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Fun projects to work on at home. Do it yourself!

 

Garage Quarter Pipe: Building a Micro Skate Ramp

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

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I’ve been skateboarding frequently over the past year, with a new park opening nearby that finally gives me access to a small halfpipe. I skated a lot as a young teenager, and built a fun launch ramp that was popular at our local playground, but at that point, all local communities were terrified of the liability a proper local skatepark might produce. The only one in the Bay Area that I knew of was the old Benicia skatepark, which was amazing to go to but overall really wasn’t all that great.

Later in high school, through college, and into my working years, I kept my skateboard around mostly for transportation, but never for tricks. Torn-up ankles from skating and basketball left me pretty uneasy, especially with anything that takes me off the ground including simple ollies.

About three years ago,Just before my son was born, I decided to buy a new skateboard. I don’t know why — I’d been surfing for the past few years, and skating wasn’t on my mind at all. Perhaps I felt I needed something to make sure my son would know I was a pretty cool dude. I bought a board, but didn’t use it much. Then, about two years after that, I started going to Eric Kirkwood’s evening skate sessions at the awesome Prooflab ramp in Mill Valley. He’s a phenomenal instructor, and I began building back my confidence and learning to ride on transition. And, loving it.

This led me to explore the new park near my house, which has since become a weekend ritual for me. It’s not a big park, and the miniramp is decidedly “mini” — only about 3′ tall, but still dauntingly tall for my level of experience. Not to mention the concrete surface seems so solid and unforgiving.

Soon, I was getting comfortable dropping in, and not long after that, getting up the other side and turning onto my axles. But from there, I was stuck, unsure of how to get back into the ramp without catching my wheels on the coping and sending me face first to the bottom. I practiced the first part of this for a few months. Finally, one morning I resolved to learn to turn and drop in from axle, and managed to land two while remaining upright. But my other three attempts ended with pretty good spills, and one where a landed so hard on my heel that I ended up with crutches for a few weeks.

Eventually I decided I needed something even smaller to practice the 50/50 axle drop-in motion from. I found the micro quarter pipe ramp plans on DIYSkate.com, bought the materials from the local hardware shop (including a nice clean piece of plywood that cost me less than $30), and knocked the ramp together from their plans in an afternoon.

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Their instructions are solid, but I did have trouble getting the first layer of plywood to bend to the curvature of the ramp (I layered three pieces of masonite on it instead). Also, metal pipe for coping is more expensive than what I set to spend on this ramp, so I settled for PVC. If it breaks, I’ll replace it, but with the objective of this ramp, I don’t expect it to endure much abuse. And, I’ve yet to find the metal threshold sheet at the bottom of the ramp surface.

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Regular drop ins are easy on this — it’s so short, but not uselessly small. From there, it took a few weeks of casual use to build up some courage to practice my 50/50 axle drop-ins. I started by deliberately doing them with only a 45º turn, then jumping forward and stepping down the ramp. After doing that a couple times, I pushed for a full turn, and nailed it. Did three more to be sure it wasn’t a fluke, then a few days later I went to the park with this move in mind, and got it on the second try — and since then, I’ve been pretty solid with it.

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One surprise about the micro ramp is that it’s still quite big; I have it stored standing up on its end in the garage most of the time and it stretches pretty high in the air — maybe 7′ — and overall takes up a decent amount of space. I’m brainstorming ways to make it collapsable for really compact storage. I’ll post an update if that materializes.

 

Fixing a Broken Power Plug on the MicroDrone 2.0

Monday, December 1st, 2014

The Microdrone 2.0 is a pretty sweet little quadcopter. Surprisingly stable and cautiously responsive for its small size, it’s also able to whip around outdoors in a bit of a breeze, high in the sky.

The unit I have, however, has an overly tight socket union for the powercord to the battery. So tight that a while ago, I accidentally yanked the wires out of the plug on the quadcopter.

I’ve had this on my desk with intentions to fix it for some time, and finally found a few spare minutes this weekend to do so.

