Life On Contract: How To Have a Meeting

Meetings can actually be useful. It’s hard to believe, but they can actually save time if done right. While most of us are in a perpetual state of torture by Kevin in marketing holding another three-hour meeting during lunch hours, there are a few of us who know their hidden power when put in the right hands.

Working as a contractor, wasted meetings mean wasted billable hours. Even wasted meeting time is covered in the cost of the contract it runs the risk of giving the client the impression that you’re not as productive as originally thought. Organized, productive meetings show that you know what you’re doing and that the cost of your services as a whole is a good value. Yeah, some meetings suck but they are necessary and should be productive.

A meeting needs three things to be worth the time spent on it.

  1. A well prepared for, simple, and clear agenda.
  2. A time limit.
  3. Something needs to be written down at the end of it.

I’ll start with the third item as it shapes the rest. The point of a meeting is to have something to write down at the end of the meeting. Any meeting that ends up in anything requiring fallible human memory was a waste of everyone’s time. This includes, verbal agreements, handshake agreements, ideating (pronounced idioting), brainstorming, think tanking, and the like.

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Diodes With Hats: Zener and Schottky

For beginners, diode types can sometimes be a bit of mental gymnastics. If all it does is act like a magic pixie check valve, why are there so many kinds? Schottky diodes are typically  hard to mentally set apart from the standard when described by a data sheet. Zener diodes can be downright baffling for beginners, especially when mistakenly thrown in a circuit in place of a regular 1N4001. [Afrotechmods] put together a great video explaining their difference and use cases.

In both videos he does an excellent job of describing the pros and cons while setting up experiments to exhibit each. For the Schottky it’s the faster switching and lower voltage drop. For Zener it’s less about the cons and more about exploiting its strange configuration for voltage clamps, regulators, and making expensive guitars sound bad with audio distortion circuits.

He finishes both videos with good design tips for selecting and using the parts as a burgeoning circuit designer. Diode data sheets should be less of a mystery afterwards.

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Cheap Vacuum Source For Working With Dangerous Chemicals

[Nurdrage] puts out a lot of neat videos, mostly about home chemistry. For the home chemist it is occasionally desirable to pull a vacuum. For example, a potentially dangerous chemical can be boiled and distilled at a much lower temperature than at atmospheric pressures.

However, there’s a problem with just going to the local import store and buying the first vacuum pump on the shelf.  They are primarily designed for atmospheric gasses and tend to melt when exposed to solvents. If you’re a big university or a commercial lab this is no problem. You just drop three grand on a Teflon diaphragm pump or a liquid nitrogen trap. For the home chemist who’s already having enough trouble just buying the chemicals needed for neat experiments, this is not an option.

[Nurdrage] demonstrates the proper usage of a much cheaper option: an aspirator vacuum pump. You might remember something similar from high school chemistry. School pumps generally use flowing tap water to produce the vacuum. [Nurdrage] is saving water by using a fluid pump and a reservoir to drive his aspirator.

Aspirator pumps use the Venturi effect to create a vacuum. These devices are cheap because there are no moving parts. We looked it up and the one he is using costs ten US dollars on fleabay. It can pull enough vacuum to boil water below room temperature.

The video is really good and provides a lot of useful information. It also seems like a really useful device for other hacking tasks outside of home chemistry. Video after the break.

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Taming the Beast: Pro-Tips for Designing a Safe Homebrew Laser Cutter

Homebrew laser cutters are nifty devices, but scorching your pals, burning the house down, or smelling up the neighborhood isn’t anyone’s idea of a great time. Lets face it. A 60-watt laser that can cut plastics offers far more trouble than even the crankiest 3D-printers (unless, of course, our 3D printed spaghetti comes to life and decides to terrorize the neighborhood). Sure, a laser’s focused beam is usually pointed in the right direction while cutting, but even an unfocused beam that reflects off a shiny material can start fires. What’s more, since most materials burn, rather than simply melt, a host of awful fumes spew from every cut.

Despite the danger, the temptation to build one is irresistible. With tubes, power supplies, and water coolers now in abundance from overseas re-sellers, the parts are just a PayPal-push away from landing on our doorsteps. We’ve also seen a host of exciting builds come together on the dining room table. Our table could be riddled with laser parts too! After combing through countless laser build logs, I’ve yet to encounter the definitive guide that tells us how to take the proper first steps forward in keeping ourselves safe while building our own laser cutter. Perhaps that knowledge is implicit to the community, scattered on forums; or perhaps it’s learned by each brave designer on their own from one-too-many close calls. Neither of these options seems fair to the laser newb, so I decided to lay down the law here.

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Sage Advice for the New Ham

If you’re on the edge about getting your amateur radio license, just go do it and worry about the details later. But once you’ve done that, you’re going to need to know a little bit about the established culture and practices of the modern ham — the details.

Toward that end, [McSteve] has written up a (so far) two-part introductory series about ham radio. His first article is fairly general, and lays out many of the traditional applications of ham radio: chatting with other humans using the old-fashioned analog modes. You know, radio stuff.

The second article focuses more on using repeaters. Repeaters can be a confusing topic for new radio operators: there are two frequencies — one for transmitting and one for receiving — and funny control tones (CTCSS) etc. This article is particularly useful for the new ham, because you’re likely to have a relatively low powered radio that would gain the most from using a repeater, and because the technology and traditions of repeater usage are a bit arcane.

So if you’re thinking about getting your license, do it already. And then read through these two pages and you’re good to go. We can’t wait to see what [McSteve] writes up next.

Amazingly Detailed Robotics Ground Vehicle Guide

[Andrey Nechypurenko] has put together an excellent design guide describing the development of his a20 grou1nd vehicle and is open sourcing all the schematics and source code.

20150627_180534One of [Andrey]’s previous designs used a Pololu tracked chassis. But this time he designed everything from scratch. In his first post on the a20, [Andrey] describes the mechanical design of the vehicle. In particular focusing on trade-offs between different drive systems, motor types, and approaches to chassis construction. He also covers the challenges of using open source design tools (FreeCAD), and other practical challenges he faced. His thorough documentation makes an invaluable reference for future hackers.

[Andrey] was eager to take the system for a spin so he quickly hacked a motor controller and radio receiver onto the platform (checkout the video below). The a20s final brain will be a Raspberry Pi, and we look forward to more posts from [Andrey] on the software and electronic control system.

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What is this thing called Linux?

It should come as no surprise that we at Hackaday love Linux above all others (that should start a nice little flamewar on the internal email list). If you still haven’t given it a whirl yet, don’t fear. Everyone starts from scratch at some point. With each passing year it becomes more and more likely that knowing something about Linux will eventually benefit every hardware hacker. Take part of your time off in the coming weeks to give it a whirl. First thing’s first, check out this quick guide on what Linux actually is.

Adafruit’s offering is pretty low level, so if you’re the kind that likes to argue “kernel” versus “OS” please keep it to yourself. For us the important distinction pointed out here is microcontroller (Arduino) versus Raspberry Pi. The Pi generally runs one flavor or another of Linux for good reasons, while microcontroller-driven systems tend to run use-specific code (with the exception of projects that leverage Real Time Operating Systems). Of course it extends past pre-fab options, Linux is a popular choice on bare-bones roll-your-own machines.

This is the year of Linux! Ha, we’ve heard that one every year for at least a decade. To us it makes no difference, you should know a bit about each OS out there. What are you waiting for? Read the guide then download (for free!) a CD image of our current favorite Linux flavor.