Virtcon 2021 Design Competition

I’ve been clearing my tasks and workspace in prep for this competition, hosted by the group. The rules were announced last week here:

The competition has two categories:

Competition A: Design a thematic t-shirt for the group to use for merch (additional requirements on the above link).

Prize: VOXELAB Proxima Monochrome Resin Printer

Wow. A resin printer for a prize? Pretty awesome. But that’s not where my talents or interests lie. I’m more interested in:

Competition B: Designing a portable cyberdeck (additional requirements on the above link).

Prize: An EZFlex build plate or your design printed on a large 3d printer.

I have about a month to design and present a new cyberdeck, this time using aluminum extrusion or piping. Conveniently, I’ve had the basics of a design that fits these requirements in the back of my head for a while, but insufficient motivation to build it until now. The prize is nice, but I’m really in it for the impetus and deadline to build another design.

I tend to get a bit… quiet about the details of my competition builds, so you’ll probably have to wait to see the design until I’ve submitted my entry to the competition. I can tell you that I’m definitely gonna be using some components and concepts familiar to anyone who has seen my previous builds.

Most of the parts are at the sanctum or will be arriving soon. Most of my concept seems like it should be straightforward (which I think means I’m not grasping something) except for one thing the whole design hinges on, which might get iffy.

Points where I have been or will be doing some learning:

Components new to me for this build so far:

Aluminum 2020 extrusion

Fan-based cooling on a Pi

PiSugar 2 Pro for a Raspberry Pi 4B

MDF board

Processes I have a bit of concern over:

Printing large objects without warping:

I’ve been running tests this past week trying to adjust for some warping issues that I’ve had with large objects. I’ve built a temporary enclosure to reduce issues with drafts causing unequal cooling (I’d post it… but I think the current version is a rickety potential fire hazard that I don’t want to condone for others). I’ve also changed some of my print settings to help with adhesion. These include checking the bed levelling (I still may need to redo this), increasing the first layer temperature, adding a large brim… and simply avoiding the area of the printer that seems to run into the worst problems. Side benefit: I’ve rebuilt the arch lamp, and didn’t have to use tape or glue.

Cutting MDF:

I’m currently planning to use MDF for part of the design to cut down on the parts count. I can eliminate about 12 3d printed parts from the design if I use some kind of sheet material, and MDF seemed appropriate. There are two methods I have access to at the moment that I plan to try: 1) cutting with a reciprocating saw or 2) attempting the “score and snap” method. I’m expecting some difficulties with this, but even if it takes me a few attempts and a bit to figure out, it should still be better than printing all those additional parts. It should be a simpler and stronger build this way.

A Very Belated Project Post: Pi-Tar Final Steps and Anatomy

As you’ve probably been able to tell from the dedicated page on the website, I finished the Pi-Tar months ago, but I never got around to explaining the final construction of it. 2020 was a hell of a year.

Looks like I left off after adding a power switch to the casing. I apologize in advance for lack of detail on certain aspects, I’m catching up on something from months and a few projects ago.

USB Hub:

In order to offload some power requirements for additional USB peripherals from drawing power through the Pi, as well as to make a more convenient location for plugging things in, I decided to add a powered USB hub. As an added bonus, this one came with an SD card slot and a microSD card slot.

This did add some complicating factors, though. I needed the wires to fit through some pre-existing holes in the casing AND the thing uses USB-C. I ended up having to buy some additional parts to make this work, which got rather weird. I had to find a USB-A to USB-C cable that would connect to the Pi on one end and fit into the existing hole into the casing. I made that part work, but it took some finagling with the wires.

I also had to find a USB-C to USB-C connector to connect that wire inside the case to the USB hub.

I also had to add a micro-USB power switch cable to connect the hub to the power bank (as mentioned in a previous post), and I attempted to modify the cable coming from the Pi to avoid drawing from or backfeeding to the Raspberry Pi (I can’t remember if I ever got that part to work without losing power, but that was the intent).

Once I figured out the wiring, I then had to figure out how to attach the thing to the exterior of the casing. Originally I was going to use the USB hub as the basis of some sort of pseudo-cartridge system with USB drives, but eventually cut it down to just being a conveniently accessible hub.

