Tag Archives: The Lovely and Talented Mrs. Zheng3

Yaaar! Here there be décolletage.

So, to recap for those among you who don’t breathlessly follow the twists and turns here at the blog, I’ve been working feverishly on finishing parts of pirate costumes for myself and for the lovely and talented Mrs. Zheng3. Here’s the latest: it’s a Arduino-enabled pirate pendant.

Heads up for readers under the age of 18: this post is rated arrrrrrrrr.

pendant

hurrr durrr heavin bazooms

You can Grab the model and the code from The Forge if you want to give this a go on your own. You’ll need a few other things gathered from around the Internet:

Casting the skull in resin

This pendant presented an opportunity to demonstrate once again that Everything’s Better With Skulls. In hindsight the better solution to this would have been to purchase some transparent PLA and charge forward with a 3D printed skull, but I’d been wanting to try some molding and casting after a couple months’ worth of nonstop 3D printing with Kickstarter backer rewards fulfillment.

(Pro tip: There is no surer way to suck the pleasure of experimentation out of 3D printing than to turn your basement into a production facility with hard deadlines.)

Print the skull as a positive, glue it to a piece of cardboard, and use some Oomoo and a plastic cup to create the mold. The white cruft on the positive is regular old silicone caulk used to smooth out the 3D printing lines before casting.

skull

A few hours of curing later and the mold’s ready.

3dprint and mold

Like all good projects this pendant has been a series of compromises, trying to cram lots of objects into a small, wearable volume. To that end, the skull’s got a fairly low profile, and fitting a pair of LED’s into the space behind the eyesockets requires a little bit of finagling. You can file down the tips of LED’s and they still work just fine. Don’t breathe in the dust, though.

file down LED

Once the LED’s are soldered together in series they can be suspended in liquid epoxy. Mixing up epoxy resin is generally an easy-peasy 1:1 operation but it might take a couple of tries to get the dye proportions correct. Too little dye results in anemic color. Too much and your resin never cures past the cold maple syrup stage.

LEDs in mold

cast skull

Stealing and modifying code

The entire casting process takes a day or two to finish, but it’s mostly sit-around-and-wait-for-things-to-harden time. So while chemical reactions be combobulatin’ in the basement there’s plenty of time to print the pendant body and program the Trinket. Nothing fancy here, just some basic PWM on pin 0. The exact values require some tweaking to get a suitably menacing fade in/fade out of the LED’s.

The code is in the zip file along with the 3D model if you came here looking for info on PWM in general.

pwm test

Charging the battery

First, go grab yourself a Micro LiPo Charger from Adafruit.

warningJST connectors can be difficult to plug and unplug, so I homebrewed a male-female connector out of some headers I had kicking around in the toolbox. BE CAREFUL WITH THIS, especially with LiPo batteries. You do not want to accidentally swap your polarity, overheat the battery, start a fire, and incinerate your family and pets.

lipo charger

Or maybe you do. You monster.

seriously brah you should probably just go read this LiPo safety guide right now.

Again, we want to keep the profile as low as possible so rather than solder a female header directly to the Trinket the headers are soldered to wire and then attached to the board. This allows connections to be moved off to the side when vertical space is at a premium.

crammed

It all fits in there– the battery’s tucked underneath the Trinket. Be careful that you don’t puncture the battery casing with a solder joint when you press everything together. Punctured LiPo==bad gnus. (You read the safety guide, right?)

The back of the pendant press-fits onto the body, but unfortunately I didn’t have the foresight to include an off switch. You’ve got to plug and unplug the battery directly. Next time, maybe.

On the plus side, the battery will run for hours and hours on a full charge. The exact runtime is left as an exercise for the reader.

Adding surface detail

Again with the caulk, smoothing out all the cracks and joins in the multi-part print.

caulk

We can’t very well have the lovely and talented Mrs. Zheng3 wearing a caulked-up bright blue pirate pendant with the rest of her Halloween costume, so we bust out the gold leaf and an hour later we’ve got this:

gold leaf

The shiny gold’s juuuuuuuust a little too fancy for our pirate lass, so quick wash with some diluted black acrylic paint is in order, and we’re done here.

distressed

The Trinket has about a half dozen more free pins than this project requires, so if we ever get around to designing version 2.0 we can put some sensors in and turn this pendant into jewelry that reacts to its environment. I’ve been having some fun driving servo rotation with multiple-microphone input for Plutarch the pirate parrot, so #staytuned for something along those lines.

Lao Zheng out.

