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Hoses & cuffs

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Following a tutorial earlier this week with my personal tutor I am investigating alternatives to making my own hose and tool assemblies. His suggestion was that I shouldn’t stop at using just the replacement kit I bought from eSpares for Numatic (Henry) vacuum cleaners.

Personally I feel this product is the right solution as it ticks the boxes best in terms of being readily available, fairly generic and standardised and likely to be available for a long time as it fits most of their consumer products to date, it is also cheap because of this, and the off brand clone I bought is great quality. My tutor feels aesthetically it doesn’t match the standards of the rest of the unit and it doesn’t full fill the needs of users abroad who might not be able to obtain this product.

Either way I am going to prototype this, however will stop short of making my own tools as these are complex mechanisms and there is nothing to be gained from trying to make my own. I have previously stated a possible area for innovation by others would be to design new types of tools and share them back to the community, for different purposes from specific cleaning tasks to tools for workshop equipment like bandsaws, etc…

The standard hose used on most vacuum cleaners is either 32mm (1.25″) or 38mm (1.5″), some have less common dimensions. Based on this there is a decision to be made between the two, and realistically this could go either way when building your own vacuum cleaner.

The 32mm option seems the most likely candidate at first because it matches the setup I already have, it’s seemingly more common than the 38mm option, and the hose is smaller so therefore cheaper and lighter, it also matches the UK standard size for plumbing which would be a benefit.

The 38mm option however is less likely to clog from large debris and does still fit many tools, the pivotal point however on this option is that its the same type used in swimming pool cleaners which tend to be less proprietary about their spare parts which means buying odd parts like hose cuffs (ends) is relatively easy on sites such as eBay, because of this I am going to go down the route of using a 38mm hose, cuffs, and connectors, however I will be trying to use a 32mm pipe for the tools and pipes which means I will need to find a way to step down and maintain air pressure. This seems like the best hybrid, 38mm isn’t far off the 40mm standard used in UK plumbing, and in the USA is equivalent to a 1.5″ waste pipe.

Fixing Ethernet Cables

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The ethernet cable in my house was broken, its 20 meters long and the clip has (as usual) snapped making the cable fall out of our Wi-Fi router frequently meaning most of the devices loose connection until we push it back in.

As the cable was recently the subject of some tidy where it was tacked down with cable clips I didn’t really fancy having to pull them out and redo that job, admittedly I should have replaced the cable first but thats expensive even from cheap places.

The solution was to investigate the scary, expensive and complicated world of replacing the connector, or is it? I did some research looking for a way to replace the clip with a zip tie but the majority of commenters said replacing the cable wasn’t so difficult after all, so with that I did some research and found that you can buy an Ethernet crimper for about £3 delivered and the connectors are pretty cheap too.

In the end I bought a tool from Safekom on eBay, it comes with a cable stripper and a crimper which also has a cable cutter (watch out for this – it isn’t covered and can hurt you!) and a built in stripper, it is able to crimp RJ-11, RJ-12 and RJ-45 cables which means you can do some other cables no one ever uses!

I used some Farnell boots (728-640) and connectors (429-867) which worked perfectly.

I followed the instructions here, it was really easy to do and now I have fixed all the cables in my house that were broken and would happily buy a big reel of cable in future for any jobs, after just four goes I got really good at it and figured out tricks like stretching the twist out of the cables, trimming the ends and pushing the wires in really hard.

Give it a go, it’s cheaper than a new cable in many cases and it’s a good think to know!

Ideas

So the main purpose of this project it to test open source design, by making a vacuum cleaner and finding ways to make it open source to the community, one of the ways this will be open sourced is by providing a set of instructions which are flexible enough to work with the materials that I had to hand but also to allow people in different countries and even different continents to build it with their locally available materials…

When buying a 3D printer last year for the University for the Creative Arts I looked at a number of different options however eventually settled on the machine which was in my opinion the best but also was the most repairable. Repairability comes under a number of different guises, one would be the use of specialist parts, another perhaps the durability of fixings, bosses etc.. as these can wear out with frequent disassembly. The main one is however the accessibility of replacement parts.

