Ike’s Upgrades

Arduino Mega Board Mounted on Ikes Back

Arduino Mega Board Mounted on Ike's Back

I’ve been working on Ike, my toy robot project for awhile now, and I’ve made some serious progress. What once started as a concept is starting to really show itself as a reality. The Arduino board I once imagined controlling this bot is now securely fastened to his back. All of the pins that supply output and input to drive this contraption have been mapped, and the real work of putting him back together is beginning.

Motor Control and Wire Distribution Board

Motor Control and Wire Distribution Board

The Arduino board itself is quite impressive, but it’s not a robot control solution in it’s self. The board still requires the help of some additional circuits, and additional power. The motors that drive Ike’s movements use 9 Volts, and both wires need current at different times. To solve this dilemma, I’ve added H-Bridges, that convert the Arduino’s output into 9 Volts on the required wire. This allows the motors to more forward or back as needed.

Below the H-Bridge cluster is a series of connectors and resistors which will enable some of Ike’s sensors, and under that,  the row of resistors is an area dedicated to powering Ike’s new multi-colored eyes. He originally had only blue eyes, but now his eyes can range wildly from blue to red to white. The LEDs are also capable of green, but Ike’s visor filters most of this light out, and it appears a dull gray instead.

New Wires on Ike's Foot

New Wires on Ike's Foot

In addition to Ike’s new eyes, and control boards, I’m re-wiring every component. In place of the thin wires that didn’t last, I’m putting some seriously thick wire where needed. I found this ridiculously thick speaker wire which was meant to power those thumping stereos in the younger generation’s cars. It should definitely do the trick, and last for quite a while as well.

Testing the Multi-color LED upgrade

Testing the Multi-color LED upgrade

Here’s an exploded view of sorts, which shows how the two boards will be stacked. The Arduino board will be about an inch below the new motor control board. The second board will be integrated into Ike’s exoskeleton. I’ve had to cut a big chunk out of his backs plastic to mount this board.

I’ve been considering adding a third Raspberry PI board on top of the Motor control board…… but, I better finish this stage first. If I do add this third board, Ike won’t require a USB connection, and I should be able to add in Voice Recognition.

The Rats Nest

The Rats Nest

All in all, I’ve made a lot of progress. This robot is more then just a toy, it’s a method to force myself to learn something I’ve always wanted to know: How to wire electronics. I’ve long ago mastered the methodology of computers, but electronics has always eluded me. It was always something I was planning to do in the future.

The future is now, and I’ve learned far more then I thought I would from this project.  When I finished soldering Ike’s motor control board, I realized I could use the same methods modified just a bit to build robots that build walls…. Just as a car factory uses robots to build cars.

Arduino Projects, Ike , , , ,

Pruning and Soldering

Vines Before Pruning

Vines Before Pruning

The last few days have been bitterly cold, but before that, our winter was fairly warm. Since it has been cold enough to put the plants into a winter slumber, I’ve been pruning them on warm days. The grape vine above needed a great deal of care, as I didn’t prune it back as much last year as I should have. This year, I’ve decided to do it right.

Vines After Pruning

Vines After Pruning

I started at the roots of the plants, and followed the vines as they split. I cut off most of the runners, except for the more desirable ones. Most of the vines would double back over themselves, climb up the shed nearby, or grow back towards the ground.  These vines were cut, and only the vines that grew towards the other end of the trellis were left. I plan to cut them back even more next year, but first I want to make sure I get the outcome I’m looking for, before I turn this trellis into a holder for only four vines.

Ike's New Motor Control Board

Ike's New Motor Control Board

At night, when the sun is no longer available to help with pruning, I’ve been pruning wires. It all feels like the same activity anymore, especially when we just finished re-wiring the network at work. We ran 7000 feet of cabling, and with pruning grape vines, and cutting wires, I’ve spent a lot of time chasing ends.

The board shown above is Ike’s motor control board (Ike is a robot project I’ve been working on). I got started before reading the directions, and the board itself is upside down. oops. The circuits still function, but they aren’t quite as neat as they should be.

The black boxes will convert signals from an Arduino board (not shown) into 9 volt outputs to drive Ike’s motors.

Ike's Motor Control Board Soldered

Ike's Motor Control Board Soldered

Here’s the same board after a good deal of time was spent cutting and soldering wires. I’ve used blue stickers to number each of the wires. The short wires will connect to the Arduino board, and the long wires will connect to Ike’s motors and eyes.