Plutarch 1.0: finished, still not a robot

After this stability test it’s pretty safe to say that Plutarch is 97% ready to make his debut at J’s Halloween party later this year.

So how did we get here? When last we left our hero he was a naked 3d printed shell enclosing a buggy and unstable collection of wires and electronics.

Rubber cementing the feathers to the body was strikingly straightforward, the only caveat being that one needs to layer the plumage and make sure that none of it gets into the spaces between moving parts.

fledging collar

I ran out of feathers during the fledging process so he’s still got three percent’s worth of bald spots to fix during the 138 days before Halloween.

Epoxying the googly eyes is simple enough. Next time I’ll include 3D printed eye socket markers so I can be sure that Plutarch isn’t walleyed.

googly eyes

Here’s the thing about googly eyes. You can’t buy just two. You have to get a whole mess of them.

Epoxy is enlisted once again to affix the wing feathers to the body, as they’re too heavy to attach with rubber cement alone.

fledging wings

A clever designer would have included tail feather mounting holes in the original 3D printed body, but unfortunately no clever designers showed up to work on body design day. So Plutarch got a few aftermarket holes drilled in his rump.

drill

You may feel some slight pressure, Mr. Plutarch. Please try to relax.

OK! So! Forty-five minutes of fledging and butt-drilling hence, Plutarch’s ready for his big reveal to the family.

too sexy

Possibly too sexy for your cat.

You can see an original Pirate Parrot Accessory in the background of the photo above– one of his duplicates was cannibalized to provide most of Plutarch’s feathers. I bought a bag of blue turkey flats to compensate for the feather shortfall and still didn’t have enough.

The kids (and, of course the Lovely and Talented Mrs. Zheng3) have been watching Plutarch’s progress in bits and bites for the last few months, and they’re assembled in the kitchen for Opening Night. Plutarch is perched, powered up, and ready to go. I hit the button on his remote that makes him shake his head and… BAM.

broken

To everyone’s horror (except the cat, who gives approximately zero f*cks) Plutarch torqued himself off my shoulder, broke a foot, and snapped his battery cables.

Gah. I pinned the broken foot with a couple of epoxy-coated finishing nails and set the patient aside.

Another setback. We were so close.

The epoxy cure delay allows for a few hours of self-reflection. Why am I doing this? Is making an animatronic parrot really best way for me to spend my limited time on earth? How do magnets work, anyway?

Magnets. We need moar magnets. Better-positioned ones, too.

The original perch design put the magnets on the underside of a steel can lid, relying on luck to link up with the magnets embedded in Plutarch’s toes. Fearful of another catastrophic and embarrassing fall, I moved the magnets to the top of the lid and made sure they’re aligned as closely as possible with their mates above.

magnets

The video at the top of the post proves that this time Plutarch stayed put.

But. BUT! Even after all this improvement, Plutarch, while ready for primetime performance, is still not a robot. He’s best described as an animatronic parrot. Roboticization– the addition of sensors and the ability to respond to an environment– shall have to wait until Halloween 2017.

So here’s what I’ve got planned for Plutarch’s next year:

  • improved internal accessibility
  • 2-axis head movement
  • articulated beak
  • audio
  • some kind of sensor ability, for crissakes

#staytuned.

Tales of Plutarch’s earlier incarnations can be enjoyed here and here.

Lao Zheng out.

The Agony of The Feet

plutarch on rail

If, bit by bit, you replace the parts of a store-bought pirate parrot with 3D printed components and electronics, is it still the same parrot in five years?

Another Halloween has come and gone, and no, I did not festoon the house with an Arduino-controlled lightshow as I had planned to do in July.

Nor did I design and print that glowing Riddler sword cane I’ve been wanting to get to, and I also failed to make any headway on that EL wire and fog-machine witches’ cauldron I was so pumped up about two years ago.

What I did manage to do was stay married to the lovely and talented Mrs. Zheng3, who in addition to being lovely and talented also had the foresight to order us up a couple of relatively inexpensive pirate costumes from some online retailer.

See, here’s the thing about Halloween costumes. A store-bought costume is all well and good, but I gots ideas, man. Next time you and I are having a beer ask me about my plans for a two-person piñata donkey costume. If you whack us with a stick we’ll drop a bunch of candy out through a trapdoor in the belly. It’s-a-gonna-be-awesome.

pinata

Of course, I don’t have the time to make this. I also must make peace with the idea that I will never, ever, learn how to do DIY vacuum forming and craft myself a suit of Dr. Doom armor. The probability of my constructing an animatronic tarantula the size of a Great Dane approaches zero. Halloween’s an annual exercise in abandoning fun projects before they get started.

