Bluetooth Headset with Heads-Up-Display

Headset3D

Despite the underwhelming response to Google Glass and the overwhelming hype surrounding various VR headsets, it’s pretty safe to say that the future of head-mounted displays is very bright. And while most folks are excited about the gaming potential of immersive displays like the Oculus Rift, I think that transparent Augmented Reality displays like Microsoft’s HoloLens will get more overall use, simply because they can be used for more things.

However, all of these displays seem too expensive, too big, too delicate, and too early in development to have any apps for your personal job. I’d love to have a little screen sitting just under my right eye showing me my emails, camera viewfinder, CNC machine terminal, caliper display, and so on, but that technology is a little far off, and who knows how useful it would actually be in day-to-day practice? I think it’s worth building something that’s a little simpler to implement for the sake of experimentation.

I think that someone should build a basic Bluetooth headset with a little microphone boom which has a multi-color LED on the end. I don’t think it would need to be much longer than two inches to get that flashing LED into the wearer’s peripheral vision (try this yourself with a tiny LED and let me know what you find), and little plastic prism would direct the light toward the eye and away from other folks.

HeadsetHead

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Brexit Means Freedom and Responsibility

UnionJacks

In many ways, Britain’s national history began when it left the Roman Empire. Throughout its many centuries, Britons have defined themselves as freedom-loving, independent people, very often resisting larger multi-national organizations or top-heavy systems of government. To choose just a few examples, King Alfred led his countrymen out of an encroaching Viking nation, Henry VIII removed his country from an increasingly tyrannical Roman Catholic Empire, William Wilberforce extracted Britain from the global slave trade, and Winston Churchill rallied his people to repel the ever-increasing Third Reich and then to beat it back from the lands it had swallowed up.

Despite this rich tapestry of freedom, I was a little surprised to watch as Britain voted itself out of the European Union yesterday. I’d seen so much fear and panic in the media, and so many English celebrities moping about how much costlier their vacations would be if the tiny UK left the utopic pantheon of European powers, that I wasn’t really sure if modern Britons would follow their ancestral heritage. Fortunately, they did… just barely.

As we watched the results being reported last night, the financial markets went wild. When it became apparent that little old Britain was probably going to paddle off alone into the Atlantic after all, the Pound dropped like a rock as investors swapped them out for safer currencies, like American Dollars, Yen, or gold. But despite deep pessimism about the UK’s future without the all-powerful EU, nobody was buying up Euros.

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Beetles, Teamwork, and Providence

BuryingBeetle
We had an unexpected visitor last night. Well, I should say that it was not expected by Heidi. Heidi is from Colorado, so she is often surprised to find bugs in our house. I have been living in Tennessee for long enough that I am more surprised when there are not bugs in our house.

We were on our way to bed after putting James down for the night, and found a large beetle flying around in our room. It was a pretty large beetle to be airborne, and demonstrated very accurate navigation, even in the dark. When it landed on the floor I noticed something very strange about it – it seemed to carrying a colony of tiny spiders that were swarming all over its head and body.

Because I am not an entomologist, I was just slightly grossed out. Also, when I pointed a flashlight at the beetle it flipped itself onto its back, and I noticed that its abdomen was emitting what real entomologists call “a foul-smelling fluid.” I quickly used a piece of paper to flick the dying beetle out our bedroom door, assuming that he had been unfortunate enough to be killed by a bloodthirsty mob of baby spiders… but that made no sense.

How could so many spiders have jumped a big, fast-moving beetle, and how could they have gotten through his thick plate armor so quickly? He seemed to have gone from precision flying to apparent death very suddenly, even suspiciously suddenly. It slowly dawned on me that I had just been outwitted by a bug playing possum, so I Googled “mites on beetle” and discovered something fascinating.