Replacement parts are themselves subject to a number of levels of repairability for example how much of the unit is made with standardised parts, belts, fittings, and fixtures like screws, bolts, nuts, washers, etc… Do they use standard sizes, or are they bespoke? Another aspect of replacement parts is availability, its all good and well using a metric size nut but if it is of unusual dimensions it may not be readily available at the local hardware store and therefore is almost as difficult to repair as having an entirely non-standard part.

With this in mind I think it is important to consider this project as more than just a set of build instructions, but more like a template that allows someone to build it using any locally available materials, and with that in mind provide examples of each item required, tools etc, but not to limit the design to a monolithic final design that is iterated over.

In someways having a template design and an example build puts more emphasis on the maker to spend time researching the best parts in their local area, but imparts some of the knowledge over to them on how to build a vacuum cleaner, rather than giving instructions like IKEA: ‘insert 10mm M10 screw (type C) into slot 2A on panel D4’, you say, ‘cut a hole in the side panel of the waste bin slightly smaller than the exterior diameter of the hose connector, then sand larger until the connector just pushes through’, this then enables the users to follow generic instructions and utilise our native ability to interpolate the intermediate steps.

My tutor has today suggested that I need to rationalise decisions based on available items in other countries, and consider manufacturing options that allow the user to go from completely hand made, through to highly polished CNC manufacture. He also suggested having individuals go make their own following these instructions. At present I am still waiting for a motor to retrofit into the non-working prototype made late last month for the work-in-progress exhibition at RCA.

New shopping list

This is another work-in-progress blog post that will eventually probably be entirely rewritten in it’s final form, however for now, in addition to the other items these are new purchases:

 

Awesome utility apps…

With the invention of the Mac App Store (MAS) it seems that more and more useful little utility apps are becoming available, perhaps because they are becoming more discoverable or perhaps because there is now finally a market place for these apps that makes them worth writing?

Either way I have a number of apps running on my Mac now that I never actually see because they have no dock icon, no menu bar icon and only really do something in certain situations. In a way these apps are invisible extensions to my computers operating system, perhaps one day they will be built in, but until then I am really happy with paying a couple quid for a little utility app that makes my life easier.

Here are a few of those apps:

Cinch

cinchI’ve written about this app before back in 2009 and I still have it installed now, it’s just brilliant and I really don’t know how I would work without it. I liked it so much I have bought it twice (once before and once after the MAS release).

Cinch makes resizing windows easy, simply drag the window by it’s title bar to the top of the screen and it resizes to fill that screen, or drag it to the sides of the screen to have it fill that half of the screen. Recently I suggested to the developer that they mirror the other aspect of Windows 7 where resizing the window to the bottom or top makes it resize the height to the full height of the screen without changing the width, he seemed pretty interested so perhaps we will see an update?

DragonDrop

dragondropI haven’t written about this app before but it is really rather useful, the idea is it provides a drop zone for you when performing drag and drop operations, all you need do whilst dragging some files is shake the mouse and up pops a small black window for you to rest your cursor  After which you can open up the destination and then drag from the black window into your destination folder.

I find it especially useful as when copying an image from one window in Google Chrome or Mail into WordPress for upload the files don’t seem to be recognised by WordPress’s uploader, however after dropping it into the black box and dragging it again there is no such issue and it just works!

DragonDrop has the ugliest icon ever but thats okay because you never get to see it!

Caffeine

caffeineI don’t use this app as much as I once did but it still has a permanent place on my menubar just in case! Caffeine is simple and free, it allows you to keep your Mac from falling asleep, one click and it’s on, another and it’s off. The screen neither goes to sleep, screen saver nor dims when this mode is enabled so it is very useful on my MacBook Pro when on battery power and the screen keeps dimming.

CheatSheet

cheatsheetCheatSheet is a free app which I only wish I had owned when I first had a Mac. I am a keyboard nut, I love my hotkeys (shortcuts) and this app lays them all out right in front of you just by holding down the Command key for a few moments! It’s brilliant, and shows you all the different command options in one place, and even shows the alternate options when holding the alt or option key down. Unfortunately I don’t think it has a way of showing system wide shortcuts, and it is quite annoying when you are just being slow to type a hotkey as it opens up this big ol’window but for beginners it’s a must!

