Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Four Seasons in February

Nature, my old and dear friend... what's up with you lately? I know it's the shortest month of the year, but do you really need to get all four seasons into 28 days?

A local pond showing all four seasons at the same time. The right half is still frozen solid at the shadow line of the trees. But the grass is beginning to green and there is a distinct pink tinge of fledgling buds on the tree. And as I walked the perimeter in shirt sleeves the ice cracked loudly as it settled. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the experience, but I don't know what to expect next.

First it was a deep cold that froze the lakes and streams. Then it was floods. Then some snow. And now we are expecting temperatures in the seventies.

And today you went from sun and a gentle breeze to thick fogs rolling for near zero visibility. I spend a lot of time outdoors enjoying your beauty, so I have clothing and gear for any of your looks.

But not knowing if I need ice cleats and hand-warmers or Bermuda shorts and flip-flops is kind of confusing me.

You know, never mind. I will just try to get out and visit you regularly and enjoy or time together. You do whatever you need to do and I'll find a way to discover the joy you provide.

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Friday, February 16, 2018

T-Shirt Haiku from DIY Scraps

Create poetry with up-cycled T-shirt scraps. Turn your old tees into one-of-a-kind works of individualized art.

Someone donated a bunch of old T-shirts for my (failed) attempt at making 3d printed templates. So I found myself with lot's of tees that didn't fit me/ I slashed a few in my experiments, but I still had lots left over/

I figured I could make a few hoods and scarves and pillows. But what could I do with all those free swag tee shirts from 2014? Too bad I couldn't just use elements from each of the designs and make something new.

Or wait... maybe I could. I do have scissors and I do have fabric glue. Heck, I even own a sewing machine if I wanted to get serious.

So I sat down with the scissors and a bag of old shirts during the Olympics and started cutting out words from the front and back of 20 shirts.

It was a perfect task. Unlike most of my hobbies I could start and stop with no ill effects. I didn't lose my train of thought, the tee didn't dry, crack, sag or over-process in any way.

I enjoyed the parts of the Olympics I wanted and the holes in the tee shirts stayed just as they were and when I came back I just started cutting again.

What I thought would be a tedious task turned out to be a lot of fun. In fact, I think it helped me enjoy the Olympic events even more.

Nervous about whether your fave is going to make it into semi-finals - well cut apart some tee shirts.

Your favorite might be getting knocked off the podium - make the cuts extra ragged. Heck the more ragged and nervous looking the better, just makes it look really hand made.

Of course making the scraps into a work of art is another story. Once I realized that I could never color coordinate or match sizes or fonts - well then it became fun again and I had some flashbacks to my teen tears and rebellious designing. Shew, this adulting in design thing had messed with my sense of freedom and spontaneity.

So this was a good, I got a sense of fun back, made something fun from discarded clothes, and even found a bright-sided silvered-lining to the filed craft-knife experiments. This was a fun win.

Of course my short poem writing skills had also atrophied. But I listened to some music, realized the lyrics actually made no sense and if they could do it then I could do it, I composed three amaze-balls poems in just a few minutes. And I think I got back with my teen self here as well.

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Saturday, February 10, 2018

What's Inside an Old Humidifier

What's inside an old ultrasonic humidifier, and is there anything worth salvaging? The short answer is YES, lot's of fun stuff in there.

Someone donated this old ultrasonic humidifier for us to tear down. I hoped we could get the speed control and maybe a fan out if it. But I didn't know if everything would be on a single PCB and therefore difficult to salvage. Luckily, all the main components were separate and the PCB only supplied the power.

So we wound up getting a bunch of good components that we can re-use. We also got some nifty tidbits that will be good for prop building. Check out the short video to see what we found...

It looks like the humidifier had gotten hit with a power surge. But this thing was sturdy and it still sort of worked, if very weakly. There was almost no mist or air coming out of it. Once we cracked the case we could see why. The surge had run in and fried the AC components. It's surprising that it still worked at all, but it made it easy for us to decide to salvage it instead of repairing it.

We tested the salvaged components and they all worked fine. My two favorites are:
  • An all-in-one power switch with speed control and LED indicator complete with housing
  • And a magnetic reed switch type sensor along with a floating circular trigger magnet.
Both of these still worked perfectly. We also got some nice heat-sinks, some JST connectors, a small cage fan and several oddly shaped items perfect for use in cosplay or prop building,

Knob and Controls
The speed control is perfect for an Arduino project. It has three completely separate circuits going into the same housing to control three functions. There's a high current circuit to the on/off switch, a mid current to potentiometer, and a light-duty circuit to the LED.

