COM|POST: Look Carefully Before You Complain

I’ve long complained that one of my printers, the Monoprice Select Mini Pro, was not designed well for maintenance. The vertical column does not seem particularly accessible. The column is made of a couple pieces of bent sheet metal that is structural but can’t be removed without fully disassembling it, and I had no idea how to do that and be able to put it together again.

I was in the process of photographing it to point out to someone where there should be a door on the design so you can access the Z-axis screws and rods for lubrication. And I noticed something.

Wait a minute…

That silvery piece is not one continuous piece of metal!

In fact, it’s cut in places where I would want to be able to remove a panel!

I had to open up the bottom and carefully look for what appeared to be the appropriate screws.

Screws circled in red.

The screws on the top of the column were pretty obvious. Once I removed it, my hunch bore out. It actually was an access panel. I’d been trying to lubricate it the hard way.

I cleaned up the overspray from previous maintenance cycles, and directly applied lubricant to the rods and rails this time.

Sometimes we really should take more time to get thoroughly acquainted with the inner workings of our tech!

At least now I know how to get at parts. That had been driving me nuts ever since I’ve had one of these.

Sanctum Upgrades: Mouse Bungee

I’ve been on a spree upgrading my workspace/living space. With a new workstation and working arrangement, I started getting annoyed with the mouse cable moving around and making extra noise.

So, I decided to build one of these:

Mouse Bungee V3 + V4 by mer_at on Thingiverse.

Now it doesn’t make much noise.

I had the printer time available and a couple of skateboard bearings already on hand. I decided to go with black filament to keep the aesthetic matching with other hardware around my computer and let it blend into the background a bit.

Light Staves: A Very Late Followup

This is a very late (approx 1 year) post, but oh well. I thought I should show you guys how the walking sticks I made last year turned out.

For those who are likely unfamiliar with what I’m talking about, here’s the original post:

Christmas Presents: Light Staves

I did in fact finish that project just before Christmas of last year, in time to hand out as presents.

When I last left off, I had designed the top portions of the staff, but had not figured out how to get the threads I wanted to connect it to the broom handle. I ended up remixing a model that someone else had made:

Broom and Paint Handle Threads 3/4″x5 by halley on Thingiverse.

I experimented with scaling a bit, and merged it with the interface part for the flashlight to create this connector:

Technomancer Adept Staff Broom Handle Connector

I used cutaway pieces like these to test the fit:

I just left the extra gap in there since it wasn’t really hurting anything. As a point of comparison, this is also how I test fit the other components.

Once I found out that everything fit, I had to paint the pieces. I used a primer/pigment spraypaint, with a couple coats of a clear gloss coat to minimize the occurrence of the paint rubbing off on things.

I simply clearcoated the “crystals” so light could still pass through.

Another modification I made was to the light of the flashlights themselves, by ordering some red filters sized for maglites, so that they wouldn’t interfere with people’s vision at night. Apparently the lenses are a bit vulnerable to heatwarping from the LEDs, but I didn’t think it was a significant enough issue to warrant leaving them out.

Since I knew these walking sticks would also be brought and stored indoors a lot, and I didn’t want to get parents angry at me for damaging their floors, I added little rubbery caps to the end of the walking sticks. Usually these are meant for chairs, but by boiling them and zip-tying them on, I think they were able to stay on well enough.

With that done, I had my semi-final products.

I say semi-final, because these were rather tall for the kids. I got some help from the rest of the family to figure out what height they needed to be, and then cut them down to their final heights for the kids.

I did find out quickly some modifications I may need to make for future versions. With all the lockdown times this year, I realized I still had leftover parts from making them, and started working on a variant for myself, incorporating what I had learned from the originals.

I still have work to do on it, but I think I like it. I need to reprint a couple parts with adjusted tolerances, then paint, glue, and assemble. I’m also thinking of making a connector to hang just this top portion from my belt if I feel like it, as a belt greeblie for cyberpunk costuming.

The tack at the bottom is holding a piece of metal in that positively retains the end cap of the maglite without just relying on the glue, which was a failing of the originals.

If at first you don’t succeed, iterate, iterate, iterate!

If anyone is interested in making their own (of the original design, I’m not sure if my personal one will be posted), the files are located here:

Technomancer Adept Staff Head

Technomancer Adept Staff Broom Handle Connector

Warp Core Table Lamp Finished!