Ike's Motor Control Board Wired to Arduino For Testing

Ike's Motor Control Board Wired to Arduino For Testing

I then used some rigid wire to connect the Arduino board to the top of the Motor control board. The wire will work for testing purposes, but I will need to find a more long term solution to mount both of these boards to Ike’s back.

The Arduino board has a USB connector which I can use to load permanent instructions. The instructions are stored on the board after it is disconnected.

I now need to do some testing to make sure all of the wires are connected properly, and find a better power source.

Ike's Arduino Code

Ike's Arduino Code

Here’s some very basic Arduino code for testing Ike’s walking capabilities.  I plan to write the more basic mechanical functions as code that will be stored on the Arduino board, and then write a more complicated AI/personality program that will drive the basic functions.

It is a very long term project indeed…

Grapes, Ike, Pruning , , ,

Project “Ike”

Ike as He Should Be

Ike as He Should Be

I recently purchased a toy robot from a co-worker. The robot is a RoboSapien V2, produced by Wowwee, but this robot was worn-out, and I purchased him knowing that he would need some serious re-wiring. You can see what he was originally intended to do here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VCGp2EfmnS0  Rick named him “Ike” after “Isaac Asimov”, a famous sci-fi writer, and I thought it was fitting, so I’ve decided he should keep the name.

Ike's Wiring

Ike's Wiring

I took Ike apart, knowing that his wiring had frayed over time. My intention was to repair the wires with some electrical tape, and put him back together. I wasn’t prepared for the number of wires which needed work, and how tedious and time consuming the work would be. After covering many of the wires with electrical tape, I decided the problem needed a new solution.

I decided to re-purpose this well thought out design into a whole new robot, not one which is simply re-wired, but rather re-constructed. I took the robot completely apart and began surveying what could be re-used, and what I would need to replace. The motors all seem to work, as I’ve tested a few of them, and his joints and other mechanical parts all seem functional. What he really needs is a new brain.

Ike - DeConstructed

Ike - DeConstructed

I hope to replace his circuit board with an Arduino, or similar board, which I can connect to a computer. What was once a plan of simple re-wiring has morphed into a project for a full fledged computer nerd, aka  me.

I would like to find a connection method that uses my current understanding of perl, rather then learning a new language. If I can do that, then I’m sure I can give Ike some real personality; even connecting him to the internet and giving him the ability to grow over time.

Too bad his hands aren’t more garden friendly, or I could strap a camera to his back and teach him how to pull weeds out of the garden !

Ike - Up Close

Ike - Up Close

So my hope is that I can write all new computer code to get him moving, as well as build the circuits to connect the Arduino board to his motors and sensors. Needless to say, this may be a long term project, and right now all I have is a box of parts, and a plan.

Computers & Electronics, Ike , , , ,

Restoring Antique Furniture

X Shaped Bar - Finally Finished

X Shaped Bar - Finally Finished

I’ve been working on an X shaped bar for several months now. The whole project was an evolution of ideas, starting with the desire for a more open space. I wanted to rip out the wall between my kitchen and my living room, and replace the structural support the wall provided with a central pillar. After kicking around some ideas about the best way to implement the idea, I settled on an X shape to hold the weight of the roof, with a hollowed out top portion that would become my new kitchen table. What a great way to save space by combining a wall and a table !

The project has taken quite a bit of motivation to complete, but now that I’ve finished all of the wiring, lighting, flooring, trim and bar stools, it’s time to move onto new projects.

Antique Bench Before

Antique Bench Before

My family has had this white bench as far back into my memory as I can dig. It used to be a brilliant white, with a fresh looking blue cover, rounded out with small studs to hold the blue fabric in place. The white paint faded long ago, and with chipping it looked pretty worn out. The fabric too succumbed to the passing of time, and the bench found itself in storage, left to the first passerby who would give it a home. So one day I did just that and took it home.

It didn’t take long for the bench to become a sticking point in my concentration. Like so many other things, I became obsessed with how it could be improved. I decided that this bench would look so much crisper if the wood grain was exposed, so I began collecting the tools needed to refresh it.

Citristrip

Citristrip

I purchased some Citristrip stripping gel. Gel works well for furniture that isn’t flat, and will stick to surfaces rather then running off as other stripping fluids would. I also purchased a plastic stripping tool, some medium grade steel wool, and a small bottle of Mineral Spirits.

