Give Workshop Pencils a Flush-Mounted Home

Pencils and pens are apt to go wandering in a busy workshop if they don’t have a handy storage spot. For most of us a soup can or an old coffee mug does the trick, but for a prettier and more useful holder [Stuff I Made] has a short video demonstrating a storage unit made from an elbow fitting and a scrap piece of plywood. He cuts a plywood disk that is friction-fit into one end of the elbow, then it gets screwed into a wall making an attractively flush-mounted holder in a convenient spot.

With the right joint the bottom of the holder remains accessible, as a 90 degree bend would be no good. With a shallower joint angle, a regular screwdriver can still reach the mounting screw and it’s possible to access the bottom of the holder just in case it needs cleaning or something small falls inside. You can see the process and results in the video embedded below. Not bad for one screw, a spare joint, and a scrap piece of plywood.

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Organizing Teams With Collective Fictions

There is often an observable difference between what is considered the right thing to do, and what actually is being done.

Terry Pratchett said it best when he made Death declare mercy and justice nonexistent: “TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY.” (Note that Death is not shouting, he simply speaks upper case.)

We can’t measure justice and mercy. These are collective fictions — things we agree to believe to enable us to get along — and finding consensus on the immeasurable extends to political systems, religion, and most of economics. In a recent article [zwischenzugs] makes the point that methodologies in software development fall into the same category. Like collective societal fictions, methodologies tend to elicit strong emotional responses among those dealing with them.

A software development methodology is a playbook for getting from nothing to something. It’s a control system for how people working on the project spend their time. And there are a lot of these prescribed methods, from Agile to Waterfall, and any combination of letters is likely to turn an abbreviation for a methodology. An interesting game when hanging out in groups of software engineers is to start the “Have you ever tried the…” conversation. Just don’t expect to move to another topic anytime soon.

One disheartening aspect of methodologies is their resistance to scientific scrutiny. Two samples of development teams will differ wildly in so many characteristics that a meaningful comparison of the way they organize their work is not possible. Which will leaves us with anecdotes and opinions when discussing these things.

Current opinions regarding the impact of methodologies on the success of a project range from ‘marginal’ to ‘essential’. The latter position is mainly propagated by consultants selling agile certifications, so you may want to take it with a grain of salt. Whether a team adheres strongly to the methodology or adopts it in name only, it’s obvious they serve a purpose — but that purpose may not match the face value of the method.

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Hack a Whiteboard and Never Lose Screws Again

If you are reading this, it is a fair bet you like to take things apart. Sometimes, you even put them back together. There are two bad moments that can occur when you do this. First, when you get done and there is some stuff left over. That’s usually not good. The other problem is when you are trying to find some little tiny bolt and a washer and you can’t find it. SMD parts are especially easy to lose.

A few months ago, I was browsing through a local store and I saw a  neat idea. It was basically a small whiteboard with lines dividing it into cells. It was magnetic and the idea is you’d put your small loose (and ferrous) parts like screws, bolts, nuts, and resistors on the board. Since it was a marker board, you could make notes about what each cell contained. Great idea! But the thing was about $20 and I thought I could do better than that. As you might guess from the picture, I was successful. I spent about $5, although I had some rare-earth magnets hanging around. If you don’t, strong magnets aren’t that expensive and you can often raid them out of hard drives.

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How To Set Up And Run A Makerspace

A bunch of people who share a large workshop and meet on a regular basis to do projects and get some input. A place where kids can learn to build robots instead of becoming robots. A little community-driven factory, or just a lair for hackers. The world needs more of these spaces, and every hackerspace, makerspace or fab lab has its very own way of making it work. Nevertheless, when and if problems and challenges show up – they are always the same – almost stereotypically, so avoid some of the pitfalls and make use of the learnings from almost a decade of makerspacing to get it just right. Let’s take a look at just what it takes to get one of these spaces up and running well.