First, rather than just crimp the old plug back on (which seemed unlikely to work well), I had purchased a new power cord with the appropriate plug connector on it. This isn’t entirely straightforward — lipo batteries have a number of different connector types and it took  some internet sleuthing to feel somewhat confident about the one to order. When it arrived, I discovered the coloring of the wires is reverse that of the drone, something I decided to overlook.

Despite having a batch of new tools to test out as well from Dremel (Versa-Tip butane soldering iron), Craftsman (12-in-one multitool), plus my Vise-Grip wire strippers (these are the greatest), and a can of Bernz-o-matic butane, I still didn’t have the right tool to do a perfect fix — I was missing a desoldering iron to get the broken wires out entirely and put the new one in through the Microdrone’s PCB, to help give them a long-term solid connection. So instead, I currently have the new wires soldered to the board on the surface, a fast, dirty, and inelegant fix that nonetheless got me back in the air in minutes, rather than putting off the repair for more days while promptly getting too busy to track down my desoldering tool.

I did, however, make sure to doubly reinforce the new power cord with a dual layer of heat-shrink tube. This had an unintended consequence as it forces the wires to be very straight and stiff, but they still have enough give to connect to the battery.

After the quick soldering job, I plugged in the battery and watched the LEDs blink back to life. Then I took this guy outside and raced it around the street for the rest of the afternoon. Too much fun.

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How to Shrink Cosmic Bodies into Virtual Scale Miniatures

Monday, June 2nd, 2014
Horsehead Nebula  Original image & credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA). Assembly and processing by Robert Gendler. http://www.robgendlerastropics.com/HH-HST-ESO.html

Horsehead Nebula Original image & credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA). Assembly and processing by Robert Gendler. http://www.robgendlerastropics.com/HH-HST-ESO.html

Galactic structures a billion, billion miles wide look like squirts of food coloring into a bowl of water with these tilt-shift photos.

Typically used for architectural purposes, tilt-shift (or perception-control) lenses move the plane of focus from being parallel to the cameras’s sensor or film, and instead places it at an angle by physically tilting the lens itself.

When applied to a landscape, the photographer can put a long, sweeping area into focus.

But when used the opposite way, the focal plane narrows down into a thin band, horizontally spanning one part of the sensor. The unfocused top and bottom part of the photo are thrown out of focus. It’s a similar look to that of a macro photo, when something small is taken at close proximity and is only in focus in a narrow plane, because of the way lenses tend to work (especially those left at wide apertures). And while the tilt-shift lenses are pricey, a similar result can be created with simple photoshop or smartphone app filters.

Pencil Nebula
Original image & credit: ESO http://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1236a/

We’ve trained our our eyes and brain with these types of photos to the point that tilt-shifted images of large items, especially those taken from above at an angle, appear as though they are a macro photo of a small image. When done really well, the item shrinks from humungous size to that of a model miniature.

These shots of some of the most famous cosmic bodies — Horsehead Nebula, Andromeda, etc — made to look like something you could reach out and wrap your hand around rather than something that spans lightyears of distance, using a faux tilt-shift effect in Photoshop. They come courtesy Imgur user ScienceLlama, and are some of my favorites yet, although I think the top honor still remains with the tilt-shift video below.

1974 Land Rover SIII Restoration Video

Saturday, November 17th, 2012

Fantastic documentation of a 1974 Land Rover Series III restoration. Anytime you’ve got a heavily used utility vehicle that’s pushing close to four decades in age, you’re likely going to have a fair amount of rehabilitation work on your hands to get it into a reliable and comfortable state. Firman Ni of Indonesia chronicles the complete teardown and rebuild, with some after-restoration mud fun. Makes me want to loosen some bolts.

Arduino Uno and Due Size Comparison (with Raspberry Pi and Fio, too)

Saturday, October 27th, 2012

Earlier this week, the much anticipated Arduino Due microcontroller was released. Improved in almost every regard, the prototyping community is thrilled with the possibilities that it creates.

The new boards are already shipping, and Jon Gottfried sent me some photos that compare its size with the ever-popular Arduino Uno.

“Just got my Arduino Due from @adafruit — pretty neat, much larger than the Uno,” he tweeted, following up  that it “Looks like the layout is similar enough to fit old shields.”

