Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Games People Play - Orange County Regional History Center and FamiLAB "Hands-On" Retro-Gaming Event

The Orange County Regional History Center is running an exhibit called "Games People Play - The Evolution of Video Games" from July through September.

I've provided a few items from my personal 8-bit video game and computer collection - AND - I'm happy to say that the History Center is partnering with FamiLAB for a "hands-on" day, Saturday, July 16th from 11pm to 3pm. The History Center's event page is here.

I hope you will come out and join us for some retro-nostalgia - and check out the rest of the History Center while you are there. If you haven't been before, it is the site of the old courthouse, across the street from the downtown branch of the Public Library.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Determination: Required Trait for 3D Printer Owners

After my meltdown earlier in the week, I borrowed ANOTHER hot end, and this time, did some printing!

Of course, RepSnapper died about 20% through the print, so I didn't get a complete cube, but this is major progress.

I'm also now able to detect some of the finer issues - still having slippage on the X-Axis pulley, and the Z endstop was set too high. I'll keep at it - Determination is a required trait for 3D printer owners!

New Kitteh

Apparently the chaos knob in our household wasn't quite to 11 yet. My soft-hearted wife (don't let that tough girl exterior fool you...) brought home a new kitten this week.

She was abandoned somewhere near my wife's office - She's missing a foot (but has 4 legs), but otherwise is very healthy.

She is still unnamed - but given the big "M" in stripes on her forehead I suspect she will get a name that starts with M. Someone suggested "meter" (just over 3 feet...get it...) and another suggested "minus" - while "minus" is pretty cute and goes well with our dog "Cygnus", I'm still not sure about a name that highlights a physical deformity.

Time for some "awwww" pics...

So far she's adventurous, and likes to explore, but pretty quickly finds a corner and hangs out there.

She found a gap that led into the filler panel of our bathroom vanity yesterday morning - that was about a 30 minute extraction process to get her to the Vet on time.

Time to build some kitty-likes-to-chase-small-things robots!  :)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Living on "The Melting Edge"

Notice anything wrong with these pictures??

So far my RepRap experience is - receive parts, assemble parts, break parts, order more parts, repeat...

Tonight, from the time I opened the box with the new heat core until I was ordering more parts - 33 minutes.

Installed the heat core, built the hot end, let it hit temperature, then did a test print. Something was off, so I stopped it. about 20 seconds later, white smoke comes out of the nozzle. By the time I pulled the plug, this was the damage. The insulator is melted to the barrel and the heat core. The heat core was cracked, and didn't survive my attempts to free it.

I know 6 people with 3D printers - both MakerBots and RepRaps - at the moment, none of them are working - I think I'll call this being on the "melting edge" instead of "bleeding edge".

I knew this would be an adventure, just need to rebuild the enthusiasm a bit. Luckily the folks at MakerGear are awesome AND fast.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

8-bit Nostalgia

In 2005, I was looking for new ways to get my team at work to embrace their inner geeks - and I remembered how fondly people talked about their first computer, which in many cases was an 8-bit home computer before PCs made their way into the home.

Over the next few months, I set off to build a mini collection from craigslist and eBay - collecting up bits of circuit and plastic that would give someone I worked with 10 minutes of joy as they relieved their first computing experiences.

A few months ago, my 11 year old asked, "How do you learn to program computers?" - I pulled out the C64, the disk drive, the monitor, and a few books. Within minutes, he was coding in BASIC and calling over the rest of the family to see his creations.

I'm in discussions with a local museum to display these 8-bit computers as part of an upcoming exhibit. I pulled them all out & took some quick pictures - I thought I'd post them in case you wanted to find a few minutes of nostalgic joy with me. BTW, if you live in Central Florida and want to play with one or all of these, send me a note, I'm happy to share.

(I also have some PC stuff, old handheld games & video game consoles - but that is an entirely different post!)

These are in order of my ownership or encounters with them as a kid.

The Timex Sinclair 1000 was my first computer. I wanted the VIC-20, but my grandfather received a Timex Sinclair 1000 FREE for taking a timeshare tour. Using the Timex Sinclair was torture - that keyboard was painful, and with the 16k ram expander inserted, you had to tape down the CPU to keep it from tipping backward!


It is as small as it looks. No, it is actually smaller.

I love a keyboard with BASIC keywords on it.