This project is part of what first got me to get my first 3D printer, but I got discouraged at the time with print quality and later by my replacement printer being too small.

But I finally did it!

A while after I originally wanted to create it, someone updated the quality of the models and manufacturing methods, making it more feasible to do.

So, earlier this year, I posted about how I had printed the parts (though it took me a couple attempts).

Failed print…. this is where I found out Octoprint doesn’t like 12+ hr prints

3D printed parts, before I took the time to reprint the failed reaction chamber.

One of the nice things about this version is that most of the parts were broken into easier to print and clean up pieces. There was a bit of a tradeoff, though. It required coat hanger wire for some parts and replace others with stainless steel rods.

It was easy enough to buy the rods, and purchase and cut the steel coat hangers… but I was unable to cut the rods myself. I ended up supporting a local business and contacting my local machinist (who I’ve gone to before when there were metal parts I couldn’t fix or fab myself). It was kinda pricey… but precisely and cleanly cutting and finishing stainless steel is no joke, and this guy did an excellent job of it.

Unfortunately, I found out later that the lengths I have him did not precisely match what was needed for some of the 3D printed parts.

This led to a bit of experimentation with modifying the 3D models and reprinting the “tension members” to “cheat” them to a length that would work with the steel rods. That took a bit longer than it should have due to unexpected 3D printer problems.

Test fitting success!

By the way, if you’re wondering where the coat hanger wires went, they are inside those gray pieces around the clear section, spaced between the steel rods.

Getting the lights in there and getting them to work took a bit, but I finally finished that recently. The system runs off of an Arduino Nano board, with a small board to break the wiring out. Before I get to the final stuff, I want to share a lessons learned.

If you use a breadboard of any kind… check how the the holes are connected! For some reason I thought this board left the holes unconnected and that I’d have to spread solder between components to form connections. Turns out they were connected and it hadn’t occurred to me to look at the back of the board until after I had soldered the resistors on. This is also why it is a good idea to buy spares of parts (or multi-packs) when working on a project. Otherwise it could cost you a lot of time and extra shipping.

Great access for wires, right?
D’OH!

A new board and a lot of soldering later, this is what I ended up using:

Ignore the putty, they were holding the connector pins on for soldering

I realized that this time on a project I didn’t want to trap myself with my directly soldering disparate wires to the board, so I added connector pins so I could have removable cables for disassembly/modification. I wasn’t gonna bet on getting it right the first time!

To keep the count of LEDs and wires down a bit, I used the diffusers someone else had designed (links at the bottom).

The circular indentations are where the LEDs go.

It uses a “light pipe” design to spread the light around in a mostly circular pattern. There was even a special one for the reaction chamber…but I ended up not using that.

Wiring the LEDs took a while, but it was more tedious than it was difficult. I think it was mainly because I took the time to plan out what I was doing before I started in more detail, rather than trying to wing it and label a bunch of wires afterwards.

Paper, colored pencils, and a straight-edge go a long way towards helping planning. I used this to make a simplified guide for wiring… but I cleaned up after finishing and don’t know where it currently is.

To avoid going insane with trying to glue in each LED and try to solder all the connections with reasonable spacing, I designed and printed spacers that I could simply stick the wires of the LEDs through. I think the wires would have held, but to make things simpler on myself (and so they wouldn’t push out during soldering) I hot glued them after putting them in.

Madness? THIS. IS. PLANNING!


To drastically cut down on the number of wires required, I soldered all of the negative terminals to a common grounding bus bar made from a bare copper wire.

10 wires enter, one wire leaves.

Referencing the drawings I had made earlier, I soldered some ribbon cable to the positive terminals, allowing me to have traceability through color-coding. The wiring is mirrored on the opposite side, so that each control output from the electronics board controls the lights in the mirrored position on top and bottom of the warp core lamp. This keeps the number of control pins needed down, and simplifies the coding.

Wire the rainbow… to save yourself headaches later.

These lights on the spacer bars fit snugly into the diffusers.

The top section. Easily identifiable by the big red grounding wire because I forgot to connect the grounding wire first. Also…snip your extra wire leg length to reduce problems.

