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Feb 042014

Once there was a box. Inside the box was a board, and inside the board was a chip. Inside the chip was a carrier, and on that carrier was a die. And when the die came off the carrier it broke, and the pieces looked like this:


More pretty pictures below.

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 Posted by at 10:38 am
Nov 252013

In a show of solidarity with our oppressed Meleagris gallopavo brethren, there will be no craft night this Thursday, November 28th. We recommend gathering together with friends and loved ones and sharing a hearty seasonal meal of kale and pine nuts instead. See you all next week!

May 242013

Some technologies are so direct and intuitive that they feel classic even when they’re new. Some technologies are so ahead of their time that they only find their true purpose years after they’ve been put out to pasture.
Minitel 1B US
In the early 80′s, France Telecom rolled out the Minitel, a videotex system offering various online services to users across France. Subscribers were given small, semi-portable CRT-based terminals. The service was a success, and at its peak boasted 25 million users. But eventually, well, you know. The internet. In June 2012, France Telecom finally pulled the plug on the Minitel. Screens across the country went dark. Millions of little, boxy terminals, suddenly cast adrift. Widespread technology, lost and alone, in search of purpose. Purpose now, suddenly, found.
The Minitel/Tumblr Time Tunnel is a Minitel 1B US (yes, there was a QWERTY version) backed by a Raspberry Pi. Enter a few tags at the prompt, and the mighty firehose of Tumblr will be unleashed upon your tiny, 3-bit*, 80×72 pixel black and white CRT display. By cranking the serial port up to 4800 blazin’ bits per second and reducing the number of color swaps, you can view the genius of the internet at such blinding speeds that you’ll think that you’ve suddenly been transported to a Jetsonian future of videophones and cars that collapse into briefcases. It’s just that advanced. See for yourself:

(The asterisk after “3-bit” is due to the fact that each 2×3 block of “pixels” is actually a single character with foreground and background color attributes, so each 2×3 block only has one bit of color data, selected from a palette of 8 colors.)

As is de rigueur, all the code is available on github.

The Minitel/Tumblr Time Tunnels will be on display at this year’s NYCR Interactive Party. Be sure to come by and see the internet the way it positively demands to be seen!

 Posted by at 9:08 pm
May 112013

Reading punched tape

Rapid prototyping tools are great for quick hacks, but their real power lies in their ability to allow you to quickly iterate and refine a design. Earlier this week I hacked together a primitive nine-channel punched paper tape reader, but it had a number of limitations: the LEDs that I was using to read the bits were noisy and slow, the materials used didn’t mask the light well enough, the tape wasn’t mechanically aligned well, the electronics were a mess and the entire mechanism was difficult to use. This Friday, I decided to do what my third-grade teacher would tell me to do every time I half-assed something: go back and do it right.

Tape reader parts

This time I used proper phototransistors and IR LEDs I scrounged up around the space (thanks, Miria and Raphael!). Because they’re 5mm in diameter (and the spacing between channels is only 2.54mm), I had to come up with a new sensor packing. This one reads bits from four separate columns over a space of five columns, requiring an internal buffer of five columns to reconstruct a single column of data. Even so, the spacing was tight, and I had to sand down the flanges of the phototransistors and LEDs to make everything fit. I milled simple PCBs for both sides to keep things nice and neat, and used a small surface-mount potentiometer to limit the current to the LEDs in case the paper wasn’t thick enough to block enough light. The light mask is made of black acetal this time, and the spacers include runners to help keep the tape straight. There’s still no automatic feed mechanism, but we now have a reader that’s fast and reliable enough to read tapes in earnest.

The updated code, mechanical drawings, and PCB designs are all up on Github. There are still a few tweaks we’d want if we were going to scan more tapes, but this version works very well. Now we just have to figure out what to do with all these PDP-8 binaries. Any ideas?


(Note to time-travelling computer conservators: in the past/future, please do not store your paper tapes in damp basements. These programs are stinky. The Fortran compiler, in particular, is exceptionally foul. Yours truly, phooky.)

