obligatory obscure reference

self-deprecating yet still self-promotional witty comment


Vacation project: put the little drill press on a big stand.

Filed under: Metalworking — jet @ 11:48

Well, “little” in that it weighs 500 pounds and not 1200 pounds like my CNC rig. A little sketching, some layout in Rhino5, then some welding. It’s not finished — it needs side panels and painting — but I’ll deal with that in the Spring after the snow has thawed.

The scale doesn’t show in the photo, but the base is about 32″ off the floor and the top of the drill press is over 6′ high. I’ll be bolting this frame to the floor before any serious use, I’m enough of a safety nerd to not want a 500 drill press toppling over in my shop.

Grizzly drill press stand


Disabling Finger / Touch Input on Windows 8, Lenovo X220 Tablet

Filed under: Random and Pleasing — jet @ 19:17

After upgrading to Windows 8 I discovered I could no longer disable touch input and keep pen/stylus input. The control panel option in many early versions of Windows 8 is missing in the release version, so there’s no obvious way to disable hand/touch input but keep the stylus input.

If you use the screen for drawing with a stylus, having your hand “help” you is not a feature, it’s a “I’m ready to sell this junk” annoyance.

Every guide I’ve found online contained instructions that didn’t work or instructions that would also remove the trackpad input.

A little hammering with brute force and I think I have a solution. I’m not sure how portable it is to systems other than Lenovo X220 Tablets running Windows 8, but it can’t hurt to try it and find out.

  1. Go into Settings, Control Panel, Device Manager
  2. In Device Manager, open the Human Interface Devices folder
  3. Look for “USB Input Device”. There are only two on my laptop, at the end of the list.
  4. Using the stylus, open one USB Input Device
  5. Open the Driver tab
  6. Click the “Disable” button, and answer the “are you sure?” questions
  7. Test touch the screen with your finger to see if you can move the device window. If you can’t move the window with your finger, next try with the stylus and then with the keyboard controls.
  8. If you disabled the correct one, close all the menus and move on. If you didn’t disable finger touch, re-enable the device, close the window, and try this with the other USB Input Device.


Public Notice: William Backfisch is using my business phone #

Filed under: Pittsburgh,Rants — jet @ 11:39

For several years now, I’ve been receiving calls from debt collectors and lease agencies on my business line for William Backfisch who lives in greater Pittsburgh. When I started searching online for “Backfisch” instead of “Backfish” I discovered that 412.243.0938 is a number being associated with his name on a variety of web sites.

That’s not his number, it’s been my office line for seven years. So please, really, stop calling me and ignoring the message on the answering machine and asking for William Backfisch.


When you learn a language too late

Filed under: Hacking,Random and Pleasing — jet @ 14:28

When I was a kid, I liked writing BASIC on the TRS-80 at school so much that we eventually got a C64 in the house. After that I took CS classes in colleges for fun (that is, “a minor”) and instead of going into the writing business as planned I went into the computer biz.

Twenty years in consumer electronics and a Master in Design later, I still like learning languages and new ways of thinking about computing. Last month I read the Erlang book out of curiosity and last year I started playing with machine learning using Mallet.

Through all manner of trickery I managed to avoid Python. Fixed column formatting like COBOL and Fortran? A mixture of English and symbols for logic? Typeless unless it’s not? An object-oriented scripting language that doesn’t have a two pass compiler so there’s no way to do forward references? Screw you, buddy, I’ll stick to PERL!

Then along comes Rhino 5.0 (an excellent package even in alpha) and their decision to replace Visual Basic (hack, spit) with Python so your scripts will run on both OSX and Windows installations.

Crap. I have to learn Python.

I made the mistake of starting with the Rhino tutorial, which is more of a tutorial on Rhino than a tutorial on Python. I asked my “pythoneer” friends what to read and pointed out some of my goals and favorite ways to learn. I also I had a few planes to ride, so I tried the electronic version of “Learn Python the Hard Way“. It’s an excellent book for someone who has never written a program but can be a bit of a tedious read if you’re fluent in C++ or Java and try to do all the exercises. (I did none of them. :-)

So by “too late”, I mean long after everyone else has learned it, and long after they’ve worked through all the dev problems related to moving a language up to 3.x over the space of 20 years. I’m making notes as I learn and asking some of the obligatory “why is this so stupid?” questions that come from people who either expect better or are just used to the ANSI problems in C++. (Trigraphs. Fucking trigraphs.)

I’ve written a few scripts in the past week and it feels very much like when I learned Lisp after learning C, “Interesting language, but what would I do with it?” Looking at tasks I’ll do in Rhino I think Python makes a lot of sense as the scripting language.

