Unknown Domain

A visit to Brighton…

It was less than a year ago since I first visited Brighton, and noticed it's hidden split-flap display. A few weeks later I managed to get in touch with someone from Southern and found out that there were plans to remove it.

Now just a few months later I have been to visit the Network South East Society's depot where they are now storing the display from Brighton station, hidden under this unassuming blue tarp...

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The unit is really old, and is quite beaten up, originally manufactured by Krone Technique UK, which appears to have become ADC KRONE, until it was recently purchased by TE Connectivity.

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The unit appears to be pretty simplistic in it's design, with no position feedback, and no real control at the unit level, this relied on a rack of equipment which has been lost, probably very similar to that, which I saw images of 4 years ago.

The units have very simplistic circuitry and what looks like a DC motor, as apposed to a stepper, although this isn't clear.

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Despite it's age and condition, it looks amazing, and you can almost hear the chattering... 

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These units are clearly produced from an aluminium construction which has been painted black and then coated with the appropriate markings. It is also easy to see where some have been repainted.

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There are a number of units severely damaged unfortunately.

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Each flap has multiple anchor points, into a plastic wheel on a central shaft...

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The design is very modular, each unit can be pulled from the rack to enable repair, and the entire rack is able to rotate allowing it to be accessed from the gantry behind, rather than requiring a dedicated scaffold unit.

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Every so often there is a chip like this, it might be for distributing commands from the main controller.

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Interactive Browser

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Recently I have been working on project to create an interactive plinth which displays student work on the screen of a computer when you scan the relevant QR Code, you can then navigate through the work using a slider at the front.

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The project used a number of pieces of bespoke software, and we had to solve many problems. Not least the biggest of all. Trying to figure out how to print 250 business cards for each student, cheaply, quickly, and at a reasonable price that we could still afford the Private View drinks was difficult. I called all of the regulars, Moo, Printed.com, Stress Free Print and others, but they kept coming back with quotes over £1,000.00!

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One company, came back with a crazy price which was so hard to believe that I had to call them and ask, three times, before I was convinced! Well under £300 for 10,0000 business cards, without any special offers applied, astonishing!

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Despite some initial miscommunication everything went smoothly, they even delivered extra cards to ensure there weren't any damaged by the guillotine. They were also boxed in packs of about 100-150 and shipped rapidly to our post room.

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The cards were designed in InDesign and utilised the QR Code plugin by Jongware on the Adobe Community. Then we had to find a way to display them, so we laser cut 40 trays which slotted into a specially laser cut light box which gave a real glowing feeling to the event, excuse the pun!

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Images thanks to Rose Thomas and Kitty Wong.

 

Vending Machines: Legalised theft?

I, like most people, generally don't think much of vending machines, they are just not on my radar of interests, indeed why would they be? Recently however I have had a number of 'run-ins' with faulty vending machines I am starting to think that they are a scam.

As everyone knows when you buy something from a vending machine you get charged an extortionate price for the convenience of the 24x7 access, but you accept that because it is usually all there is and it's usually a one off treat, however when that very same machine then fails to vend and you've no more money then you just think you've been done, and probably like most write it off as back luck.

If you are a consumer who likes to stand up for yourself like me you've probably noticed the sign on the machine, you've probably telling you who to contact to get your money back, and you'd expect them to be willing to provide cash, or check as a refund. This is where you'd be mistaken. I don't have any qualms about naming and shaming Selecta Vending, Basingstoke as one my least favourite companies, having placed numerous request for refunds due to failed attempts to vend products from their machines at Royal College of Art and as a regular train passenger. Selecta's policy and attitude towards customer service is diabolical.

What's the problem?

1. Premium Rate Phone Number – The number provided to call them is a premium rate phone number 0844 7360 204, what's more they don't even have a record on Say No To 0870.

2. No cash refunds under £10 – They flat out refuse to refund customers unless it's over £10, instead offering to send postage stamps to the value.

3. Staff Attitude – When you ask them if they think this is acceptable they are quite happy to fob you off and say 'most people accept this', and no wonder, there isn't another choice, either take the stamps of you're S.O.L.