CommandQ

commandqCommandQ is one of my most recent discoveries, however it solves an age old problem I have with my hotkey madness! Sometimes I will confess that I do things too quickly and accidentally hit Command + Q rather than Command + W or will still be holding down the Command key when I type the next letter. This causes me to loose all my windows especially in Chrome. Now Chrome has an option built in to require you to hold down the shortcut for a few moments but it only works in Chrome so its annoying as you aren’t use to it.

This application allows you to set a period which you must hold the Command + Q keys down in order to quit, it also gives you a fancy screen showing you a progress bar animation until it quits.

PopClip

popclipThis application gives iOS style popovers when highlighting text, this is truly a genius application, although some of the UI design is a little questionable in the settings area. It has 50 extensions and growing which can add new features but basically allows you to perform a special operation on the highlighted text, the best is calling telephone numbers using Skype, something that I’ve wanted for ages and is the main reason I bought this app, but you can also use it to search Wikipedia, send tweets, and loads more. There is a free trial of PopClip on their website and it’s pretty cheap to buy on the MAS.

TextExpander

textexpanderNo list of utility apps is complete without TextExpander, and what sold me on it was actually the shortcut feature in iOS which is probably copied from TextExpander. It allows you to specify a few letters which when typed are expanded out to the full thing, for example if I type myt then it will expand it out to my telephone number, I have loads of them for my email address, username, telephone number, postcode, full name, home address, etc… I have others which type in server IP addresses, short terminal snippets and more.

The best bit about TextExpander is it tells you how useful it has been, on my iMac alone it claims to have saved me 6,240 characters of typing in the few months I have been using it, my laptop is at a similar number.

Clusters

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I said before that Caffeine was the oldest app I have in this list but Clusters is older, although it had a better name before, but I can’t find out what it was called. Clusters does one thing: enables the operating systems built in and totally transparent file compression technology.

By default your computer will compress among other things the Applications folder, this speeds up loading and reduces file sizes. Today computers are so fast that it’s quicker to decompress a file than wait for the uncompressed version to be loaded by the hard drive. The result is smaller files, faster loading.

This sounds ridiculously complex and prone to fault but your Mac already does this, it just doesn’t do it to everything on your computer, and really there is no reason not to, it won’t make it difficult to share files, read external drives on different computers or anything like that. Just like Spotlight and many other features in your Mac it just works!

Right now Clusters is saving me 134GB of storage space, with the majority of that (113GB) coming from my main hard drive. Every now and again I get a system notification saying ‘Clusters has saved you 1.34 GB of space.’ which is brilliant!

The other great thing about this app is that it just updates it’s self! I have never been asked to update ever and I am fairly sure it wasn’t on v1.6.3 when I first installed it. I have no idea when I first bought this app but I I think $12.95 (currently) is a fantastic price and I have had it for ages without paying extra.

Which motor?

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Today I finally got somewhere with eSpares regarding which motor unit is likely to last the ages and be available.

I spoke to several people and eventually they determined a Dyson would be best for similar reasons as I had already thought, because Dyson produce one model with many variations each year, while others produce loads of different variations of different models each which are different, also the suggested motor also used in a quite old model and a more recent one, now it’s unlikely that Dyson are going to go back to this in future as they have their fancy digital motor but they are not likely to discontinue it soon, and if they do, similar Dyson motors are available and it was originally made by a third party (YDK) so it is likely to be available else where or as a clone.

The motor is from the Dyson DC07 and Dyson DC14, the YDK YV-2200, eSpares number: ES966646 however it’s not cheap at £42.99 so I am hoping Dyson who previously sent me a vacuum cleaner will be able to help me out there!

Prototype analysis…

The prototype design actually worked really well and came together really well, there were issues I was aware in the design such as the nuts coming loose from vibration but the intention with that was always to glue them, however there were some other issues I will describe below:

Motor location
Issue: Motor housing is at the top making it top heavy, and difficult to empty the bin.
Solution: Move the motor to the bottom and have an external hose or channel that routes the suction the the top.

Motor housing
Issue: The motor housing isn’t safe because it could come open, and the motor housing isn’t strong enough to allow insertion of power cord.
Solution: Investigate alternative materials or solutions to housing the motor and power connections.

Threaded rods jamming on plywood
Issue:
Plywood layers jam up against the thread on the threaded rod.
Solution: Make the holes larger to allow more room for manoeuvre.

