Thinning the Hoard and Strategic Dealywhopping

I don’t know whether hoarding behavior is caused by a genetic predisposition or environmental factors.  In either case, I didn’t stand a chance because both of my parents are hoarders, though my mother will deny it.  I was born a hoarder.  I was raised a hoarder.  And I shall die a hoarder.  That said, I try to be as practical as possible about it.

Recently, my girlfriend and I found out that we are facing an impending move.  As much as it grates on my soul to part with my hard won treasures, it would be absurd to haul some of this stuff across country.  That means it’s time to thin the hoard.  It also means that there are a lot of projects that I’ll have to drop a deuce or get off of the pot with, because I won’t be keeping many of the parts I have so diligently saved.  If all goes well, the next couple of months will be an era of highly inspired and strategic dealywhopping combined with a much needed spartanization of my lair.

The first project I’ve decided to devote my full attention to is the Frankinstrument.  I’ve been working on, read avoiding, this thing for an embarrassingly long time, and it would feel really good to get it off the docket.  So today I pulled out all of the pieces to get started.  No sweat, right?


Wrong.  I remember what I was going to do with the body and the top.  I’ve got some braces I need to recut and some struts I have to make,  but what was I going to do with this block?

I must have blocked it.

I know that it was some part of a genius plan to mount my banjo rim to the back, but I can’t remember what that genius plan was.  After staring at the bits for a while, hoping to come to a familiar conclusion, I decided just to come up with a new and hopefully equally genius plan.  We’ll see how that goes.

Meet Dr. Scratchy: Clockwork man #2

After I put together Mr. Squiggles, I started examining the economics of 3d printing.  Owning a 3d printer gives you the ability to manufacture things on a small to medium scale, but there are certain things the technology is better suited for.  It’s not great for cranking out thousands of something, and the build area of most printers pretty much rules out large items.  What the 3d printer really excels at is making small batch or one off, specialized parts.  It’s perfect for prototypes, and it’s even more perfect for robots.  So, I decided to start building some robots.  The first robot I decided to have a go at was a polargraph.

An English cat named Sandy Noble has spent a huge amount of time and effort on this drawbot.  He’s got some excellent tutorials on building it, and has put together some impressive software to control it.  The mechanism is simple.  There are two stepper motors attached to some ball chain and a pen holding apparatus called a gondola.  The steppers change the lengths of the chains attached to the gondola and in doing so, slowly drag the pen along the desired path to create a picture.  The process is totally mesmerizing.

This picture looked better in my head.

It was easy to find most of the parts.  The only hitch is that the steppers Noble uses aren’t readily available in the states.  Being new to the world of electronics, and a headstrong idiot, I got some that pulled way too many amps, and would have fried my motorshield.  Thankfully, I had the sense to check the specs, and eventually located a set that would work.  I ended up buying these.  They work, but I think there are probably steppers out there that would be better suited to the task.

You'd best be steppin'.

I printed up some ball chain sprockets using this design from thingiverse.  I took the default sprocket to the hardware store.  They didn’t have a ball chain with the correct pitch and ball size, so I bought the smallest stuff they had and printed up new sprockets that fit.

Oddly enough, I didn’t like the gondola design that actually introduced me to the polargraph, so I designed and printed my own.  It’s a pretty simple affair, actually inspired by the gondola in this video.  I like it because I can quickly and easily pull the pen out of the gondola.  It also holds pens and markers of varying thickness.

Go! Go! Gondola!

Once I had all of the parts, I followed Noble’s instructable and stuck my polargraph to a scrap of MDF I had.  I guess I was feeling greedy, because I was not content with the drawing area of my little test polargraph.  Bigger is better right?

It's small but fierce.

I got a hold of an old cart made to display those pull down maps that you see in schools.  It was on its way to the dumpster, and thankfully I was there to save it.  The cart is a little over 6 feet tall, and about 4 feet wide.  I decided to mount a 4 foot by 4 foot board on it as my drawing surface.  I couldn’t fit a board that big in my bitchin’ grand am, so I joined together two boards to make the the same dimensions.  I did it the same way I joined the Frankenstrument’s top, except instead of tape, I used nylon straps.  That worked surprisingly well.  I glued some scraps perpendicular to the joint on the back to brace it.  I stuck a 2×4 shelf at the bottom on the front, so that the bot could double as an easel, in case I ever learn how to paint.

