Getting Kitted to Teach your First Hardware Workshop

I was always a sucker for art classes in my early days. There was something special about getting personal instruction while having those raw materials in your hands at the same time. Maybe it was the patient voice of the teacher or the taste of the crayons that finally got to my head. Either way, I started thinking: “I want to do this; I want to teach this stuff.”

Last year at Hackaday Superconference I got my chance. Hardware workshops with real hardware were so rare; I just had to bring one to the table! What follows is my tale of joys and woes bringing together a crew to take their first few steps into the world of cable-driven animatronics. If you’re thinking about getting your feet wet with teaching your own hardware workshop, read on. I’ve packed this story with as much of my own learnings as I could to set you on a path to success.

The good news is that Supercon returns every year. I you want to take part in some epic workshops like this one, grab a ticket for this year’s conference now. If you want to host a hardware workshop, the Call for Proposals is still open! Okay, let’s dive in.

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Next Weekend: Beginner Solar Workshop

Next week, Hackaday is hosting a workshop for all you hackers ready to harness the power of the sun. We’re doing a Beginner Solar Workshop at Noisebridge in San Francisco. You’re invited to join us on July 7th, we’ll provide the soldering irons.

The instructor for this workshop will be [Matt Arcidy], avid Hackaday reader and member of Noisebridge. He’s contributed to the incredible Noisebridge Gaming Archivists Live Arcade Cabinet, given talks on electronic components for the Arduino ecosystem, and now he’s hosting a workshop on the basics of solar charging.

This workshop will cover the theory of solar charging, how solar cells convert light into electricity, when and where this technology is appropriate, and the safe handling of lithium-ion batteries. At the end of the workshop, every attendee will have built a system that captures power from the sun and charges a battery, ready to be used in any future projects.

This is a big deal. Right now, the Hackaday Prize is in the middle of its third challenge, the Power Harvesting Module Challenge. This is a big part of the prize, and already there are some fascinating projects which harvest electricity from stomach acid, and even the gravitational potential of the Earth. Of course, some of those are more practical than others, and we’re really interested to see where this Power Harvesting Challenge goes and what great projects will be created.

San Francisco: Let’s Learn to Build Some Robots!

Hone your skills at basic robot building. You’re invited to join Hackaday for a Beginner Robotics Workshop on Saturday, May 12.

For this workshop we’re pairing up with FIRST robotics mentors and students from the Bay Area. FIRST is an international high school robotics competition and you won’t believe what these teams can do. The workshop will start with an overview of the three major parts that go into a robot project: mechanical design, electronic design, and programming. From there, choose one of the three you want to focus on for the afternoon and let the hands-on fun begin as we break out into small groups to tackle some robotics problems!

The mechanical group will explore robot building using OnShape CAD software. The electronic group will work hands-on with Arduino-based prototyping and breakout boards. The programming group will utilize the Arduino IDE. Workshops will wrap up with a group discussion of how these three concepts are integrated in a single robotics effort.

Right now the Robotics Module Challenge of the 2018 Hackaday Prize is in full swing. We’re excited to see more roboticists in the world and are happy to bring you a workshop that is both technical and accessible. Come build some ‘bots and take home some new knowledge to pour into your project, and your Hackaday Prize entries!

This Dust Collector Will Blow You Away.

As [Marius Hornberger] was working in his woodshop, a thunderous bang suddenly rocked the space. A brief search revealed the blower for the dust collector had shifted several inches despite being stoutly fastened down. Turns out, the blower had blown itself up when one of the impeller fins came loose. Time to revise and build a bigger, better dust collector!

[Hornberger] is thorough in describing his process, the video series chronicles where he went astray in his original design and how he’s gone about improving on those elements. For instance, the original impeller had six fins which meant fewer points to bear the operating stresses as well as producing an occasionally uncomfortable drone. MDF wasn’t an ideal material choice here either, contributing to the failure of the part.

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You Can Learn a Lot From a Blinkenrocket

At this year’s Chaos Communication Congress, we caught up with [muzy] and [overflo], who were there with a badge and soldering project they designed to teach young folks how to solder and program. Blinkenrocket is a basically a 64-LED matrix display and just enough support hardware to store and display animations, and judging by the number of blinking rockets we saw around the necks of attendees, it was a success.

Their talk at 34C3 mostly concerns the production details, design refinements, and the pitfalls of producing thousands of a thing. If you’re thinking of building a hardware kit or badge on this scale, you should really check it out and crib some of their production optimization tricks.

For instance, instead of labelling the parts “C2” or “R: 220 Ohms”, they used a simple color-coding scheme. This not only makes it easier for kids to assemble, but it also means that they didn’t have to stick 1,000 part labels on every component. Coupled with [overflo]’s Zerhacker, SMD parts in strips were cut to the right length and color-coded in one step, done by machine.

The coolest feature of the Blinkenrocket itself is the audio programming interface. It’s like in the bad old days of software stored on cassette tapes, but it’s a phenomenal interface for getting a simple animation out of a web app and straight into a piece of minimal hardware — just plug it into a laptop or cell phone’s audio out and press “play” in the browser. The original design tried to encode the data in the pulse-length of square waves, but this turned out to be very hardware dependent. The final design used frequency-shift keying. What’s old is new again.

Everything you could want to know about the design, its code, and even the website itself are up on the project’s GitHub page, so go check it out. If you’d like to arrange a Blinkenrocket workshop yourself, shoot [muzy] or [overflo] an e-mail. Full disclosure: [overflo] gave us a kit, the “hard-mode” SMD one with 0805 1206 parts, and it was fun to assemble and program.

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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Tricked-Out Tablet Becomes Workbench Tool

The workbench of the typical electronics hobbyist today would probably be largely recognizable by Heathkit builders back in the 60s and 70s. But where the techs and tinkerers of yesteryear would have had a real dead-tree SAMS Photofact schematic spread out on the bench, today you’ll get more use out of a flat-screen display for data sheets and schematics, and this handy shop Frankentablet might be just the thing to build.

Tablets like the older Nexus 9 that [enginoor] used as the basis for this build have a little bit of a form-factor problem because unlike a laptop, a tablet isn’t very good at standing up on its own. To fix that, they found a suitable silicone skin for the Nexus, and with some silicone adhesive began bedazzling the back of the tablet. A bendy tripod intended for phones was added, and with the tablet able to stand on its own they maximized the USB port with a right angle adapter and a hub. Now the tablet has a USB drive, a mouse, and a keyboard, ready for perusing data sheets online. And hackers of a certain age will appreciate the eyeball-enhancing potential of the attached USB microscope.

[enginoor]’s bench tablet is great, but we’ve seen full-fledged bench PCs before too. Take your pick — wall mounted and floating, or built right into the workbench.

Thanks to [ccvi] for the tip.