The news has been filled with hate and anger lately. My normal sources of information are overflowing with it, and it makes the world seem like a terrible place.

This weekend I went to the Verona Public Library on a tour. My friend was so proud of it and wanted to show it off. I’ve been a fan of the Dane county libraries, but what I saw at this one was inspirational. If you want to skip to the point of the post, it is this: libraries are where we should be putting our tax dollars and attention. The community building, the learning, the understanding, the savings: the Verona Public Library represents who the average American is and what they do and care about, and how deep down we’re all loving people who just want to live a decent life and pursue interests like raising children and fantasy football.

Everything about this library is finely tuned to be awesome. The building is gorgeous and spacious. On walking in there is a book return with an automatic sorting machine that reads the tag and deposits the book into a specific bin for shelving. I know this because it’s behind a huge glass window that shows it off. Also near the entrance is a section for Wisconsin authors, popular new releases, and books for sale. My friend showed me where she votes, and the table that had all the appropriate documents for filing taxes. There was a computer lab, a reading room with a fireplace and all the latest magazines and newspapers. We walked by a giant shelf full of holds for people to pick up the books they had reserved online. The movies section rivaled Netflix (maybe not in volume, but definitely in the number of quality films, and many that weren’t available to stream). For adults, this place had everything, and if they didn’t have it, you could use the inter-library loan program and get it delivered there.

Then we went in the kids section. It was chaos, but perfectly organized for it. A giant castle in the center had little nooks for reading, and play areas distributed around the giant room were loci for congregating kids, with seats around them for parents to rest and mingle. There were piles of toys and books. The books were organized by ages and categories, and so many of the categories were really powerful and important, like bodies, Jewish, military family, countries like Pakistan, Iran, Korea, and Vietnam, and parents were reading to their kids from seats all over.

THAT’s what this country is and should be about. Teaching our kids about other cultures, learning about ourselves and others, and sharing resources. The place was safe and full of people who cared and weren’t afraid of other people and who understood the value and benefits of the library.

As we left, we checked out at the kiosk, where we were able choose our language to start the process. We chose pirate, because how freaking awesome is it that pirate is an available language at a kiosk? I still get a little choked up thinking about the library. There was so much love in that place. So much intellect and opportunity and community. That’s who we are as people, not this crap on the news every day.

Nerd Nite January 2017

January 26, 2017 Posted by admin in Uncategorized - (Comments Off)

I had the honor of presenting at Nerd Nite Madison in January of 2017. Here’s my talk:

Tools of the Trade – Thermoforming

December 22, 2016 Posted by admin in Hackaday - (Comments Off)

Chances are good that you’ve already lost some blood to thermoforming, the plastics manufacturing process that turns a flat sheet of material into an unopenable clamshell package, tray inside a box, plastic cup, or leftover food container.  Besides being a source of unboxing danger, it’s actually a useful technique to have in your fabrication toolchest. In this issue of Tools of the Trade, we look at how thermoforming is used in products, and how you can hack it yourself.

The process is simple; take a sheet of plastic material, usually really thin stuff, but it can get as thick as 1/8″, heat it up so that it is soft and pliable, put it over a mold, convince it to take all the contours of the mold, let it cool, remove it from the mold, and then cut it out of the sheet. Needless to say, there will be details.

Read the full article at Hackaday: Tools of the Trade – Thermoforming

Tools of the Trade – Injection Molding

November 4, 2016 Posted by admin in Hackaday - (Comments Off)

Having finished the Tools of the Trade series on circuit board assembly, let’s look at some of the common methods for doing enclosures. First, and possibly the most common, is injection molding. This is the process of taking hot plastic, squirting it through a small hole and into a cavity, letting it cool, and then removing the hardened plastic formed in the shape of the cavity.

The machine itself has three major parts; the hopper, the screw, and the mold. The hopper is where the plastic pellets are dumped in. These pellets are tiny flecks of plastic, and if the product is to be colored there will be colorant pellets added at some ratio. The hopper will also usually have a dehumidifier attached to it to remove as much water from the pellets as possible. Water screws up the process because it vaporizes and creates little air bubbles.

Next the plastic flecks go into one end of the screw. The screw’s job is to turn slowly, forcing the plastic into ever smaller channels as it goes through a heating element, mixing the melted plastic with the colorant and getting consistent coloring, temperature, and ever increasing pressure. By the time the plastic is coming out the other end of the screw, and with the assistance of a hydraulic jack, it can be at hundreds of tons of pressure.

Finally, the plastic enters the mold, where it flows through channels into the empty cavity, and allowed to sit briefly to cool.  The mold then separates and ejector pins push the part out of the cavity.

Read the full article at Hackaday: Tools of the Trade – Injection Molding

Should You Oursource Manufacturing? A Handy Guide

October 24, 2016 Posted by admin in Hackaday - (Comments Off)

A lot of people assume that the product development cycle involves R&D, outsourcing to a Chinese manufacturer, and then selling the finished product. It’s almost ingrained in our heads that once a prototype has been developed, the next step involves a visa and airplane tickets. Here is a guide that will explore a few other options, and why outsourcing may not be appropriate for everyone.

