Red Echo

April 27, 2012

The Allwinner A13 is a 1 GHz Cortex A8 processor in a TQFP package: that is to say it’s a chip with pins sticking out the side, which could be soldered onto a board by hand. This opens up the possibility of constructing a full-blown modern computer of one’s own design, by hand, for the first time since the early 1980s.

I had this idea last year about building a single-board cluster, linking a grid of microcontrollers using their SPI buses… but with a chip like this one, you could get a much higher-powered solution for a very similar price, using the onboard gig-Ethernet as the bus.

From the MIT High-Low Tech Lab, it’s a DIY cellphone made from $150 of easily-available parts. The phone module comes from Sparkfun, the LCD comes from Adafruit, the circuit board was designed with Eagle and can be produced by any fab house, and the case is a laser-cut plywood sandwich.

April 26, 2012

“Take Your Child to Work Day” at Google

I overheard someone in the lunch line talking about 3D printers running in a conference room upstairs, and asked what that was about. He apparently happened to have a Makerbot on his desk a couple of years ago, and now the kids just expect to see 3D printers when they visit Google. I commented that they must think Google is awfully futuristic for having such high-tech equipment around – but oh no, he said, they think this stuff is totally normal. They know that plastic things must come from somewhere, so why wouldn’t it be a printer at Google? In fact they complain that the plastic is weird and bumpy, and only comes in one color – it’s only their parents who are impressed.

I said hello to Nathan H.’s daughter Mabry as she was eating lunch. She’s about four years old, and told me that she has a friend with a little brother who is also named “Mars”, who is two. I said that was great, I don’t know anyone else named Mars, and that I looked forward to talking with him some day. “Oh, but he’s only two”, she said; “by then you’ll be really really old, or maybe dead!”

April 24, 2012

Life in the future: now with robots

This is a robot.

It is a real, genuine, actual working robot.

It is going to clean my house for me.

I spent a fair number of hours trying to build a vacuum-cleaner robot when I was a kid. I bought what was then an old but not yet vintage Apple IIe to use as the controller, and scavenged the running gear out of one of those electric kiddie cars. I was woefully underprovisioned in electronics knowledge, but I did get a passable maze-exploration algorithm working in simulation. The project never got much further than youthful ambition and a lot of random parts, but it’s still a nostalgic memory.

Here I am a quarter century later, and you can just buy a vacuum cleaner robot off the shelf. I can’t quite believe it’s real; it seems like there ought to be some catch, like it’s going to turn out to be an expensive novelty that doesn’t actually work – but I’m not even an early adopter here! They’ve been around for years now, and people keep buying them! I can’t wait til it finishes charging and sets out on its first cleaning mission.

April 19, 2012

Ordinary things blowing up, in gorgeous, beautifully-lit slow motion: it’s a promotional video for some Danish TV show, but it’s totally grinworthy.

Those fluffy stick-on mohawks for motorcycle helmets are now available with LEDs and fiber optics.

Creative DIY mason jar chandelier

Nicely done light fixture using old-style wire filament bulbs, mason jars, cloth-wrapped wire, redwood planks, and plumbing pipe. Step-by-step build gallery included.

April 17, 2012

Clever, beautiful use of a laser cutter: custom etched nori squares for elegantly surprising maki-sushi rolls.

April 14, 2012

We’re having an open house at ALTSpace today. If you’ve been curious about the space and what goes on in it, feel free to come by any time from now until 10 pm. It’s just general open-house time until 6 pm, then we’ll have our one-year anniversary party – beer, wine, snacks, and lots of art to look at!

April 13, 2012

This is my city

April 10, 2012

April 9, 2012

Oh, yeah: I finally finished the dress for Jeanine, yesterday. I hate hand-sewing and avoid it whenever possible, but this is a semi-formal dress and not sportswear so hemming it via my usual “topstitch it with contrasting thread” strategy wouldn’t really have worked. It’s a lined dress, too, so I had to blind-stitch both the dupioni shell and the charmeuse lining. Ugh. I’m glad that’s over. It looks pretty – I made the lining just a little bit too long, on purpose, so you see a little flash of soft champagne gold at the bottom of the dress, for contrast. This project has taken a while; I was only about half done when I burned through my original stock of enthusiasm, so it’s been grinding along at a much slower pace for the last couple of months.

