BAMF2014: BreadBoardManiac

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Part of our continuing coverage of highlights from the 2014 Bay Area Maker Faire.

Not that I’m normally one to get excited about electronic breadboards, but I’ve had to change my mind after seeing these at Maker Faire. These breadboards by BreadBoardManiac are some of the finest electronics accessories that I’ve ever seen.  Not only do they snap to Lego bricks (making one heck of a cool building set), but they are also super-thin and double-sided, so that you can insert components from both sides. They suggest that you can use that feature to make multi-layer breadboards with vertical interconnects, but perhaps that is a bit of a stretch.

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Their handmade limited edition wooden breadboards are perhaps even cooler, and were made available as part of this kickstarter project earlier in the year. This is what I’d expect kids in school to learn electronics with, and it sure would be nice if a production version became available in the future. It looks like there’s also a flexible breadboard under development, amongst other types.  I can hardly wait to get my hands on all of these.

The Classic Lego Space Flight Jacket

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Here’s a little project that we’ve been working towards for a long time: a custom-painted leather flight jacket (“bomber jacket”) featuring the “Classic Lego Space” logo.  (Yes, I totally spent years serving in the Lego space corps!)  And, if you’ve ever wanted to make your own painted leather jacket — whatever the theme — here’s how to do it.

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Lego and Arduino Projects Book

Our friends John Baichtal of Make Magazine, and Adam Wolf and Matthew Beckler of Wayne and Layne have recently released their collaboration, Make: Lego and Arduino Projects, with a forward by our other friend, Erin RobotGrrl Kennedy.

If that all-star cast isn’t reason enough to check it out, the book is about combining Lego and Arduino, key gateway drugs into engineering and electronics. To accompany the book, they’ve created Bricktronics, a library for use with Arduino and Lego and a set of accessories to help with the physical interfaces, including a shield that allows you to plug your Lego NXT accessories into your Arduino. In an article over at Make, John points out that models and code from some of the projects from the book are up on github, so you can already get started playing.  Neat stuff!

Help Bring PancakeBot to Bay Area Maker Faire


Miguel, the great guy behind PancakeBot, a CNC pancake printer made out of Lego, is running an Indiegogo campaign to help bring the whole family all the way from Norway to the Bay Area Maker Faire. We met Miguel at the New York Maker Faire last year, and got a chance to see PancakeBot in action.

Even if you can’t support the campaign, you should check out the video to see the machine in action, cheered on by enthusiastic young pancake aficionados. And come to Maker Faire in May, where we’ll hope to see Miguel and family with the awesome PancakeBot.

Field Trip: Bell Labs Technology Showcase

Bell Labs

Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey is one of the sites that should be on every geek pilgrimage itinerary.

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Their Technology Showcase is a enshrined in a small exhibit area off of the main lobby. In the center of the exhibit, on a pedestal of its very own, is the first transistor. It looks like a very small piece of mixed media abstract sculpture, with geometric forms and wires bent in wonderful angles. If that were the only thing to see, it would still be worth the visit.

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Nearby, the first MOSFET sits in an impressive array of other firsts, including an early CCD and a micro-mirror array.

Telstar at Bell Labs

Telstar, the world’s first active communications satellite hangs overhead. This one is a flight backup unit that was never used.

Glass for fiberoptics

These fiberoptic preforms were placed under a polarizer so that the optical qualities of the cores would be more apparent to visitors.

There are many more beautiful objects, as well as interactive wall for exploring many world-changing developments that happened at and through Bell Labs.

Huge thanks go to Drew Fustini of Pumping Station: One for organizing our post-Maker Faire pilgrimage via twitter and driving us all up to New Jersey.

Open Hardware Summit 2012 Badges

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The 2012 Open Hardware Summit is happening today in New York City and we had the pleasure of designing and building the badges for this year’s conference.

As you can see, the badges are built out of Lego bricks, and are a bit on the whimsical side. The hardware community’s connections to Lego run deep, as so many of us developed our mechanical understanding with it, and many of us continue to use it both for prototyping and play. (This is really only part of the badge; there is also a paper underlay below the Lego, with the attendee name and affiliation.)

We used LEGO Digital Designer, free software for Mac and Windows, to create the preliminary designs for the badges.  As we started shopping on bricklink (“the unofficial Lego marketplace”) to figure out exactly how many parts were actually available in the world in the particular shapes and colors that we needed, we gradually modified our designs to make them work with more commonly available parts.

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We ended up running with four slightly different designs: one with plates, one with tiles, one with bricks, and one “dot matrix” with single round tiles.

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Here is the most important part: The “modified 2×3 plate with hole” on the top, where your lanyard clips, has to be held very securely.  To be able to work with different sizes of backing plates available, we used a couple of slight variations on this theme.

Backs waiting to be finished

We ordered nearly fifteen thousand Lego bricks, sourced from twelve different suppliers, to make sure we could get all of the parts we needed.

Badges in progress

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When all the parts finally arrived, our shop staff was happy to drop everything else they were doing to spend several days building Lego badges in time for the summit.

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And for a final touch, we added a tool in a holder to each badge.  There are a few different tool types— our own little easter egg.

As we did with last year’s badges, we are releasing the design files (such as they are) in the preferred format for modification (lxf files). The four representative models are available for download here (37 KB zip file).