As part of this, I also decided that I needed to move the large audio port to the exterior of the case, and add an additional regular-sized audio jack. Moving the port freed up the existing hole in the casing to pass through all the wires for the interface hub. This meant I didn’t have to try to cut or drill a new whole in the interface between the two halves of the shell.

This hole, which is in the top right of the original casing

The 3D modelling and physically attaching that in was troublesome, but electronically it was simple. I just added an audio splitter cable to the end, putting one female end exterior to the case and the other connected to the adapter I had already been using.

I went through a LOT of iterations with the interface module (one of the names I’ve been workshopping, may be subject to change), and eventually settled on a two-part assembly that screwed onto the casing through existing holes. It took a LOT of measuring and iterations to get it to fit reasonably, both with the electronic components and the actual casing. I designed it in two parts, with the larger portion (containing the hub itself) screwing directly onto the casing, and the smaller portion (containing the audio jacks) sliding onto the larger part, and then screwing into both the casing and the larger interface section. The smaller section also served the purpose of covering the hole that the wires went through.

I quickly learned in that process to only print as much of a model as I actually needed to test the fit of parts, in order to reduce turnaround time and materials wastage. I also found out that parts moving in different directions can lead to weird shenanigans, like installing one part causing another to become unplugged.

Once I got that figured out and painted up (along with the new power switch), I finally assembled it for the last time. That was… interesting.

Final Assembly:

There are a lot of parts of this assembly that have to be done in a specific (and weird) order or else it physically cannot be assembled. Connecting the Raspberry Pi, it’s case, and the interface between those wires and the shell is a very delicate process of going back and forth and making sure that you don’t crush ribbon cables while also carefully routing wires before and after attaching the cable interface (the bit with the universal greeblie).

Connecting the top and bottom halves is also fraught with issues (having to carefully move wires to lay properly while closing the shells), and you have to do that before you can even start on attaching the interface module. I know I’ve missed many steps in documenting this process, including some that anyone crazy enough to attempt recreating this might want, but I’ve only got so much time and patience at the moment. What madman decided to design from a pre-existing case this way?

Oh, wait, that was me. Ahem.

If you have further questions, please let me know what you would like to know more about and I can see about adding it.

Grand Tour:

Note: the stuff on the end of the grip handle and anything in pewter color is purely decorative and non-functional.

Top View
Keyboard slides out of tray for charging
Interface Module End View
For further reference.
Back View
Recommended dose of geek-punkification

This has been a long project and a valuable learning experience. I learned more about Raspberry Pi (both from a hardware and software perspective), spraypainting, 3D modelling, 3D printing, electronics work (soldering), managing the details of a project, and working with professionals when I needed parts that I couldn’t yet make myself. I’ve even made new hobby contacts in the process who have helped me pick up more skills and helped out on other projects such as the Warp Core Lamp and encouraged me to make the Pioneer Falchion as another project.

I call this project “complete,” but as with a lot of other makers, this is more of a “project made it to baseline.” I’ve got some improvements I’d like to make (better power supply, attaching a headmounted display, making the Pi swappable as new models are released), but I’ve at least reached the initial goals I made before too much scope creep got in the way.

You may see more of the Pi-Tar (and possibly a sequel?) if/when I make upgrades to it.

COM|POST 01/21/21: Painting Progress and Disaster averted

I’ve been enjoying painting minis with my new setup! I’ve been painting my 3D printed mini collection. I decided to start with an adventuring party, and these are the ones I’ve started with so far.

I’ve gotten a bit sidetracked from my original schedule by a new challenge. One of the kids in the family is reading The Hobbit for the first time, and is going to be tracking the movement of the characters on a map that they are going to draw. I’m making miniatures for them, based on how the party gets divided a few times in the story.

Gandalf, Bilbo, Thorin, and a dwarf to represent the other 12 dwarves.

In random news, either through glitch or user error, my Roomba began vacuuming unexpectedly… and the room was NOT prepared for it. The room that just happens to contain my painting setup right now.

The only thing that was disturbed was the paint table, and the vacuum clearly caught on the thin wire connected to my newly built arch lamp….


Thankfully I had stuck the switch for the lamp to the table with blu-tac, and the cable had a breakaway point, so after being yanked around the room a bit the cable came away from the table without pulling the lamp down or knocking stuff off the table.

WHEW. Crisis averted.

The cable got chewed up a bit, but is still functional, and I didn’t lose any work as far as I can tell.