Pay no attention to the stuff behind the cart.

I'll never join you!

I hung the board on the cart with hose clamps and strapped some shelves to it the same way.  This also worked surprisingly well.

Just add electronics.

The crossbars on the cart are perfect for holding a 3 foot roll of paper, I couldn’t find paper that size locally, so I bought some 2 foot paper and rolled it over the top.  I slapped on some nylon straps to hold the paper taught, and I was ready to draw.

Gaze and be amazed at the monolithic Dr. Scratchy.  I doubt if he’s the biggest polargraph out there, but he’s certainly no wimp.

Hiii everybody! I'm Dr. Scratchy!

I get a huge kick out of running this machine.  It’s not really built for speed or precision drawing, though with some tweaking it can probably be done.  Operating it is really more of a zen exercise, sort of like watching a plant grow.  I really like to drop the speed way down and run it at night.  It makes soothing scratching noises as the pen slowly drags along, and I feel content knowing that it’s busy drawing incredible digital patterns as I sleep.

Dr. Scratchy enjoys mediterranian ferryboat rides.

And appreciates ancient architecture.

Meet Mr. Squiggles: Clockwork Man #1

As usual, I got sidetracked from the Mythical Musical Instrument project, this time by the world of 3d printing.

Ask any kid if they want a robot, and I guarantee they’ll say yes.  Even in ancient Greece, the god Hephaestus had a troop of clockwork men, which helped him out.  Last October I decided it was about damn time that I had a robot.  I had been reading about 3d printers for a while and found out about the reprap project, but eventually decided to cough up the dough and buy a Makerbot Thing-o-matic, rather than source all of those parts myself.

Makerbot has excellent build tutorials, so that’s not what this post is going to be.  I guess it’s somewhat of a review, but mostly just ramblings about how rad it is to have a robot that makes stuff for you.

Sticker shock.

After a few weeks of anticipation, my Makerbot actually arrived about two weeks early, which was exciting.  They require that you send it somewhere it can be signed for, so, I carried it around all day at work like an idiot.  I was actually afraid to open it before I got home and could begin assembly.  When I actually did open it, I suddenly realized what I was in for. Prior to this, I had virtually no experience with electronics.  I had to buy a soldering iron.  Luckily, there’s not actually that much in terms of electrical assembly.



I only have two main criticisms about the Thing-o-matic.  While I think that the electronics(though virtually inaccessible), and most of the mechanics are good, the actual structure is way more complicated than it needs to be.  There are scads of bolts on the blasted thing.  Hardware is expensive, so when I make something I’m always looking for ways to eliminate nuts, bolts, and screws when reasonable.  The design is great if the only tool you own is a laser-cutter, but I think it could be drastically simplified.  Which is one reason I like the looks of the Printrbot, though I am skeptical of how stable it would be.

My other criticism is a little more serious, and was a much greater disappointment for me.  One of the reasons I went with the Thing-o-matic was the automated build platform.  I had visions of my makerbot happily printing thing after thing all day while I was at work.  It turns out that the ABP is not reliable enough to install, but there are upgrades out there which I haven’t had time to fool with.

I’m still glad I went with the makerbot.  They’ve got a good user network that will help you fix and prevent problems that crop up.

Anyway, once you’ve got a 3d printer up and running, the first thing you should print is a filament holding apparatus to automatically feed plastic.  Ironically, my printer failed while making its spool holder because I neglected to feed it plastic.  Thankfully, enough of it printed that it is still functional.

The second thing you should print are x and y belt tensioners.  These will drastically improve your print quality, and make it so that you don’t have to take apart half of the machine to tweak your belt tension.

I can’t get over how awesome it is to have a machine that builds stuff for you.  You can literally build things while you sleep.  You can even build things while you build other things.  Going from idea to object happens in hours instead of days, and best of all, the machine can easily make copies… while you do something else.

Introducing Mr. Squiggles

As I explored Thingiverse, looking for interesting stuff to print, I ran across some parts for a curious machine called a polargraph.  Naturally, I had to build one.