Ahhh, the VIC-20. My first "real" computer. I remember that a friend had the 16k RAM expander, so I would write programs in segments, then go to his house to pull them all into RAM at once, then test them. I had to go to his house to run the programs after that. I couldn't tell you what I was writing, only that I needed more RAM!

Yes, that label does instruct you to type SYS 32592 - IIRC you needed to restart the VIC without the BASIC emulator in order to have enough RAM for the game.

Tape drives - simple, and somewhat effective. I didn't have this model as a kid.

This was the tape drive I remember.

Prepackaged software even came on cassette.
A Jr. High friend (One of the smartest people I've ever met, need to find him again...) had an ATARI 400 - I remember entire nights of playing Ghostbusters on his ATARI 400.

These computers all had VERY distinctive looks. I the ATARI 400 design could have influenced the movie TRON IMHO.

And the ATARI 400 had METAL in it. That cartridge slot HAD to be MILSPEC!


The kid that lived behind my grandparents (where I spent summers) had a TI-99/4A - I'd take the VIC-20 down to my grandparents house, but since they only had one TV, I'd go to his house when my Grandmother's soaps came on.

After some time with the VIC-20, I begged for a C64, and some combination of raking leaves, saving and begging allowed me to obtain a used one. I slowly built up a full system like you see here. I even had the VIC line printer... I had a good friend in the next neighborhood that also had a C64, so we'd pool our disk drives to "backup" software. The C64 also brought my first model - a 300 baud VIC modem - MANUAL dial. I still can't believe my mother let me drag that long phone cord back to my room so often...

I never owned a "COCO", but a good friend in High School had one, and it was also the first home computer of several coworkers.

Some manufacturers couldn't accept the ATARI joystick as the standard...these analog sticks were great for some games, but terrible for others...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Solar Powered Camping - Lessons Learned

Lessons learned from the Solar Powered Camping project

  • Constraints help!:
    • It needs to power a tent fan for a few hours a night (all night would be GREAT, but a few hours minimum)
    • We had to make it fit in the locking Rubbermaid tote bin with all his other camping gear
    • It needs to be lightweight, and durable enough to with stand the packing / unpacking / setup process
    • An 11 year old needs to be capable of setup / teardown with a minimum of adult help
    • We had a deadline (we knew the day he headed to camp!)

  • Be flexible, a better design often emerges: 
    • We designed the solar panel stand "on-the-fly" and a great design (SIMPLE manual tilt) emerged while we were playing with fittings. 
    • A better, less expensive, and smaller battery option proved to be best. (see below for more...)
  • Prototyping close to the store (or in their parking lot!) can save lots of driving, gasoline, and frustration
    • We setup in the Lowe's parking lot, and made 3 return trips inside for additional fittings. Even if I'd purchased extra (good practice), I still would not have thought to grab the fittings we needed.

  • Don't forget Ohm's law
    • I'd done my calculations on runtime, etc. using the current draw from the Coleman camping fan / light, and the capacity of batteries. When we decided to do an "experiment" to see how long the fan would run, it ran for twice the time. I'd forgotten that the Coleman fan was a 6v fan (everything else was 12v). It was using half the POWER that I thought it was using...
  • Electronic solar chargers exist for a reason!
    • Overvolt protection, Undervolt protection, battery voltage sensing, battery type charging logic, temperature compensation - these things all maximize the little current available from the solar panel. Any other solar project will include an electronic solar charger.

  • Bigger isn't always better
    • I'd selected this big 7Ah sealed lead acid battery to maximize runtime. Problem is, this battery takes a VERY long time to charge if run down too far (undervolt). The fans do not have an auto-shutoff timer, so taking the battery all the way down overnight is very likely. 
    • We decided to go with the smaller Coleman rechargeable batteries that fit right in the back of the fan. They are 6v batteries, and even when run down, the solar panel could full charge them in a day. 
    • The smaller size also allowed him to take 2 of them, which automatically means two nights of charge as he heads to camp - and a backup if he has a problem charging one day.
  • Verify Specs, manufacturers take too many liberties
    • The "12v" solar panel output 24v. It is current limited (by the panel's efficiency), but still. We added an LM317 voltage regulator. An electronic solar charger would be better in the future...
    • The panel said that it had power-drain protection (assumed a diode...) - but I found nothing. We added a diode.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Solar Powered Camping - Setup & Teardown Process

Basic setup & teardown instructions for the Solar Powered Camping Project...

