Presidents Day @ The Tech

On Monday, February 19, we’ll be celebrating Presidents Day at The Tech Museum in San Jose.

Spend your Presidents Day with us! We’re bringing you even more hands-on science fun than usual. You’ll build straw rockets and design colorful climbing robots. We’re also teaming up with Kickstarter to give you a sneak peek at some new tech.

The hours are 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. and we’ll be bringing the MOnSter 6502 and demonstrating how microprocessors work with our giant version of the classic MOS 6502.

Spaceship Cockpit with a Larson Scanner

Larson Scanner in panel with lights going back and forth

Lee at Sawdust and Solder is building a kids spaceship cockpit and used a Larson Scanner for one panel.

I wanted to spread out the LEDs over a large arc to simulate the sweep of a radar screen. The idea was to make it a scanner to look for other ships, class-M planets, or whatever is required. So I decided to mount the LEDs on the acrylic panel and wire them back to the board. I also decided to use my own switches mounted to the panel rather than the ones supplied with the kit. I used my Shapeoko CNC to cut out the acrylic panel.

Back of panel assembled with Kitt

After I painted and weathered the acrylic panel, I engraved the text (again, with the CNC and a v-carving bit) and then assembled everything.

CNC carved and weathered panel

There’s a ton of documentation and some good tips in the post. Check out the other parts of the cockpit project Lee has posted, too!

Evil Mad Scientist Valentines: 2018

2018 valentines

Today we are releasing our newest set of “Download and Print” cards for Valentine’s day. This is our sixth year, and sixth set of cards: The 2013 set had six equation-heavy cards, the 2014 set was a set of six symbol-heavy cards, and the 2015 set included love, hearts, and arrows. The 2016 set featured Pluto’s cold heart, and the perfect card for your robotic expression of love, and last year’s set featured atomic orbitals, exponential growth, and an epsilon delta declaration of love.

This year’s set features parallel lines, friction, and activation energy:

My love for you is at a stable equilibrium and therefore resistant to external perturbations

What could be more romantic than telling someone that the second derivative of your potential energy is at its minimum when you’re around them?

I'll Never be NP Complete Without You

The perfect card to give to any computer scientist when you want them to both (A) appreciate being given a valentine and (B) secretly wonder whether you don’t quite understand what np completeness means, or whether you do but thought it was funny.

Parallel lines never meet. But we should.

Parallel lines never meet. But we should.

It takes a special person to overcome my activation energy to send this card to you and ask if you will be my  valentine.

For when you have chemistry with someone.

Let's  measure our coefficient of kinetic friction

Why measure? Because it’s generally considered impolite to ask someone what their normal force is.


2018 valentines

You can download the full set here, which includes all 36 designs from all six years (a 1.6 MB PDF document).

As usual, print them out on (or otherwise affix to) card stock, personalize, and [some steps omitted] enjoy the resulting lifelong romance.

Linkdump: January 2018

Toss bombing

MOnSter 6502 and Digi-Comp II at Vintage Computer Festival PNW

We’re bringing the MOnSter 6502 and the Digi-Comp II to the Vintage Computer Festival Pacific Northwest February 10-11 at the Living Computers: Museum+Labs in Seattle, Washington.

Living Computers: Museum+Labs is an incredible museum! Bring your camera, bring your children, and enjoy all that LC:ML and VCF have to offer.

Check out the exhibitor list and the speaker lineup for more information.

AxiDraw, JavaScript, and Generative Art

Matt DesLauriers published a two-part blog post, Pen Plotter Art & Algorithms exploring his JavaScript workflow with AxiDraw and generative art.

Unlike a typical printer, a plotter produces prints with a strangely human quality: occasional imperfections arise as the pen catches an edge or momentarily dries up, and the quality of the ink has the subtle texture and emboss that you normally only see in an original drawing.

He has also posted his source code on github for the articles.

Part 1 covers getting started and explores Delaunay triangulation. Part 2 delves deeper into developing algorithms.

Linkdump: December 2017

Plotter Portraits

Plotter art portrait drawn by Jojo the robot

A couple of creative artists, Makio&Floz, are offering custom plotted portraits, drawn by their AxiDraw, playfully named Jojo the robot.

Makio&Floz is a duo working on digital based projects. Without limiting themselves to a virtual space or a physical one, their goal is to explore design and generative art using code as a pencil.

You can upload a photo, preview the “Plottrait”, and order your own custom generative art piece.

Plotter portrait in progress

Callie’s Crown

Callie's Crown

Last year while attending FIRST robotics competitions with the Firebots, I had the privilege of serving as a judge at both the Central Valley Regional and the Sacramento Regional. Judging gives an opportunity to get to know the folks involved in the competition, whether they’re students, mentors, or other volunteers like you. I’ve judged and volunteered at a few events now, and one of the great things to see is the way that the community builds and nurtures itself.

Neopixel Tiara by Callie

One of the students I met in past years, Callie, had graduated from her team, but keeps coming back as a volunteer. Callie was refereeing at both events, and shines brightly as a role model. Literally. She built an LED tiara and programmed it to light in the event colors of red, white, and blue.

Neopixel Tiara by Callie

She let me take a few pictures of it. It is made with Adafruit Flora Neopixels, a Gemma controller and a small LiPo battery.

Callie and her crown

She’s a student at UC Davis, and is a truly wonderful role model for the high school students at the events. While you don’t necessarily need an LED tiara to shine as a role model, Adafruit does have a tutorial so that you can make one, too.

Using the WaterColorBot to teach programming

Water color painting titled Ocean Woman
JR has been volunteering in a high school programming class and wrote up a thoughtful post about his experiences using the WaterColorBot in the classroom. He wrote a Python library that allows users to directly control a WaterColorBot by writing Python code.

To be honest, this library is a pretty insane way to control the bot. It’s needlessly low-level: you’re manually controlling the brush’s position, you’ve got to remember to wash and re-ink the brush every so often, etc. If your main goal is to just get the bot to paint a pretty picture, there are lots of better ways to go about it.

As a teaching aid, though, it’s been a total success, because it lets students flex their burgeoning Python skills and actually make a real thing in the process! We’ve been blown away by the stuff our students have created.

He has also documented and shared his code on github.