I also noticed that they were using the potentiometer more like what I think as a rheostat. Even though the potentiometer has three tabs, they were only using two. But the tabs are accessible, so we can always add the traditional third line of the circuit.

With this configuration, you can turn the project on, then control an analog input with a single knob. The LED can be pulsed or blinked to give visual feedback.

And it's in a great housing that's really easy to mount into any project. It's circular and flat, so no weird shapes and curves to match. Just cut a hole, a big hole, into any enclosure and you have a very nice control panel - sweet!

Water Level Sensor
My other favorite find was the magnetic reed switch and magnet combo. This sensor is already on a slim PCB with a handy JST connector. And the floating ring-magnet is already sized to trigger the switch.

That's going to make using this as a water level sensor so much easier. These sensors and magnets are cheap to buy, but configuring them can be a hassle. When they come pre-matched and sold for use in fountains the price goes way up. So to get these for free was a pleasant surprise.

Overall, I'm very happy with the haul from this old humidifier. And the video was fun to make so I might start recording more teardowns. We have a room full of donated items, a huge random collection of semi-junk to tear apart and explore - loads of fun for the whole family - and much better than experimenting with items that still work.

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Thursday, February 8, 2018

Making a 3d Printed Bowl with a Hairdryer

Fun 3d printed project with none of the technical hassles. People sometimes shy away from 3d printing because it looks so complicated. I wanted to make something simple that people could play with and easily customize, a little something that they could hold in their hands and shape with nothing but a hair dryer and some light pressure.

Plus, if people can touch it and control it, shape it with heat and get comfortable with the material, then they might be more interested in learning about 3d printing. It's not so scary once you realize it's just regular plastic that has been heated up until it can be bent and sculpted. That's why they call it "thermos plastic" after all.

Expando changoooo...  take a simple home hair dryer a to a thin PLA 3d print and you can shape it and bend it into any form you want. The best (and worst) of both worlds.

So you can see where the lines started to string and the lip got deformed, but that's mostly from a lack of control with the hair dryers.

I knew that thin 3d prints could be reshaped with a common hair dryer, so I designed a simple lattice that I could print really quickly.

I have played around with these types of lattice structures before. I've made them out of paper and craft-foam and even cloth. So I knew a few shapes and cutting patterns that expand nicely when they get deformed

I hoped that the 3d prints would expand and shape nicely, and more importantly, I hoped that they would hold there shape and remain sturdy once they cooled back down.

The paper and foam versions are fun to play with,  but they don't hold their shape when released. They collapse back into a flat sheet. It's fun to make accordion shapes that you can stretch and twist and bounce, but I wanted the lattice to keep it's shape.

So 3d printer plastic (specifically PLA) seemed like a good bet.

It started life as a flat sheet.

Then it got heated and pressed onto a sphere to deform the lattice.

And it worked really well. The PLA did stretch and expand much like the craft-foam, but it held it's shape perfectly when it cooled down.

There are some issues I want to work on. You'll notice that the print became "stringy" and the edges are warped. I printed the lattice so thin that the individual "print lines" acted as strings and I turned the hair dryer on high, so the strings became so flexible they actually got blown around by the air. I wanted them to separate and expand uniformly, not like a wild hair day. Even the edges got softened and deformed.

The fix should be easy. I can print the lattice thicker, I can use a lower heat and blower setting - or I can even put the lattice into a toaster oven and let it gently drape over a form from the force of gravity.

And I could make a simple frame to hold the edges so that they don't deform while the center of the lattice gets all rubbery and stretchy. Lots of ideas to play with.

This is just a simple bowl. But the same technique can be used to create jewelry like bracelets and necklaces. A more advanced maker could create hats and other fashion accessories. Those 3d printed arm and leg braces that you've seen, well they are often heat formed for the final fit.

And individual parts can be "welded" together to form larger pieces. So the brim and bowl of a hat could be printed separately, formed to the user's liking, then be combined into a finished hat.

More importantly, most people are comfortable drawing a flat 2d design. And they have bent various materials for years with their bare hands.

With this technique anyone can draw a simple 2d pattern, print it out in minutes, then heat form it into the shape they want. Once they do that, maybe they will want to start doing the same thing in 3d.