A pile of parts!

Drive in the bottom post (has pointed tip)

Push in the top of the post (use the mallet if needed!)

Rotate the attachment fitting if needed

Place onto post

Rotate until it is flat

Unpack solar panel

Place solar panel onto stand

Turn the top fittings to secure the panel

Aim toward sun (make menacing look towards the adult with the camera)

Unpack connectors (towel keeps them out of the dirt)

Connect the 12v power socket to the solar panel

Plug the 12v charger into the socket

Lift the rubber cap on the battery

Plug the charger into the battery

The light is red when charging, green when charged - but leave on the charger as LONG as possible!

Mount the fan


Turn the safety fittings, remove the panel, place on towel

Wrap neatly back in the towel

Put the excess towel on the GLASS side!

Please it back in the PVC holder for safe transport

Friday, June 10, 2011

Solar Powered Camping

We've been working on a project for my older son's Boy Scout Camp trip that starts June 12th. He has a week of VERY hot nights coming, and a tent fan is recommended, but I didn't like the idea of buying 2-4 D batteries per night of camping. We decided to build the "Solar Powered Camping" project - it contains a 12v 5w solar panel, a custom stand made from PVC (in the LOWES parking lot to save return trips!), a sealed lead acid battery, and a Coleman camping fan / light. There were (still are!) quite a few unknowns, but it seemed like a fun thing to work on together.

We still have work to do before he leaves for camp - for now I'll just share some video tests we did using this project as something to present - please ignore the sound of the air conditioner, the references to items off screen, and me taking a phone call from Mom during the shot...this was a test for us to see if we wanted to do more video for - and the good news is that we both had fun - so look forward to some better produced videos, coming soon!

We will also fully document the project once he gets back from camp, and he can also share the results of our efforts...

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Spy Net Real Tech Night Vision - Toy? Review

While in Radio Shack last week, my 11 year old BEGGED me for a pair of these:

They were $32.99, and I assumed that this "toy", like most, didn't work nearly as well as it appeared on the packaging. I talked him out of them in the store, but made a mental note to research them later.

We've had good luck with Jakks Pacific toys in the past (especially the Phineas & Ferb game we used as part of an MBA class presentation with the boys!). I came home and read a few Amazon reviews - most of them said something like - "these really work, I can't believe they are a toy!" I was about to order 2 of them, when I realized that Radio Shack had a great price on them. Amazon, my go-to vendor was $45+. I decided I'd swing back by Radio Shack this week to grab them.

Wednesday was the last day of school for the boys, and I decided that every elementary school kid needs night vision to celebrate their ability to stay up late for the next 104 days of summer vacation.  (If you didn't know there are 104 days of summer vacation, you need to watch more Phineas & Ferb!)

The boys were surprised - and they immediately informed me that they were going to spy on the neighbor kid. We had a discussion about privacy (and the penalty for "spying" on your parents...) and sent them off to dark rooms of the house.

Overall, the boys love them - they work surprisingly well (for $32.99!) They have a bit of magnification to them, so I recommended that they not try to walk around with them on.

Here is a some good pic of the binoculars...they look just as "awesome" in person (according to my boys!)

Big Geek & Little Geeks Recommended (Especially at $32.99 at Radio Shack!)

Saturday, June 04, 2011

R2D2 is in TROUBLE - Game Review

Monday is Board Game Day in my 8 year old's classroom. The school year is almost over, and they are going to have a little fun while the class is still together. We were out shopping last night for an upcoming project (we are building a solar-recharging tent fan & light for the 11 year old's Boy Scout Summer Camp week...) and we grabbed this new version of the classic "TROUBLE" game by Hasbro.  

The game board contains Star Wars elements including R2D2 and Clone Wars animated characters 

The blue and yellow pieces are "The Good Guys"

The red and green  are "Separatists and Droids"

The highlight of the game is the R2D2 "popper" in the center. It has a mini R2D2 and when pressed it makes R2D2 sounds

If R2D2 lands "on his feet" then you get an ADDITIONAL 6 moves!

This game is REALLY AWESOME!!!

The boys (and Mom!) had lots of fun playing, and it should be a hit on Monday :)

Big Geek, Little Geeks & Mom recommended!