Non-Fancy Signs

We’re growing new grass on the side of our house and wanted something to remind our neighbor not to mow it. Typically I would be 100% in favor of someone else mowing our grass, but it needs to grow more before being cut. Dana asked me to make two signs to put in the lawn, so I did.

I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on it, but I do enjoy making signs so I made them “nice enough” but not too fancy. When I was done Dana saw them and said “Why are they so fancy!?” and I explained that these were not fancy. I did not sand, I did not stain, I did not polyurethane them. Quick and dirty, in my opinion. I just hot glued some wood dowel scraps on the back, though I did sharpen them on the belt sander.

She said she would have just used cardboard and duct tape. I cringe when duct tape is mentioned. This is a gaff tape household, though we do dabble in electrical tape, blue painters tape, Maker Tape™, etc. but NO duct tape.) I told her cardboard would have been destroyed by the rain, and really… these were not fancy signs.

What do you think? Are these scrap wood signs I laser etched and quickly rolled one coat of white ink onto fancy? I didn’t even do any kerning!


Fast Laser Cut Sign

I got a message from my daughter asking if I could help her make a sign for an event happening later that day. I said yes, and without much time asked he what it needed to say. She texted me the copy, and I cranked out a design very quickly.

I did ask if it was a tabletop sign or a wall hanging sign, and she said tabletop, so that’s what I made. It’s just two simple pieces that slot together. I think this came together in about 30 minutes total. I did a quick sanding and didn’t really have time to stain it, so I just applied some paste wax to it.

And yeah, you can check out BrewCityWraps on Instagram if you are into wire-wrapped jewelry. I heard back from her during the event saying people liked the sign and they had made some sales. Awesome!

The sign can flat pack, and I threw in a few rubber bands to hold the two piece together. Overall I’m pleased with how it turned out in the time given. Sometimes with larger projects you spend so much time planning you never get around to actually making something, so cranking out a quick one is nice.


Recording Sign

I recently made a few “Recording” signs for Brown Dog Gadgets so that when we are recording or streaming no one opens the doors to the studio. This is one of those projects where I thought about it too long instead of just getting busy making it. And of course, like everything, there’s the issue of it being “good enough” versus being “done” and yeah, I just need to find a middle ground between those two things.

I did a quick design in 2D so I could laser cut some 1/8″ Baltic Birch plywood. I didn’t put calipers on the wood so the fit was a little tight, but nothing a few minutes of sandpaper couldn’t solve. Also, since I painted the pieces it slotted together fairly tight so I didn’t even add the 3mm hardware I had planned on. I’m pretty sure if it falls off the wall there’s about a 50% chance it’ll stay put together versus coming apart. I’ll call that a win.

Josh and I talked about using an ESP8266 so we could control it from the studio wirelessly, or just running power to it from within the studio but in the end I just went really simple (hey, it’s version 1.0) and there’s an ATtiny85 programmed using the Arduino IDE to just blink a string of NeoPixels on and off in red. Simple works and usually gets done… eventually.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll make a version 2 that is controlled via WiFi and use matte paint instead of gloss and actually design in an on/off switch hole instead of drilling it later. Stay Tuned!


DIY DSN with Screenly OSE

DIY DSN Screenly OSE

One of the nice things about doing an annual event year after year is that you can come up with ideas and even if you can’t really execute them in time you’ll hopefully have another chance a year later. So it was for my Do It Yourself Distributed Signage Network. (DIY DSN for short.)

Back in 2017 when one of the volunteers was building out the WiFi network for Maker Faire Milwaukee I came up with the idea of using a bunch of Raspberry Pi computers connected to TVs and other screens to provide real-time updatable digital signs around the venue. I’d used Screenly OSE in the past for MMPIS and other things so it seemed like the perfect solution.

If you’ve never used (or heard of) Screenly Open Source Edition before it’s a piece of software that runs on a Raspberry Pi and allows you to use a web browser to upload content to it (images and videos) and also have it load pages from the Internet.