First, let’s talk about goals. We’ll assume you’re not a large company, and that you don’t have a huge budget, and that you’re just getting started with your product and don’t have big volumes; a startup trying to sell a kit or breakout board, or a consumer electronics product. Your goals are the following:

  1. Validate your product in the market. Build a minimum viable product and get it in the hands of lots of users
  2. Get the most bang for your limited bucks. All money should go towards getting products out the door
  3. Reduce risk to your company so that any single failure doesn’t crater the whole operation and you can safely grow.

With that in mind, what are your options?

Read the full article at Hackaday: Should You Oursource Manufacturing? A Handy Guide

Using the FCC EAS for Fun and Profit

October 10, 2016 Posted by admin in Hackaday - (Comments Off)

When a consumer electronics device is sold in the US, especially if it has a wireless aspect, it must be tested for compliance with FCC regulations and the test results filed with the FCC (see preparing your product for FCC testing). These documents are then made available online for all to see in the Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) Laboratory Equipment Authorization System (EAS). In fact, it’s this publishing in this and other FCC databases that has led to many leaks about new product releases, some of which we’ve covered, and others we’ve been privileged enough to know about before the filings but whose breaking was forced when the documents were filed, like the Raspberry Pi 3. It turns out that there are a lot of useful things that can be accomplished by poring over FCC filings, and we’ll explore some of them.

Read the full article at Hackaday: Using the FCC EAS for Fun and Profit

Preparing Your Product for the FCC

September 19, 2016 Posted by admin in Hackaday - (Comments Off)

At some point you’ve decided that you’re going to sell your wireless product (or any product with a clock that operates above 8kHz) in the United States. Good luck! You’re going to have to go through the FCC to get listed on the FCC OET EAS (Office of Engineering and Technology, Equipment Authorization System). Well… maybe.

As with everything FCC related, it’s very complicated, there are TLAs and confusing terms everywhere, and it will take you a lot longer than you’d like to figure out what it means for you. Whether you suffer through this, breeze by without a hitch, or never plan to subject yourself to this process, the FCC dance is an entertaining story so let’s dive in!

Read the full article at Hackaday: Preparing Your Product for the FCC

Books You Should Read: Poorly Made In China

September 9, 2016 Posted by admin in Hackaday - (Comments Off)

This book is scary, and honestly I can’t decide if I should recommend it or not. It’s not a guide, it doesn’t offer solutions, and it’s full of so many cautionary tales and descriptions of tricks and scams that you will wonder how any business gets done in China at all. If you are looking for a reason not to manufacture in China, then this is the book for you.

The author is not involved in the electronics industry. Most of the book describes a single customer in the personal products field (soap, shampoo, lotions, creams, etc.). He does describe other industries, and says that in general most factories in any industry will try the same tricks, and confirms this with experiences from other similar people in his position as local intermediary for foreign importers.

Read the full article at Hackaday: Books You Should Read: Poorly Made In China

Tools of the Trade – Test and Programming

August 24, 2016 Posted by admin in Hackaday - (Comments Off)

In our final installment of Tools of the Trade (with respect to circuit board assembly), we’ll look at how the circuit board is tested and programmed. At this point in the process, the board has been fully assembled with both through hole and surface mount components, and it needs to be verified before shipping or putting it inside an enclosure. We may have already handled some of the verification step in an earlier episode on inspection of the board, but this step is testing the final PCB. Depending on scale, budget, and complexity, there are all kinds of ways to skin this cat.

Read the full article at Hackaday: Tools of the Trade – Test and Programming

Hackaday Dictionary: Mils and Inches and Meters (oh my)

August 5, 2016 Posted by admin in Hackaday - (Comments Off)

Measuring length is a pain, and it’s all the fault of Imperial measurements. Certain industries have standardized around either Imperial or metric, which means that working on projects across multiple industries generally leads to at least one conversion. For everyone outside the last bastion of Imperial units, here’s a primer on how we do it in crazy-land.

The basic unit of length measurement in Imperial units is the inch. twelve inches make up one foot, three feet make up one yard, and 5,280 feet (or 1,760 yards) make up a mile. Easy to remember, right?

Ironically, an inch is defined in metric as 25.4 millimeters. You can do the rest of the math for exact lengths, but in general, three feet is just shy of a meter, and a mile is about a kilometer and a half. Generally in Imperial you’ll see lots of mixed units, like a person’s height is 6’2″ (that’s shorthand for six feet, two inches.) But it’s not consistent, it’s English; the only consistency is that it’s always breaking its own rules. You wouldn’t say three yards, two feet, and six inches; you’d say 11 1/2 feet. If it was three yards, one foot, and six inches, though, you’d say 3 1/2 yards. There’s no good rule for this other than try to use nice fractions as often as you can.

Read the full article at Hackaday: Hackaday Dictionary: Mils and Inches and Meters (oh my)