Path to Craftsmanship: The Art of Being Wrong

Every technical person knows, unlike artists and politicians, that they can be provably wrong; at least to a degree. Math tells the truth. Coupled with this knowledge is an ego which is often entirely based on our output. If our mechanism works, we feel good because we are provably good.

A disclaimer.
It didn’t stop Scott Adams from writing four books full of it and it won’t stop me.
from Dilbert: Advice

Unfortunately, unlike the robots we build or the simple minds we spin out of code, we are still human at the end of the day. When we feel the sting of being wrong we often respond poorly. Some of us slip into depression, claiming it all and dredging up a few other mistakes from our past along for the ride. Some of us explode into prideful rages, dropping our metaphorical shorts to show that this one fault is no fault at all compared to a history of personal majesty. Others become sullen and inward. Others ignore it all together. Others yet strike out at those around them leaving unpleasant barbs. The variations are endless, but I do think there is an ideal to be reached.

Despite the risk that the nature of the things I’ve learned will reveal exactly what kind of arrogant sod I am, I’ll give it a go anyway. I’ve made many mistakes, and I have many more to make, but these are some of the things I’ve learned. I’ve learned them all in technical fields, so I’m not sure how broadly the advice applies, but luckily this is Hackaday.

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Bring Doping, Microfluidics, Photovoltaics, and More Into the Home

Can you make a spectrometer for your home lab all from materials you have sitting around? We might not believe it from a less credible source, but this MIT course does indeed build a spectrometer from foam board using two razor blades as the silt cover and a writable CD as the diffraction grating. The coolest part is removing the metal backing of the CD.

mit_experiments_thumbHackaday reader [gratian] tipped us off about the course available from MIT courseware called Nanomaker. It boils down some fairly complicated experiments to the kind one can do in the home lab without involving thousands of dollars of lab equipment. The whole point is to demystify what we think of as complicated devices and topics surrounding photovoltaics, organic photovoltaics, piezoelectricity and thermoelectricity.

 

Spectrometers are used to analyze the wavelengths of a light source. Now that you have a measurement tool in hand it’s time to build and experiment with some light sources of your own. Here you can see an LED that is the topic of one of the course labs.

If you have a bit of background in chemistry this is a good step-by-step guide for getting into these types of experiments at home. It reminds us of some of the really cool stuff [Jeri Ellsworth] was doing in her garage lab, like making her own EL panels.

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Life On Contract: Estimating Project Time

You sit there, irritation bubbling deep within as minute forty-five of the meeting ticks past on the clock in the corner of the office. Fight or flight is in a contest with your attention span as you struggle to keep an interested look on your face while they drone on. Real work could be done in this time. Maybe if you go to the bathroom you could sort of… fast forward the meeting. Panicked thinking continues for a bit until your awareness snaps back to the babble of words in the room.

“How long will it take you to do this?” the manager asks.

“A couple of days maybe?” You reply in turn. The manager nods and you take your escape. Little do you know that you have failed.

The project swerves out of control. Two days on the dot the manager is there expecting results. How? How did this happen again? It felt right! Two days is all you’d need to do such a simple project. It ended up taking a week.

The next meeting you say two weeks just to be sure. Everyone nods gravely, upset that something would take so long, but the work must be done. Two days later you sheepishly wander into the manager’s office with a completed project. He looks pleased but confused. The next meeting, he insists that you can do it in half the time. You and your fragile pride bowl ahead only to deliver late. The mystery!

This was my life until I started bugging the more experienced around me. I learned a lot from them and I ended up distilling it down into a few rules.

  1. There Is No Other Unit Than Hours
  2. Be honest.
  3. Get Granular.
  4. Promise a Range. Give a Deadline.

Why?

Why does someone want a time estimate? What are they going to do with this information? When working on a contract job it often feels like sticking a foot in a trap when a time estimate is given. Are they going to hold me to this? What if it goes wrong? After all, we are not fortune tellers. Unless the manager is extremely bad or you show yourself to be extremely lax in your duties, it is unlikely that a time estimate will be used against you.

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Reverse Engineering and Networking The A/C Remote Control

IoT has become such an polarizing, overused term. But here it is in its essence: [zeroflow] had a thing (his airconditioner) and he needed to put it on the Internet.

