Hacker Abroad: Vietnam’s Hardware Hackers

One of the unfortunate things about Hackaday’s globe-spanning empire is that you often don’t get to meet the people you work with in person. Since I was in China and it’s right next door, I really wanted to pop over to Vietnam and meet Sean Boyce, who has been writing for Hackaday for a couple of years, yet we’ve never met. I suggested we could make this happen if we put together a meetup or unconference. Sean was immediately confident that the Ho Chi Minh City hardware hackers would turn out in force and boy was he right! On Sunday night we had a full house for the first ever Hackaday Vietnam Meetup.

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Printing Christmas Cards The Hard Way

Printing customized Christmas cards is a trivial matter today: choose a photo, apply a stock background or border, add the desired text, and click a few buttons. Your colorful cards arrive in a few days. It may be the easiest way, but it’s definitely no where near as cool as the process [linotype] used this season. (Editor’s note: skip the Imgur link and go straight for the source!)

The first task was to create some large type for the year. [linotype] laser printed “2018” then used an iron to transfer toner to the end of a piece of scrap maple flooring. Carving the numbers in relief yielded ready-to-go type, since the ironing process took care of the necessary mirroring step. The wood block was then cut to “type high” (0.918 inches; who knew?) using a compositor’s table saw – with scales graduated in picas, of course.

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Save A Linotype Machine For Future Generations

The journalist’s art is now one of the computer keyboard and the internet connection, but there was a time when it involved sleepless nights over a manual typewriter followed by time spent reviewing paper proofs freshly inked from hot lead type. Newspapers in the golden age of print media once had entire floors of machinery turning text into custom metal type on the fly, mechanical masterpieces in the medium of hot lead of which Linotype were the most famous manufacturer.

Computerised desktop publishing might have banished the Linotype from the newsroom in the 1970s or 1980s, but a few have survived. One of the last working Linotypes in Europe can be found in a small print workshop in Vienna, and since its owner is about to retire there is a move to save it for posterity through a crowdfunding campaign. This will not simply place it in a museum as a dusty exhibit similar to the decommissioned Monotype your scribe once walked past every day in the foyer of the publishing company she then worked for, instead it will ensure that the machine continues to be used on a daily basis producing those hot metal slugs of type.

Fronting the project is [Florian Kaps], whose pedigree in the world of resurrecting analogue technologies was established by his role in saving the Polaroid film plant in Enschede, Netherlands. There are a variety of rewards featuring Linotype print, and at the time of writing the project is 46% funded with about four weeks remaining. If you are curious about the Linotype machine and its operation, we’ve previously brought you an account of the last day of hot metal printing at the New York Times.

Cheap Front Panels With Dibond Aluminium

The production capability available to the individual hacker today is really quite incredible. Even a low-end laser engraver can etch your PCBs, and it doesn’t take a top of the line 3D printer to knock out a nice looking enclosure. With the wide availability of these (relatively) cheap machines, the home builder can churn out a very impressive one-off device on a fairly meager budget. Even low volume production isn’t entirely out of the question. But there’s still one element to a professional looking device that remains frustratingly difficult: a good looking front panel.

Now if your laser is strong enough to engrave (and ideally cut) aluminum sheets, then you’ve largely solved this problem. But for those of us who are plodding along with a cheap imported diode laser, getting text and images onto a piece of metal can be rather tricky. On Hackaday.io, [oaox] has demonstrated a cost effective way to create metal front panels for your devices using a print service that offers Dibond aluminum. Consisting of two thin layers of aluminum with a solid polyethylene core, this composite material was designed specifically for signage. Through various online services, you can have whatever you wish printed on a sheet of pre-cut Dibond without spending a lot of money.

As explained by [oaox], the first step is putting together the image you’ll send off to the printer using a software package like Inkscape. The key is to properly define the size of the Dibond plate in your software and work within those confines, otherwise the layout might not look how you expected once the finish piece gets back to you. It’s also important to avoid lossy compression formats like JPEG when sending the file out for production, as it can turn text into a mushy mess.

When you get the sheet back, all you need to do is put your holes in it. Thanks to the plastic core, Dibond is fairly easy to cut and drill as long as you take your time. [oaox] used a step drill for the holes, and a small coping saw for the larger openings. The final result looks great, and required very little effort in the grand scheme of things.

But how much does it cost? Looking around online, we were quoted prices as low as $7 USD to do a full-color 4×4 inch Dibond panel, and one site offered a 12×12 panel for $20. For a small production run, you could fit several copies of the graphics onto one larger panel and cut them out with a bandsaw; that could drop the per-unit price to only a couple bucks.

We’ve seen some clever attempts at professional looking front panels, from inkjet printing on transparencies to taking the nuclear option and laser cutting thin plywood. This is one of those issues the community has been struggling with for years, but at least it looks like we’re finally getting some decent options.

Wire-bots, Roll Out!

Designing and 3D-printing parts for a robot with a specific purpose is generally more efficient than producing one with a general functionality — and even then it can still take some time. What if you cut out two of those cumbersome dimensions and still produce a limited-yet-functional robot?

[Sebastian Risi] and his research team at the IT University of Copenhagen’s Robotics, Evolution, and Art Lab, have invented a means to produce wire-based robots. The process is not far removed from how industrial wire-bending machines churn out product, and the specialized nozzle is also able to affix the motors to the robot as it’s being produced so it’s immediately ready for testing.

A computer algorithm — once fed test requirements — continuously refines the robot’s design and is able to produce the next version in a quarter of an hour. There is also far less waste, as the wire can simply be straightened out and recycled for the next attempt. In the three presented tests, a pair of motors shimmy the robot on it’s way — be it along a pipe, wobbling around, or rolling about. Look at that wire go!

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Printing Bed Off-Kilter? Blu-Tack To The Rescue!

For all their applications, 3D printers can be finicky machines. From extruder problems, misaligned or missing layers, to finding an overnight print turned into a tangled mess, and that’s all assuming your printer bed is perfectly leveled. [Ricardo de Azambuja’s] new linear delta printer was frustrating him. No matter what he did, it wouldn’t retain the bed leveling calibration, so he had to improvise — Blu-Tack to the rescue.

It turns out [Azambuja]’s problem was so bad that the filament wouldn’t even attempt to adhere to the printing bed. So, he turned to Printrun Pronterface and a combination of its homing feature and the piece-of-paper method to get a rough estimate of how much the bed needed to be adjusted — and a similar estimate of how big of a gob of Blu-Tack was needed.

Pressing the bed into place, he re-ran Pronterface to make sure he was on the level. [Azambuja] notes that you would have to redo this for every print, but it was good enough to print off a trio of bed leveling gears he designed so he doesn’t have to go through this headache again for some time.

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Print Directly On Fabric With An Inkjet Printer

[fungus amungus] was reading online about printing directly on fabrics with a home printer. He’d read a few hopeful tutorials about printing on them with a laser printer, but he didn’t own one.

Considering that you can occasionally buy an inkjet for less than the ink, he decided to take the plunge and see if he could print on a swatch of fabric with his inkjet. The technique requires a printer, some wax paper, scissors, and an iron.

By adhering the wax paper to the fabric properly, it’s possible to run it through the printer without tears. (We’ll let you pick the heteronym.) The final step is to let the ink sit for an hour before running the iron over it again. This seems to cure the ink and it can even survive a few washings.

Being able to make any pattern of cloth on demand seems like a useful thing to keep in the toolbox!