Just another way to gently introduce people to 3d design... muhahahaaaaa.

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Monday, February 5, 2018

DIY Solar Heater - It Really Works

I've read about these for years so I finally made one - and it works - 120F heated air within minutes of getting put into the sunlight. It's simple to make, easy to use, super rugged and best of all, it's almost completely free.

Basically, it's stacks of aluminum cans that have been painted black You punch a hole in each can so the air can circulate, then caulk them together into long tubes. Put the tubes into a box with a clear cover and insulation and you've got yourself a free solar heat collector.

Whoa, this thing is heating up quickly. I could feel the warm air rising up from the openings in the top of the cans and the thermometer confirmed it, Not bad for a stack of old aluminum cans.

I did the first few steps, made the tubes and spray painted them matte black, then stuck them in a window to test. I'm impressed enough with the results that I think I will make the box for them. The tubes heated up the air to at least 120 degrees in a few minutes. (Might be higher, but that's as high as my thermometer went.) The cans are just warm to the touch and the air rises gently from the openings in the top. So they're comfortable to the touch with no danger of burning or fire, yay.

The tutorials and associated forums have all kinds of details and suggestions to make these heat an entire house. The best type of glass for maximum light transmission, the correct hole size for best air flow, the best type and thickness of paints for maximum heat gain etc.

But I'm not going to cover an entire wall with these or heat my entire house, so I'm just going to improvise without much concern for maximizing efficiency. I have some speaker cabinets I gutted and some scratched plexiglas.  Perfect for a small experimental version.

I will probably just heat a small storage box with it or maybe create a warm place for the wandering neighborhood felines. I probably won't bother adding a fan or even a auto-closing vent since I'll just be letting some warm air into an otherwise unheated space.

This will be a good excuse to use up these scrap items, finally get them out of my way and make something that's actually useful all at the same time.

Like I said, I've known about these solar collectors for years. But I had always lived in warmer climates where cooling was more of a concern than heating. And buying the lumber and glass made it too expensive for a toy project (spend 20 to save 5).

Now, however, I have access to both cool weather and donations at the Maker Group. Suddenly, I have all kinds of materials at my disposal - too many sometimes, like "I need to clear out this entire room" quantities of scrap materials.

I do have some experiments I want to try. Does putting gravel inside the cans affect heat generation and retention? Do metal screens work just as well - there are tutorials that say they do. What about old floor tiles? I have half a box of broken tiles Can I paint them black and use them as collectors, or maybe use them to store the heat overnight.

Looks like we've got six more weeks of winter, so I've still got time to experiment.

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Thursday, February 1, 2018

Slash and Run - I Think I'm Done

I've slashed several tee-shirts over the last few days and I think I've finally gotten this whole 3d printed template idea out of my system. Can't really call it a success in traditional terms, but I found out a lot of things. More importantly, I squashed a nagging idea from years back that wouldn't go away until I actually tried it.

I seem to be writing more about this failed attempt than my more complex (and successful) projects. I will return to writing about the highly technical detailed successes soon, but I just felt like I needed to document a silly project once in while.

I think it's because I know there are other makers out there who do the same thing. We all do it, follow an impulse even though we know it might not be the smartest design choice. It's part of the creative process. So continue to play with useless things, make bad choices and try to fix them. Because somewhere underneath, there's a reason you are working this set of problems - sit back, buckle in and enjoy the ride.

Okay, so the template worked fine. But it definitely wasn't worth all the effort.

What did I learn from all this?:

The 3d printed templates did work, but they are more trouble than they are worth

Any time saved during cutting was destroyed in the printing process. If I saved two minutes per cut tee-shirt, I would have to do a lot of shirts to make up for the hour of printing time.

PLA can be cut with a craft blade, and it will get cut after a few uses. Every template got nicked. especially after I started thinking "Hey, I got the hang of this." Not good for high volume, speedy production work.

The "clamping action" derived from using a top and bottom plate didn't help at all. A single template on top worked just as well. At least I cut the printing time in half,

Using medium pressure and multiple strokes of the blade made the cleanest cuts. Trying to cut the cloth in one pass only worked with the sharpest, newest blades - and then only sometimes. It was more likely to drag the cloth instead of cutting all the way through.

The cloth dragged and stretched even when I had a slot in the bottom plate. I had hoped I could puncture the fabric and slice quickly the rest of the length. It didn't work, slashing with the edge of the blade wasn't any more effective than overly forceful use of the blade tip.

