Sunday, November 20, 2011

November Meeting

How lucky were we to have not one, but two interesting guests at our last meeting?

Russ Quon mods guitars. He started in the 60s when, as a player, he found himself frustrated paying for repairs that weren't always to his standards.
In those pre-Internet days, he began searching through books, building up a tool collection and learning the basics of electric guitar systems. Soon he found himself being asked to repair other players' guitars, and it was only a matter of time before he started improving cheaper instruments that he was given or had picked up inexpensively.
This Hello Kitty was a beginner-level guitar that a niece lost interest in. Russ added a tone circuit, reshaped the neck and buffed it by hand over a couple of weekends. He also polished each of the frets with #4 steel wool, a simple change that he feels makes a huge difference in playing.

His 1974 Gibson, shown in the top photo, was an even bigger transformation. When Russ got it, it had a broken neck and had been partially sanded down as if someone had intended to refinish it. Russ completed the sanding, refinished the Brazilian mahogany body, and repaired and straightened the neck to create a custom vintage guitar which he now treasures.


Our second guest was Jeff Stewart, brother of our community mentor Jim. Jeff's specialty is in building and restoring steam engines. He told us about his fully restored steam tractor, which he uses annually to make apple cider on his farm in Washington.
He also brought a couple of interesting engine models to show us. The first, shown above, was a Stirling engine, a design developed in the early 1800s which uses heat to operate. In this case, the heat came from Jeff's cup of coffee and ran the tiny engine atop it for close to an hour.

The second engine was called a flame eater. I didn't get a photo of it but did find this personal page full of information on engine modeling (with a little help from Google Translate).

Finally, Jeff brought out a piece of nitinol memory wire, which sprang back to its original shape after being dipped in the same hot drink that ran the Stirling.
Thank you to Russ and Jeff for a particularly educational meeting which left us all with plenty of food for thought.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

September Meeting

Jim brought and showed us some small, simple motors he'd found that could be used in a variety of projects.

The kids also dismantled some non-working freecycle-donated appliances in order to get a better understanding of their parts and operation.

We feel fortunate to be joined by a second community mentor. Doug is an inventor/engineer and we look forward to having his help on projects this year.

Our next meeting is set for November 2nd at 5:30pm. Visitor Russ Quon will show us his electric guitar mods, and Jim will talk to us about 3D viewing and capturing. And as usual, everyone is welcome to share any recent project activity or brainstorming.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Adventures with Sugru Man

I tried using sugru to make my favorite mechanical pencil more comfortable. Mom stole some sugru for a project of her own. The leftover sugru became Sugru Man. He slides around on my desk.

Sugru was fun and easy to work with, but it doesn't seem very durable. It peeled off my pencil within a few uses. Mom used it to make replacement buttons for a fan switch. They broke off within a few days. Maybe it doesn't stick as well to plastic? Sugru Man alone has survived. He has been dropped off the desk, run over by a chair, stepped on, nearly vacuumed up several times..but he prevails.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

August Meeting

We met last night in the warehouse and began to plan more seriously for the year ahead. Last year's group was able to plan and execute projects within just a few short months, but we are looking forward to having a longer planning stage this year.
We are also fortunate this year in having the mentorship of Jim Stewart, lifelong inventor/designer/engineer and president of JK Microsystems. Jim talked to us about how he got started in inventing at age 8, and about his work now as a creator of DOS and Linux microcontrollers. He told us about the importance of integrating design, electrical circuitry and programming in his mechanisms; and he also showed us his current project, an LED radiation detector that looks like a flashlight until it senses radioactive material.

