I taught this semester wrapped up a few weeks ago and my students showed their final projects at Arts+Tech Night in May. I’ve included a few photos in this post, but each student also posted their project online, so check below for more links.

Lionel's Brick

The class was structured around five projects in total, with three being smaller projects focusing on digital input/output, analog sensors controlling 2-3 digital things, and the third using analog input/output. The last two projects were larger, one being the mid-term project and the other being the final project, which was then shown to the public during Arts+Tech Night, and treated as an installation for the event.

Greg's Drumming Machine

The books we used for the course were Make: Electronics: Learning Through Discovery by Charles Platt and Programming Arduino Getting Started with Sketches by Simon Monk. I think the amount of reading was fairly minimal, but needed up front for a lot of the things we did later in the semester.

William's Ugly Box

Much of the first half of the semester was spent going through some of the basics of electrical circuits and getting up to speed with the Arduino, learning how to wire things up, write code, and use libraries. Some students had never written code before, while others had never really built physical things before. Some students were more versed in the digital arts while others were more skilled in creating sculptural things. Students who had access to the DCRL had an advantage due to the tools and equipment they had access to (and the fact that they studied with Frankie.)

Matt's Controller

As part of the class, each student had to post their work on a public web site. Some students had blogs or portfolio sites, and some created new sites. Here’s the list of students and their web sites:

Not every student managed to write up their project, which caused me much sadness, but many did a great job of documenting their work and process.

Alycia's Kiosk

I’ll be teaching Electronics and Sculpture 318 and 418 again in the fall, and it looks like 6 of my 318 students are returning for 418 (the advanced class) so I can’t wait to see what they come up with next time!

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