As mentioned in the note above, I forgot to wire the ground wire first on the top section, meaning I had to add it in last, connecting it at the far end rather than the close end. In the bottom section I did it first, because I really needed room for the power/programming USB cable to fit in.

These segments then slid into the corrugated sections.

This was actually when I realized the grounding wire blunder. All positive and no negative wires.

An intermediate stage for no reason other than I like this picture.

Here’s how the wires connected up before the final closing of the casing.

Note the removable connectors for all the wires in case I needed to adjust anything. The colorcoding made connecting them to the board a breeze. The USB cable goes out the bottom for programming and power.

Now we get to where I kinda got angry. Here are the parts just before I was planning to connect the last couple wires and close it up.

Before I realized my planning failure.

Look at the circuitry. Look at the diffuser that’s supposed to go into the central reaction chamber. Now look at the reaction chamber. Do you see it yet?

THE DIFFUSER AND THE CIRCUIT DON’T BOTH FIT INTO THE CHAMBER AT THE SAME TIME.

I had planned for this somewhat with the board, but hadn’t fully taken into account the flexibility of the wires or the added height of the removable connectors.

Thankfully,

1) the diffuser isn’t 100% necessary (though the light would look better in that section

2) the diffuser was weak

3) RAL CAN CRUSH DIFFUSER WITH BARE HANDS AND EXTRACT LEDS INTACT

I kinda went barbarian on it in my desire to finish. I ripped the central diffuser apart, and just shove the LEDs in the compartment with the rest. Also, after a test fitting and plugging it in, I realized that the arduino had red LEDs that clashed with the color scheme, and put some electrical tape over them to get rid of the distracting red glow.

I closed the thing up… and then got to do something that still makes me chuckle a bit.

DRAMATIZATION OF ACTUAL EVENTS

I pulled out the rubber mallet and began gently tapping on the end of the warp core to make sure all the rods were seated as well as they could be.

After a bit of updating some code I wrote for this years ago (and cursing at two different computers for a few hours because they didn’t want to behave with uploading to the arduino) I finally got it turned on.

Engineering to bridge, the reactor is online!

I went through a few iterations of code and pseudocode (and had to remind myself that with this board the counting started at 2 rather than 0 or 1), and finally got it to a state I liked.

Here’s the initial light pattern I went with:

I’ve got an intermediate version of this one somewhere with an extra delay built in after the FOR loop because I didn’t like that the light jumped immediately from the bottom LED to the top again. It just seemed jarring.

Here’s what I’ve most recently decided to use:

This one has 2 or 3 “waves” at a time passing through each end to the center. It looks less like a jarringly looped GIF than some of the other iterations I went through.

I originally planned on plugging this into the raspberry pi that I control my 3D printers with, but apparently Octoprint gets confused by the extra USB connection, so I have it connected to a USB wall adapter for the moment. Though I have realized I can plug it into the USB adapter in my car as well…

I hope you all enjoyed this, and I’m glad to have finally finished this project after years of wanting to build this, and I was finally able to take this off my project board.

Reference Links For Construction:

Here’s the original I saw that inspired me years ago:

Warp Core Table Lamp by ThePlanetMike

Here’s the one I actually made:

1701-D Warp Core (HI-RESOLUTION) by Novel_Mutations

Here’s the LED Diffuser I used to reduce the number of LEDs needed in the build:

LED Diffuser for High Resolution 1701-D Warpcore by Novel_Mutations

My github page for the light sequence on the arduino:

Warp-Core-Lamp-Arduino-Nano

HFY Stories I Like

I’ve been reminded of one of my favorite story genres nowadays, and decided I’d share some of my favorites (I’ve probably mentioned a few elsewhere on the site).

For those who don’t know what it is, HFY stands for “Humanity, F— Yeah!” It’s generally about reversing the old science fiction trope of humans being the weak rung on the ladder compared to aliens, whether it’s via strength, intelligence, or other.

Usually it involves humans being crazy enough to try things no sane species would ever try, and that gives us our edge against other species in the galaxy.

A lot of stuff in that genre can be found here on Reddit:
r/hfy

Deathworlders

One of my top favorites, that I read the new chapter of each month. Humans need not fear the scariest monsters of the universe. They fear US.