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6 Ideas for Lenovo’s New Modular Phone

MotoZconnector

Yesterday, Lenovo announced its newest addition to the Moto mobile phone line. The Moto Z is basically just a bigger and thinner Moto X, except for a very interesting addition to the back. Down near the bottom are 16 visible pogo pins, and a couple of invisible yet powerful magnets. Moto phones have had customizable back plates for years, but this data port enables the phone to snap on “Moto Mod” backs, accessories that add new electronic components.

LG introduced a modular phone earlier this year, but it required disassembly and a reboot to swap parts. Lenovo’s solution means that the Moto Mods just slap right on and power up. So far, the existing mods include a powerful JBL speaker back, a miniature projector back, and a basic extended battery. In order to encourage other developers to create backs for this new line of phones, Lenovo has offered a $1m prize for the best prototype, and Hasselblad has already announced a camera back. Let’s throw out a few ideas of our own, shall we?

1. Solar Battery Pack

While InCipio is already making a smart rechargeable battery back for the Moto Z, it would be neat to have one with a built-in solar panel. Previous attempts to add solar panels to phones have been unsuccessful for several reasons, mainly because a cell phone is usually in your pocket or being held in your hand or away from sun, because cell phones usually overheat when they are in the sun, and because a phone-sized solar panel doesn’t provide enough juice to power a phone.

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Why We are Looking Forward to Homeschooling

JamesHeidiPark

Last month, someone asked us if we were planning to educate James at home. There’s a lot of reasons why the answer is yes; mostly related to Biblical obedience. Heidi and I believe very strongly that it is our own personal responsibility to raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Even if our current public school curriculum wasn’t fundamentally opposed to these things (and co-ed bathrooms are the least of our concerns, by the way), institutional education systems don’t leave the time or opportunities for us to set the examples for our children that we see Scripture describing for us, the parents.

But it goes beyond that. We’re not seeing home education as a burden we carry until our country’s messed-up schooling system gets fixed, and we’re not approaching it like a daily cross to bear (not until we get to Algebra, anyhow), but as a blessing! We may be a little nervous about our own personal abilities to teach, since this is our first time to do this, but we are genuinely excited about this. Why is that?

The best, clearest, most concise answer to that is simply that we were educated at home. I realize that lots of other homeschooled kids have rejected homeschooling, that not everyone who experienced homeschooling has the best attitude about it, and that we all had different parents and experienced a different process of homeschooling. And yet, there is no better way to explain why Heidi and I are just plain excited to teach our children at home than simply to explain that we have experienced it ourselves.

Our parents taught us to love God’s Word and God’s ways, and we want to do the same for our children. But it goes beyond that. We want to teach our children at home because we loved being with our parents and siblings growing up, and we want to allow our children to have that same wonderful experience. We’re excited about providing that experience to them and being a part of it with them.

JamesIsaacPark

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Adding Elastic Pockets to a Camera Strap

SonyRX100

I’m used to travelling with with a lot of camera equipment. I like having a kit of several lenses, some audio recording equipment, and at least one backup camera, just in case. However, now that Heidi and James are with me, and James requires a pretty sizable collection of accessories, support equipment, and backup clothing just of his own, I tend to carry a lot less production gear. Of course, if I’m travelling for work, I generally have a bag or two like this one, but on our last family trip, all I brought was an H2 recorder and a tiny point-and-shoot camera.

CameraStrapPocket

Of course, I still wanted to take along spare batteries and an extra memory card. The problem was that I didn’t really want to throw all this extra stuff in my pockets along with my phone, wallet, knife, and then James’ toys, pacifier, teething gel, extra socks, discarded shoes, bits of windscreen that he has chewed off of the H2, etc. And so to make all the camera gear fit into a single, easily grabbable item, Heidi made these nifty pockets for the neck strap. Each pocket is simply a loop of 3″ elastic threaded onto the strap, sewed shut on the bottom, and then sewed partly shut on the top. That little bit of stitching at the top of the pocket keeps card and batteries extremely secure inside.