But you’ve gotta have a costume, right? Especially since we annually attend a spectacular haunted house/halloween party thrown by good friends of ours out in the boondocks of Hortonville, Wisconsin. Can’t show up there wearing my usual costume of cargo pants and free trade show T-shirts.

As she’s done so many times in the past, the lovely and talented Mrs. Zheng3 pulled my bacon out of the fire with an assist from Amazon prime and MasterCard, and now we’ve got pirate gear aplenty.

But what about next year? And the year after that? We’ve decided that our best option is to commit to the pirate life completely and upgrade our costumes by degrees. This year’s our baseline, and at some point in the next twelve months I’ll buy a nice set of leather boots to replace the cheap vinyl boot-tops that go over my dress shoes.

(The costume has a little tag on the inside that says, I kid you not, DO NOT WASH. Need to replace the shirt ASAP.)

do not wash

Maybe next year I’ll find a flouncy pirate shirt that can do double duty at the renaissance faire. And the year after that I can fall off my wallet and get a nice steel cutlass. And so on and so forth and in five years I’ll have a really great pirate costume just hanging in the closet.

We also bought a polystyrene parrot accessory. He doesn’t look too bad for $10 but the UX could use some love. At the most basic level, it’d be nice if I didn’t have to worry about my bird falling off to join the choir invisible every time I reach for the guacamole.

Plutarch’s original feet have two problems. First, they look nothing like actual parrot feet. Parrot feet are weird, and these are clearly sparrow feet repurposed by an overworked factory manager in Guangzhou.

original feet

Second, the feet don’t ship with a convenient way to attach to the wearer. Plutarch ships with a shoelace-like strap that’s halfheartedly hot-glued to his sole, intended to loop under his owner’s armpit. You’ll see from the Amazon reviews that this is a less-than-optimal solution.

Magnets are my go-to solution for holding things together. A while ago I bought a passel of tiny neodymium magnets for some long-forgotten purpose, and I still have about fifty of them left. A few minutes tweaking a cube in Maya gets me a pair of parrot feet with little sockets for the magnets. The magnets are friction-fit, but being a belt-and-suspenders type of hominid I’ve super glued them in.

feet magnets

A steel tuna fish can lid, easily hand-bent to be convex, hides under my clothing. I’ve covered the lid in athletic tape because it’ll be under a white shirt eventually and I don’t want it to show through.

feet pauldron

Besides, I’m nursing a rotator cuff injury, again, and have no other use for my athletic tape for at least a month. Feh.

Also, Coco gives approximately 6.02×10-23 f_cks about this parrot.

These feet are printed flat in ColorFabb signal yellow PLA/PHA, which is easy enough to deform post-print with a little bit of heat. A few months ago I bought this great little heat gun for heat-shrink tubing and it does a fine job helping me mold Plutarch’s toes to my shoulder.

plutarch shoulder

In the long term I’d like to put some motor control into Plutarch’s head so that he can swivel to look at stuff. And a webcam. And a speaker. And wireless control so that I can control the parrot from across the room.

I’ve already got a wee servo on order from Adafruit, so that’ll be next weekend’s project.

Like I said, I gots ideas. Check back in a year and we’ll see how far I’ve gotten.

Why Plutarch? Ship of Theseus, grandfather’s axe, and all that.

Lao Zheng out.

Finding Sparky’s Voice

In early February I debated whether to make a promotional video for my Kickstarter. The 3D modeling was done, the armor was printing reliably, and I figured the concept of 3D printed medieval armor for Barbie dolls would just about sell itself to the right crowd of people. Did I really need to invest the time in making a video?

SPOILER: I ended up making the video.

I dithered and hemmed and hawed for a day or two while I weighed the pros and cons of investing even more time in the Kickstarter. Eventually the creative itch won out over the practical hurdles of lighting, shooting, and editing with less-than-professional tools (my vendetta against Apple Motion 5 continues unabated) and after much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments I released this to the world:

I’m glad I did because people really seem to enjoy it. It’s also on Youtube and Vimeo now, BTW.

Acquiring scenery and minifigs for the video wasn’t a problem, but I clearly needed a Big Bad. I rooted though every bookshelf and toybox in the house and came up empty. The Zhengspawn are growing up quickly, and are more interested in playing with software than they are with plastic. Clutter is the enemy, so only the most cherished or useful toys remain in the house.

