99% Partspiration

Thomas Edison once said that genius was 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. That doesn’t leave much room for partspiration.

I’m working on a top-secret project, and had to place a parts order on AliExpress with a minimum order quantity of five in order to get decent shipping times. No big deal, financially, and it’s always great to have spares as backup for the ones you fry.

But as I started lighting up the little round smartwatch displays to put them through their paces, I started thinking of all sorts of ways that I could use something like this. I had no idea how easy to drive they were, or frankly, how good they looked in person. When you get a round display in your hands, you find that you need dial indicators everywhere.

And then my son came by and said “Oh neat. I want one!” and started thinking up all sorts of gizmos that I could put them in. Two of them would make awesome eyes, and he’s been on a chameleon kick – the animal, you know. So we’re looking for chameleon eye animations online.

And all of a sudden, I have more projects lined up than I have remaining screens. I’m calling this phenomenon “partspiration”. You know, when you figure out how to use something and then you see uses for it everywhere? Time to place another Ali order.

Gearing Up for the Hackaday Prize

And don’t forget, we just started the next round of the Hackaday Prize: Gearing Up. In this challenge round we want to see your best DIY tools, jigs, and workflow accelerators. Custom reflow plates, home-built power supplies, or even software tools – as long as it helps you get the job done, it has a place here. You’ve got until Aug. 8 to get your entry finished, but head on over to Hackaday.io and get started now.

37 thoughts on “99% Partspiration

    1. Sorry for the rant, but I feel like the pendulum has swung too far in regards to Edison. He went from being of extraordinary regard (with little recognition of his faults) to being thought of as not even a real inventor. Obviously his actions in the War of the Currents were ruthless, but we can’t pretend that he wasn’t important to mankind’s technological development. The money he needed to establish his workshop in Menlo Park came from him selling his patent for the quadruplex telegraph to Western Union. As far as my research gets me, this was a “real” invention that Edison was uniquely responsible for, though he was certainly building on J. B. Stearns duplexing technique. With examples like this and the phonograph (the first device every built to play back recorded sound), I find it unlikely that Edison had no knowledge in the area of genius.

      In the long run, most of his inventions are better understood as innovations, but we shouldn’t pretend that these are not useful. The greatest example of this is the incandescent bulb. Arc lighting preceded his work in electric lighting, and other inventors had developed and patented early incandescent bulbs. In fact, Edison purchased one of these patents. What made his work important wasn’t the origination of the idea of using electric current to heat a filament to the point of incandescence. His contribution was the development of a practical electric light source that someone actually might want to use!

      In my short lifetime, I’ve seen the same thing. I remember reading Popular Science as a kid, and finding an article were they fawned over a new $50 led bulb. Even as a kid, I knew that nobody would remember this bulb. There was no way my parents would spend $200 in light bulbs per room. The real glory (and money) would go to the folks who got the cost down. Luckily, this is exactly what happened and there is hardly a bulb in my home that isn’t LED. The contribution of taking an existing technology and making it practical cannot be understated. I’ll also note that Alexander Bell was in the same business: he took Edison’s phonograph and invented the much more successful gramophone!

      But perhaps the Edison’s biggest contribution was his development of the the industrial laboratory. The effort of refining incandescent light would likely have not been possibly with this development, and most modern R&D is in some sense the descendant of the Menlo Park Lab. This one “invention” that he didn’t patent may have been the most important of them all.

      1. Appreciate the rant. Too many “Edison experts” that are derived from more recent biographies/information of Edison have the same unwarranted disgust for him because that is a more common theme with “newer revelations” about him. Unfortunately, as with many historical topics that get “updated”, many facts about Edison have been muddied out for “facts” that exist to sell rather than be accurate. Edison had his faults and they were always in plain sight.

        I have a biography of Thomas Edison, written and published in 1926, titled “Edison, the Man and his Work”. I have read about 15 biographies of Edison, and this one is by far the best. The author spoke to several people who knew Edison personally, worked with him, or fought against him. People among his sources loved him, despised him, considered him a wonderful competitor, or simply challenged his ideas to push him or others harder. In any case, the author intertwines all of those factors together to give an extremely accurate portrayal of Edison. There is no attempt to hide Edison’s faults but rather provides a deep view into why Edison did things the way he did.

        No one is perfect, but it makes no sense to tear Edison down as if he was some absolute monster. I would recommend that folks with that attitude look into older biographies that are more factually based. (yes, I said it. Nowadays, biographies do not have to be completely factual. Bending the details for better sales is extremely common)

      2. Me being a turbonerd kid, reading the exact same PopSci thing as you, I somehow managed to convince my dad to buy me one of the first generation $50 Phillips LED bulbs for my birthday. I thought it was SO COOL with the huge heat sink fins and sci-fi gunmetal grey construction. There was a warning on the box about it being heavy and possibly causing lamps to tip over. I still have it, it still works!