Next on our club agenda: an outing to Jim's office and workshop to learn more about his work.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

County Fair

The county fair is many things: food, music, animals, rides...and exhibition halls full of things made by your friends and neighbors. There are quilts—
 t-shirts and other decorated objects—
even giant Adirondack chairs—
Our own Leo entered his Young Maker controller project in the Junior Exhibit Hall and won second place. Congratulations, Leo!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

My Use For Sugru

I picked up an old drawing board for free a while back. The board was fully functional except for two suction cups on the bottom, which were probably for keeping the board still when drawing but had long since dried up into hard, brittle rubber. One was actually broken off. However, when I took the cups off, I discovered that the bare bottom edge of the board would touch and probably badly scratch any surface that the board was sitting on. Then I remembered the small pack of Sugru that I had been given. I stuck two blobs of it to the bottom of the board, and after they had cured overnight the board was ready for use. The new 'feet' may not look like much, but they made the difference between me using the board and me not being able to use the board. They are also fairly sticky, so there is no trouble of the board moving around when I draw on it. The top picture is what the board looked like now, and the bottom picture shows what the board looked like before I modified it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

At the Warehouse Last Night

Dissecting solar garden lights picked up on freecycle. What will you do with your solar cells and led lights?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer Meeting

Our next meeting will be held on Monday, June 27, in the evening.

Please contact us here at the blog (youngmakersyolo at gmail dot com) if you are interested in attending.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Arduino MIDI Drum Pad

This project is a MIDI percussion controller than triggers lights through an arduino board. The arduino receives the MIDI notes from the percussion pad and triggers the lights through relays.

The test breadboard

Soldering the breadboard
One of the work lights the board triggers

Any type of light can be plugged in to the sockets. For the exhibit we used low powered work lights and strands of christmas lights.

Exhibiting the board at the Maker Faire
The controller can be rigged up to trigger lights for percussion and other types of stage performances.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Article from the Woodland Daily Democrat

We participated in the Homeschool Science Fair in our local area. It was a awesome! It was good practice for the upcoming Maker Faire. Everyone thought it was an awesome project.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

10 Tips for a Great Maker Faire Weekend

  1. Get your tickets early. This isn't an issue if you're an exhibitor, but if you have friends or family who will be arriving separately, the Early Bird discount is the best deal, and it ends at midnight today! Here's the link for all ticketing for the Bay Area Maker Faire 2011: Maker Faire Tickets (click on "Online Advance Purchase Ticket Pricing" to get the Early Bird deal before it expires).
  2. If you can only attend one day, Saturday is better than Sunday. News photos and video shot Saturday often attract a bigger crowd on Sunday. Makers and their booths are fresher on Saturday, too. It's not uncommon for supplies to run low, or even out, as the weekend progresses. 
  3. Avoid parking at the fairgrounds if at all possible. Parking is a steep $17, no matter how long you are there (there is no re-entry). You can look at other options on this map, or use the hotel shuttles. Another option is to ride your bike and take advantage of the free bike valet parking.
  4. Plan your day. The speaker and workshop schedule is packed, so mark those you really want to hear, then get your bearings with the map. It's fun to just wander and look at everything, but try to catch a lecture, a workshop, or a demo—you'll likely learn something new and interesting.
  5. Bring snacks and water, and arrive as early in the day as you can. There is food for sale, but lines get long around lunchtime and don't really let up.
  6. A backpack for carrying all the goodies you'll end up with is useful. 
  7. Get a wristband as soon as you enter, from the information booth by the gate. The wristband allows you to ride any of the rides, such as the Cyclecide, and also allows you re-entry if you need to leave for any reason. 
  8. If you have children, show them the yellow-jacketed security guards and let them know they can ask them for help if they are lost. (Yes, we got this tip through first-hand experience one year!)
  9. Bring something home with you. Whether at the Maker Shed, the exhibitor booths or the Bizarre Bazaar, great items sell out. Last year the credit-card sized lockpicking set was unavailable after the first day. But it's not just about scarcity. We picked up a pack of sugru last year, and in 12 months it has completely altered our thinking about repair and modification.
  10. Make sure you enjoy the experience. This seems an odd thing to have to mention, but the Maker Faire can be crowded and confusing; it's noisy and there are lines for everything. It's likely you won't be able to do and see everything of interest, so let go a little and take time to sit on the lawn, listen to music, people watch and chat with your fellow faire-goers.
Then go home and see what you're inspired to make.