Candy Crush is also the enemy, but no matter how many stakes, silver bullets, DDT, UV, and Slim Whitman Indian Love Calls I use, I can’t seem to rid Zheng Labs of that particular infestation.

Last year’s purge resulted in an unfortunate paucity of plastic dinosaurs in the storage tubs, just when I needed one the most.

Ever supportive, the Lovely and Talented Mrs. Zheng3 dropped by the local thrift store, popped some tags, and returned with Sparky. She found him in the discount bin for a dollar, on account of his non-functional pushbutton speaker.

Sparky is a generic-looking therapod carnivore with very broad feet. Artistic compromises were clearly made during his design, but I think the size of his forearms pegs him as a reasonable attempt at an Allosaurus, with a little pre-1990’s tail anatomy thrown in for stability’s sake.

sparky full

I’ve spent a lot of time with Sparky, and now I’m curious about his origins. Somewhere on the Internets there’s an expert on cheap plastic dinosaurs who can take one look at Sparky and identify him immediately. Until that person surfaces, our only clue is a “MADE IN CHINA” stamp between his legs, which narrows his origin not at all.

The wear patterns on Sparky’s maw, brow, and toes suggest that he was extensively played with in the past. He’s definitely attacked his fair share of villages. Sparky, at some point in his life, was loved. The discount bin would be too ignominious an end for such a loyal toy.

wear pattern

To the workbench with you, my Jurassic friend.

Whoever sculpted Sparky did some nice work, especially with the reticulated scale patterns on his skin, but the person or people who inserted his speaker botched the job a bit; I think a hole saw was used to access his chest cavity but the opening was messily enlarged with a knife at some point before the speaker was jammed inside.

sparky hole

With some prying and pulling I’m able to extract the speaker assembly, hopelessly mangling it in the process. It uses two LR41 batteries, which are easy enough to come by, if redonkulously expensive when purchased as singletons.

Sparky’s noisemaker is a simple affair. A speaker is connected to a small circuit board, activated by a (gray) plastic plunger that completes the circuit by touching that solder squiggle in the middle.

But wait, you say? How does nonconductive plastic complete a circuit? There’s a circular swatch of black, conductive somethingorother glued to the bottom of the plunger. Any EE’s who swing by, please tell me what this stuff is called, for curiosity’s sake.

If you squint and turn up the contrast on your monitor you can see a dark circle in the southwest corner of the circuit board. That’s where the recording of Sparky’s voice is stored underneath a blob of epoxy. A little more on that later.

speaker

Two fresh batteries later, here’s what Sparky sounded like straight from the factory. Turn your speakers down, it’s a bit unpleasant.

Hmm. That roar sounds familiar. Here’s Godzilla, king of monsters:

Here’s the two of them, side-by-side with a little bit of audio cleanup in Audacity. Sparky is first, followed by Godzilla. Big G is sped up by 90% with an accompanying change in pitch to make Sparky.

waveforms

It appears to me, at least, that someone just ripped off Godzilla when Sparky was made. I’m offended.

A little research tells me that I won’t be able to hack Sparky’s audio chip and record my own roars. Apparently the audio is burned onto an IC at the factory and then covered with a little black blob of epoxy. “Flip-chip” technology, this sorcery is called, and working with it is beyond any magic I possess at Zheng Labs.

I’d love to be able to hack these chips because they show up everywhere, especially in Happy Meal toys.

I do have a toolbox full of electronics, and I might be able to cobble together a replacement roar for Sparky after the Kickstarter is finished. At the very least, I can print him a new bezel for his speaker today.

sparky fixed

Guy can’t be walking around with a nasty hole in his chest, now can he?

Also. All the time I’ve spent on TVTropes? It actually paid off: see how many tropes I managed to cram into one video, and post in the comments below:

I’ll give you the second one for free: Action Girl. Or is it Badass Princess? Reasonable people can disagree.

Five New(ish) Baubles!

A thousand pardons, my friends. I stepped over my personal Schwarzschild radius and fell into an art singularity over the last two weeks.

Some light has escaped; peer into the Scrying Pool to see what I’ve been working on, among other things. That particular opus is still gnawing the inner walls of it’s chrysalis, so #staytuned for another update, coming soon.

I’ve managed to zeldovich a few crumbs from beyond the event horizon and stuff them into the Baubles section of The Forge with the remainder of my 3d-modeled miscellany. They are, in no particular order:

The Tinkeriffic BB Bearing, cousin to the 40mm spool spindle and 32mm spindle, all of which use Tinkertoy rods and 4.5mm BB’s to provide a smooth ride for your filament spools.

