Monday, 24 March 2014

Peril-Sensitive Sunglasses for Hack a Day's Sci-Fi Contest

Hack a Day is hosting a Sci-Fi contest on their new projects site.  I decided to design and build Peril-Sensitive Sunglasses.

Peril-Sensitive Sunglasses have lenses that turn completely opaque at the first hint of trouble, thus preventing the wearer from seeing anything that might alarm him or her.  Douglas Adams' book The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy featured them.  Click that link to follow the project's progress!

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Wireless Hardware Buttons for a Mobile App - for $20

I tried out an idea: using bluetooth (with the Bluefruit EZ-key) to make some real-world hardware buttons wirelessly control an app on my phone using simple and off-the-shelf components.

I successfully made a wireless hardware interface to a custom phone app without learning a new language, without installing a development environment, without doing any sort of low-level configurations, and only spending about $20.  It was both easier and a bit more difficult than I expected, but in the end it worked just fine - albeit with a couple quirks.

What This Is

It's two buttons that wirelessly control a custom-made app on my phone, using a $20 part and no significant configuration or setup.

This was done because the app in question is a timer app to be used with a timed sports event.  The buttons can be abused and mashed, unlike the phone.  All the app logic (and the time display) is on the phone.  The interactive bits are the wireless (and rugged) arcade buttons.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Things Learned From My Kickstarter Campaign

I was recently (Nov 5, 2013) part of a panel on Crowdfunding organized by CAPS at the University of Alberta.  It made me reflect on some of the things I learned in the process of my own Kickstarter campaign (which was successful and shipped all rewards on time).  I have a few things to share with anyone interested in launching their own crowdfunding campaign.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Rules Flowchart for Zpocalypse Boardgame

I recently picked up Zpocalypse from Greenbrier Games and it took me longer to get my head around the rules than I thought it should.

I made up a series of flowcharts to help me out.  I took the approach of "make the rules flowchart I wished I had when I was trying to learn the game."

You can download my Zpocalypse Flowcharts v1.2 here.

A nicer version is hosted by and available for download direct from Greenbrier Games!  Many thanks to Jeff Gracia (who is responsible for Zpocalypse) for this!

Version History
v1.0 - Initial rough draft
v1.1 - First (very brief) release
v1.2 - Rule correction re: placement of fortifications, and clarification with search tokens wording.  (Oct 2013)
1.2 based version used as a supplement and hosted by Greenbrier Games. (Nov 2013) 

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Kickstarter Launched for Designer Art Clocks

UPDATE: Our funding was successful! (Oct 10, 2013)
UPDATE: And all rewards shipped! (Dec 4, 2013)

The Designer Clocks mentioned in this post launched a Kickstarter campaign that is going to deliver in time for Christmas 2013!

At this writing, the campaign is funded and successful with less than 24 hours to go (ends Oct 10, 2013.)

The backer rewards include signed, limited edition clocks as well as clocks in kit format and will be ready for Christmas!  If you'd like to contribute and get one, do so quickly!

After the Kickstarter campaign is over, the clocks will be available for ordering from their own website at .

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Prototyping and Making Designer Art Clocks: "When you have something working, you are 15% done and the fun part is over."

UPDATE: My brother (the designer) and I have launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to do a production run of these clocks!
UPDATE: It was not only successful, but all rewards successfully shipped on time!

There is also a website for them:

My brother designed this unique and interesting clock.  The seemingly abstract shapes become well-defined numbers as time passes.  For example, you can see the "4" above.

The design of the clock reflects the idea of time as moments.  Each number is clearly defined only once per hour - and as it becomes clear it immediately begins to drift out of definition.  Time consists of a series of moments that are themselves only meaningful in the right context

Time lapse showing about 2 to 4 o'clock.
No motion is visible to the naked eye in real time.

Interest in the clocks started almost as soon as the first one was made.  However, an efficient way to build them was still lacking.  That's where I came in.

First Production Run: A Nightmare

The first small production run was done with laser-cut acrylic pieces and hand-glued symbols and lines.  It was a nightmare.  Fingerprints, difficulties aligning things, glue where glue shouldn't go, bottlenecks in time due to having to glue something then set it aside (in a place that won't get dust!) while it cured before you could work on it again, and so on.  It was a long, manual process that was full of risk - one screwup in the entire long process meant a clock was ruined.  A nightmare, but also a learning experience.

Many prototypes came afterwards to refine the building and assembly process.  It's a good example of the difference between functional prototypes (how something will work) versus manufacturing prototypes (how something will be made).   So much can go wrong at so many points!  An otherwise perfect process can be unusable because a smudge or nick or marring is unavoidable side effect, so it's back to the drawing board.

Amanda Wozniak really knew what she was talking about when she said "When you have something working, you are 15% done and the fun part is over."

But finally I have a workable process with only fine-tuning left to do.  There are no more unknowns, just final details!

For the dial (the clock's "face") I use a plastic that has two layers - black on top of white.  The black is worn away by a laser (in a process very much like laser eye surgery) to expose white in select areas only.  This leaves a sharp, clearly defined pattern that looks great.  But that is only part of it - the process of keeping it clean during manufacture is the rest of the work!  All that black dust wants to go somewhere.  And it is very attracted to the freshly-exposed pure white, which stains it.  Details, details, details...  Sooner or later, everything will matter.

Making more than one?  Your design will change.

Making just one of something isn't too much trouble.  But to better appreciate the things that matter when you get into manufacturing, try making only ten of something and you'll be surprised at the kinds of bottlenecks that exist.  Just keep a pen and paper handy when you do, because you'll wind up with a heck of a "to-do" list for refining your design!

September 10, 2013: My brother and I launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the first production run of these clocks.  Available only on Kickstarter, we are offering assemble-it-yourself KIT versions of the clocks for those of your with DIY spirit!
December 4, 2013: All rewards for our successful campaign shipped on time!  We aimed to be done before Christmas, and - thanks to careful planning and experience - we were!

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

A Project Inspired by a Nearly 30-year-old Movie -or- ALIENS live-fire targets

Almost 30 years ago I watched Aliens on a borrowed dub of a VHS cassette.  I was just a kid.

It was influential to say the least.  I was so rattled I don't think I slept for a week afterwards!  An influence it had on me was that the main character Ellen Ripley was a total hero.  Ripley actively and consistently chooses action over inaction.  But most of all, she was brave.  Not because she wasn't scared - but because she took action despite being scared.

This project doesn't have anything to do with Ripley as a role model, but it has everything to do with the lasting influence of a nearly 30 year old sci-fi movie.  Also it means that I'm apparently still just a kid - I just have access to more expensive toys for imagination time.

Let's go through the things and equipment that were needed to indulge me: