Unknown Domain

Yet more reverse engineered split-flap displays…

Today yet another split-flap display project hit the blogs, Stephen Brown (aka BozNZ) worked with his client Indevin who recently bought 20 old surplus Solari flip units and wanted to get them working. Stephen got to work over three days reverse engineering the existing circuitry and creating a multi-drop interface board for the multi-pin connector on the back of the units, and then daisy chaining ribbon cable from unit to unit he placed a master controller on one end and had a basic ethernet setup.

It’s heartening to see that a more experienced and knowledgeable engineer is doing the same kind of things with his work as those that I have landed on.

Checkout Stephens project here!

Source: Hack A Day

V&A Prism – London Design Festival: Day 4

Today before work I visited the V&A to take part in a behind the scenes guided tour of a part of the V&A and an installation piece called Prism which is installed in the highest parts of the museum, something I relished as I have a massive interest in the behind the scenes, subterranean oddities of London (and cities in general).

The exhibition is part of the London Design Festival the installation is by Keiichi Matsuda, the installation features internally projected panels generated by a series of internet connected computers that react to the local environment. The panels were designed and coded by invited programmers.

Looking down from the 6th floor before we go up into the roof:

Looking up, a sneak peak of the exhibition:

Preparing for the ascent in the corner of gallery 140:

Making our way up:

The roof of the dome:

Above the dome, the Prism looks as if it is an crashed space craft in the roof of the V&A:

One of the many panels, this one showing the live energy usage of 10 downing street:

Looking down into the gallery from where I just came:

It is hard to capture the sense of the scale of this installation:

The top right corner reveals another spiral staircase that we are about to ascend:

It’s hard to believe this area has never been open to the public with spaces like these:

And views like these, Battersea Power Station just off to the left of the horizon:

The London Eye and Shard in the distance:

A peak inside the installation as we descend back into the main public area:

What a fantastic and exclusive view deep inside the V&A, it was really enjoyable and a great opportunity to feed my senses, try and get down there before it is gone forever.

Making your own PCBs – Brighton Digital Festival

Today I made the pilgrimage to Brighton again, this time not for a Mini Maker Faire but to Build Brighton, the Brighton Hackspace, who as part of the Brighton Digital Festival are running some workshops including the one I attended today ‘Making your own PCBs‘.

The workshop was run by Chris, one of the members who started the day with general introductions, followed by an introduction to some freeware design software called Express PCB, however not being a PC user and not being interested in learning that software I opted for EAGLE which I already know to a degree. After 13:30 another member came along who was more familiar with EAGLE and started showing me some of the more advanced techniques that I was missing previously such as buses and creating new components.

As the day wore on we printed our circuit board designs onto PCB transfer paper using a laser printer, which using a few passes in the laminator was transfered over to the blank copper board, prepared by sanding the surface to increase the surface area for the etching to act on and the toner to stick to. There were a few patches left over which were blotted with a permanent marker.

The copper was then washed under cold running water to cool it to a safe handling temperature, at this point we then peeled off the backing of the transfer paper to leave behind only the the toner which would protect the copper from the etchant.

The copper boards were then put into a solution of about two table spoons of ferric chloride crystals and warm water, to a thick brown (not yellow or orange) consistency. The boards are left in the solution whilst being agitated, until all the copper is removed.

The boards are then washed and dried to remove the remaining etchant and the sink must be throughly washed to ensure no concentrated amounts of etchant are left that would damage the pipework or surface of the sink.

Finally using a small 0.8mm drill bit the board is drilled and the board is ready for use, there are instructions on Hack A Day on producing a DIY solder mask for those who want a bit more of a professional finish.