Bench During Stripping - First Application

Bench During Stripping - First Application

The first step is to move the piece to a well ventilated area, I choose my porch. Then apply the stripping gel with a paint brush and find something else to do for 30 minutes to 24 hours. I applied the gel at night after work, and stripped it the next night. The temperature was just above freezing at the time, making work uncomfortable, but not impossible.

Bench During Stripping - Second Application

Bench During Stripping - Second Application

It took a few applications of the stripping gel to remove all of the paint. Once I saw the wood grain, I knew I was on the right path. To clean the finer detailed areas, I used the steel wool to remove the gel after it had sat for 24 hours. A tooth brush also works wonders, and I bet a piece of string would really work well, although I didn’t have any to try out.

Bench Finished

Bench Finished

After stripping off all of the paint, I took all of the pieces apart and sanded them down to 200 grit sandpaper, with 800 grit for the areas that would get the most attention. A quick birch stain brought out the grain, and a new leather seat surface rounded out the project.

Smoking Stand - Slightly Used, and Very Old !

Smoking Stand - Slightly Used, and Very Old !

Once my sister saw what I did to the bench, she gave me this smoking stand that I helped my father restore about 20 years ago. When we were finished long ago it was quite a beauty, but it fell into disrepair once again.

I again used Citristrip to remove the previous stain and polyurethane, but some of the stain wouldn’t come out of the wood grain, so I tried something new, and showered the stand with water and bleach. The bleach helped even out the colors in the wood, and the hot water helped remove the glue holding the pieces together.

Smoking Stand - Re-purposed as a small end table.

Smoking Stand - Re-purposed as a small end table.

Unfortunately, the top ring under the ashtray had been damaged quite a bit, and It would need a newly fashioned ring to be created. I opted for a different approach. Since I quit smoking some years ago, I thought it pointless to have a smoking stand, so I left the ashtray portion off, and instead created a nice end table. Birch Stain worked well after the bleach was used, and the stand looks beautiful once again.

Furniture, How To's, Tools , ,

Building Bar Stools for My X

An Old Chair - The Inspiration

An Old Chair - The Inspiration

My brother had a kitchen table and four chairs that he no longer wanted, and since I liked the pattern in the backs, I took them home and stored them in my shed. They were very unique, with a flower pattern, but they were also quite worn out. I couldn’t throw them out, but I also had no use for an extra table and chairs until I envisioned them next to my X; My X shaped bar that is, the project that I’ve been busting my tail on all summer long.

After thinking about how I could recycle the design far too much, I finally caved in to my design side and found a use for the decorated backs as part of new bar stools.

Chair Padding Covered with Leather

Chair Padding Covered with Leather

I started my project by removing the seat portion of the chair and covering it with leather from a long worn out leather coat. The coat had seen better days long ago, but it contained enough good material to cover the seat.  I stretched the material tight, and used small tacks to secure it.

Cutting the Legs with a Radial Arm Saw and a Jig

Cutting the Legs with a Radial Arm Saw and a Jig

I ran into some trouble when I was cutting the back legs. The first problem was the angle I had chosen. The angle was about 20 Degrees, and my Radial Arm Saw will only cut down to a 45 Degree angle, so I had to use a jig to accommodate the cut. The second problem I had related to the way in which the blade cuts unevenly as the blade is moved through the wood. I worked through this problem by placing the board on an angle to the base, which made the cut even.

The Difficult Parts

The Difficult Parts

After cutting the legs, I used a hack saw to separate the flower design from the rest of the metal chair. A little flat black paint matched the back to the base, at which point the whole project became very easy.

Finished Bar Stool

Finished Bar Stool

I made the legs 26″ inches to provide an optimal seating height for my bar, and made the back the same length.  I counter-sunk coarse 1/2 inch dry-wall screws to hold the pieces together.  The project was finished up with some birch stain to match the bar top.

Now, If I could someday finish the trim on this X shaped bar, I’d be very happy indeed.

Building and Construction, New Ideas, Other, Tools

Getting Started

First Glass Creations

First Glass Creations

It’s taken a good deal of effort, but I’ve finally gotten my Glass Etching setup enough to begin frosting and etching. I’m still a few pieces of equipment shy of a full etching set, but I have enough in place to begin experimenting with designs and techniques.

I tested out my rig with the small spiral design in the center. I designed and even fabricated some of the rig myself, so this small shot glass was meant as a proof of concept. Once again, I was surprised by the result: Not only did my etching system work, but the result also looked great.