New Process: Miniatures Painting

I finally got around to deciding to paint my 3D printed miniatures, so I needed to tool up and learn painting skills. That all started with a learn to paint kit, some brushes, and lighted magnifier glasses that I received as gifts.

This escalated quickly. I’m going to cover a lot of the things I’ve added or built on the setup here, because if I did it as individual Sanctum Upgrade posts they would stretch out pointlessly and my blog would be nothing but painting posts for the next few months.

If you want to see a more succinct form of this setup (whether out of impatience or for better reference), I’ve added a page for my current setup under Manufacturing Setups.

Direct link is here: Miniatures Painting Setup

I had seen people use painting handles before, and they appeared to help a lot, so before I started painting I 3D printed one for myself, along with a lot of “pucks” to attach miniatures to in order to paint.

Here are some of the results of my early painting setup.

The miniatures from the kit.

I love how the mail came out on the orc.

The first mini I ever printed.
Cyber dog from a kickstarter. All-metal creatures are easier to start out painting.

I’m pretty happy with these early results.

As I painted the miniatures, my painting setup has rapidly evolved.

It might be easier to cover various sections’ evolutions rather than try to keep track of them as setups. Here’s one of the earlier ones, and where it’s currently at.

Early Setup
Current Setup


Originally I used a couple of red solo cups, one for clean water for use in mixing paints (with a dropper in it to measure when thinning washes), and one for rinse water. These were tall and easy to knock over. Not good.

I then switched to smaller plastic disposable cups, with labels on them so I didn’t get them mixed up. After watching some videos on painting and having some discussions with people who paint (a buddy of mine put me in touch with some other people who paint miniatures), I added a second rinse cup, because that appears to help clean brushes more thoroughly.

Finally (so far), I’ve switched the rinse cups to a couple of small plastic cups that aren’t as likely to tip, while still keeping one of the disposable plastic cups for clean water.

Paint Mixing and Cleanup

The painter’s kit recommended using kitchen parchment paper for mixing paints, but that got old fast. The parchment paper had to be cut into sections to be useable (yes I know that’s spelled weird, I don’t like standard spelling of “usable”), and it kept curling, making the paint run. I ordered some circular plastic paint palettes, and they work much better.

I use cut up wooden coffee stirrers to mix paints now. Originally I used some toothpicks I had. I should probably use plastic because of paint absorption, but so far it doesn’t appear to be a major wastage issue, since I’m not frequently running out of paint mixes before finishing what I’m painting. If I start painting a lot of minis in the same colors (if I were to start painting armies, for example) it might become an issue.

Cleaning the palettes was a bit of a challenge at first, but then I started keeping a container with a mixture of dish detergent and water nearby. As soon as I finish with a palette, it goes into the container. When I run out clean palettes, I use a stiff cleaning brush I keep in the container to scrub off any paint that managed to remain stuck to the palettes, then rinse and dry the palettes. It takes so much less time that way. At first I was trying to scrub with my fingers or a cloth and it did NOT go well.

Eventually I want to get a smaller dedicated container for this with a lid, as that pot is my general crafting pot that I want to free up for anything else I might need it for.


The glasses I mentioned earlier provides some additional lighting where I’m looking, and my usual workbench light originally provided the primary illumination, but it often required moving it around.

I decided to build something I had seen before on Thingiverse, an arch of LEDs providing light from various angles simultaneously, hopefully reducing the need to move a light around periodically while painting and photographing.

It seems to work decently for now, though I’ve only been using it for one day’s work at the time of writing. I covered the building shenanigans last week here:

Sanctum Upgrades: Arch Lamp


I was originally painting on my primary workbench, covering up the area with a piece of foam core I cut to protect it, and moving stuff around. It allowed me to use the existing lighting at the work bench and mean I didn’t have to pull my auxiliary workbench out (it takes up living space).

This got annoying quickly, as with my 3D printed miniatures I have to clean them up before priming, so I had to keep switching the workspace back and forth. For now my painting setup is going to be a temporary or “deployable” setup that will occasionally live on my auxiliary workbench (aka the other folding table, yes, I like being pretentious sometimes). I still need to figure out storage for when I pack up my painting supplies, but that’s a problem for down the line.