For his contribution to this modern vernacular atrocity, he first had to build an IR debugging tool and reverse engineer the signals coming from the air conditioner’s remote. He wrote up a really good summary of the process, and worth reading. He loads up an IR library onto an Arduino and dumps the resulting 32 bits of information to his computer. In a process much like filling in the blanks on a word puzzle, he eventually determines which blocks of the data correspond to the remote’s different buttons.

Next he throws an array of IR LEDS and an ESP8266 onto a bit of protoboard. After writing some code, available on GitHub, he could set the temperature of his room from anywhere on the planet. We take it on faith that [zeroflow] has a compelling reason for doing so.

Bolstered by this success, he didn’t stop there. [Zeroflow] admits to having more than one thing on the Internet. Boom! Internet of things.

Cheap Toy Airboat Gets a Cheap R/C Upgrade

[Markus Gritsch] and his son had a fun Sunday putting together a little toy airboat from a kit. They fired it up and it occurred to [Markus] that it was pretty lame. It went forward and sometimes sideward when a stray current influenced its trajectory, but it had no will of its own.

The boat was extracted from water before it could wander off and find itself lost forever. [Markus] did a mental inventory of his hacker bench and decided this was a quickly rectified design shortcoming. He applied a cheap knock-off arduino, equally cheap nRF24L01+ chip of dubious parentage, and their equivalent hobby servo to the problem.

Some quick coding later, assisted by prior work from other RC enthusiasts, the little boat was significantly upgraded. Now the boat could be brought back to shore using any R/C controller that supported the, “Bayang,” protocol. He wouldn’t have to face the future in which he’d have to explain to his son that the boat, like treacherous helium balloons, was just gone. Video after the break.

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Wooing A Lady Into Persisting with Persistence… of Vision

As the story goes, years ago [Matt Evans] was wooing the beautiful and talented [Jen]. There were many suitors vying for her hand; he would have to set himself apart. The trouble was, how to convince her that persisting in the relationship was the best and only course? What did he have to offer? Of course many of us know the answer; having wooed our own significant others with the same thing. Incredible and unrepentant nerdiness.

So! He toiled late into the night, his eyes burning with love and from the fumes of solder smoke. For her he would put his wizardry to work. At the wave of a hand would write songs of adoration in the air with nothing but light. The runes of power, all typed out in the proper order, would be held by a ATiny. A CR2032 coin cell provided the magic pixies which would march to its commands, delivering their spark to the LEDs in the right order.

He etched the board, wrote the code, and soldered the components. He encased it in his finest box of crystal clear plastic and black static foam, a gift of the samples department of the Maxim corporation.

Presumably the full moon was high in the air when he presented the box. He took it out and waved it with a flair. Poetry floated there in front of her eyes. It read, “Jen is cool!”. A few years later, they were married.

Rita’s Dolls Probably Live Better Than You Do

If it wasn’t for the weird Dutch-Norwegian techno you’d presumably have to listen to forever, [Gianni B.]’s doll house for his daughter, [Rita] makes living in a Barbie World seem like a worthwhile endeavor. True to modern form, it’s got LED lighting. It’s got IoT. It’s got an app and an elevator. It even has a tiny, working, miniature television.

It all started with a Christmas wish. [Rita] could no longer stand to bear the thought of her Barbie dolls living a homeless lifestyle on her floor, begging passing toys for enough monopoly money to buy a sock to sleep under. However, when [Gianni] visited the usual suspects to purchase a dollhouse he found them disappointing and expensive.

So, going with the traditional collaborating-with-Santa ruse, he and his family had the pleasure of collaborating on a dollhouse development project. Each room is lit by four ultra bright LEDs. There is an elevator that’s controlled by an H-bridge module, modified to have electronic braking. [Rita] doesn’t own a Dr. Barbie yet, so safety is paramount.

The brain of the home automation is a PIC micro with a Bluetooth module. He wrote some code for it, available here. He also went an extra step and used MIT’s scratch to make an app interface for the dollhouse. You can see it work in the video after the break. The last little hack was the TV. An old arduino, an SD Card shield, and a tiny 2.4 inch TFT combine to make what’s essentially a tiny digital picture frame.

His daughter’s are overjoyed with the elevation of their doll’s economic class and a proud father even got to show it off at a Maker Faire. Very nice!

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