        BTW your take on Edison is exactly right. Particularly the industrial laboratory comment. In a lot of ways Menlo Park paved the way for Bell Labs.

      3. Please never mind, I didn’t mean it seriously. It was more meant as a little side blow. That being said, I belive I’m not that of an Edison fan, either. I didn’t know him, of course, but his biography makes it difficult to me to feel sympathy (esp. what he did to animals). He seems to me like all these Musks and Jobs of the day, maybe. By contrast to, say, names like Maxwell, Marconi, Bell and Tesla. Or Hertz, Reis. They don’t seem so reckless in retrospect. Anyway, these guys also had their flaws, I suppose.

        1. I’ll assume you mean Lewis Howard Latimer? His contributions certainly seem worthwhile, but I would have to to dig a lot deeper into the actual bulbs of the time to really discern the ultimate impact of his work. Both of his relevant patents seems particularly useful in improving the quality of incandescent bulbs (relating primary to means of producing a reliable connection between filament and wiring, and later on how to manufacture filaments with reduced risk of breakage). Clearly both Edison and his competitor Maxim thought as much, as both employed him at one time or another.

          However, it is difficult to say that Latimer’s work was as important as Edison’s patent 223898 describing the basic technique for producing high resistance carbonized filaments (which Latimer describes as “a carbon conducting strip, made in the usual matter” in his later patent). Perhaps the greater contribution on Edison’s part was the bamboo filament which produced a 1200 hour bulb, an achievement that occurred a few months after the patent was granted (1880). Assuming the bamboo filament was developed according with Edison’s patent (with lamp-black joints rather than Latimer’s joint design patented in 1881), it can be said with reasonable safety that this critical milestone in bulb longevity was achieved without Latimer’s work. Of course if you have sources to the contrary, I’d love to improve my knowledge on the matter!

          As a minor aside, I miss the days of 2-page patents that were written in plain language; they are a joy to read. I suppose those died off many decades before I was born.

      1. Alphatek is right — Honestly, I got ’em from random sellers, and I have no basis to recommend them over any other except that the parts made it eventually to my door. If you just want one or two, eBay or any of the open-hardware-friendly retailers is probably a better bet.

        1.28 in GC9A01 round display are your keywords. (Though I secretly suspect they’re actually 35 mm.) You can also buy them without an SPI chip onboard, but then you’re looking at a different software burden. There is also a version with a cap-touch sensor on the front surface if you’re feeling fancy.

        Breakout boards in multiple designs, but you can totally hand-solder it if you need to: 0.7 mm pitch solder-tail flat-flex.

        But along the way, there are _tons_ of other cool round displays these days, most as easy to drive. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJBDXjI5Zu4

        I’m experimenting with this Micropython lib, and enjoying it: https://github.com/russhughes/gc9a01_mpy

        (Short brain dump over.)

    1. If it’s using a board, I guess it’s NOT a ring of LEDs, between two-way mirrors, all inside a fob watch. Making a watch that’s transparent, until you hold it in your hand (making the back darker) and push in the top button.

      And now that I’ve thought of that, I want one.

  1. So something something parts, that’s cool and all.
    With these round screens I’ve never gotten a good answer:

    How do you address these bastards to paint pixels? Do you have to abstract all of your drawing routines to draw into a round shape or do you just plot regular rectangles and throw away the stuff that won’t be rendered?

      1. Yup. You write 240×240 pixels, and it ignores the ones that are off screen. Hence the cropped-off wrenchers in the corners in my demo image.

        (Which was an artifact from just playing around in Micropython, typing in new display-wrencher loops without clearing the screen in-between. But I thought it looked cool.)

  2. For me I find it works the other way around. I browse my favourite Chinese gadget website (there is only one, and it’s your favourite too). I see some module that’s interesting or cool, so I buy a couple to play with.
    Later, I’m asked to come up with a solution to a problem, et voila! I have the parts. Sitting in my junk box. Not only that, since I’ve had a play, I know how they work and how to use them.
    My boss thinks I’m some sort of prescient magician.

  3. My 2 cts concerning the display.
    Those GC9A01 are very cool but, I have the same as the one pictured and what I am missing is the backlight blanking. When I bought it I didn’t notice that there are some with backlight blanking and some witout. With the blanking it is easier to make battery powered items

  4. Yeah theres something special about round screens
    Last Mardi Gras, I saw a guy walking down bourbon street with a jacket that had a 5×5 matrix of round screens that were doing individual hypnospirals for a few seconds, then they would sync into a large hypnospiral. I was loading a soundboard into my buddies truck or Id have gone and chatted him up to find out more.

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