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Workbench Eye Candy from Around the World

The workbench. We’re always looking for ways to make the most out of the tools we have, planning our next equipment purchase, all the while dealing with the (sometimes limited) space we’re allotted. Well, before you go off and build your perfect electronics lab, this forum thread on the EEVblog should be your first stop for some extended drooling research.

You’ll find a great discussion about everything from workbench height, size, organization, shelf depth, and lighting, with tons of photos to go with it. You’ll also get a chance to peek at how other people have set up their labs. (Warning, the thread is over 1000 posts long, so you might want to go grab a snack.)

We should stop for a moment and give a special note to those of you who are just beginning in electronics. You do not need to have a fancy setup to get started. Most of these well equipped labs is the result of being in the industry for years and years. Trust us when we say, you can get started in electronics with nothing more than your kitchen table, a few tools, and a few parts. All of us started that way. So don’t let anything you see here dissuade you from jumping in. As proof, we’ve seen some amazingly professional work being done with the most bare-bones of tools (and conversely, we seen some head-scratching projects by people with +$10,000 of dollars of equipment on their desk.)

Here’s some links that you might find handy when setting up a lab. [Kenneth Finnegan] has a great blog post on how his lab is equipped. And [Dave Jones] of the EEVblog has a video covering the basics. One of the beautiful things about getting started in electronics is that used and vintage equipment can really stretch your dollars when setting up a lab. So if you’re looking into some vintage gear, head on over to the Emperor of Test Equipment. Of course no thread about workbenches would be complete with out a mention of Jim Williams’ desk. We’ll leave the discussion about workbench cleanliness for the comments.

Direct, Wall-Mounted Storage with Lasers and Polymorph

parts-storage-brackets

We’re sure everyone could use some more storage and organization in their workshop. [Nixie] is no exception, though he also hates sacrificing tabletop space for boxes. His solution was to attach them to the wall directly by hacking together some brackets. This hack allowed him to hang everything without using internal screws which were a pain to get at if he need to removed the boxes from the wall to take with him.

[Nixie] started by laser-cutting a negative pattern for a mounting bracket that would fit the dovetail rails already on the sides of the boxes. He then pressed a piece of polymorph into this mold, slid the bracket along the side of the box…and realized it wouldn’t work. The piece wiggled around too much because it did not sit firmly in the rail. Back at the drawing board, [Nixie] split the project into two steps. He cast the screw-hole portion of the bracket in its own separate mold, then cast the railing part of the bracket directly in the dovetail section of the box, providing him a much higher degree of accuracy. After joining the two pieces, [Nixie] had a sturdy support bracket that he duplicated and attached around the rest of the bins.

Hackaday Links: October 6, 2013

hackaday-links-chain

The iBeacon has been all over the interwebs lately. Here’s a riff on the Arduino Pro MIni that adds a BLE module. It can be used to make an iBeacon clone. You can also hack a VTag keyfinder to operate in much the same way.

Remember that post about pulling a QR Code generator into Google Docs? One could argue that the best use of this functionality is to add labels to your parts storage that lead back to the product page for the component. [Thanks Nicholas]

[Michael] wrote in to share his crowd funding campaign. He is a school teacher and wants to publish a detective story that gets kids excited about STEM.

Our own [James Hobson] made the first cut to be [Adam Savage’s] new assistant. He’s the [TheHacksmith] (read our staff page if you don’t believe us) and is the third entry featured in this vignette. Apparently they’ve got something against Canadians because they say he’s ineligible due to his nationality!?

If you’ve ever been confused about the features of different Xbee modules this comparison chart may be of assistance.

A couple of weeks ago we learned about a contest put on by TheControllerProject. [TouchStone936] gets credit for quick, easy, and functional. His solution to making shoulder buttons more accessible includes hot-glue, a golf tee, and a binder clip. Pretty clever!

Wanting a better color of backlight for his eReader, [Vivek Gani] cracked it open and applied Kapton Tape as a gel to soften the hue.

And finally something very silly. If you put a strong enough prop on the front, you can get just about anything to fly. This instance involves a flying pizza box which to us looks particularly un-flight-worthy. [via Gizmodo]