All posts by Windell Oskay

About Windell Oskay

Co-founder of Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories.

The AxiDraw MiniKit

AxiDraw MiniKit

Today we are introducing a brand new member of the AxiDraw family of pen plotters: the AxiDraw MiniKit.

AxiDraw MiniKit
The AxiDraw MiniKit is a special compact addition to the AxiDraw lineup.

Designed for lighter-duty applications, It takes up less desk space and less storage space. With a plotting area of just 6 × 4 inches (150 × 100 mm), it’s small enough to take with you, or to fit into places where bigger machines can’t.

AxiDraw MiniKit
In addition to be being “Mini”, it is also a kit.

Unlike other models of the AxiDraw family like AxiDraw V3 and AxiDraw SE/A3 (which come assembled, tested, and ready to use), the AxiDraw MiniKit is a machine that you assemble yourself.

We’ve taken great care in designing a kit that is rewarding to build and to own.

AxiDraw MiniKit

And of course, it’s an AxiDraw, and performs like one. Small but sturdy, it’s built with custom aluminum extrusions, machined parts, attention to detail, and care.

Our Thanksgiving Weekend Sale


It’s our Thanksgiving Weekend Sale! use checkout coupon code TURKEY to save 10% storewide at Evil Mad Scientist.

Save on popular items like the brand new AxiDraw MiniKit, surface-mount 555SE and 741SE soldering kits, and everything else too.

Our biggest sale of the year, it’s a great time to get that AxiDraw SE/A3, EggBot, or through hole 555 kit too.

Sale runs through Monday, December 2.

The 555SE and 741SE surface-mount soldering kits

555SE and 741SE kits

Today we are pleased to announce the release of two new soldering kits: the 555SE discrete 555 timer and the 741SE discrete op-amp.

Both of these new kits are surface mount soldering kits — our first surface mount soldering kits — and we think that you’re going to love them.

555 kits, big and small

You might be familiar with our Three Fives discrete 555 timer and XL741 discrete op-amp kits. Both are easy soldering kits that let you build working transistor-scale replicas of the classic 555 timer chip and the famous µA741 op-amp. Those two are constructed with traditional through-hole soldering techniques and are styled to like “DIP” packaged (through-hole) integrated circuits.

Our new 555SE and 741SE kits implement the same circuits, now with surface mount components, and are styled to look like smaller “SOIC” packaged (surface mount) integrated circuits, complete with a heavy-gauge aluminum leadframe stand. Side by side with their through-hole siblings, the new kits are exactly to scale, with half the lead pitch and a lower profile.

555SE kit for scale

The 555SE and 741SE kits each come with eight (tiny) color-coded thumbscrew binding posts that you can use to hook up wires and other connections.

You can also probe anywhere that you like in these circuits — something that you generally can’t do with the integrated circuit versions.

741SE kit close up

The new 555SE and 741SE circuit boards are black in color, with a gold finish and clear solder mask so that you can see the wiring traces between individual components. There are a few other neat details here and there, such as countersunk holes for mounting the board to the leadframe.

The surface mount components are relatively large, with 1206-sized resistors and SOT-23 sized transistors, and assembly is straightforward with our clear and comprehensive instructions. These kits are designed to be a joy to build, whether you’re an old hand at surface mount soldering, want some practice before tackling a project, or are introducing someone to it for the first time.

Family portrait

And here is the new family: XL741, the Three Fives, along with the new 741SE and 555SE.

You can find the datasheets and assembly instructions for these kits, as well as links to additional documentation, on their respective product pages.

Both new kits are part of our ongoing collaboration with Eric Schlaepfer, who we have worked with on a number of dis-integrated circuit projects including the four kits here and the MOnSter 6502.

MOnSter in a box

MOnSter 6502 in enclosure

For the past couple of years we have been working towards a public launch of the MOnSter 6502, our working transistor-scale replica of the famous MOS 6502 microprocessor.

One of the biggest pieces of the puzzle has been how to present it in such a way that shows off its beauty but also lets you see it in action. Here – finally – is the result of that effort: An elegant shadowbox frame with hidden electronics and integrated buttons.

If you’d like to see the MOnSter and its new prototype enclosure, this weekend is the perfect opportunity: we are exhibiting it at the 2019 Vintage Computer Festival West, August 3-4 at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California.

MOnSter 6502 in enclosure

Where to go from here? If everything goes well, we’ll be launching the MOnSter this fall. Stay tuned!

Stroke fonts from Quantum Enterprises

One of the features in our new Hershey Text v 3.0 software is the ability to extend it with new fonts.

One company, Quantum Enterprises, is already selling high quality stroke fonts that are compatible with the new Hershey Text, and ideal for use with the AxiDraw.

Their fonts are available in matched pairs: A TrueType (outline) font and a single-stroke SVG stroke font. The TrueType font works as a regular computer font, which you can use to lay out and edit text on your page. Hershey Text then performs automatic font substitution replacing the text in place with the matching stroke font.

Here is a sample of what one of their regular (TrueType) handwriting-like fonts looks like, as laid out on the page within Inkscape:

And, here is how that same text looks once rendered with Hershey Text into its single-stroke SVG font version:

The single-stroke text comprises a set of paths ideally suited to be traced with a pen. And finally, here is how that stroke text looks as plotted with the AxiDraw:

These new stroke font pairs, as well as custom fonts, are available to purchase directly from Quantum Enterprises.

An especially neat feature of these fonts is that they can work with the Quantum Enterprises Scriptalizer character substitution software — now available directly integrated within a special version the AxiDraw software. This software performs automatic substitution between different letter forms (glyphs) for the same character, making plotted text look more like handwriting.