Current active project list:

  • Radian, of course
  • Electric motorcycle (still mostly just planning)
  • Accelerometer-driven lighting system for “la petite piege” aka the spiderweb
  • Floodland (next step: BLM permit)

That’s really it. Kind of a short list, but I think that’s OK: Floodland is the sort of thing that can suck up an arbitrary amount of time, and the electric motorcycle is a pretty large fabrication job too.

ALTSpace is supporting itself, and we’re going to have a first anniversary party on Saturday the 14th. It’s really satisfying to walk in there and see all the projects people are working on. There are clothes hanging on the wire shelves, bits of sculptures out on workbenches, an entire back corner taken over by painters… The Seattle Meshnet people come in every couple of weeks to hack on radios, and the last Dorkbot meeting happened here. I’m delighted to see the place functioning as a hub for creative & social activities.

April 8, 2012

Ava, through her own lens

April 7, 2012

I’ve been in a funk for the past month or so, but today my mood seems to be lifting. It’s a sunny day, I’m getting things done, and while my work situation is not going the way I had hoped, neither is the mess I’ve made quite the disaster I had feared it might be. Life is actually pretty much OK.

I bought a pair of Firstgear leather motorcycle pants last summer when I started commuting to work via bike again, and they really haven’t held up to steady use. One of the snaps broke, the fly zipper pull broke off, the right side leg zipper pull broke off, and then last week the whole right side zipper broke. I thought about trashing them and getting something more durable, but decided to try upgrading them first. I hammered in a new snap, then cut out the old zippers and replaced them with sturdy, chunky visilon zippers. I didn’t get the stitch line *perfectly* straight but it’s good enough that nobody will notice but me, and the new zippers ought to be substantially more durable than the old ones were.

Today I’m going to put a little more work into the dress I’ve been making for Jeanine. It’s all basically done now save the finish on a couple of interior seams and the actual hem. I’ve been moving very slowly on this project; perhaps I can finally get it done today.

Ava’s dressed up to go help Alison with her booth at Norwescon. (She says I should point out the rag-rolled curls I put in her hair last night.)

April 6, 2012

Via boingboing, here’s Best Made: an online catalog of goods with simple, classic designs which are made as competently as possible. I doubt I will buy any of their goods but it is nice to see someone collecting Good Stuff.

From the boingboing comments, Sundial Wire offers that classic thread-covered wire in a variety of colors, plus an assortment of old-fashioned plug styles. It makes me want to make a new version of my mad scientist lamp. (This is apparently kind of a thing now – I am clearly not the only one who was inspired by Nik Willmore’s “Tube Lamp”!)

Lytro software focus in action

These two images came from the same camera exposure. If I wanted to use Lytro’s web service I could embed a little flash doohickey that would let you refocus the image yourself, but since I’m a cantankerous oldster who believes in hosting my own data I’m just going to give you a pair of JPEGs:


April 5, 2012

April 4, 2012

New camera arrived

My Lytro camera arrived today; I preordered it months ago but it took them a while to get production going. It is a gorgeous piece of hardware, sleek and minimal and comfortable, fun to hold and play with. It’s almost immediately obvious how to use it, and the use of a touch screen viewfinder is one of those ideas that instantly obsoletes the array of tiny multi-function buttons on other cameras.

The rest of the experience has not been so impressive. Picture quality is disappointing: for a camera whose primary feature is the ability to focus in software, the focus just isn’t very good. Everything has a soft-edged quality, like you’ve zoomed in too far. Am I doing it wrong, or does the focus system just not work very well? The desktop software is slow – the long processing time is forgivable, since there’s obviously a lot of fancy math required to render this sensor data down to a 2D image, but it’s still a shock to see the process of importing a photo and saving it as a JPEG take as long as it might have twelve or fifteen years ago.