I covered the table in brown paper to protect it (like I generally do for projects, thanks Adam Savage) and have run my extension cable over to it for the lights. I just had to remember to run the wire a certain way so it’s not in the way of my rolling stool. Don’t want to fall off and injure myself because I forgot there was a wire there!

Paint Brushes and Holders

The kit came with a couple of starter brushes, and I was also gifted a nice set of fine tipped brushes. For the first 3 minis, I only used the brushes from the kit, as I wanted to learn more about brush care before putting any wear and tear on the nicer ones.

I also ordered a set of wider brushes for priming, which I’ve been using on all my 3D printed minis. I haven’t used the fine tipped brushes yet, but I’ve definitely been seeing places where they’ll be useful when I paint certain details.

For holding the brushes when not actively in use, I initially just propped them against a small tin.

I 3D printed a brush holder that holds them over the tin very soon after, as the brushes kept rolling around.

I also wanted to see what additional brushes I had available. I couldn’t leave them just lying out on a flat surface as they could roll off or I could damage them by putting something on them, so I finally added a rotating brush stand.

Now I can see an access what I have. I still want to go back and label it to keep it organized.

Paints and Primers

The minis in the kit did not require priming (Reaper Bones minis are like that), so I didn’t need any for that. The kit did include a number of paints to get started with, though.

For the 3D printed ones I’ve been priming them, and I’ve got primers in two different colors. The white was for one thing that I still wanted to be white when I was done. I was hoping the gray would be darker so it’d be easier to distinguish from the white while I’m hand-priming (I’m kinda sick of spraying paints from my time with previous projects), but it’s still not that far off from white.

The starter kit covered a lot of colors, but it was missing some colors I’d want to use for my general collection (flesh tones and red, in particular… which sounds much more ominous than intended when I phrase it like that), so I did a bit of looking and decided to get the next kit in the series, which had the colors I was looking for, as well as more brushes, minis, and instructions. Now I think I have enough selection to paint the rest of my collection (after I get additional practice with the included minis).

That grid for holding the paints in place moves around and kept being a nuisance for regular use, so I locked it in place with hot glue.

Final Thoughts

I think this setup is settling towards a form now, but being this early in this new hobby I wouldn’t be surprised if there were further changes upcoming. At some point I want to replace the lamp with a better-made one, and I’ll probably swap out the wood coffee stirrers with plastic when these run out. Some people have recommended adding a wet palette to my setup, but I don’t yet see the need for one.

I’ve been enjoying priming and painting my miniatures, and look forward to gradually painting my 3D printed miniatures collection.

Sanctum Upgrades: Arch Lamp

I built this lamp as part of my rapidly upgrading painting setup, to provide light from different angles.

Originally I wanted to build a version of this lamp.

LED Bridge Lamp Universal Segment by Opossums on Thingiverse

However, it’s too big for my workspace, and it’s complex enough that I need to study it some before attempting scaling.

It’s a beautiful lamp, but doesn’t work for my original intent of painting on my primary workbench. It also would take a lot of space to store. I also wanted something I could construct quickly so I would have it available ASAP since I had paints coming in soon.

I did find this one, however:

LED Bridge Light Mini by FeedMePi

I ordered the LED strips and began printing.

Assembly, barring some issues I’ll get to further in this post, was rather straightforward. Cut the LED strips to length at one of the marked locations. Slide it through the guides section by section, coming in where you see the wire in the pictures below. Make sure that the LEDs are facing out of the slot. Then do the final attachment of the sections together.

When finished, set the arch upright, and turn the LEDs on. Then you’ll have lighting from many angles at once while working on your projects.

I did run into a couple issues while building this.

Issue 1: Warping

It’s become apparent that I have some warping issues with my 3D printer that is large enough to print these parts.

I ended up working around this by using a chisel to remove one of the pegs in each section, and using a lot of tape. It’s not perfect, but at least it gets it functional for now until I can reprint it properly.

Issue 2: Height

The arch is a bit short to comfortable use with the painting handle that I use for painting. While priming I don’t think that it’s so big of an issue, as I can easily just use the pucks to hold the mini, but for stability I’m going to want more space for both the stand and the brush in my hand.

To fix this, I designed and printed some extenders to raise the arch up approximately 2 inches. This gives me more space to work with.

They are designed to just stack the arch on top, and route the power cables out the back.