Screenly also allows you to schedule start and stop times for content, so it’s easy to have something display between 9am and 1pm on Saturday, then disappear. For events this means you can have “live” signage for speakers or workshops as they are happening, then disappear and be replaced by a schedule or something else when done.

We managed to scrounge up eight TVs (or computer monitors with HDMI/DVI inputs) of various sizes along with eight Raspberry Pi boards. A few of the Pi boards did not have built-in WiFi so a cheap USB WiFi dongle was used to get them online. Each Pi got added to the WiFi network, got a unique IP address, and then a name so we knew where it was in the venue. Some were in front of stages, or at specific entrances, etc. Then it was a matter of creating targeted content. Most of the content was 1920×1080 graphics. (There’s a whole bunch below!)

Thanking sponsors is a great thing to do… You can schedule slides to show up for X number of seconds as well as during specific days/times or all the time.

You want to show what happens in a specific place on Saturday only on Saturday and not on Sunday? Easy!

You want to show what happens in a specific place on Sunday only on Sunday and not on Saturday? Easy!

If you can design a PowerPoint or Keynote slide, you can probably figured out how to export it to a graphic image file suitable for loading into Screenly.

Yeah, thank those sponsors! You can have a different slide for each sponsorship level, and use logos or text or whatever your sponsorship commitment promises. (Also, let your sponsors know that they’ll also be recognized on digital signage at the event!)

Presenting Sponsor? They can have their own slide! Maybe it’s on the screen for 20 seconds instead of 10 seconds… Easy to do.

We’ve done this twice now, and while it was a bit of a scramble pulling together eight Raspberry Pi boards (and WiFi dongles for some of them), eight screens (TVs 27″ or larger work best), eight TV stands or table or whatever you’ll use to put them in places, eight HDMI cables, eight SD cards, eight power supplies, etc… If it’s for an event you might be able to borrow all the hardware you need, and since the software is open source it’s mainly a matter of learning how to use it and getting familiar with it. I’d recommend getting it up and running before your event starts just so you aren’t jumping in blind trying to figure it out while also running an event. :)


Fake WiFi Sign

Much of my family belongs to a group that celebrates our German heritage and there’s a clubhouse on a lake that they spend time at during the summer. I’ve spent time there as well, starting when I was a child, and the place has the most basic amenities you need, but nothing fancy… there’s no TV or big stereo system, no video games or pinball… there’s not even an Internet connection, and most of all, there’s no WiFi. When you’re there it’s more about spending time with family and friends, being outdoors, on the lake, enjoying some downtime “off the grid” as it were.

So my cousin told me he wanted a (fake) sign to put on the wall advertising a non-existent WiFi network to trick people into trying to connect to it. I’m guessing he wanted to see the youth get excited and then frustrated, which is always a fun pastime for older people…

I liked his idea enough to kick out a quick design in Inkscape, load the SVG into LightBurn, and toss some 1/4″ Baltic Birch into the laser cutter to make one for him. I chose a Germanic looking font and the word “Gem├╝tlichkeit” which is a German word used to convey the idea of a state or feeling of warmth, friendliness, and good cheer. Which is great for a fake WiFi network password aimed at tricking people. It’s even got umlauts! Who chooses a WiFi password with umlauts in it!?

When I heard my cousin was moving out of state for a new job I decided I had to make two signs, one for the clubhouse and one he could take with him to his new home. I used two different techniques as well. The first was simple etched wood that I then sanded and covered with polyurethane, and the second was etched, then spray painted white for the etched letters, then rolled with black ink on the top surface, and finally covered with polyurethane.

I used enough polyurethane on the black and white version to pretty much fill in the etched part so it (almost) matches the top surface of the black part. Since I used oil-based polyurethane it also took on a yellowy tint, which I think worked well because it makes it look like other things on the wall which have probably been there for the last fifty years. I mean, what’s better than a really old looking fake WiFi sign for 2020?