It stems from the theory that Earth is what’s termed a “deathworld,” in that we may be an edge case for what is survivable for intelligent life to develop on. Our gravity being stronger, our background radiation more severe, and the everyday perils of our world in general being much tougher than what most lifeforms in the universe have to deal with, making us tougher as a result.

The link below goes to the first chapter of the story, and covers the premise. It was originally written as a one-off, and then the author found out people had been talking about it and adding to the universe, so they continued it as a series.

Deathworlders: The Kevin Jenkins Experience

Stabby the Space Roomba

Why Vulcans Let Humans Run the Federation

Star Trek Mad Science

This one explains why humans are in charge of the Federation. It is hilarious. If you’ve watched much of the shows and the movies… I think it’s a fair assessment of humanity.

PM Seymour VA’s Humans are Space Orcs Compilation

πoneer Falchion

Now that I’ve submitted it as my entry for the 2020 Zero Day competition, I feel like I can share what I’ve been working on lately.

This may end up being the first in a series of “Standard Runner’s Constructs,” and the instructions are written as such, in an in-universe style. The idea is that runners are trying to make sure their future teammates are properly equipped and educated. If you “can’t find good help anymore,” sometimes you’ve gotta train your own.

I present the 𝝅oneer Falchion, a pi zero w based micro cyberdeck (or microdeck).

Runner’s First Cyberblade, or a “Decker’s Sidearm”

The backside. Note the data-quillions, recessed power switch, and hinge.
Operating configuration.
Easy charging port.

I took inspiration in designing this from the Austro-Hungarian M1853 Pioneer’s Falchion. I had gotten the first inkling of an idea of a blade shape from the shape of the keyboard, and then went poking and asking around to find a blade with a somewhat similar shape. That’s what informed the shape of the hilt and the placement of the quillions in particular.

The features include a micro-USB charging port on the hilt end, two USB-A “data-quillions”, a touchscreen display, and a wireless keyboard that folds on a hinge along the back of the “blade” into the operating position under the display. The power switch is accessible through a hole on the backside of the device.

I designed and built it for the competition hosted here:

https://www.cyberdeck.cafe/post/deck-builders-competition

The gist of it is that we are holding a mini virtual maker faire, with a competition portion. The competition requires using a Raspberry Pi Zero (or Zero W for the wireless version) as the core of a cyberdeck that we designed in a limited amount of time, with a limited number and volume of 3D printed components, and including the required models and instructions as our entry.

The winner gets their design printed in resin and shipped to them.

As part of the competition I had to submit the 3D models and instructions, but I also have them hosted here:

https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:4601417

https://github.com/Ralnarene/SRC000_Zero_Stack

https://github.com/Ralnarene/SRC001_Pioneer_Falchion

Feel free to make your own. I’d love to see photos!

Week In Review: 09-06-2020

It’s been another hobby filled week here at the sanctum. I’ve been working on a few things here, sadly I can’t fill you in on quite all of the details, as some of it is being kept secret for a competition.

To start out with, I’ve been doing a lot of work towards an online competition with the Cyberdeck Cafe. Here’s the flyer:

And here’s the link if you are interested: https://www.cyberdeck.cafe/post/deck-builders-competition

The short version of it is that we were given requirements and a short timeframe to design a cyberdeck based on a pi zero. The winner gets their design printed in resin and constructed by one of the judges, and sent to them. I’ve been spending a lot of time running through prototypes, though hopefully I’m just in the fine-tuning stage at this point. I’d tell you more… but I know some people from the associated Discord occasionally check this site, and I want to maintain the surprise on my entry. I’m fine with not winning the competition, I just don’t want to lose to someone using my idea and doing a better implementation of it.

While running off prototypes on my printer, I’ve been trying to use up what’s left of a few partial spools of filament. It’s past time I clear out the stock of old filament. I’m planning on transitioning over to better grades of filament, but it would have been a waste to simply throw out the older filament. And I needed to use it sooner rather than later, because the filament can degrade and get brittle (hence one spool’s remnant being tossed out due to frequent breakage).