The design we produced was a kit designed by Build Brighton’s own members, my design had an error in it but etched perfectly, I now feel much more confident about etching my own boards in future, here is the botched build of the kit using Build’s PCB design rather than mine…

TENT London – London Design Festival: Day 3

Today I visited TENT London / Super Brands, over on Brick Lane in East London again after work to visit the actual exhibiton which I missed last time, apart from the spectacular rain storm, which I loved! The show was quite interesting, I am glad I didn’t pay and indeed can’t quite figure out why they charge £8 entry fee for the public to visit a trade show but still, it was an interesting, and free exhibition.

The first and probably best bit was talking to a man from a company called Teixidors who was operating a manually operated loom, after a few sentences a colleage from sibbling company Zuzunaga came over and said he didn’t speak English, how embarrassing! Not so as it turns out as the loom guy starts talking in (presumably Spanish or Portuguese) explaining everything I just said to him!

I told him of a recent trip to Manchester where I visited the Museum of Science and Industry. In the museum are a number of functional industrial looms from Manchester’s history as well as their related steam engines! We had a short chat about what they did and such but I got some brilliant images of the man working the loop, just a fascinating skill, and I learnt that it takes over 8 hours for two people to setup the machine for operation, imagine moving that installation to every show!

Further on in the show I discovered a modular plastic table by Andy Martin which has removable plastic panels that allow you to customise the look of the table. I can’t help but remember taking apart my keyboard to clean the keys when thinking about the deep clean process for such a table, with all those hundreds of plastic panels to remove, clean, dry and reinsert in the right place!

The next person I met was a former cohort of mine at the Royal Collage of Art, Rafel Oliva of the Design Products programme, who is doing rather well for him self exploring paint cannons with sponsorship from Homebase!

The Rag and Bone Man was an interesting conversation by a welder/artist who repurposes industrial, retro / vintage items into bespoke household furniture. We had a good chat and he liked that I could see his work wasn’t of the American Steampunk genre, more accurately it was it’s own style, a kind of Steampunk gone British.


Designerblock – London Design Festival: Day 2

Today has been a pretty crazy day, starting off with a visit to the doctor which overran, I dashed over to East London for a talk called ‘Made to Order: Systems Around Service‘ part of the TENT London / Super Brands series of Super Talks. The talk featured three designers debating the affects of customisation on society.

The talks were quite interesting, especially that of one panel member, Nick Marsh, Sidekick Studios. His company help their clients to treat projects like business startups and he showed a segment of his usual client presentation which shows the client that startups need hackers, sales men, and artists/designers – I was intrigued by this as I feel that I cross between the hacker and designer role here and it reinforced my belief that I will get a job when I graduate!

After the talk, I popped over to Old Street to meet a friend and then trekked up to London Hackspace for a bit. After this I raced across London to visit Designersblock as it had been packed last night when I visited.

I found some really interesting projects, including GLO by draigo which is a LED ring light formed of 240 LEDs threaded through recycled milk bottle tops in a wireframe form. As you can see the piece is very nice to look at and creates some interesting light patterns.

Also at the show was the piece you see at the top of this post, it is a light object called Sewell, designed by Studio Sudi. It is designed to be a cost effective alternative to traditional Chinese lanterns, these flap pack panels are assembled into the form above, and have been featured in several installations and make a were perfect for the darkened environment of this years show!

As you turn into another area there are more light objects to gaze into, unfortunately I missed the name of the project, and the designer’s name and they aren’t listed on the official website so you’ll just have to go down to the show if you are interested in these pieces.

Leaving the darker lighting themed area I discovered the results of a 24 hour design challenge by Hendzel + Hunt. The challenge stems from the Made in Peckham range of furniture and encourages sustainability, up-cycling and localism. What caught my eye on this stand was the rather eclectic mix of materials that resulted in a (presumed) working pinball table.

The final part of the show that caught my eye was on the way out, where a three way pingpong table was setup, an unusual signs for sure, but a quick ‘documentary-style’ photograph caught a serious looking smirk of a woman waiting for a friends to play with…

Designersblock is open daily from 10:00–19:00 until the 23rd September 2012, and is an annual event.