After the initial success, I moved onto a deep etching. I etched “Hope” into a funny shaped glass I had laying around the house. I used the etching system to dig relatively deep into the glass, about 1/16 of an inch deep, with the letters protruding, and the material around them etched out.

Once I had experimented with my first two pieces I took a break for a few days, and purchased a air purifying respirator from Home Depot. You see, after a few uses of the etcher it became very clear to me that I would need to protect my lungs. Small bits of glass fly off from the etching process. Even thought I had contained the sand in my barrel design, the metal did nothing to stop a slow leak of glass dust into the air, which found it’s way into my lungs.

Now that I’ve got my respirator, I’ve begun frosting and etching again. I’ll keep posting photos as I get better and produce more intricate designs.

Glass Etching

Building a Blasting Cabinet

Blasting Concept

Blasting Concept

I’ve been investigating how sand blasters work in order to speed up my learning curve. You see, I haven’t saved enough yet to purchase the required equipment, and it may take some time to accomplish this task, so I thought I’d build my own.  I needed a basic metallic structure to contain the sand, and after looking around the farm the most suitable object I found was the metallic barrel in my greenhouse. I had been using two of them as thermal batteries, but I never believed they were large enough to stabilize the temperature, so I began working to upgrade them.

Cut Out and Painted

Cut Out and Painted

After some imagination and lots of starring at the barrel I decided to go ahead with my design, and cut out the basic shapes with a electric grinder. The square hole would be for my eyes to view the object being blasted, and the circular holes would allow my hands into the cabinet to do the work.

Plexiglas Installed

Plexiglas Installed

The next day my sister must have wondered what this crazy cut out object in my yard was and guessed what I was building because she brought me a piece of Plexiglas which was just large enough to cover the viewing square. I attached it with six bolts, and should have applied silicone before tightening them.

Finished Blasting Cabinet

Finished Blasting Cabinet

I then waited patiently for my blasting gloves and siphon style blaster before including them in the design several days later. I also inserted an old lamp light into the top to aid in viewing. The gloves were a bit short for my design, so I had to lengthen them with some old tire tubes taped to the gloves and secured to the barrel.

Side Opening Door

Side Opening Door

For the door into which objects could be loaded, I decided to use the original mechanics of the barrel. The gray lever shown expands the gray loop when pressed down, which allows the entire lid of the barrel to come off. I settled on this design to allow the largest possible pieces of glass to be loaded inside.

I’m not yet done with the project which still requires a few new components, but If I’m careful, I can etch glass with it, and I have begun to do so. I’ll post pictures soon, but keep in mind I’m still learning, and I’m not using the right materials or equipment. This whole project is part of a much larger mission. Someday I hope to build a blasting room, one that I can walk into to work. This project is a very small prototype of that ambition.

I’ve also picked the last of the peppers for the year, and all of the green tomatoes have turned red. I guess gardening will be on hold till next spring.

Building and Construction, Glass Etching, How To's, Tools , ,

New Direction

Custom Etched Mug

Custom Etched Mug

I’ve still been picking Tomatoes and Potatoes, but I’ve posted lots of pictures of them in years past, so here’s something a bit more interesting: Glass Etching.

It all started a few months ago when I ran into a very interesting guy. He needed me to setup a computer and hook it to the internet for him, something I do freelance from time to time. We got along very well, and he offered to teach me Glass Etching. At first I could hear two voices speaking to me, one said “This is a rare opportunity to learn something new”, and the other spoke “What could you ever do with glass etching ?”.

I knew there was some purpose for etching glass, and I knew it would be something I would enjoy, but I wasn’t prepared to see my first creation come unwrapped after my etching lesson. It was absolutely stunning, as you can see above. In the hours which followed my first lesson, I was absorbed and obsessed with the potential I had been given. I laid awake that night and blasted project after project in my mind until I came to the ultimate conclusion: I needed a Sand Blasting setup of my own, and I needed to be able to etch very large pieces of glass.

Air Compressor Before

Air Compressor Before

To etch glass requires something of a sand blasting setup, with modifications. The basic design requires three different pieces of equipment, an Air Compressor, a Sand Blaster, and a Blasting Cabinet.

Davy, (my brother in law) had an Air Compressor that he purchased to build his barn. Once the barn was complete, the compressor was retired to a corner of the barn, where it sat until he offered to give it to me. I immediately accepted, and loaded the compressor into the front seat of my car where if fit a bit awkwardly.

