Three Fives in IEEE Spectrum

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Our Three Fives Kit was featured in this month’s IEEE Spectrum. From the article:

Just as DNA models, star maps, and periodic tables serve as reminders of fundamentals that can get obscured by day-to-day minutiae, so too the Three Fives kit is a reminder that even the most complex digital processor is still at its heart just a collection of very simple components.

You can read the full article and see pictures of it in use in a sample circuit over at IEEE Spectrum.

Pi Day is Here

Or, if you prefer, we’re halfway (well, 44% of the way) to Tau day, 6/28.  A fine day to watch the Vi Hart‘s Anti-Pi Rant. And, a fine day to round up some of our finest Pi, Pie, and mathematics projects:

Pi Blanket   Apple Pie

Pi blanket for Pi Day, and the Apple Apple Pie!

 

Earrings 2   Sierpinski Cookies-11

Sierpinski triangles out of polymer clay, and fractal cookies.

Fractal Snowflake Cupcakes - 24 fabric klein bottle

Fractal snowflake cupcakes, Fabric Klein bottle

Snowflake generator SymmetriSketch 2
Vector Snowflake generator application, and Symmetrisketch– for exploring other symmetries.

Christmas fractalSconic Sections
Christmas Chaos and Sconic Sections

Basics: AVR Target Boards and Arduino Compatibility

Diavolino
Gary writes:

I have fallen in love with your Diavolinos – thank you!
My question: does the “Simple target board” allow for the 6-pin FTDI Friend hookup to upload sketches? This is quick and easy with the Diavolino. I’m new to reading circuits and stuff, and I cannot tell looking at the target board. It says to use in-system programmer, but I prefer to not buy another interface. Thanks!

Excellent question! It is certainly possible, but not as quick and easy.  Both the Diavolino and our ATmegaXX8 target boards boards use the same chip, usually the ATmega328P.  But, one might say that our ATmegaXX8 board is a simple AVR target board optimized for use with an AVR ISP programmer (like the USBtinyISP), whereas the Diavolino is a simple target board optimized for use with the FTDI interface.

XX8 Target Board

Versus a “bare” target board (with just the chip and power), there are four things that you would normally add, in order to use the FTDI interface to upload a sketch from within the Arduino environment:

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Evil Mad Scientist Linkdump: March 2014

Back from the dead: The Evil Mad Scientist Linkdump. Last seen circa 2010, the Linkdump is our occasional collection of interesting links. You can find our archived linkdumps here.

Cool Wearable Electronics

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Mascot costumes are often hot and sweaty, and mascots are expected to enthusiastically energize their teams. At FIRST robotics competitions, there are also traditions of dance parties during delays caused by technical difficulties, leading to even more activity in a warm, heavy costume than would normally be expected.

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Cardinalbotics, an FRC team from San Francisco, made a mascot costume using an application of wearable electronics I had not considered before: cooling fans. The cardinal head was made of fabric sewn over shaped foam, with fans on the sides to keep everything cool inside.

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The fans were wired up to an on/off switch and adjustment pot which were hidden in a velcro compartment in the back of the head.

From the Mailbag: on STEAM Education

Evil Mad Scientist STEAM T-shirt
Trevor wrote in:

I’ve probably said it a million times, but I don’t think I’ve told you guys. You’re amazing. When it’s time for a new project I jump over to EMSL first. I use your projects to demonstrate a lot of STEAM principles at my Makerspace, and proudly wear my EMSL STEAM shirt every Saturday morning when I’m teaching our Makerspace Cadets class. (It’s a fun sciencey/makey/artsy class for kids). Keep up the great work. :)

Thank you for the kind words, and for your dedication to your students!

Robots in the Central Valley

Rows of busy pits

Friday was a busy day in the pits at the Central Valley Regional FIRST Robotics Competition. The teams got their robots unpacked, inspected, and ran practice rounds prior to matches this weekend. We’re here with Fremont Robotics, and we’ll be taking pictures throughout the weekend and posting them (tagged by team number where identifiable) in this flickr set.

On the field

The challenge this year is fun to watch: the robots score goals with large exercise balls and earn extra points for passing to team members and throwing the ball over a beam. The event is free to attend and open to the public, so if you’re near Madera, California this weekend, we’d love to see you here!

MakerBeam Comes of Age

makerbeam pieces

Back in 2009, we helped support the launch on Kickstarter of MakerBeam, a miniature open source aluminum T-slot profile construction set. Just a few months later, we wrote about receiving our first batch of MakerBeam parts.  And while there were some good things that might be said about those first-batch parts, there were some not-so-good things as well. For example, custom screws that couldn’t really be tightened and fastening plates made of too-brittle plastic. With some improvement — stainless steel brackets — MakerBeam eventually found limited distribution in 2011 at Sparkfun in the USA and at MakerBeam.eu, but on the whole, it seemed to be fizzling out of existence.

But, things change, sometimes for the better.  In 2012, Terence Tam’s excellent OpenBeam (a slightly larger T-slot profile, also currently sold by MakerBeam.eu) came roaring out of the gate, reminding us of what great things one can build out of extrusion profiles.  Meanwhile, the folks from MakerBeam.eu took hold of MakerBeam and began to run with it — turning a languishing project into an open source hardware success story. They recently sent us a starter kit to review, and we have to say— we were blown away.

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To begin with, they redesigned the profile itself.  The basic proportions are still the same (10 mm across), but the new shape has a thicker solid core that improves strength, and now allows the ends to be tapped. (The hole does not go all the way through.)  They also started having their profiles anodized, providing a harder outer surface, and tapping the ends.

makerbeam 2014 10 makerbeam 2014 11
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Next up: Nicely made stainless steel angle brackets and fastening plates.  Rock solid when bolted down, although (things being small) you may need to use several of them to get the kind of rigidity that you need for certain applications. We already had some of these shapes from the original MakerBeam makers.

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Silly: Some of the fastening plates (the ones designed by the original MakerBeam team) are inscribed with the angle in fractions of Tau, as in τ/4 instead of 90°.  Our guess: it’s certain to please many fewer people than it annoys.

 

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And, most important: A fastening system that really works.  These stainless steel M3 screws with modified pyramid-shaped button socket cap heads are simply fantastic.  They slide easily into and out of the MakerBeam slots, and lock into place perfectly with a simple hex nut on the exterior.

There are arguments to be said for and against putting screw heads in the channels, but if you’re going to do it, you had damn well better do it right. And, finally, someone is doing it right.  You can read about the evolution of the fasteners on the MakerBeam.eu blog, here, here, here, here, and here.

 

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Old components, Left side:  MakerBeam profile 1.0, old-style screws, machined ABS fastening plate.
New components, Right side: MakerBeam profile 2.0, new screws, stainless steel fastening plates.

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So, after nearly five years, MakerBeam has come of age, and finally fulfilled its promise of being a really nice miniature construction set.  Our congratulations and thanks to MakerBeam.eu for doing such a great job of this, and especially for making these sets available for everyone else.