The AxiDraw CLI and Python API

Following the release of our new AxiDraw software this week, we are pleased to announce the release of two additional software components that greatly extend the capability of the machine.

The AxiDraw software is now available in two alternate versions that may be helpful for developers or for anyone who would like to control the machine programmatically rather than through Inkscape: A stand-alone command-line interface (CLI) tool, as well as a full-featured Python library.

The AxiDraw CLI

The first new tool is the AxiDraw CLI,  a command-line API to drive the AxiDraw outside of Inkscape. Like the Inkscape-based software, its primary function is to plot SVG files. However, it is a stand-alone utility that can be driven from within shell scripts and other environments that make use of shell commands.

Once installed, plotting a file can be as simple as executing the following command:

axicli filename.svg

There are, of course, a breadth of different modes and configuration parameters available. We have written detailed descriptions of each of these options in our comprehensive API documentation. The CLI also supports the use of configuration files to quickly switch between different sets of parameters.

Since most common scripting and programming environments allow one to call shell commands like this, that allows the AxiDraw to be used directly within a wide variety of frameworks.

 

The Python API

The second new tool is the AxiDraw Python API. The AxiDraw CLI is written within Python, and we have both exposed and expanded upon that nucleus to create a flexible and powerful Python module, complete with its own comprehensive documentation.

Just like the CLI, the Python API can plot SVG documents; it can both read SVG files and accept strings containing SVG data.

It also has features that are not available within Inkscape or the CLI: It supports direct interactive XY control. You can use absolute or relative moveto/lineto type commands to control the AxiDraw from within your own programs. This is particularly useful for a wide variety of potential AxiDraw applications that are not writing or drawing, but otherwise making use of the AxiDraw as a low-cost motion control platform.

Hershey Text v 3.0

Some years ago we wrote a neat little Inkscape extension called Hershey Text. Hershey text could take a little bit of text that you would type and render it into stroke fonts, also known as engraving fonts.

We are very pleased this week to release an all-new version of Hershey Text, written from scratch, and far more useful, capable, and extensible. We have a comprehensive user guide for it as well.

Hershey Text v 3.0 will be bundled into future versions of Inkscape, but it’s also included with the new AxiDraw software and available on its own for download today.

Continue reading Hershey Text v 3.0

New AxiDraw Software v 2.5

We’re pleased to announce the release of the latest version of the AxiDraw software, 2.5. which includes a number of frequently-requested features that we’ve been working on over the last year.

An expanded user guide

Perhaps foremost, we have updated and greatly expanded the PDF AxiDraw user guide, which covers how to use the AxiDraw, including every part of the software. In addition to sections that go over the new features, we have thoroughly revised the rest, including a larger and clearer section on getting started.

A new SVG optimization tool

In normal use, the AxiDraw software plots elements in the same order that they occur in the file. However, depending on how your file was generated, that may not be the most efficient way to do things. If the order of the elements in the file is poor enough, the plot time can actually be dominated not by writing and drawing time, but by pen-up movements (illustrated here in red) between objects.

We’ve written a new SVG ordering utility, that can sorting of objects in an SVG document, re-ordering them as needed to reduce pen-up travel. It’s also a layer-aware and group-aware sorting tool, that can process a full document and reorder elements on each layer of the document and either respect or break apart other groups in your document. This tool is available in two versions: An individual Inkscape extension as well as an integrated version that you can use automatically within the AxiDraw software.

Better support for using multiple machines

The new AxiDraw software supports assigning names to individual AxiDraw units over USB, which you can use as semi-permanent labels when printing to a particular machine. You can also now plot to a specific AxiDraw, or simultaneously plot the same document to a number of connected machines.

A new version of Hershey Text

This release includes an all-new version of Hershey Text, our software for creating stroke-based text within Inkscape. You can about the new features in our blog post announcing it.

And more!

Amongst other improvements in the new software are the following:

  • Updated to use Inkscape 0.92
  • Paths in the document are now clipped gracefully and precisely at the boundaries of both the artboard (drawing canvas) and machine travel.
  • Supports more SVG object and layout types natively
  • Faster plotting on paths with very high vertex density
  • Online version check added
  • Improves behavior of Hatch Fill extension
  • Bug fixes galore

We recommend this new version to all AxiDraw users; you can download it for Mac, Windows, or Linux, following our guide here.

Evil Mad Scientist Valentines: 2019 Edition

2019 valentines

Today we are releasing our newest set of “Download and Print” cards for Valentine’s day. This is our seventh year, and seventh 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. In 2017 we featured atomic orbitals, exponential growth, and an epsilon delta declaration of love. The 2018 set featured normal force, stable equilibriums, and something about RPN calculators.

This year’s set features geometry, division by zero, batteries, a nod to quantum chromodynamics, and two very bad puns. (Sorry not sorry.)

Be my Valentine. Any other choice would be irrational.

To the extent that it is important that romance is rational, this is an extremely romantic card.

Roses are red, some quarks are blue. The strong nuclear force is what attracts me to you.

A proton or neutron is made up of three quarks, but its mass turns out to be dominated by chromodynamic binding energy, not the mass of those quarks. Corollary: By weight, humans are almost entirely binding energy.

Unlike most Valentine’s cards, which neglect the vast majority of your potential paramour, this card will let them know that you appreciate more than a tiny fraction of them.

It's hard to define home much I like you. But we should.

I tried to compute my love for you but my calculator gave me an error.

You get me all charged up.

Like a LiPo battery charged at the proper rate so that it does not explode.

You must have taken my electron, because I've got my ion you.

You had better be positive before you give this card to someone.


2019 valentines

You can download the full set here, which includes all 42 designs from all seven years (PDF, 1.8 MB).

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