Any line shorter than an inch reads as a hole, not a slash. Tiny, intricate patterns just looked like there were a bunch of random holes.

Any slashes closer than 10mm looked like strings. Using 20-50mm spacing made it look more like what I wanted.

Well that clean precision look didn't last very long did it?

Got reminded that tee-shirt material stretches quickly and the clean cuts I made quickly turned into a blobby mess after a short wearing. All that work for five minutes of precisely cut look - then it turned into a tangled mess.

Got reminded that simple slashed in denim jeans are not very effective decorations. Denim does hold the shape of the cuts, so you need to cut an "opening" instead of a simple slash if you want the pattern to be seen. The slits might open up enough to be seen after  a few days of wearing or a good washing or two. But actually cutting sections out to make larger holes worked much better.

After all this designing and printing and testing I arrived at some conclusions:

Cutting the templates with a laser-cutter or CNC would be much quicker and, using chipboard or metal, would result in a sturdier product. I knew this already, but I only have a 3d printer, so I used it.

Maybe I don't need a template at all. I thought it would save me time and it did, but a minute a shirt isn't that significant.

No-one cares about perfectly spaced and cleanly cut lines for the level of designs these templates create. These are simple shapes, not complex lace patterns. And the cloth distorts so quickly the improvement disappears after a few minutes.

Just use a pair of good scissors or get a rotary cutter. They will work just as well as the templating system did for designs that are  this simple.

So was this a failure? Absolutely! I wasted several hours going down the wrong path. And worse yet, I knew it was the wrong path when I started. So why did I do it? Well, history I guess.

Like I said before, I had tried cutting tee-shirts when I was much younger and I didn't like the results. They were sloppy and ragged. I wanted clean, precise cuts. I kept thinking, "If I could only create template it would be much easier."

That idea stuck with me for years, so when I got a 3d printer I decided to try it. I tried it even though I knew a laser cutter or CBC would be a better solution, and even though desktop laser cutters are cheap these days.

I even knew that the cheap scissors I used back then were not appropriate for cloth. Now I own good scissors and can easily make clean cuts in any cloth.

And these days, there are the new rotary cutters that slice through several layers of cloth so cleanly and easily even I can do it.

But you must understand, I had once had an "IDEA" and that thing had stuck in my head for a decade or more. I must bring it out into the open and battle it on the physical level or it would always be bouncing around in my brain taking up space and time that could be used for something useful.

So I did it.

Now I can rest.

So no, this exercise wasn't a failure at all. It was a necessary step for a certain type of warped designer-mind. I won, I killed the silly notion and I have proof of my victory It was a lot of work, but now I can move on to other ideas.

It wasn't a brick wall, it was just a reflection of something else.

And the project wasn't a total loss. I got some other ideas during the process. One involves open flame torches, metal plates and old jeans. Another involves heat bending flat 3d shapes. If either idea works like I hope, evenly a little, I will share the results.

My final thought - get a frikkin laser cutter if you want to do this kind of stuff - that's what they are made for and why they've become so popular. Slap a tee-shirt on the platter and cut out any shape you want in a matter of seconds. If you want to do a lot of tee-shirt and other clothing modifications, invest in the equipment best suited for it. 

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Sunday, January 21, 2018

Good Enough to Start With - Cut and Run

I got something right on the first try, then spent a full day trying and failing to make it better - only to realize it didn't really need to be improved. But like most dead ends, I learned a lot of useful stuff along the way.

Last week I posted about a 3d printed template for cutting, slashing and modifying fabric. The design was a success, both because it was easy to customize and print new designs with only a few minutes work for each pattern, and because it actually helped making clean straight cuts in tee-shirts.

Not satisfied, I continued to think of new ways to use this approach until I reached the limits of the first design. I wanted bigger better, smaller faster, simpler yet more complex designs. Are you beginning to suspect I might have gotten carried away?

Sure, the template worked. But I noticed that any design with the slots closer than about 10mm started to create problems. Common tee-shirt fabric, being all stretchy and flimsy, was particularly problematic. It would stretch, gather and distort when the cutting slots got too close together. This really sucked because slashing old tee-shirts was the original impetus behind the entire concept.

I also noticed that very thin or slippery fabrics like sateen, or very thick fabrics like denim didn't always work very well. If I was careful, I could do both. But I had to take care to hold the template just right and position and lay out the fabric correctly.