Tinkeriffic BB Bearing Spool

Magnetic Pocket Gears! that use these magnets to freely rotate while sticking to clothing. I’ve got these fellas on Shapeways too, in case you’d like a set in stainless steel, gold, or silver.

Pocket Gears

And finally a Bonsai Gibbon, designed specifically for the Lovely and Talented Mrs. Zheng3’s winter hobby but made available to lovers of pines and primates everywhere.

Bonsai Gibbon

How do I get my pennies so shiny? Vinegar? Hells no. H2C2O4 FTW, y’all.

The blogging backlog is cleared, so watch this space for new models. I’ve got three or four new concepts in the hopper.

Toil and Trouble, Part I

So. Another Halloween has passed, and while the denizens of Casa de Zheng did manage to get some nice homemade costumes out the door, it’s been another year of postponing bigger Halloween projects because I’m Just Too Busy Right Now. For years I’ve wanted to make a classic black cauldron over which The Lovely and Talented Mrs. Zheng3 can stand on All Hallows’ Eve, dispensing hot cider to chilled trick-or-treaters with a cackle and a grin.

She does have an adorable cackle.

A fortnight past I was discussing Halloween projects with a friend and neighbor and I lamented my lack of time for such things. I’ve wanted to engineer monstrous spiderwebs and motion-sensing jump-scare zombie automatons for years but always get too caught up in Halloween costumes and daily minutae in the weeks before the big day to ever get to even starting any of these grand designs.

The hard truth is that there is never enough time for such opuses. Some meeting, some job, some illness, some obligation always interferes, and it’s just too easy to sleep in until 7am on a Satudray. And yet this cauldron must be made.

If not me, then who? If not now, then when? Am I to wait until the youngest spawn has wriggled off to college, when I’ll finally, finally! have the time to pursue every creative project of which I can conceive, unhindered by the demands of short mutants who share slightly less than half of my DNA, when the dawn of retirement peeks over the horizon and the iPhone 9 announcement is nigh?

No. If it is to be, it is up to me to do this now. As important as getting the project done is instilling by example the creative process into my kids. To plan, to build, to fail, to learn, to feel finally feel the pride in a piece of art just-completed and yet never quite done.

The deadline: Full beta testing in September 2014. Public release date October 31, 2014.

The requirements, purposefully done in broad strokes:

Physical:

  • The cauldron’s got to be big enough to be impressive, even when it’s just sitting there doing nothing.
  • It must be light enough to be easily moveable, but strong enough to withstand some jostling in case a child bumps into it.
  • Must support a hot plate for cider mulling.
  • Must be non-flammable.
  • Non-toxic eerie smoke needs to pour from the top of the cauldron while it’s in use. Dry ice, maybe?
  • Drizzle-proof would be a nice touch.

Electronics:
The inside of the cauldron must glow.
Needs variable-intensity fake fire underneath.
Must run unattended in an idle mode, and also needs user input for choreographed performance.

Determining scale is the first order of business. We own a circular patio table that would make an excellent jig for bending the cauldron’s armature, so I’ll use that for reference when figuring out just how large this cauldron should be.

witch

Winter is coming (natch) so much of the construction will likely wait until spring, because I think this will be too big to fit through the doors on the house and it’ll have to live in the garage.

Goal for next week: get the mouth of the cauldron bent into shape. I can make a hoop in a week, right?

Home is Where the Art Is, Part II

2404

Casa de Zheng is getting some work done lately. Her old house numbers, milled from wood, had to come off so the underlying fascia could be painted. Brittle with age were the numbers, and unable to survive the removal process. Upon reflection we (by which I mean the lovely and talented Mrs. Zheng3 and I) didn’t care much for the early 80’s Facts of Life typography anyway, so replacements were in order.

broken wood

If one has a 3d printer every broken household object’s an opportunity to recoup another few bucks on one’s ridiculously impractical investment.

After choosing font that’s apropos for the house’s character, I plucked some newly ripened heirloom vertices from the south side garden boxes and set to work forging them into house numbers. A quick extrusion, a nip, a tuck, and some geometry welds later and I have some digits ready for printing.

the story of 0

There’s more sculpting here than meets the eye– Maya 2008’s text beveling tools are the very definition of execrable. This oversight was inexcusable in 2008 and even more grating in this day and age, but I’m stuck using M2008 on OSX 10.6.8 in a 32-bit update cycle until I can swing a huge hardware/software upgrade. We go to war with the army we have, not the army we might want or wish to have at a later time.

