PCOMP – Assignment 3













We’re already half way through the semester and finished our third assignment for Electronics and Sculpture last week. Assignment 3 requires analog input and output for the project. (Assignment 1 is purely digital, and Assignment 2 requires analog input for control.) And yes, the class is called “Electronics and Sculpture” but it could just as easily be named “Arduino for Artists”.

Projects have varied from very interactive to installations to mostly sculptural with some electronics added in. I find that students do the best work when they can take what they are learning in class and combine it with their own practice, or what they are learning in other classes. The Digital Fabrication students definitely have an advantage here, and I wish all of the students had access to digital fabrication tools, though we just wouldn’t have time to cover it all in the 318 class. (That’s not to say the work of non-Digital Fabrication students is lacking in any way, and I’ve seen some great work using very simple material and tools. As always, art is a combination of things, including concepts, themes, ideas, technical skills and abilities, and more.)

We’re currently in the middle of the midterm project, and things are coming together quite well. Critique is in two weeks, and after that we launch right into the final project. (Since there isn’t an Arts+Tech Night this semester, we’ll probably just push the final critique onto the date that our final exam is scheduled for.)


PCB Name Tag

Name Tag

I woke up early on Sunday and had an idea for a project, and since I had a bunch of copper boards laying around, and just got some Liquid Tin, I made a super-simple name tag PCB.

Design filled

I started by designing in Inkscape with a canvas slightly larger than what I needed, and a cutting guide the exact size of my copper board.

Design outlined

Here’s the outline of the design, which I exported as a DXF file. The outer line was useful in making a (near) perfect alignment when I put the vinyl on the copper board.


I then imported the DXF file into the Silhouette Studio software so I could cut some vinyl to use as a resist for etching. (As mentioned previously, my etching solution is hydrogen peroxide, vinegar, and a bit of salt.)

Liquid Tin

Etching took over 75 minutes, but after it was done and cleaned off I dropped it into the Liquid Tin. It started getting bright and shiny immediately! (Sorry, no photos of the bare copper because I was working fast.)

LED & resistor

I soldered a blinking LED and a resistor in place, and since I still don’t have a tiny drill at home I went with surface mount of through-hole components, which works fine.


I also needed power, so I added a CR2032 battery and a binder clip along with a wire. The bottom of the battery (positive) goes against the PCB while the top (negative) gets a wire held against it with the binder clip. (Pretty much just borrowing heavily from the Learn to Solder Kit.)

Name Tag

I did end up drilling and filing a slot for the name tag clip thing, which I stole from my Milwaukee Makerspace badge.

Name Tag

Blink Blink! Maybe I’ll wear it to the National Maker Faire! I’ve got a few more ideas to build circuits that are one part electronics and one part art, so stay tuned!


Click Whir Squee

Click Whir Squee

Occasionally I show up at Milwaukee Makerspace with no clear idea of what might happen when I’m there. This piece, titled “Click Whir Squee” is the result of one such visit. Another member brought in a box of old computer hardware, including a Hewlett Packard Colorado T100E Tape Backup Drive. Being a fan of old technology (1997 is old, right?) I opened up the drive to take a look inside. I also powered it on and stuck a tape in it. The drive came to life and unspooled the tape and made a lot of spinning motor and tape loading sounds. Not everyone knows what these things sound like. It brought back some memories. (At my first job in the tech industry I had to load daily backup tapes into two tape drives. I remember the sound fondly.)

I somehow decided I should mount the tape drive to a piece of wood for display, so I went to the Wood Shop and started cutting up some scrap wood I found. Steve showed up to do some training, so I sat in on that for a bit so I could use the compound miter saw and the band saw. I had all the pieces cut by the end of the evening and knew how I was going to mount it.

I ended up taking all the pieces home and assembling it in my basement workshop. I manage to only split one piece of wood. Just a minor split, but a reminder to slow down when working with wood. The rest of the assembly went very smooth.

Click Whir Squee

Since the majority of fun with this drive is the startup sequence, I decided it should continually turn on, do its thing, then turn off, and keep repeating that. I’ve been playing with ATtiny85 chips lately, so I put one into service to trigger a 5 volt relay (which I also grabbed from Milwaukee Makerspace) and put the following Arduino code on it.

 * TapeDriver.ino

int relayPin = 3;
int onTime = 70000;
int offTime = 15000;

void setup() {
  pinMode(relayPin, OUTPUT);

void loop() {
   digitalWrite(relayPin, LOW);
   digitalWrite(relayPin, HIGH);

Yes, this is pretty much a glorified blink sketch. Sometimes the simplest things are exactly what you need. (Astute readers will see that the device will be on for 70 seconds, and then off for 15 seconds, and repeat indefinitely.)

Click Whir Squee

To power the ATtiny85 and the relay I found a Samsung phone charger on the Hack Rack at Milwaukee Makerspace. It even had a long cord, which was quite useful. You can also see one of the tapes that this machine uses. Now, if you really want to find some contrasts, consider that the modern day phone charger pictured here was used to charge a phone that probably had 8GB (or more) of solid state storage. The tape next to it could store 400MB of data (or 800MB of compressed data.) I should have included a MicroSD card which can store 8GB of data that I routinely buy for about $6 USD.