A simple, first try success wasn't good enough. I had to make it better. I had a serious case of designer fever.

What I needed were some cleats or ridges and matching grooves to really clamp down on the cloth and hold it in place.

So I started a redesign of the entire template system. I spent half of a day thinking about it and drawing simple sketches. What if I put cleats or ridges on the surfaces, maybe add matching indentations to really clinch the cloth and keep it from moving.

I did several sketches like that. I got a feel for a way to draw the "features" easily. And then started thinking about how to automate the process so that I could type in a few numbers and the pattern would magically draw itself.

The first (successful) version simply extruded shapes up from the ground plane, the cut or joined the shapes to create two slotted plates. But this new cleated, wavy system wouldn't work like that. Now, I had to extrude on two or even three planes and somehow coordinate the origins and geometries across multiple drawing steps.

That was kind of annoying. I had to redo all my old work/ And, because I wasn't sure which, if any. of the new shapes would work, I  needed to find the simplest method of automating multiple styles of cleats and clips and waves.

I couldn't find any one style that worked for all shapes, so I wound up generating several different files with completely different automation strategies.

Getting a flat face to match with another flat face is easy. getting curved and notched faces to mate with other curved faces with varying distances between them, well that isn't nearly as easy. Especially if the surfaces curve in all directions at once.

Automating that process is even harder. Boy did I learn a lot.

Or what if I made the entire surface wavy - yeah, that would really lock them together.

I spent about a full day concepting then drawing and automating these new designs. I was getting closer, but also getting frustrated. Then I went back to look at the results from the first tests and realized something.

I didn't need to do all this.

Seriously, I'm never going to be cutting two hundred strips of cloth that are only 2mm wide. That's just ridiculous. Look at any example of slashed tee-shirt mods. They have a few (10-20) cuts and the strips are at least an inch wide, not a hundred tiny cuts.

This project was supposed to be about slapping down a template on a worn out tee and making 10 or 20 relatively straight cuts in a few seconds.

I had gotten carried away and was trying to create a process that would rival the precision of a laser cutter. Why do that?

So I stopped the design and tried to feel better about the day I had just lost to stupidity. It was probably the easiest part of the day. I did actually learn a lot, and any time you find new ways of doing things it's a win. If not today, then sometime soon.

There are parts that I can still use in this design. I can use some of the new ideas in other projects. I'm working on a metal and paper embosser where these techniques are useful. A lot of these ideas are also applicable for sliding joints for lids and cases. And this exploration helped me get a better grasp on basing multi-plane geometries off a single origin point.

So like most failures, I got a lot of useful information to use. So maybe that day wasn't a complete loss after all. Now I'm off to cut up more old shirts.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Weather Station Might Need Some Rework

I'm thinking this might be a good time to rework the interface for my DIY Bluetooth weather station. Sure, I can tell a lot about the precipitation and wind just by looking at the station, but it's not sending any useful data to the display.

It might be time to bring the weather station inside so I can manually control the physical inputs. It's too cold to be outside and it's always fun to sit in the living room madly twisting, spinning, blowing and shaking a large plastic porcupine of sensors while looking at quickly moving, squiggly lines on my phone..

Weather stations in winter can be a bit unreliable. My "rain gauge" reads zero, but I'm pretty sure there has been some precipitation recently just from looking. I might bring it inside and work on the graphic display of the Bluetooth receiver.

I'm not looking forward to coding again, at least not this project. It works now, works very well in fact. But from what I remember I wrote some good, tight code - then got excited and went on an experimental streak. So there is probably lots of orphaned threads and poorly conceived routines wrapped around the well written, well documented portion of the program.

However, after a few months of successful testing with a Bluetooth data stream, I realize that I need to use another communication protocol with a longer range (probably LORA) so I can get the weather station into an area where the wind and rain won't be affected by surrounding structures. With Bluetooth I can only get 40-50 feet away from the house. But with LORA I could easily get 250 feet. That's enough to get the sensors out into an unobstructed area.

The station and my DIY display works well enough to give me a reasonable idea of what's going on and a basic record of overnight activity. But I also want to add a few more capabilities and display features.

If I do actually work on the display I'll try to document the process this time. It's actually pretty cool and fun to play with - plus it uses some basic interface techniques I've re-used several times. The real problem with blogging about it is that there is Android code, Arduino code, interface concerns, data storage and translation and .... well you get the picture. There's a lot going on.