I’ve been putting the finished off spools to good use, as shown in the cover image for this post. I have a second miniatures tower on a turntable to more neatly store my minis. At this rate of minis production lately, I may have to make a third when I have the spools. And I should probably learn how to paint minis at some point…

With all this 3D printing, I finally got a test and validation of one of my upgrades. I think I posted way back that I had put my 3D printers on a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) in case of power failure or tripping a breaker. A couple nights ago I tripped a breaker while printing on both printers (and having some other loads on the system), but since I had both printers and the control system on the UPS, I didn’t lose these multi-hour prints! Successful test of 3D printing on UPS backup!

“Medieval” Backpack Upgrade Finished

This past week I finished my updates to the backpack. I cleaned up the leather straps, replaced the corroded fittings, cut the straps to length, punched new holes, and attached the straps to the frame. Here are the results.

The replacement buckles look better than the originally planned buckles! I doubt you’d notice, but I had to remove and adjust that felt padding on the lower frame by narrowing the area covered by it. Otherwise the leather straps would have to wrap around the padding, which doesn’t provide as secure of a hold.

From this top view you can see the leather badges on the bag that I keep on top of the overall pack. I found the bag and those badges at DragonCon a few years back. The in-character explanation is that I’d carry the whole thing as I walked from town to town, and set it down in my room at an inn, taking my lighter bag around shopping in town.

At some point I still need to go through what I carry in and on the pack for events. Right now I’ve got it in a kind of “all-purpose” configuration, with a bota bag for water, a small bag for local shopping, and a wool blanket for warmth/shelter. I’d like to figure out 1) what I would want to carry if I decided to take this camping and 2) what I would want to carry if I were actually the character that this was designed for. What tools would I carry for my trade? What in-period essentials would I carry for survival? Would I have anything in there to deal with bandits or wild animals?

As someone pointed out to me recently, I apparently like to have a story behind the things I create.

Mini Project Update: “Medieval” Backpack

Years ago (before I started this blog) I made a medieval-ish backpack for Renaissance Faires and the like. I had wanted something to carry stuff around at events while in costume without carrying a very obviously modern backpack. Recently I’ve decided to take a crack at fixing/updating it. Here it is when I first built it years ago.

One of the “features” that I was not happy with, and prompted the repair work, was that the leather support straps would sometimes pull out in the direction of the furniture tacks holding them to the frame. I removed the leather straps, sanded the wood a bit, and used wood glue while reattaching the straps to the frame, clamping it to make a stronger connection.

I also reinforced a couple connections with the posts that hold the box in place on the frame. I placed glue in the gaps, and hammered the posts back in tighter. My guess is that they had been pulling out from the frame from the load of the box.

When the glue had 24 hours to dry, I worked on my next annoyance: I had never cut the leather straps flush to the wood. The corners stuck out past the frame, contributing to the straps coming off in the past when things caught on a corner. After some experimentation on some scrap leather, I used an exacto knife to cut the leather, and only then removed the clamps from the frame. Why add unnecessary stress to a recently glued item?

Since I was working on it anyway, I decided to tackle another thing that had always bothered me: the shoulder straps. Here’s another old photo:

Note the rope being used for terrible shoulder straps. At some point between then and now, I swapped them out with some belts from cargo shorts. These are the belts I’m talking about:

They were MUCH more comfortable, but still doesn’t look quite right. None of them match, and it still looks crude. I did some thinking and researching, wanting to swap them for leather ones. I had always wanted leather ones, but after a while I had kinda written it off and forgotten about them.

This time, though, I came across some sword belts that looked like they might work with the frame, so I ordered those. Unfortunately, it was not as easy a swap as I had hoped, and I’ve still got work to do. Here is one of the belts that arrived:

If you look closely you’ll note that all the metal fittings were corroded prior to arrival. This stained the leather and made me loath to use those fittings. The buckles would require heavy cleaning, and the chicago screws were pretty much a lost cause. The leather should be fine, though. That did inspire me to look for some upgrades. I’m replacing the buckles and all the screws, all with antiqued brass.

It’ll look better than it would have if they had come through properly! However, I’ve still got to do some leatherworking, as the straps are actually too long for their intended positions. Also, the holes were not positioned correctly for wrapping around objects of the size of the rungs on the pack.

At least nowadays I have a workshop set up, and more tools to work with, so it’s a much less daunting task than when I originally built the pack! It shouldn’t take too long to do, but I want to make sure that I take my time and do it right, so I’ll have to make sure I have a solid block of time to work on them.