One place where I think it leads other languages is the class-based operations on lists and hashtables of objects. In the 3D world, your model is often nothing more than a list of (probably complex) objects, being able to write scripts that process these lists is a basic requirement.

One of my next 3D projects is to generate a model using code, and instead of OpenSCAD I can just rack a Python script and have it generate the model for me. Rather than send you the model, I can just send you the script and you can tweak it as needed then generate your model. If I decide it needs to be %5 larger to account for shrinkage, just tweak a variable in the script and run it again.

I guess reading about Erlang really was just for fun, I don’t think I’ll use it to write any model generators or filters any time soon.


fixing the blog

Filed under: Random and Pleasing — jet @ 15:28

Something got trashed in my WordPress configs, so I’m re-installing it from scratch. No malware/hackers/whatever, a simple case of my web editing software deciding to delete any file it didn’t think I actually needed.


MendelMax Update

Filed under: digifab,Mendel — jet @ 12:07

The build is almost finished, all I need to do is build the extruder and get host software running on my Mac or Wintel box.

Instead of doing the build (like I planned) I’m spending a lot of time sitting after knee surgery. I do a lot of my hacking/tinkering either standing or sitting on the floor, neither of which has been much of an option for the past few weeks. Deep knee bends (aka “catcher bends”) caused my knee to make a bad noise, the doctor agreed it was bad and to stop making that noise until surgery. Surgery probably fixed it, but now I have ~3 weeks of sitting and taking it easy on my knee.

I’m posting photos to flickr as I make progress.


“intro to el wire” class, this Saturday, 14 July

Filed under: Random and Pleasing — jet @ 09:16

We’ll cover:

— How EL-wire works
— How to solder the wire and assemble controllers
— Using EL-wire in clothing, signage and other projects
— Safety and design considerations

Each student will receive a starter kit with 2 meters of wire, an EL-wire controller, batteries and additional components. Additional lengths of EL-wire in a variety of colors will be available for purchase at the class.

More details, pictures, and video are on Hack Pittsburgh’s web site.


My Introduction to Open Source Printing?

Filed under: Hacking,Reverse Engineering,Reviews — jet @ 19:46

Well, not open source as much as legal clone.

I’m not naming names until I test it, but for less than half of the cost of replacing the cartridges for my Epson R2400, aka “the big ass printer”, I got:

  • A new set of “never empty” cartridges that never go to %0 and can’t be re-used
  • An insultingly huge amount of UV dye. I got less hair dye than this in a bottle of Manic Panic, and now I have nine bottles of dye.
  • Refill syringes so I can not make a huge mess refilling things

The problem we R2400 owners have is tiny cartridges that cost $20 each and that dry out, die, or get eaten by grues when they’re not used. I’ve spent over $80 on ink in the past month and made only a couple dozen prints. My studio is too dry or my printer is broken or I dunno, but I’m ready to jump ship if this ebay purchase works out.


Engineering Lesson 101

Filed under: Arduino,Hacking,MakerBot,Rants — jet @ 09:46

I think it’s been 10, maybe 15 years since I’ve actually worked on open source software as an author. I’ve helped fix bugs in things like Arduino and ReplicatorG, but I haven’t done anything major on my own.

Until Friday, when my frustration with a certain class of software got the perspective and skill of my being a professional engineer. Instead of complaining, instead of getting frustrated with how someone else managers their project, instead of not being able to pull rank and make them do it my way, I can just go write my own and hand it out.

It’s a nice feeling. I don’t think I’d have gotten here without writing it-cannot-fail code for security and privacy projects as a day job. That sort of rigor is like daily exercise for the brain, like daily exercise or workouts only for the brain.


An improved tensioner for the MakerBot Mk7 head

Filed under: MakerBot — jet @ 18:54

Soon after I started testing the Mk7 head it stopped moving plastic, period. I had a working Mk6 handy and a Mini MakerFaire to attend, so I fell back to the Mk6 and decided to let other people debug the Mk7.

However, nobody on the MakerBot list really had a reason or a fix I liked, so I took it apart to fix on my own.

The first thing I discovered was that the pressure mechanism for pushing the plastic against the stepstruder was not pushing hard enough, due in part to scratches on the head’s surface.

The second — and more important — thing was that the stepstruder gear was filled with shreds of plastic. It came off easily, so like the Mk6, just pushing the plastic harder would clear the junk out of the motor.

But how to do that?

Like this.

It’s really that simple. Grab a spare M4 bolt from your parts kit, buy a wingnut at the local hardware store and glue/Loctite the wingnut to the end of the bolt.

I set it up, dialed in a temp of 240C (see earlier posts about temperature), and it forced plastic through with no problem at all. Even a 5 minute run ran without any problems at all.

Now to print some test models….

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