The numbers don’t have a lot of detail and won’t receive close scrutiny since they’re about 10 feet off the ground, so I print them at .3 layer height to save some time. They are going to have to be sturdy enough to withstand a bit of weather, so I add a second shell to my usual print settings. Infill at 10%.

printing 0

Most of the digits aren’t anything special, except for a couple of pilot holes baked into the 3d model. The number four is an exception; I’ve added a hollow compartment in the back of the model and printed a watertight lid, turning the otherwise innocuous digit into a potential time capsule.

capsule

Discussion with the family yields a few paragraphs about ourselves, the house, the painter, our pet, the neighborhood, and the current state of 3d printing. I print it out, roll up the paper, and put it into a Zheng3 Scroll Tube, which is in turn sealed within the printed number four for posterity. I hit the seams with some all-weather caulk because I’m a belt-and-suspenders kind of guy.

Our house painter gets the numbers primed and painted and nailed to the house in short order. I hope whoever finds the note fifty? a hundred? years hence has a good chuckle at the primitive technology involved in its creation, what with the dumb toner, 英文, and thermoplastics.

open me

Previous home improvement post: Home is Where the Art Is

PowerEx Maha MH-C801D AA/AAA Battery Charger Review

TL;DR Summary: The PowerEx MH-C801D AA/AAA battery charger is easy to use and worth the higher price tag over a dumb charger. The LCD screen can be a little difficult to read, especially under low-light situations. Don’t believe the marketing photos when it comes to readability.

Last week, the lovely and talented Mrs. Zheng3 suffered through a night of fitful sleep brought on by the pathetic hourly chirping of a dying pager desperately trying to suck the last few electrons from its poorly-charged AA batteries.

It’s my fault, really. For years the battery charging duties in Zhenghaus have been attended by a venerable Die Hard battery charger. McClane, as it has come to be called, is what the Folks Who Know About Such Things call a dumb charger, which means he’ll just sit there and keep pumping juice into an already charged battery, shortening the lifespan of the cell.

I’ve got dozens of rechargeable AA’s of various stripes here in Casa de Zheng, from my pricier Sanyo Eneloops to the afterthoughtish Amazon NiMH’s. They’ve seen service in myriad devices, droids, cameras, and controllers and every now and then we find one in pretty sorry shape. They can’t seem to hold a charge for very long.

The lovely and talented Mrs. Zheng3 put at least one of these duds into her pager before hitting the sack. You can’t tell just by looking at it that a battery’s going to suck.

So upon waking for the eighth time in eight hours, the lovely and talented Mrs. Zheng3 looked deeply and lovingly into my eyes, held my hands, and, in that sultry and slightly haggard way she has after a restless night, like a naiad who bleary-eyed sipped too many mimosas with the sylphs and dryads in Elysium the night before, if that naiad was forced to carry a pager for work by her out-of-touch IT department, with pursed and waiting lips, gently, ever so gently, told me to buy a new f***ing battery charger.

Amazon Prime saves marriages. You read it here first.

How much of a charge any given AA has in this house is always an age-dependent crapshoot. Here’s hoping the PowerEx MH-C801D can bring some of them back to reliability. It’s got a conditioning mode that might do just that.

PowerEx MH-C801D: Die Unböxenung

The back of the box for the PowerEx proudly advertises that the battery status updates are “in English.” This feels like a sop to crochety dudes who are upset that the buttons on their phones are too small and that the Monkees are three times the band One Direction will ever be because at least the Monkees played instruments and didn’t prance around like strippers for crissakes. The rest of us learned to accept Engrish as the lingua franca of technical manuals in the 80’s. For great justice.

Here’s what comes in the box:

Unböxenung

A charger, a power brick, two cables, and (pictured below) a plastic case that looks like it’ll hold 8 AA’s. Ten points to Ravenclaw for including non-polystyrene fill in the packaging. Also not pictured are a double-sided single page instruction sheet and a glossy promotion for PowerEx’s other products.

The product feels sturdy enough, and the power brick’s LED glows green like wyrmwood when it’s plugged in. It’s a nice variation from the blinking blue LED constellation up in this humpty-bump.

PowerEx MH-C801D: Das Batterieladenungenschlaft

(My German’s pretty rusty, but I think it’s safe to just make words up by stringing loosely-related concepts together. German’s the Human Centipede of languages.)