Plywood layers mark on impact
Issue: If plywood layers impact a wall or other object they leave a black mark and dent.
Solution: Sand off laser cutter charring to leave a clean finish that won’t mark and investigate using rubber bumpers along the perimeter edge of the plywood layers, consider making the internal layers slightly smaller to allow top and bottom layers to bump.

Non-working Vacuum Cleaner Prototype Parts

These are the items used to built the non-working prototype

The following is the laser cutting files, click for a PDF: Screen Shot 2013-02-05 at 12.27.10

Argos Value Vacuum Cleaner

 

 

Today I decided to take a look inside the Argos vacuum cleaner as it will be using almost entirely off the shelf parts, rather than proprietary parts like the Dyson.

After removing a few screws I finally got to the guts and found the vacuum cleaner had a relatively small motor, it is made by a Chinese company called ‘SIP Cinderson Motor Co., LTD’ however other than a lot of online brokerage sites selling their motors they don’t appear to have a website, which is a shame, but shows they are probably just a factory rather than a larger company like the one’s we saw before in the Dyson.

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Strangely considering the cost the product actually has a variable power supply inside, there is a plastic button on the outside which you can press in to turn on and off the motor, but it also rotates to adjust the speed of the motor, or in the case of this unit, how painful the sound is to your ears.

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The dial is attached to a variable potentiometer which drives a BTA12 Triac which is the circuitry that deals with adjusting the mains voltage. There are also a couple of capacitors (yellow & green) and a couple of resistors, however the overall design of the circuit is extremely simple, I don’t know if Dave Jones would like the design much!

 

Overall there isn’t much to the design of this unit, and the quality of the product is pretty poor so I wouldn’t really expect it to have a long usable life, I was hoping to hack the motor from this to use in the open source vacuum cleaner but I chickened out turning it as I didn’t think I would learn much from it being on and open as the circuitry and everything else is much the same.

Web Hosting: A lesson in poor customer service…

Today I made an emergency web hosting move, indeed if you are reading this post it’s on the new host already…

Why?
I needed a change made to my site and felt that completing the form as requested on their website dedicated to fixing the specific issue I had would have been reasonable, however they replied with a canned response essentially saying. No, either fix it yourself (not possible) or pay us money.

What?
Whilst people at work often remark at my patience with customers who are angry, frustrated or upset, I as a customer am not known for my patience in situations like this. I was upset at waiting what felt like two or three hours for a reply (turned out to be one hour and a half) only to get a canned email which ignored what I had actually asked.

So…
I emailed back pretty irate with one f-bomb, it wasn’t directed at them but used to convey my frustration and annoyance, they were actually lucky, I felt quite restrained!

Then…
This is where their customer service was launched off a cliff: I got a reply within 5 minutes solving the issue, great turn up for the books, however 20-odd-minutes later another email from ‘Jeff’ entitled:

‘Please cancel your service’

… WTF?

Thats right, or who ever originally responded to the email dobbed me into the profanity police at my web host (Jeff) who took great exception to my use of ‘colourful metaphors’ as Spock put it.

Jeff was very unhappy with me:

We prefer to maintain relationships of mutual respect and cooperation and this does not appear to be a case where that will be possible.

Along that same line, I want to make sure you understand that using profanity in correspondence with us violates our Terms & Conditions of Service.  If it happens again, the decision to change hosts will no longer be yours.  I will close your membership on the spot, you will not receive a refund, and any content you host with us will be lost.

At this point the customer service bubble dial went off the deep end, I found it quite funny, however secretly I was nervous. Can they really delete my site and steal my money? I suspected they didn’t care if it was legal but they probably had some T’s & C’s to cover it.

The net result was that Jeff got his way, I am about to cancel my service, I moved hosts and I am much happier knowing that the impending doom of my last decade of blogging isn’t over my head. That if my site has issues I have some level of free support & my new host is UK based.

Summary
Don’t use a web host with no free technical support. You might be pondering why I haven’t mentioned that not swearing at people would have avoided the situation and well the issue is that whilst I did swear, it was not aimed at anyone or anything, but purely to express frustration and anger. As a customer services person I have many times had people swear in my presence and taken no issue over this, indeed it is only when worn at that I request the customer desist and no threat is made against them.

Jeff, some how I doubt we will agree.