Bare Conductive Ink – London Design Festival: Day 1

This week is the London Design Festival and I have made plans for the whole week, there are loads of free events for the public. This evening I went along to some workshops run along side the private view of Designersblock.

The two workshops I attended this evening were Liquid Electronics by Bare Conductive and 3D Scanning by Matthew Plummer Fernandez.

Upon arrival I was distracted by another workshop which was taking place Superhero Badge Making by Lior Smith. In this workshop participants were encouraged to think of their super power, and then think of a name and design a badge. I decided my strength was programming/coding and came up with a couple  of names: codex; and binary boy.

The badge I designed with Lior featured binary in a rotated multicolour London Underground style roundel (unintentional) as it represents a number one over the top of a number zero.

On the next table Matt Johnson, Co-founder of Bare Conductive was running a badge making workshop too, the badges were made of corrugated card, and cleverly screen printed with the companies conductive ink, running across the badge is a area of no ink which separates the +ve and -ve sides. Then using a pen dispenser version of their product we glued the components in place and also completed the circuit in one action, the result is a very blinky badge!

HACK TIP: cutting the top surface with a knife on the far left by the tentacle allows the circuit to be turned off until a later date, and reconnected with more paint.

Do I detect a Split-flap Display?

On my way home today I noticed a hidden gem of Brighton Station, a old, very dusty old split-flap display nestled behind a newer information displays, along side it an electromagnetic flip segment clock. I am very excited that these are here, I know Southern aren’t likely to go running up there to take them down for me but I think it is worth a few calls, perhaps who knows there might be the rest of the units hiding in a cupboard somewhere. It can’t hurt to ask right?

*crosses fingers*

Day trip to Brighton – Brighton Digital Festival

I am sitting in the noisy bustling of a apple green Southern train winging its way back to London Victoria, having just left Brighton Station where I spent the day today. The main purpose of my trip to Brighton today was to attend the annual Mini Maker Faire held at the Corn Exchange minutes from the beach.

What a day! Today has had the perfect weather, warm, bright, but with a cool breeze to keep things dry and manageable. I started with an 08:38 train from Herne Hill to Victoria, followed by the 09:06 fast train to Brighton. Upon arrival I meandered through the Laines, until I stumbled upon my destination, along side the Brighton Mini Maker Faire was the Brighton Food Festival and Brighton Digital Festival (which runs all month).

This Maker Faire was by far the best of the three (to date) that I have attended. Amoung the attractions were opertunities to learn new skills through short workshops. Learning to solder is a common feature of almost every Maker Faire however this one was right at the heart of the venue, well staffed and full of kids and adults wanting to learn. Outside there was a 5 minute introduction to MIG welding, which had a go at and was praised for my technique, although I am not quite sure what I did, to me it looked like a big mess.

Back inside there were a multitude of workshops from FIMO modelling, to pop-up card making. As I always say about museums and events like this, they are great but why does everything have to be about kids, can there not be something for adults like me who enjoy learning, every single one of the timetabled workshops was targeted at the under 16 age group which is a shame as I think there could be workshops for adults too.

By lunch time I was staving and so descended on the Brighton Food Festival just outside for a spot of lunch. I opted for a gooey vanilla, milk and white chocolate cookie, with homemade mushroom risotto and cheese burger, a odd but delectable combination! With lunch over and the Maker Faire throuroughly explored I headed for Brighton Pier for a walk  and the arcade.

I have been to Brighton before and everytime I couldn’t resists a spending a pound or two in the arcade, it reminds me of visits to K’s arcade, near my Grandmother’s house in Swanage, Dorset when I was younger. I blasted dozens of 2ps into the coin pusher, placed bets on the electronic horse races and scored dozens of shots playing basket ball (quite a workout if thats your thing).

