Thursday, April 10, 2014

Cutting Out Quails with an Old CNC Plasma Cutter

For the longest time the address sign for my house in Bend had the silhouette of a quail on it that was drawn in sharpie. Every few years it would get a touch-up and fade away again. But when my friend Jackson got his hands on an old CNC plasma cutter, I knew it was the perfect time to make something more lasting. Since the cutter was new to us it took several tries to get it right, and we've since replaced the cutter with a newer one that works much better than the one we used here.

My Vacuum Forming Table Really Sucks

A few weeks ago I built a cheap vacuum forming table to test out with two other designs built for a Tekbots project developing a smart helmet. The idea is to create a plastic shell that fits over the helmet, giving the electronics a safe place to live while maintaining the integrity of the helmet. The table top is just pegboard and wooden stakes (I wanted to minimize the amount of woodworking required since my wood tools are all back home in Bend). The plastic we tested with is white ABS plastic cut from a large sheet normally used in showers, and it was heated in a standard kitchen oven at about 300 degrees Fahrenheit until the plastic started drooping. Ran into a bit of a problem with making a good seal with the top frame and the table top, which I attribute to forgetting to attach the cut bicycle tube I was planning on using to create a better seal. But after four tries we ended up with fairly decent results, although it was difficult to get the helmet out of the plastic and the details aren't as fine as they could be with a thinner plastic. One of the guys working on the project experimented with using plastic milk jugs and had great success with some smaller items.

Fixing Free Video Glasses

Tekbots was doing some major spring cleaning, and I picked up these video glasses from the Free bin. They were originally going to be used for a telepresence project, but they ran into trouble when they removed the original video input connector and soldered ribbon cable onto the PCB. They were trying to tap into some programming pins, but found that the signal integrity for the video was awful. After probing around with my continuity tester I figured out that if I gave up the audio for the built in earbuds I could avoid soldering to the PCB in the arm of the glasses and just add connectors to the wires that went to the center of the frame. After a couple of hours of trial and error and mixing up the different color codes I was able to get the glasses working again. Not sure what I might use them for yet but they were definitely worth the effort.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Longer-Than-Expected Write-Up about Changing my Shower Head

The worst thing about my old shower head: it was at the same level as my forehead, so I had to duck down in order to get my head wet. It also wasn't a very nice spray. I looked into getting one of the large shower heads with the extension arms but they were way too expensive. Then I came across this beauty at a Goodwill for $10. Who would get rid of such an amazing shower head? Turns out that when I hooked it up in my shower there was almost no water that came out of it. There were signs of mineral build up, so I took the nozzle panel off and put it in my sink with some drain cleaner which made it look new again. This helped with the water flow a bit, but it still wasn't even at the same level as my old shower head. I unscrewed the shower head and removed the plastic water restrictor, which solved the water flow problem but made it so I went through an entire tank of hot water in about five minutes. Putting the plastic part of the water restrictor back in without the o-ring gave me a happy medium, and now I enjoy showers without having to crouch or turn around every few seconds.

Upgrading the Windshield Wiper on my Subaru Outback

One of the things I really missed when I switched from driving my '89 Toyota Camry in favor of an '01 Outback was the ability to adjust the length of time between wipes on my windshield. It's very rainy in the area I live, so I was painfully aware of what I was missing. I debated about trying to use a microcontroller with a potentiometer to solve the problem but I happened across a wiper assembly in another Outback in an auto yard that had the adjustable intermittent timing. It came out of the steering column very easily and I saw that the controlling PCB was integrated into the housing of the stick, and I suspected that it would be compatible with my car since the control signals should be the same. I swapped it out in about five minutes and it works like a charm! Not sure why Subaru didn't just have this feature on all of their Outbacks, but glad that the upgrade was easy. I also came across some switches that fit into some empty spots in the panels on the car that I may have plans for...

A Long Overdue Update

It's been several months since I optimistically attempted to start a project blog, and so far all of the posts have come from two sit-down sessions. I have decided on a plan for organizing the blog in a way that will hopefully make it easier for me to get motivated to update it. Long term projects or projects that I have a particular interest in will get their own pages that can be clicked on the right side of the website, and shorter things of interest will just get posted on the main page. To start this out I'm posting a photo of the lot of 22 Leatherman Micras I bought on eBay for ~$25. They were listed as being "for parts" and there is something broken with most of them, but they are all different things and I should be able to patch together several complete tools. Not a bad investment in my opinion considering it will cost you about the same to get a single new one. The plan is to try and scatter the Leatherman's around strategically so as to saturate key areas with so many multitools that I won't be without or lose them all.