But maybe if I write about each part as it happens I won't get bogged down in trying to create one huge, master tutorial. At the very least, I'll post some pics of the interface.

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Saturday, January 13, 2018

Slashed Tee-Shirt with a Template - First Look

Slashed tee-shirts were all the rage a few years ago, Then they fell out of favor for a while. Now, they appear to be making a comeback with much more elaborate, commercially produced forms. I made a few attempts at cool fashion tees and got frustrated because mine always looked even rougher and more home made than they were supposed to - ragged, crooked cuts with even worse weaving.
Who knew I was so bad with a pair of scissors?

But I'm willing to try again. This time I made a 3d printed cutting-template to help me cut clean, straight lines for easier weaving and crisper shapes.

The cloth fits between two slotted plates. The plates lock together and hold the cloth in place while it's cut with a craft blade. 

The template itself is a simple idea, but I'm using Fusion 360's parametric functions to make the template easily customizable.

Now, with just a few clicks I can change the size and thickness of the cutting plates,and the size and spacing of the cut lines. I can also apply any shape to the slots.

Don't know how often I will personally use it, But I know some folks who are going through their custom-tee phase that might enjoy having these.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Shadow Screen Basic How-To Tips

Dare I reveal the secret of shadow casting? People really liked the shadow casting screen I posted about last week. But it's incredibly difficult to do and requires super sophisticated yet extremely arcane knowledge of the underlying forces of the universe.

LOL, not really!!! Actually it's very simple and would make a great project for any designer wanting to experiment with basic 3d printing.

And as an added benefit, the screen not only casts very cool shadows, it also changes its appearance as you move around it. I've only scratched the surface of this technique, but I'm having a blast experimenting.

Sections of the screen darken and lighten at different times as the viewer moves around the screen. You can control when each section darkens in several ways. These include changing the size of the open slots as well as the depth of that section of the screen itself.

If you have ever twisted a venetian blind to control the amount of sunlight, then you understand all you need to know to create one these shadow screens. It's just that the scale and repetition of the elements made the project look complicated.

The same techniques also cast interesting shadows that change as the sun moves.

Basically, you create a grid of very thin walls. You control how quickly any one section darkens by varying the width of the slots and the height of the walls. There are other things you can do, but these two variables in combination give you all kinds of interesting effects, certainly enough to entertain you for a week or so and a spool of filament.

I have tried to explain the technique, but either the misleading appearance of sophisticated visual magic confuses people or I'm not very good at explaining things. So I decided to draw some diagrams to better explain it. These might help, or they might just confuse people even more.

Either way, they were a good exercise for me. I got to play with a vector illustration program again, and it forced me to think about how I was explaining the technique. I occasionally write a tutorial on the Instructables site, and I really enjoy that process and sharing with other makers. But if I don't practice writing and illustrating enough, I find that the process becomes painful instead of fun.

If I can figure out what I want to say and how to explain and illustrate it, I might even write a full tutorial on this technique.

So let me know if this blog post helps you understand how these screens are made. Am I on the right track or just confusing things even more?

I'll post a link to any tutorials I write, so stay tuned and keep making.

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Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Teaser for 3d Printed Shadow Caster

Here's a quick preview/teaser of a project (theme") I am working on - a 3d printed shadow caster.

A little fun with sunlight and shadow patterns.

The shadow-caster throws patterns from sunlight or lightbulbs. The shapes and darkness of the shadows changes depending on where the light source is. This gives a really neat effect as the sun moves throughout the day.

And as you walk past the shade the surface of the 3d printed object changes its appearance, so the effect is constantly changing.

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Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Jewelry that Flickers and Flits with Pictures

Here's another way to add beautiful lighting effects to your jewelry. Tiny, inexpensive graphic screens are easy to embed in your projects. They aren't as bright and showy as LEDs like Neopixels, but they give you the ability to craft very customized light and color effects. You can animate them and even display images. And of course you can control them with an Arduino.

A really simple pattern adds a lot of visual interest to this millefiori piece. The pattern changes slowly over time to give the pendant a constantly transforming appearance. The light really helps draw the eye in dim lighting. If you don't want that, simply turn off the screen. You can create any pattern, animation or even image that you want and change them as slowy or quickly as you desire.

I'm going to use fused glass as an example again. I like to work with fused glass because it poses so many challenges and can have so many different forms. Each piece is unique and calls for a careful pairing of light.