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Open Make Session 4

Please read all about the Open Make Session at the Exploratorium on the new Young Makers blog here.

This is a new blog which will focus on general Young Maker activities, as opposed to those specific to our area. I hope you'll read it and be inspired to create.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Getting the Xbox Rapid Fire Mod To Work

Our previous work on the Xbox rapid fire button was disappointing ... it just didn't work. The circuit didn't make much sense to me, as I couldn't see how the LED would properly drive the trigger control to make it pulse quickly.

Searching on the web turned up this modification, which looked more promising. It uses a 555 timer chip to generate pulses, and then switches the trigger signal when the button is pressed. That made sense, the clock signal would act like someone pressing the button rapidly.

With some guidance, S built the circuit on an old Heathkit prototyping breadboard unit. This little unit has a power supply and circuit building area, and is perfect for experimenting:

We followed the circuit diagram and it is pretty easy to plug in wires and components to make the circuit, and there was plenty of room to work in. After turning on the power, I showed S how to look at the output of the 555 chip with an oscilloscope. It was making a perfect square wave, just like we wanted:

Then S built the transistor interface to the Xbox controller, which was a simple resistor and transistor. We wired it to the controller and tried it out:

No joy, and no rapid fire. It was time for some trouble shooting.

I measured the voltage levels at the Xbox controller and they just didn't make sense. Finally I realized that the ground hookup wasn't correct ... the connection at the top wire of the trigger potentiometer wasn't really ground. Once that was hooked up to the negative side at the power pack, how the trigger works began to make sense.

In the Xbox controller, the trigger is connected to a potentiometer (a resistor that changes values, just like a volume control). The potentiometer has three connections - a high voltage, a low voltage, and a middle voltage somewhere in between based on how far the trigger is pressed. When the trigger is totally out, there is low voltage on the center connector of the potentiometer. Push in the trigger, and the voltage rises until the button is all the way in.

Since the trigger signal was normally low and rose when the button is pushed, it needs to be pulled up to a higher voltage and then dropped back down to low voltage to imitate the button going in and out.
The original circuit had a transistor that acted as a switch, but didn't do what we wanted.

With a bit of experimenting, we came up with a circuit that works great. The 555 still generates a square wave signal on pin 3, the output. The new rapid fire button connects this to the trigger potentiometer through a resistor and diode.

When the rapid fire button is open, the circuit isn't connected and the trigger voltage is the normal low value. By pressing the rapid fire button, this signal is connected to the trigger. The high parts of the pulse pass through the diode and drive the trigger signal to high voltage - just as if the normal trigger button was pressed in. When the clock pulse goes low, the diode blocks the 555 from pulling the trigger signal to ground, and it thus returns to the normal voltage level with the trigger button unpressed. As a result, the controller thinks the trigger is being pressed and release rapidly - exactly what we want.

My revised circuit looks like this:

S removed the transistor from the prototype, replaced it with the diode, and we experimented with resistor values until we had something that swung the signal to the same levels as if someone was pressing the usual trigger. It worked!

With hindsight, I can see one little modification that would eliminate a wire ... the resistor and diode going to the trigger can be moved between the 555 chip and the rapid fire button. This means the wire would go from our circuit board to the button, then from the button to the trigger potentiometer, making the installation a little cleaner.

In the next step of the project, the boys will build this circuit on a little board that can be stuffed inside the Xbox controller. It turns out this packaging is another set of challenges to meet, but we now have something that promises to work.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Open Make Session 3

"You learn how to do things by screwing up—so don't be afraid. If you've got something you want to make and you don't really know what you're doing, just do it; you learn by making mistakes." 
 ~Jay Broemmel, art bike creator
It was again a rainy day driving in to San Francisco for the Open Make Session on metal, but it was well worth the drive. One of the first things we encountered walking through the Exploratorium was this reindeer bicycle:
The same artist, Jay Broemmel, had also made the Golden Gate—
—and a red fiberglass dragon with rotating light-up eyes.
You can see more of Jay's bike creations at the Meet the Makers talk webcast here. Other speakers included Tim Hunkin, David Cole, and experienced Young Makers Sam and Alex. All of these speakers are hard to define in a phrase, as they are each and every one people of diverse interests and abilities.