The instructions (in English!) for the MH-C801D indicate that conditioning can take up to fourteen hours. I have this thing with new electronics. I don’t like to leave them plugged in for too long without supervision. At least, not at first. So I set the battery charger up in my bedroom with the idea that the smell of burning plastic should rouse me from my melatonin-fueled catatonia before the house burns to the ground.

The UI for battery conditioning is an artifact of the consumer electronics design process. Keeping costs down requires engineers to use hardware without adding fancy gewgaws, so it’s insert a battery, press and hold the (cryptically labeled) conditioning button within 5 seconds, wait until the LCD screen displays a very tiny “condition” indicator, and then put in the remaining batteries.

My coffee maker’s like this, but worse. I can program a homebrew robot that turns photos into Etch-a-Sketch drawings, but I can’t program my coffee maker to brew coffee before I wake up. I’m really looking forward to the day when Siri-like assistants are cheap enough to be included in Happy Meal toys. I guarantee that I’m going to forget how to do this the next time I condition a battery, likely six months from now.

The LCD tells me that I’ve got a range of battery charges from the handful I popped into the charger, and the conditioning process begins with an initial charge. The display’s a little faint, so I have to get all up in its grill and squint at the indicator.

After an hour or so battery slot 1 has fully charged, and slot 6 has already begin to discharge.

discharge

And just before bedtime the recharge process has begun in slot 6 while the other slots continue to discharge. The aforementioned conditioning button is on the left side of the unit.

recharge

Sometime overnight everyone got topped up, and the charge is done. Also, I didn’t wake to a raging inferno, so the unit passes the new electronic-gizmo-kill-you-in-your-sleep anxiety test and is now a welcome member of the household.

Every AA I can find in the house gets a conditioned replacement, which means I have a new passel of batteries in need of love. No problems, and a day later I have another eight conditioned AA’s to put in my new plastic case.

box

Take a look at the right side of the box and you’ll see that it can hold AAA’s as well, if they’re inserted crosswise. The MH-C801D can recharge and condition AAA’s too, I just didn’t have any around that I could use to test this feature.

PowerEx MH-C801D: Die Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz

I still have a few AA’s left over that have been neither conditioned nor recharged, so I shall attempt a rapid charge. This is the default mode for the PowerEx, just drop your batteries into slots and wait. It should take about an hour.

The instructions warn that the batteries may become hot to the touch during a rapid charge. How hot? Not hot enough to be uncomfortable to the touch. Not snuggly, but not uncomfortable, and you shouldn’t be snuggling with batteries anyway, you pervert.

Note to self: buy and review one of those thermometer guns Gale used on his teapot in Season 3 of Breaking Bad.

Thankfully the designers resisted the urge to make the charger chirp or blink when it’s done, unlike some products I could name. Sometimes the features that don’t make it into a product are as important as the ones that do.

The lovely and talented Mrs. Zheng3’s pager hasn’t chirped once since the battery swap, so I think we can call this one a success. Go out, grab one of these, and ensure domestic tranquility and equitable charge distribution in your home. In English, or whatever language flöatzens your böatzens.

ComposiMold: First Impressions

The friendly team at ComposiMold recently sent me a sample of their product for review. Like many experimenters I’m mostly unacquainted with mold-making and casting but I’m willing to get messy and give it a go. Let’s dive right in and see how this stuff works.

TL;DR Summary: ComposiMold is easy to use, reuse, and reuse again, even for a casting n00b. It’d make a great gift for a Maker kid. Highly recommended.

Composimold: The Unboxening

open container

Opening the 10-ounce container releases the faintest waft of lemon. It’s not unpleasant or pronounced; only bloodhounds and those accustomed to huffing day-old mimeographs will have the chemoreceptors to detect the scent.

It’s firmer than I expected. I was thinking I’d have something a little gooier, but when ComposiMold is cool it’s got the consistency of a flexed bicep. At 10 ounces the sample container feels satisfyingly dense in the hand. I feel like I could make stuff with this.

Virgin ComposiMold looks surprisingly like honey. So much so that the lovely and talented Mrs. Zheng3, slightly less talented than usual at 5:30am, nearly dropped a heaping spoonful of ComposiMold into her oatmeal. I probably shouldn’t have left the container on top of the microwave last night.

In theory, the mold making process is simple and straightforward: heat ComposiMold, pour it over the object you want to reproduce, allow to cool, and then extract your object.

Naturally I screwed it up.