4. Designed to fail – Most modern vending machines are equipped with a sensor that detects when the product falls through to the collection bin, however despite the fact Selecta is a big company with many vending machines across the rail network and beyond, I have yet to see one machine which has a sensor, easily recognisable by the reflective pad near the collection bin.

I personally feel that Selecta, and no doubt others in this industry are deliberately taking advantage of the fact that their machines fail to vend by not upgrading their machines with vend sensors to give refunds if the product doesn't vend, by only providing a premium rate number to call for a refund that is only open office hours, and by not offering cash refunds and staff that take a long time to enter all the details and deal with the issue further increasing the phone bill.

I for one am sick of Selecta and I think they need to do a better job of improving their vending machine stock to ensure it isn't breaking all the time, install sensors to make sure customers get their products, and switch to an 03 number and provide a free website to make your claim. They should also offer cash refunds to customers or perhaps they could have a coupon that can be accepted by the vending machine.

Either way, I think' I will be writing to trading standards and watch dog about this as I am kinda sick of it now, it's certainly a case of "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." I should learn the lesson not to use the machines, but they should treat customer with respect and they need someone to expose the scam that is going on here.

Maker Faire UK 2013

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Today saw the return of the UK's only Maker Faire, started several years ago it is held in Newcastle (of all places) at the Centre for Life, which is conveniently located next to the station. The event didn't run last year, however it was my first Maker Faire experience in 2011 and boy has it changed!

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Maker Faire UK is big this year, with over 100 Makers taking part, and a clearly bigger crowd attending despite the poor weather this morning everything about MFUK is big! A noticeable change was the number of kids, and the amount of kids participating. There was also a significant interest by the public in Raspberry Pi and 3D printing (who'd of guessed it?).

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The main purpose of todays visit was a bit of fun, however it also acted as acted useful preparation for me in the run up to Elephant & Castle Mini Maker Faire on Saturday, 6th July. One of the things I did was do the rounds to meet sponsors and makers who are taking part in Elephant & Castle Mini Maker Faire and try to encourage a few more late applications.

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Among the exhibitors was Sarah Blood an artist who works with glass and halogens to produce amazing light sculptures. What really brought her work to life was the mixture of exhibited work, demonstrations of glass bending and hands on opportunities for the brave.

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One of the great things about the Maker community is it's quite close nit, I managed to bump into Bart from Shapeways who was over in the UK to man their booth, they'll be at Elephant & Castle Mini Maker Faire in July and so it was great to be able to put a name to a face and see some of the brilliant 3D printing they offer. One piece was a silver bracelet forged from a 3D printed wax model which was then hand polished. I didn't take a picture but the price? £600! Certainly not for the faint hearted, or short of cash, but fantastic none the less.

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Craft was well represented at the Maker Faire, however I think a little less trafficked than some of the other areas like 3D printing, I bought a kit for my housemates girl friend which will allow her to do some felting, the nice lady who ran the booth even gave me some net curtain material and bubble wrap to do it with as it was intended as a table top workshop.

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One of the interesting things about the Maker Faire is the way in which you move through themes, the craft zone blended strangely through to the 3D printing services offered by Shapeways and the Computer History Museum via a knitting machine (for lack of a better explanation). It seemed to have a pattern encoded into it and process was still manual requiring you to run the shuttle back and forth like a loom with your hand.

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One stall holder that was much frequented, Pimoroni makers of PiBow a Raspberry Pi case made from differing layers of laser cut multi-coloured acrylic, was seemingly overwhelmed with interest in their products, opting to offer a great product at a reasonable price. After the doors closed they noted that they had rather forgotten to display their name anywhere on the booth or indeed a web address. Luckily I recognised their logo and promptly extended an invite to Elephant & Castle Mini Maker Faire!

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Unfortunately because I was also there to help with the learn to solder area I didn't manage to make it over to the LHS Bikeshed project which is a project by members of London Hackspace. The LHS Bikeshed is a multi-person space simulator which they have developed over a number of months whilst supporting the move of the London Hackspace. They will be featuring at Elephant & Castle Mini Maker Faire and promise me that the setup should be fully automated by that time and much improved.

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It wouldn't be Maker Faire UK without the fire-breathing robotic dragon creature outside.