The theme of how everyone began to make things was particularly strong this month, as Jay showed his childhood model of an Imperial Walker from Star Wars and Tim demonstrated Gladys, the Burglar Catcher, a robot he made at age 11 (the first machine shown in the video link). Sam and Alex showed a number of their previous projects, which they expressly chose with the aim of learning a new skill each year.

A few common themes have evolved from all the speakers over the last three months: Just start, even if you're not sure what you're doing. Expect to make mistakes and learn from them. And have fun. Good advice for almost any endeavor, really.

Back at the plussing session, projects were in various stages:
marshmallow gun
plans for scale model house
a go kart
drawings for the Rubens' Tube
homemade vacuum former to make pieces for the Metroid costume
Tony emphasized that projects should be more or less display-ready at next month's Open Make. He talked about the lull that one experiences after the initial excitement of starting something new. Tony's advice? Expect it, and keep going. Tell yourself you'll only work for 10 minutes. Michelle also emphasized that a project can be modified or scaled down if it helps you to finish it.

I know that all the projects in Young Makers Yolo are still at the beginning stages, so imagine there will be a pretty big push over the next few weeks. In our house at this moment one child is programming his Arduino boards and another is building a new circuit prototype.
At our next meeting, we'll talk about the projects and what is needed to bring them to completion.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Digging into an Xbox controller

We're trying to add a rapid-fire button to a Xbox controller, and the first step is taking it apart. This isn’t quick and easy, as it requires a special tool, a T8 Torx security driver. Some people have been able to use normal T8 drivers if they break off a little tiny post inside the screw head. We didn't have much luck and ordered the special tool online.

Once we had the tool, we spent a morning working on the controllers. After removing a bunch of screws, they separate into halves along with a lot of buttons, rubber pads and small trim pieces to sort and store in a safe place. We also removed the 'rumble packs', which are motors with off-center weights that vibrate during play.

The rapid-fire modification adds a new button that works as if you're pressing the fire trigger many times. We had to drill a hole in the base of the controller to mount it. We first started with a smaller pilot hole, and then carefully expanded to 1/4" to match the button. The plastic is soft and may twist and tear easily, so we used a hand drill and went slow.

The holes were not perfect but the button retaining nut covers up the imperfections. We made sure this was good and secure, as it's tough to tighten these once the whole thing is re-assembled.

Next we soldered two wires to the button.

One wire goes to a contact that's part of the trigger itself. The second goes to a small Light Emitting Diode (LED) that lights up to indicate "player 1" is using the controller. Soldering the wire here was trouble … the LED is a very small component, so the copper pad to solder and attach the wire is tiny. We struggled a bit getting this to attach and remain fixed as we re-assembled the controller, but using a fleck of flux helped. 

The wires on the board have to be carefully positioned between all the buttons, rubber pads and joysticks. We nibbled away a little bit of plastic near the new rapid-fire button to make a space it could fit into. This plastic used to hold the rumble pack on the right side, but that can't be re-installed because we need the space for the button. The second rumble pack went back in normally.

Finally, we managed to get everything back together and could test it out.

Our results were mixed at best. Both controllers still worked, with the exception of the "Player One" LED which did not light up any more. I think the LED or the tiny copper traces on the circuit board may have been damaged trying to attach the wire. The original triggers and other controls are OK, so we didn't destroy anything major. The new rapid-fire button, however, doesn't do rapid-fire. It behaves just like a single-shot trigger, firing once.

Some of the blog posts and information on the web talks about this problem, so we're going to have to dig deeper. Games may be programmed to ignore rapid fire, or more likely, our circuit isn't working or doing what it needs. We'll have to look more carefully at what is going on and how to trigger it faster.