If you want to build one of these lamps with the extender pieces, you can find my extenders here:

Base Extender for LED Bridge Light Mini by Ralnarene

My current hope with this arch is that I will not have to use my workbench lamp on my secondary workbench, and can keep my painting and 3D printing workflows separate as much as possible. I also hope this means I’ll be able to see what I’m painting more clearly without having to move a lamp arm and my head around so much.

Loot Drop: Google Stadia

Youtube Premium recently had a promotion for their members to get free Google Stadia, with one of their upgraded Chromecast Ultras and a Stadia controller.

I hadn’t really looked into the Stadia, not really knowing what it was, but free is free, so I decided to try it.

Apparently, Google Stadia is based around streaming a game from the internet using their controller to control it, and casting it to a screen via Chromecast or other device that can handle streamed games.

Here are my thoughts on it:

The controller feels really comfortable in my hands, and appears to be well made.

I appreciate the upgraded Chromecast. I’m not noticing a difference for streaming things other than a game that needs low latency, but I assume it’s beefed up to handle the higher throughput needed for gaming.

You better have a high speed internet connection and/or not be competing with anything that uses a lot of data on your home network. I was downloading and installing something on my computer in the other room, and the network couldn’t handle doing that while trying to play a game in the other room. I do like that the software made it clear when there wasn’t enough bandwidth to play games at the same time. Icons on the screen changed colors to indicate that there was a problem. If you don’t have plenty of network bandwidth available at the time that you are trying to play, don’t bother.

You may want to make sure that your idle screen on your Chromecast always shows the log in code for your stadia. It took me a bit to realize why Stadia wasn’t loading when I turned on the controller. The controller wasn’t linked to the TV automatically!

I’ve realized that I am not the intended audience for this device. I invest in my own gaming rig, and I don’t see this supplanting that investment. For someone who hasn’t done so, particularly someone who has a good internet connection but not a lot of high-end hardware, this could be a convenient way to get into gaming without spending a huge amount of money. The hardware running the games is on the internet, and it’s the job of Google to keep their hardware up-to-date on the other end. All you have to get is the controller, a device to connect to (likely a Chromecast), a screen, and pay for the service. Supposedly you can play high-requirement games (they have Cyberpunk 2077, for example), but I haven’t tested that out as I’m not investing more money into games on an alternate system.

That was just my quick thoughts on the subject, I’ve been rather preoccupied with other things at the moment, (*cough* 2077 *cough*) and like I said, I’m not the target demographic for this system.

Sanctum Upgrades: 3D Printer Control Console Panel

This one was a relatively straightforward and simple upgrade to my workspace.

I took an old tablet of mine out of storage, cleaned it up (charged it, ran updates, etc), added shortcuts to my Octoprint controls, and put a snazzy screensaver on it.

Then I found a spot on the wall over my workbench, attached it with my old standby (command strips) and stuck it to the wall. I routed power to it from the workbench, and… done!

I now have access to controlling the software for my 3D printers set up to be in the same room as the printers themselves. It makes it easier if I need to access the controls for calibrations and such, without the need to bring them up. It’s still not as quickly accessible as I’d like (it still requires waking it up and punching in a pin) but it’s still more convenient than bringing up the controls on my phone or running to the other room to my shortcuts on the computer.

And I get to pretend a bit more I’m on a starship at times. Win-win.

COM|POST: Warhammer 40K: Mechanicus

Recently I played the game Warhammer 40K: Mechanicus, and I really enjoyed it. It’s a turn-based strategy game in the Warhammer 40K universe. The player customizes and commands a squad of Adeptus Mechanicus Tech Priests (heavily modified cyborgs who worship technology) and assorted others to stop a Necron (undead alien techno-zombies) world from awakening from dormancy. It really hits that technomancy vibe for me.

I started playing while they had a free weekend, and decided it was good enough to actually spend money on.

The player chooses a squad of Tech Priests and an assortment of their servants (kinda like hirelings in other games), and sends them on missions. The hirelings you customize entirely by choosing which ones to use. The tech priests you customize by changing out their upgrade trees and choosing which augments (technological upgrades, usually in the form of extra mechanical limbs or attachments) you give them. I chose to specialize each tech priest as I unlocked them, making each one better at a single area of capability rather than making them interchangeable jacks of all trades. One guy’s job was to be super fast and generate as much of the game’s combat resource, Cognition Points, in order to feed the abilities of the other tech priests that required them. Another guy was designed to be a tanky front-liner with an axe. Yet another was specialized as a long range character dealing as much damage as possible.