 Posted by at 6:17 pm
May 092013

Trammell came across a cache of punched paper tape recently. My immediate impulse was to create the most primitive tape reader possible. Thusly:

The rig is composed of a Teensy++ 2.0, eighteen red LEDs, eighteen resistors, and a few bits of laser-cut plastic. LEDs are used to both illuminate the paper and sense the holes. The sensor design is based on the classic Arduino LED sensing code. It’s not very reliable, but it’s a fun afternoon proof-of-concept.

If you’re interested, the code and design files are up on github.

 Posted by at 8:54 pm
Mar 312013

So, once in a while, I wake up feverish in the middle of the night, screaming “CLAMPS! I NEED MORE CLAMPS!” Oh, you too, huh?

It's clamps.

It’s your lucky day! Or rather, this coming Sunday, April 7th is your lucky day, when NYCR and our good friends at the Industry City Distillery will be having our first-ever garage sale. We’ll be selling all kinds of hardware oddities, including:

  • Clamps!
  • Hand tools!
  • Power tools!
  • Strange, unidentifiable tools meant for neither hand nor eye!
  • Microscopes! Boroscopes!
  • Audio equipment! Video equipment! Audiovisual equipment!
  • Files! Floppy diskettes! Raw steel! Cooked steel!
  • A vertical mill! (U-buy, U-move!)
  • Clamps!
  • Files!
  • Electronic bits! Non-electronic bits!
  • More VHS recorders than you’re prepared to buy!
  • aaannnddd moooooorrrreeee!!!

We’ll be having the sale in beautiful Industry City, Brooklyn, in association with the Industry City Distillery, manufacturers of incredible spirits. Come by to buy! Come by to browse! Come by to meet amazing people!

Files, on floppy and off!

The sale starts at 11:30 AM, Sunday, April 7th and continues until sunset, at which point we’ll just start calling it a party. The address is 33 35th Street, Brooklyn, NY, just two blocks downhill from the 36th Street Station on the D, N, and R trains. It’s just one stop on the N train from NYCR.

See y’all Sunday!

(We’re not kidding about the mill.)
It's a mill.

 Posted by at 10:38 pm
Mar 202013

LCD backlight teardown

These are seven layers of a backlight from an old laptop LCD. The amount of optical engineering required to produce a nice, even glow from an edge-lit panel is impressive.

Backlight filters

(Be careful if you’re taking one apart yourself– until recently many LCDs were backlit by CCFLs, which contain a small amount of mercury and need to be disposed of properly.)

 Posted by at 5:31 pm
Feb 032013

As midnight approached this New Year’s Eve– as champagne bubbled from uncorked necks and we all prepared for the coming year in various postures of revelry or bleak resignation– I grappled silently with the pivotal question of our time: “How awesome are robots?” The answer is of course that robots are completely awesome. That settled, I resolved to build one robot a month for the duration of 2013.

Much to the chagrin of Brooklyn’s legion of artisanal slow-cooking egg-boilers, January’s robot is a an automaton for preparing soft-boiled eggs for human consumption.

This was a junkbot, assembled from various scraps that have ended up in the space over the years. Expert junkspotters will note:

  • The heating element and thermistor from a trashed mini-espresso machine
  • One 250mL beaker of questionable provenance
  • Some off-brand extruded aluminum
  • Skate bearings
  • A haunted steel counterweight
  • Lots of lasercut acrylic and delrin
  • Some chunks of 4×4 sliced out of the loft supports from the original NYCR location
  • A couple of analog servos and a DC motor from the junk drawer
  • One half of a L298 from a driver board I designed in 2005
  • Some relays from sharesville
  • A button from a reflow oven
  • Random bolts, plywood, etc.

The whole shebang was controlled by a Teensy 2.0 and powered from a bench supply (except the heating element which was run off of 120VAC, which is why the lights keep dimming during the video).

All the code and CAD files are in my Github repo, as usual. Special thanks to Charles Pax for donating the boiler from his busted coffeemaker, Eric Skiff for providing the tunes for the video, Nick Farr for a last-minute game-changing special Club Mate delivery, and everyone at NYCR for indulging my little robot habit.

 Posted by at 10:56 pm

No Craft Night!

 Uncategorized  No Responses »
Nov 212012

A quick reminder– there’s no craft night this Thursday, November 22nd, due to ectoplasmic containment issues corresponding to an influx of angry turkey ghosts. Happy Thanksgiving!

 Posted by at 9:55 pm