And because fused glass is pretty all by itself, it's also challenging not to overpower the innate beauty of the material. Last week I posted about using a simple LCD light valve to add interest. That works well with semi-transparent glass.You can also use these tiny graphics screens to add patterns and lights to the same piece of glass.

However, I have struggled to find something that woks well with clear glass pieces. Nothing ever worked well in pieces that had areas of transparent glass. So I hauled out my LCD screen collection and tried some of them. I think this technique has some definite possibilities.

Both Adafruit and Sparkfun have a wide range of sizes and form factors for these types of screens. For jewelry, the "deck of cards" size is probably the biggest you would need for your largest statement pendant. I prefer the matchbook sized ones. I have played with the tiny thumbnail sized versions, but after getting diffused there isn't that much difference between them and a much cheaper LED.

Here are just a few of the screen sizes available. (That's a US quarter for scale)

There are a few things to remember when choosing a screen:

If you want to display actual images then you need to make sure the screen comes with an SD card slot so you can store the image or images.

Don't forget about the monochrome black-and-white versions if all you need is a gentle flicker. There are also versions where the entire screen can be any single color and you can draw in black.

The faster your microprocessor is the faster you can change the screen display. This might not be important to you. I can code and design animations well enough to get small chips to do what I need. But if you want to do fancy animations consider using a more powerful chip like the M0. With the Pi Zero, you could even play videos using the same screens.

You can use traditional tools like Photoshop or Illustrator to create your patterns and images. For people who don't code, this makes this technique much more accessible. You an also use code to draw over and manipulate images, so it offers the best of both worlds.

I will keep using the LEDs and NeoPixels for jewel based. big bling style projects. And the 3d printed jewelry actually needs all the brightness NeoPixels provide just to show through the plastic during daytime.

But the more I play with LCD graphic screens and glass the more possibilities I see. I've got several ideas, and the really neat thing about his technique is that you can leave the screen off to emphasize the beauty of the glass itself - or you can show any solid color, pattern, animation or image on the exact same piece.

In fact, the same piece of glass can be given a completely new "look" by changing what's on the display.

I'll post more images of my experiments soon, and I think I might need to start doing video just to better demonstrate the effects possible with this combo.

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Friday, December 29, 2017

Adding Some Dark Yin Yang to my Jewelry

I'm about to put some serious yin yang into a jewelry project. For years, I've put lights into jewelry, now it's time to put some darkness into the mix. Say what... ???

Well, not darkness exactly. But I can now block light on command thanks to new "light valves" from Adafruit. These light valves are thin glass sheets that can be darkened on command with a standard Arduino... think LCD screen or welding helmet, except the whole sheet darkens.

Why would I want to darken something, especially jewelry? I've put bright colorful LEDs onto every hat, scarf, shoe and bracelet I could find to make them sparkly. Why would I suddenly want to block light? It took me a while to find a problem for this solution, but I think I've found an interesting use case. What if you are working with objects that already have a beautiful quality of light?

Adding a dark background (upper half) completely changes to look of this piece of fused glass. The glass is so beautiful on its own that it doesn't need and LEDs in it. But changing how much light gets through the glass can affect the look of the entire piece. Imagine the background fluttering or pulsing between dark and light.  

A maker-friend creates lovely fused glass jewelry. The glass does amazing, wonderful things with light. It bends it and scatters it and refracts it. I've put lights behind these pieces of glass to great effect. But some of the pieces, especially the clear or nearly transparent pieces didn't work as well as I had hoped.

Translucent or heavily tinted glass diffuses the LEDs and creates a wonderful glow. But the nearly transparent glass always looked like I had just stuck some LEDs behind it, there was no magic or artistry. They looked cheap and tacky, a sad disservice to the beautiful glass work.

And the transparent glass really changes depending on the light that hits it, Some pieces look dark and nearly opaque in dim light, then turn crystalline and bright in sunlight. On a light background they look one way, on a dark background they look completely different.

What if I cold control the background, change it from dark to light, flicker it, fade it and pulse it? Well now I have a way to do that thanks to these new "light valves" from Adafruit. It's not as dramatic as an LED, but that subtlety is precisely the point. I've been developing ways to tone down LEDs for a long time, trying to make something a little less Vegas and more LBD evening gown-ish. Maybe the solution is to control the lighting effects from the opposite end of the scale instead. 

I just started this experiment, but I like some of the effects I'm getting so I'll post some of my successes and failures as I go akong (plus more about the light valves).

Stay tuned for updates.

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