It was rather addicting, but at least it was satisfying. Plenty of lore dumps, turn-based squad combat, extremely customizable units, and a very thematically appropriate soundtrack. If I ever get into the tabletop game and play as Adeptus Mechanicus, I think I’ll want to play the soundtrack in the background!

Sanctum Upgrades: HOTAS Chair

I got tired of having to find spaces for my HOTAS controls on my desk, and having them competing for space with my keyboard and mouse. I had time and parts on my hands, so I decided to revisit clamping the HOTAS controls to my gaming chair.

I hadn’t done it previously because the clamps I had did not fit my newer gaming chair. The clamps I printed from here had a bit too short of a length for the screw to get a grip on the underside of the armrests.

Saitek X52 (Pro) and X55/56 Mount by Harrishedge

So, I finally got around to modifying the socket for the screw clamp to fit my style of chair here:

Extended Clamp For X55/X56 Mount

I printed the new clamps, went digging through my parts to find the screws I’d used previously to connect the mounts to the controls the clamping hardware. That took longer than it should have.

I used a corded USB hub, some velcro straps, and the straps on the chair cushion to control the wires in a way where they wouldn’t get in the way, and I can still lift the armrests up out of the way when I don’t want to use the controls.

I also added a USB extension cable to my computer to easily connect to and disconnect from the chair, so I wouldn’t be permanently tethered to the computer.

Here’s what I ended up with.

This makes flying in spaceflight sims a lot more comfortable, and doesn’t require me to keep moving the controls around on various table surfaces in my computer room. Certainly makes it a lot easier to jump into Elite: Dangerous whenever I feel like it. Just plug the hub in, fold the controls down, and I’m ready to fly.

Technomancer’s Spellbook aka Codex Technarcana

There are oftentimes bits of information that I frequently need to look up. Originally some of the stuff was on bits of paper, or I would have to repeatedly look up documents online. I got annoyed with trying to keep track of it across multiple locations, so I decided to get a binder or something. Then I decided to lean fully into the wizard/technomancer theme, compiling my everyday references for my technological hobbies as a “spellbook.”

One thing I liked from reading gaming rulebooks about wizards was their description of their spellbooks. How they could vary, and how there were two general categories of spellbooks: workbooks and grimoires.

The workbook is an everyday spellbook that had their notes that they cobbled together as they traveled. It can be messy, and written on all sorts of bits of paper that they tucked together in a cover. They could add new information as they came across it rather easily, and they could be carried around anywhere.

Grimoires were fancy neatly written books that require preplanning, and are often kept locked away somewhere (like someone’s gilt-edged special editions in a private study).

I decided to make my own workbook, and instead of going with a plain binder, I did a bit of looking around online, and found a place that sells custom laser-engraved leather binders. These awesome people here:

Murdy Creative Co.

After a little back and forth on the customization, and swapping out the chicago screws binding with ones I liked better, this is what I’ve ended up with.

In here I collect my notes for commonly used bits of information, divided by categories such as 3D printing, software, etc. I’ve thrown in some of my favorite inspirational quotes, too.

The 3D printing section in particular includes my notes on what temperature settings work best for the various filaments I have, my versions of procedures for calibration, modeling and slicing considerations, and a handout on checking bed levelling.

I’d show you guys more of the contents, but for now it’s not exactly an IP friendly collection.

At any rate, I highly recommend putting together your own for your own maker hobbies. It doesn’t have to be as fancy as a custom leather binder, a folder or slim 3 ring binder would work just as well. My main recommendations for building your own are these:

  1. Either get something with pockets or a way to store hole-punched sheets. That way you can insert printouts our handouts that you get, and not have to rewrite everything if you were using a notebook. It also gives you the freedom to reorganize later.
  2. Pick something very portable for your workbook/spellbook. A 3-inch 3 ring binder might be able to hold a lot, but it’s rather unwieldy to carry.
  3. Include information that you frequently need to look up or often forget (for me it’s partly the tolerances and temperatures I often need to check).
  4. Include some blank paper in there somewhere so you can add stuff in when you become aware of it, and not have to track down more paper.