Jumping into this project like an enthusiastic idiot I naturally made a a rookie mistake right off the bat. I forgot to coat my mold container with a release agent. So I restarted the project. What you’re seeing here is actually take two on my quest to replicate a Seej bloxen.

So! Into the microwave with you, ComposiMold.

in the microwave

Another brief installment of Zheng’s household hints: before photographing the inside of a microwave you’ll want to clean it so the Internet doesn’t think you’re a gavone. Put a cup full of vinegar in the microwave and nuke the bejeezus out of it. The steam will soften the Hot Pockets splatter off the inside of your microwave so that you can wipe it clean with a rag. The healing brush in Photoshop will take care of any pastacules you might have missed.

Thirty seconds in my microwave and I’ve got a golfball-sized nugget of ComposiMold suspended in honey-like goo. Stir with a craft stick (always, always, always have craft sticks around any maker project), give it another 20 seconds of non-ionizing radiation and we’re good to go. During the melt the lemony scent is a little more pronounced but doesn’t stink up the kitchen.

bloxen, masonry
I’ve decided to try and cast a Seej Bloxen for my first project. I’ve made sidewalk chalk bloxen using a 3d printed mold, but I’m interested to see how ComposiMold picks up the detail in the 3D modeled grout and stones of something I’ve already printed. This particular bloxen was produced during my review of Filabot’s recycled ABS filament.

Composimold: Making A Mold

I give the bloxen a rub with some vegetable oil and put it into an old laundry scoop. Here’s where I run into my first unknown unknown in the mold-making process.

pouring

unforeseen problemThe plastic object I’m trying to copy is less dense than ComposiMold, so it wants to float. I try holding it down with a craft stick, but I’m unwilling to wait half an hour for the ComposiMold to solidify at room temperature. I throw the whole thing in the freezer to cool and abort the first try at mold-making.

It’s 9AM on a Sunday morning so I take a break and have some cheese danish before the kids get up and eat it all. After twenty minutes and a cuppa joe I cut open the mold to see how well it captured the details. Click to embiggen.

detail

The detail’s quite fine here. ComposiMold even picked up the layer artifacts left by the 3d printing process. Each of those parallel lines is about 100 microns wide. I can’t use this failed mold for casting, but it provides an excellent chance to test ComposiMold’s reusability.

Forty-five seconds in the microwave and I’m back to pouring a new mold. Easy peasy George and Weezy. So far ComposiMold is living up to its promises.

This time I’ll try suspending the bloxen from a stiff piece of hookup wire before I pour. I drill a small hole in the side of the bloxen, superglue in a wire scrap, and wrap it around a craft stick. (See previous admonition about having craft sticks around.) I’ll use a plastic cup for my mold container this time, because I can just cut it away without having to worry about pre-treating it with mold release. The vegetable oil gets everywhere and I don’t want it schmeered all over my camera and light box.

suspended

The bloxen remains submerged this time, if a little off-kilter as the unsecured bottom of the plastic tries to float upwards. The newly-poured mold goes back to the freezer for fifteen minutes or so before I cut away the plastic cup.

The mold resists my hobby knife with the strength of an overcooked ham, but splits easily and the bloxen pops right out. A little vegetable oil on the inside of the mold and it’s ready to be filled with Plaster of Paris.

ready

Composimold: Casting

ComposiMold’s produced a perfectly usable mold. The process has been simple even for a mold-making novice, but today I’m wishing I paid more attention on casting day in sculpture class.

In all fairness, I was trying to get the lovely and talented not-yet-Mrs. Zheng3 to notice me at the time.

plaster

Notice that almost all the bubble artifacts on this plaster bloxen faces inwards; this isn’t ComposiMold’s fault, it’s mine. Either I didn’t get the plaster/water ratio correct or I didn’t agitate the mold enough after pouring, or my plaster’s old, or something else. I’d love to see what ComposiMold can do in the hands of someone with more casting experience. ComposiMold also sells a bubble buster that will assist in the casting process that wasn’t included in my review sample.

A couple hours of playing with this product has given me all kinds of great ideas for where to go next with this. Traditional casting and 3D-printing are a powerful combination, so #staytuned for another casting attempt, this time with cement. The younger Zhengspawn and I have a project in mind that’s perfect for ComposiMold. We’ll see how an 8-year old does with this stuff under lax supervision.

If you’d like me to put your Maker-related gizmo, material, tool, or software through its paces at Zheng3.com, email me and I’ll give it a shot.