Click Whir Squee

Click Whir Squee

Since I removed the case there was no indication of what this thing was. I felt I should have something that told a bit of the story. I chose to mount the beige power pack, with “Hewlett Packard” emblazoned on it prominently.

Click Whir Squee

Oh, and while the whir of the motor is quite satisfying, we can do better. There is a wooden arm to which you can affix a small piece of material with a binder clip, which will then be activated when the primary motor spins. Fans of baseball cards and bicycle spokes, this one is for you! I call the “Annoy-o-tron” mode. (Look, if you’re going to use an ATtiny in an Annoy-o-tron, at least be original, right?) I’ve experimented with paper, vinyl, and plastic, but finally settled on a piece from an anti-static bag which some electronics were shipped to me in. It seemed fitting.

Click Whir Squee

Click Whir Squee

Click Whir Squee

Gallery owners and curators take note! This piece is ready to be mounted to a wall, and needs just two outlets to power it. It’s pretty much guaranteed to amuse some visitors while annoying other visitors. Art isn’t always about being pretty.

Enjoy the video below which allows you to experience this wonderful piece over the Internet while in the comfort of your own home (probably while wearing pajamas.)


Lasers to San Mateo

Road to Maker Faire

Remember my Laser Kaleidoscope project? Well, I entered into into the Road to Maker Faire contest, and now I need your vote!

Help send me (and my laser!) to the Bay Area Maker Faire. Use the big bold button below to vote for my project. (You’ll need a Facebook account, but 98.483% of people who use the Internet seem to have one.)

But why should you vote for me? I’d like to explore making this thing into a kit that would teach people about things like basic electronics, lasers, engineering, and fun. I’m hoping a visit to Maker Faire will give me the opportunity to talk to knowledgeable people and learn more about building it into an actual kit you could purchase and build yourself. That’s the plan!

So yeah, vote… vote now, not later. And then ask your friends to vote. Did you vote yet? Thanks! I appreciate it!

Vote Now!

Note: Voting is over! Thanks to everyone who voted for me… now we wait!


Making Podcasts? Hacking Podcasts!

Maker / Hacker Podcasts

So what is the Gentleman Hacker or Lady Maker listening to nowadays in the way of podcasts? I don’t know… but I can tell you what I’ve been hearing. Here’s a round-up of some of my most recent podcast delights.

Hackerspace Digest
Recorded by the crew at Makers Local 256 in Huntsville, Alabama, the Hackerspace Digest is one of my favorites (and not just because they’ve mentioned Milwaukee Makerspace and myself a few times.) They typically talk about things happening at other hackerspaces as well as things they’ve been working on. Most of their focus seems to be US-based spaces, which is fine… we’ll get all international later. They provide ogg files for people who love freedom, and mp3 files for people who love convenience. Check it out.. Hackerspace Digest is probably one of my favorite podcasts right now.

Hack All The Spaces
I was excited to hear about a podcast from the UK! Out of Nottinghack came the “Hack All The Spaces” podcast. The members of the London Hackspace tend to talk about UK hackspaces (yeah, they are called “hackspaces” over there instead of “hackerspaces”) and ramble on about various hacking/making related topics. The audio quality still needs to improve, especially since they are no longer in the same physical location when they record. All podcasters: If you’re not using The Levelator, you should be! I often have problems listening in the car due to the difference in audio levels. (Granted, my car is pretty noisy.)

The Hackables
As long as we’re across the pond… a fairly new podcast called “The Hackables” put out two episodes (000 and 001) so far and the second (001) was better than the first (000) so that’s good! They are a motley bunch, sort of like the Hackerspace Digest crew, but with British accents and a lot more laughing. (I love British accents, and if you’re doing a UK podcast and you don’t have a British accent, you should get one!)

The Amp Hour
Alright, let’s head over to Australia and… Cleveland? The Amp Hour is two engineers talking about electronics (and other things) in a no-bull manner. I’ll admit that Dave took a little bit to get used to, but he’s pretty hilarious, and both he and Chris are smart guys. The Amp Hour gets a little too “electrical engineery” for me on occasion, but it’s definitely informative and entertaining.

Robots Podcast
Welcome… to The World of Robotics! If you’re into robotics, this is the podcast for you. It covers uh, the world of robotics… from researchers to commercial robotics companies, and the latest news and events. It’s about robots, duh. (It’s also a bit more professionally produced than a few of the others I’ve mentioned.)

Make: Talk
Our friends at Make have been talking to the makers who make the articles that show up in Make. Make: Talk is a fun series where Mark Frauenfelder interviews people about the cool stuff they do. So far they’ve all been pretty interesting to me but I think my favorite is still the one with Steve Hoefer. If you like Make you’ll probably like Make: Talk.

The Engineering Commons
Chris Gammell from The Amp Hour wasn’t satisfied doing just one podcast so he teamed up with Jeff Shelton to launch a new engineering podcast. As of right now they’ve only done two episodes, so it’s early days, but it could be one to keep an eye on.

Engineer Vs. Designer
New to me (but they’ve done nearly 40 episodes) is a podcast with an engineer and a designer which they are surprisingly calling Engineer Vs. Designer. I’ve listened to two episodes, and I’ve got plenty more I want to dig into. EvD is a pretty polished podcast, which fits them well.

So that’s my current list of “podcasts that I am listening to” right now. If I’ve missed any you think I should be listening to, or have any good recommendations, or just want to tell me what you are listening to… please do!