After lunch I was pretty nackered from going to bed late the night before and the heavy lunch, I wondered over to the Churchill Square shopping center to see if I could meet a former colleague of mine at one of the stores there, however I found out he had recently had a baby and wasn’t at work often, after that I took a bus to the Toy and Model Museum however the entry fee was £4 and I had blown my money, instead I went for another wonder and eventually found a small park (square) and had a nap in the shade on a bench for an hour.

Finally I went back to the Corn Exchange and watched a few inspirational talks by the likes of Matt Webb, BERG and others.

Today was a fantastic day, I really wish there was a London Mini Maker Faire, why do we have a capital city with the governments famed tech city (silicon roundabout) and loads of venues, and an Olympics, but yet there are next to no design, or maker related events to interest me?

This makes me think perhaps I should look at the requirements for running my own Mini Maker Faire for London, what do people think?

AAN: Arduino Area Network

Earlier this year I started to investigate how I might go about implementing the circuitry and communications between a computer and a micro controller for my long term split-flap display project which seems to have taken over my blog of late!

The setup I finally settled on was to use a simplex (single direction) serial protocol called RS-485, the ‘bigger brother’ of RS-232 used in almost every computer, commonly known as ‘the serial port‘. Using RS-485 would require some special circuitry which could convert to a signal that an Arduino could understand so I went about building a converter circuit which I had built up as a small PCB, my first proper PCB, designed by me alone, and it worked first time!

Next I worked on some software which is designed to receive six byte commands from a master control board allowing full control of all modules together or each module individually. The commands are structured as follows:

  • STX (Start of text)
    Denotes the beginning of a transmission, the ASCII byte 0x02.
  • Address
    A byte representing the intended receivers address. 0x00 addresses all units and 0x01–0xFF are receiver addresses, 255 unique addresses in total.
  • Command
    A byte representing the command:
    0x00 – Blank all units (Go to space character).
    0x01 – Control status LED on main board (0x00 = off, 0x01 = on).
    0x02 – Reset (Clear EEPROM lockout).
    0x03 – Store new address in EEPROM.
    0x04 – Go to flap.
  • Variable
    Depends on command byte.
  • Checksum
    This byte is the value of all other bytes XORed together, to help ensure the integrity of the received data… STX ^ Address ^ Command ^ Variable ^ ETX = Checksum
  • ETX (End of text)
    Denotes the end of a transmission, the ASCII byte 0x03
This command protocol is simple but effective for my needs, it has plenty of space for expansion of the command set and the one byte address range is plenty for a single ‘universe’ (DMX speak) of modules as the RS-485 chip I use has a theoretical maximum of 256 devices on one chain, and including the command module and 255 addresses that is reached using this protocol.
With the RS-485 board finally working I started looking at building my own basic Arduino, based off the open source schematics and Standalone Arduino I meticulously designed a schematic in EAGLE for my own Basic Arduino, and then laid out a PCB and set it for fabrication with OSH Park. This board came back last week and I assembled all three, to my amazement they all worked perfectly first time also!

The next thing to do was hook up both my boards as originally intended and use my command protocol to test the devices, even on just 9600 baud I am able to make the LEDs dance one after the other like a fair ground attraction using the computer as a controller.

You can see in this video the end result which I am very pleased with, to have all three work perfectly and do what I originally intended is absolutely amazing, and really gives me the confidence I need to push on and work on the sensing of flaps passing and homing of the deck then trying to combine the two schematics I have designed with the EasyDriver and a few tweaks to produce an all in one module controller board which hopefully will work as well as the previous two boards. I may look into using SMD parts too!

If you want the schematics I have posted them on GitHub:

Basic Arduino
RS-485 Adapter

Found images…

Today I tried out an application called Lost Photos which is free today only, it retrieves images from your email account that you may have lost.

I thought I would have a go at it and it found 2,500 photos! Rummaging through them many I have already posted up here, however I found the first set of images I was ever sent of a real unit, from a member of staff at Network Rail, Tom Chaffin, for some reason I wrote about my email to him, however never posted the images…