Air Compressor After

Air Compressor After

The next day I began tinkering with the device to find out why it would not build pressure after pumping up to 40 PSI. Davy and I removed many of the components to look for trouble, and I got comfortable with the mechanics. Soon we found the problem was caused by a long extension cord. When the compressor was plugged into a wall outlet in my home it worked without a hitch.

After the compressor was in good working condition, I decided to paint it. I didn’t intend to strip all of the parts off of it and power wash it, but it happened any way. Once again when the work was done I was quite amazed.

Now, I just need a blasting cabinet and a sand blaster.

Glass Etching, Tools

New Garden

Getting Started

Getting Started

This year has been hotter and drier then any other year during which I considered myself a gardener. Before I began growing my own food, I really didn’t worry much about the weather, but now I do. It’s become so warm that my winter squash produced and died at least a month ago, and all of the cucumber and zucchini that usually protrude from my ears  is no where to be found. My tomatoes are still doing very well, but all else is basically lost.

I won’t give up however, and I’ve decided to take a new approach. I’ve come to realize that my huge garden is pointless, and a drain on myself and my resources. I decided to plant a much smaller garden. I then began thinking about a shade system to keep my cucumbers cool, and imagined a tarp extending from my shed over a small area. I kicked around some of the soil near the shed and had a eureka moment. This soil was great, and free of stones.

The Dirt

The Dirt

The next step in my plan was to level this mound of soil, and try to keep the spot leaning into the morning sun much as my current garden does. I also needed to remove some weeds that would cause severe itching if allowed to touch my skin. This all sounded like a great use for the Tractor and back blade, so I began my work. After many gallons of gas, and lots of play time in the dirt, I had a new template for which to plan next years harvest.

Level Soil

Level Soil

I now have more work to do. This soil is a great base from which to grow, but it will need to be amended with manure, epson salt, bio-char and a few other enrichment’s. I’m also planing to run a permanent water line to the shed, and create a simple way to shade crops.

 

8N Ford Tractor, Climate

Changing As I Grow

Unknown, but Great Tomato

Unknown, but Great Tomato

This years garden has been bittersweet at best. I’ve been blessed with an early abundance of most crops, which ended when the rain became irregular. I now venture into the garden solely to pick tomatoes, peppers and potatoes.

What happened this year ? Many things, I guess. I’ve begun a process of change much as I do often in my life. When my personal change occurred at the same time as our lack of rain, my garden was left without water. I was more interested in developing my carpentry skills than irrigating the garden.

Directly under this delicious tomato is the work I’ve been spending all of my free time developing. It’s an X shaped table that I’ve constructed with mostly materials from the old wall that formerly occupied this space. I’ve spent very little money on materials, less then $100 for sure, and recycled lots of paneling and wall studs, even a hand full of nails.

I found myself endlessly sanding, and re-sanding the surface boards, searching for the methods and materials that would make this project not just beautiful, but more of a work of art, then construction. I’m far from finished, but it’s this work that drives me these days.

Vertical Indoor Strawberry Grow System

Vertical Indoor Strawberry Grow System

I’ve also found myself to become almost obsessed with learning, mostly about the changes in our economy, environment and the way I view the world.  I’ve found myself glued to endless hours of TED talks (Technology and Education, “Ideas Worth Spreading”: http://www.ted.com/talks ). I’m trying to learn faster then the world is warming, a task which may be impossible. Global warming is NO LONGER A THEORY. If you still believe that it is, you have spent too much time indoors with the AC on.

I’ve become interested in good farming techniques, rather then producing too much food. I want my food to carry the smallest carbon footprint possible. I want my food to grow indoors too, and to fruit when the weather outside will not co-operate.  This is the idea behind my Vertical Indoor Strawberry Growing Stand.

Kareese (my niece), and I, have been working on this stand for a few hours a day, and I’m really proud of the result. Many of the ideas used in it’s construction where Kareese’s, and a good deal of the nails pounded were a result of her effort.  I cut all but one piece of wood  with the chop saw, and she cut a single piece with a hand saw. It was a great collaboration, and an even better time to teach.

All, in All, I see change ahead. Change especially for this blog. If I am to continue my efforts here, there will definitely be a wider array of subjects then simply gardens. I may remove all boundaries and simply write about what matters at the time. I guess we will see. I do hope I’m wrong about the future, but with reports of Climate Change Accelerating, I am having a difficult time being optimistic. Watch it for yourself: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/james_hansen_why_i_must_speak_out_about_climate_change.html

Take Care.
Signed, The Crab.

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