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The UK Hackspace Foundation made it's first appearance at a Maker Faire today, here you can see their map of all the documented hackspaces in the UK, there were almost certainly others that were missing, however interestingly Brixton Tinkerspace, South London's new hackspace sat proudly between Build Brighton and London Hackspace which is surely a good sign for the future of this fledgling hackspace I am helping to create.

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A day trip to Newcastle isn't the first choice most people consider when deciding to come to Maker Faire UK, but it certainly results in a really enjoyable and action packed day, if a little tiring. Coming this year with my various projects, Elephant & Castle Mini Maker Faire, Brixton Tinkerspace and Open Source Vacuum Cleaner, to talk to people about mean't there was hardly anyone who I spoke to that I couldn't engage with. I am really enjoying being a part of the UK's Maker community, it is really becoming something to behold!

Until next year, farewell Newcastle...

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Slides from my exam…

Final exam from Tom Lynch

Open Source Vacuum Cleaner

The initial reaction from presenting the Open Source Vacuum Cleaner on Adafruit's Show and Tell has been great, they're said some wonderful things...

Ask An Engineer

"The Open Source Vacuum Cleaner is now one of my favourite projects, it happened that fast!"

"It's one of those, why didn't we think of that, of course!"

"The Open Source Vacuum Cleaner is some thing that would be useful for every hackerspace."

"This is a really, really good idea."

Show and Tell

"I want your Open Source Vacuum Cleaner more than the next Dyson that comes out."

0870 App

A long time ago I designed an icon for the Say No To 0870 website, however it was never used so when I saw there was an 0870 app I contacted the developer and offered the use of it as the then icon was mutt-ly to say the least.

Recently he mentioned he was doing an update so I thought it time to do a little refresh of the icon...

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ReplicatorG Icon

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It might be a project that has begun to reach its end but the ReplicatorG icon has long cluttered by Dock with it's uglyness, no longer. I refuse!

I started by drawing the icon the to be vector and symmetrical as the arrows were wonky...

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Then I tried playing with the colour...

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I then took it further and made it look a little bit more modern...

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Unfortunately I am not sure it will go far, but I am push a github change and MakerBot are going to pull it back down so other repos that fork it could update eventually, Ultimaker now have Cura so it's not likely to go far.

Still it looks better:

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Mark II – Parts

The following is a list of the parts used in the Mark II vacuum cleaner, unfortunately it shows that it was impossible to buy everything from one place in one go because we didn't have a strong plan, however it almost all was aquired from the Farnborough industrial estate where there is a Maplin, B&Q, Wickes, and ScrewFix. The Travis Perkins we visited was only because we wanted to research alternative bins before spending money on a builders bucket, but they had them at B&Q, Wickes, and Screwfix so we could have choosen one of thier products.

Hands on with a split-flap display…

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I have been away for a few days last week at the Resonate new media festival in Belgrade, Serbia. Whilst I was there I was extremely excited to discover an old Solari split-flap display in rather worse for wear condition, little did I know at the time that in the arrivals area that I was in was one broken old unit, mean while over in departures a cornucopia of units had been installed (a least 5 that I counted).

 

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As I mentioned before they were clearly labeled as Solari units, which is interesting as I have never previously seen any externally branded units.

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As I was saying they are all in a pretty awful state, the blank plate had fallen off between one section and another revealing some internal components. I think these are relays on a board, not sure what for, however on the right you clearly can see the metal gearing.

The left unit shows a simple trapezoid shape like the plastic Krone units seen before, while the right one is clearly deeper indicating that each unit may have a longer left side to allow for a PCB or motor.

You can also see that the gears aren't encased but just sit on the outside, this is something I have looked at before but always seemed complex.

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Interestingly where some of the flaps have fallen out you can see the sprockets are actually also trapezoid shaped.

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I really, really wanted to steal one of these flaps, but didn't, however they are by the feel (yes I did touch) only 500 micron, like the flaps used by flipbookit and are similarly probably Polypropylene from the appearance and finish. They were definitely screen printed and die cut however, and the shape exactly matched what I was  using!

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This is the only picture I took of the whole unit, this one from the arrivals area was on but broken, just clicking occasionally but not moving. You can tell good things were happening, its 13:37.

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The units in the departures area were in varying stages of disrepair, however this one was clearly working as it showed our flight.

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So beautiful...

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