Gottfried, a Developer Evangelist at Twilio, has put together a few interesting Arduino projects of his own, including setting up a home automation system that let him control his AC remotely.

He also sent photos of the new board with the Raspberry Pi and diminutive Arduino Fio for further size comparison.

Never Shop at Harbor Freight Without a Coupon – Links to their best deals

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

More Harbor Freight online coupons, to save you a ton of money on their weirdly low tool prices – sometimes concerningly low (remember, “you get what you pay for”).

Take advantage by printing the best ones before you drive to your nearest location, or have stuff shipped if you don’t live near one of HF’s many stores.

So what’s the story? Harbor Freight sends out at least two coupon mailings each month – their general monthly specials, and a batch of coupons for members on their coupon mailing list (which seems to expire if you don’t use it often enough). Often times the coupons’ discounts are significantly deep, so this is a good list to be on for those with a penchant for dirt-cheap tools.

I had missed one of the big Harbor Freight sales last weekend, but needed some project supplies (at their prices, the tools are useful for repurposing into unrelated projects – palm sanders make great vibration tools for helping settle concrete). I checked the HF site to see what general specials they’re running this month, but wasn’t blown away; after being on the mailing list for a while you start to get an idea of what the real prices you should pay for these tools.

Still hungry to save some money, I did a searched online a bit and found something interesting: pages and pages of  printable coupons – the member’s stuff, the “Inside Track” stuff, and more. Each grouping I found has its own batch of items, and there were a variety of useful deals for most of the things on my list.

I didn’t want to print out each page’s full list of coupons (taking about 6 pages of regular printer paper per group), so I copied the coupons I needed and pasted the image of them into a Word document. Six coupons, two pages, and I was ready to shop. I spent $69 and got two bags of tools and supplies; I’ve got 90 days to think about how much I need them and decide if a return is needed.

These sections seem to be used and updated monthly for their common specials — if you’re going tool shopping, check these before you leave and print out what you need.

Digital Savings http://www.harborfreight.com/digitalsavings.html
Extra Savings http://www.harborfreight.com/extra-savings.html 
Clearance http://www.harborfreight.com/clearance 

They almost always have a 20% off coupon, in case the specific item you need doesn’t have a coupon that month – and make sure to bring the free flashlight coupon too.

Now, to just get them to stop requiring a print out. It’s wasteful, and most companies these days let customers scan the image from their smartphone.

17 Photos From Caine’s Arcade, his Cardboard Games and his $150,000 Cardboard Check

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

What is this? A genius-level DIY game arcade that will make you start hoarding cardboard boxes

Who made it? Nine year old Caine Monroy from East LA

Awesome element: The brilliance of the Fun Pass — a representation of a child’s game-play dreams, and a shrewd business move all in one.

What’s the story? Caine Monroy is a nine year old with a passion for carnival-style games so deep that he built his own arcade using the resources around him: cardboard boxes from his dad’s used auto parts business. Set in a tougher part of Los Angeles, his fully-operational/fully-adorable arcade got no customers until the day Nirvan Mullick stopped by while looking for a car part and spotted the genius that this kid radiates. Nirvan subsequently produced a 10 minute documentary about Caine and  his arcade, and built a website to help raise funds for Caine’s college tuition fund. A very warmly told tale, the story made the news on every major outlet by the end fo the week it was launched. I highly recommend you watch his video if you haven’t yet.

The scenes in the video looked familiar to me, and for good reason — it turns out that Caine’s Arcade is seven miles from where I live, on a street I’ve cut through various times as a shortcut to Union Station. The arcade is only open on the weekends (don’t forget, Caine is in school), so I headed there on the Saturday after the film was released. Here are my photos and notes from that experience.

It seemed that everyone in LA (and even some from over 7 hours away) had come to check out the cleverly devised arcade. Downside: no parking -- we found a spot a few blocks away and hiked to the store, crossing the intersection of Interstates 10 and 101.

The line of people waiting in front of "Smart Parts," Caine's dad's used auto parts store.

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DIY Motorized Router Table Lift Mechanism and Two Other Innovative Router Tables

Monday, April 9th, 2012

A router is a versatile and useful tool, although a pretty crazy one too. It’s a compact, high-powered motor that holds a narrow cylindrical blade (“bit”), spinning at ultra-high speeds with massive force. Routers are used for ornamental design work (look at the recessed borders cut into your cabinet doors — that’s routed) and cutting material. A variety of bit shapes allow for different contours of cuts — straight, angled, curved, curved with a protruding angle, etc.

Most commonly, routers are handheld with the bit extending downwards into the material being carved out. They’re guided over a piece of material to make freehand cuts, or with a guide to help ensure straight lines. The gyroscopic effect makes them a bit funky to control, and the power of the motor can send some serious fragments flying — including the router or user if things get hung up.

Sometimes, however, the router will be flipped upside-down and mounted underneath a table, with the bit extending upwards — combined like this, it’s called a router table. Keeping the router stable and moving just the material allows for more precise control of the cuts, especially if combined with a fence to guide straight movement.

One downside of the router table setup is that the router controls are not as accessible once placed in a cabinet space under the work surface — this is especially true for bit depth adjustments, a very crucial part of routing. Some manufacturers have devised a through-the-table screw adjustment that lets you move things up and down, but this can still be hard to do if you’re in the middle of a project or cut.

This video shows a very innovative approach to this situation–a mechanized router lift built by workshop mastermind Bill Price. Using a car window motor and a few very innovative ideas, he’s got a system that allows for easy access adjustments on the fly. And he’s even incorporated a system that allows for automatic height measurement and adjustment based on the item you’re routing. Awesome.

Here are two other router table systems that incorporate novel solutions — the first, a highly configurable router table that uses simple folding components and a bungee strap for the elastic resistance needed. The video is mesmerizing in its lack of vocalized description, instead relying on a very effective demonstration of the table’s various setups, while set in what appears to be an abandoned industrial workshop somewhere in Russia.

The second is Matthias Wendel’s wooden-geared router table mechanism. Matthias, of the site woodgears.ca, builds some mind blowing projects entirely from wood (I’ll post about his homemade all-wood bandsaw soon). This lift, like all his projects, is super accurate and extremely useful.

The thought of building one of these for yourself can be a bit daunting; fortunately there are plenty of commercial options available (although usually without the innovations seen here — I suspect they’ll get added soon though). Check out this Bosch router table for something that is compact but affordable, and includes a wide range of options.

These two great books will also get you up to speed on routing and router tables: “Taunton’s Complete Guide to Routers” and “Bill Hylton’s Ultimate Guide to the Router Table

Succulent Planter Made From A Wooden Carpenter’s Toolbox

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

I’ve had a countertop of succulents that needed a permanent home for some time now, and had been hoping to put them in a wooden box with rustic charm. Last weekend I stopped at my local Orchard Supply for supplies and saw a cheap tool set that included a wooden box with the classic OSH logo on it. For $20, it included a hammer, flathead and phillips screw drivers, tape measure, small level, and kids-sized safety goggles. Handy stuff for a kitchen drawer, but I had other thoughts for small carpenter’s tool box.

I took it home, added a few scoops of potting soil, and repurposed it to hold my succulents in an easy-to-transport but cool-to-display way.

Succulents don’t require much water so I didn’t drill out the bottom, but if I determine it needs better draining, a couple rows of 1/8″ holes through the thin bottom wood should do the trick. I may also reinforce the stapled construction by tapping some holes and adding screws. And with hopes, the wood will age and darken nicely to give it that cool weathered look.

Want to do this too? Easily make your own tool box using plans available online, but if you’re short on time, you can get a pre-cut kit — just needs assembly.

Six of the Geekiest RC Quadrotor and Flying Designs: “Back to the Future” Flying DeLorean, X-Wing Fighter, and More

Monday, March 12th, 2012

RC quadrotors (or quadcopters) have so much awesome potential because they are basically stable, powerful floating platforms, capable of a variety flight-enabled projects. You can mount a camera on one to capture amazing aerial video, or create a menacing autonomous surveillance system. Or — on the far end of geekiness — you can dress one up in costume, and fly your nerdiest world of fandom through the sky for all to see, like these following guys have done:

“Back to the Future” flying DeLorean (check out the blue, glowing LED lights under the wheels):

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