CameraStrapComplete

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Must-Have CNC Machine Tools

CNCtools

Now that I’ve been working with our CNC machine for a little while, I’ve begun accumulating various tools to make my various jobs easier. I’ve tested a lot of different types and makers of bits, experimented with a bunch of different ways to mount work to the table, and here are several things that I use every day:

  • Freud Straight Flute bits: great for thinner sheet plastic
  • Countersink Bolts + Wingnuts: for attaching jigs
  • MDF & HDPE: cheap machinable jig material
  • 25ft Tape: for measuring big things
  • Ruler: for measuring small things
  • Calipers: for measuring tiny things
  • Pens and Sharpies: to write on everything
  • Notebook: to write down everything
  • Wireless Keyboard: Remote control of terminal

To be perfectly honest, the most useful things on the table are those last two. I really needed a notebook to keep track of all my settings and measurements, so I could flip back a few days to see what depth I was cutting this jig at, or what that toolpath was supposed to look like, or what feedrates I’ve already tried with a certain bit – without taking the time to load up the files on my computer.

I also wanted to drive the machine without walking back to the computer. There are several options for professional CNC remote controls, but this $15 keyboard works great – once you memorize the key commands for Shopbot’s software. Now I can move, jog, and calibrate the machine from anywhere in the shop. Anyway, all of these little things things have sped up my workflow enough to have time for side projects like this:

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Art Deco Poster Design

Spotlight-Poster

A couple of weeks ago I got to design the main poster for the annual Remembering WWII event in Linden, TN. This is a local event organized by some good friends, and lots of folks from our church participate in it. Its main purpose is to honor WWII veterans, and let them teach important lessons from that war. There’s live music, lots of vintage vehicles, and an ever-growing battle re-enactment. I was really happy to get to work on this poster, and I gave it a late 1930s Art Deco style.

Obviously, actual American propaganda posters from WWII were painted in the 1940s, and the most iconic posters have a style and design elements from the 40s. There wasn’t as much Art Deco influence at that time, partly because design fads are usually short-lived, but also because of advances in printing technology. As cheap, mass poster production moved from basic screen printing to four color half-toning, poster design moved from simple geometric shapes and minimal colors to full color paintings, often by brilliant illustrators like Flagg, Barclay, and Rockwell.

ArtDecoPosters

However, an Art Deco poster is much easier to imitate than a Norman Rockwell painting, and much more retro. It’s instantly recognizable as something from the past, which is why movies like Captain America usually lean more heavily on the flamboyant and distinctive styles from the early 30s than the more utilitarian designs of the 40s. Have a look at my vector draft after the jump:

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Gun Control, Modern Manufacturing, and Arbitrary Laws

Ar15 Lower Reciever

Fact: private citizens are allowed to manufacture their own firearms, as many as they like, without having a Federal Firearms License, and without giving these firearms a serial number. It is only when transferring that firearm to someone else that it needs a serial number and paperwork, and so forth. Fact: the lower receiver is the part of the AR-15 that is legally classified as the firearm, and if that part is less than 80% finished, it is legally not a firearm. Many Americans buy these unfinished blank receivers freely on the internet, finish the machining themselves, and are technically the private manufacturers of the resulting firearm, which is perfectly legal for them to own.

Seems pretty simple, right? Not if you are the BATFE. Take the case of CA resident Daniel Crowninshield, who began renting out his CNC mill to folks that wanted to finish out their 80% lowers. In 2013, an undercover BATFE agent documented how Crowninsheild helped him build a jig for a lower, instructed him on how to fixture it in the machine and how to start and run that machine, and then (at the agent’s request) sold him more lower receivers. In 2014, Crowninsheild was charged with unlawful manufacturing and dealing of firearms, and five other charges. In 2015, the BATFE made a new ruling (2015-1) that more clearly defined Crowninsheild’s activities as unlawful firearm manufacture. Last week, he plead guilty to two charges, including unlawful manufacturing and dealing of firearms.

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Introducing the New CNC Machine

ShopBot1

This is the CNC router that I’ve been working on for the last two months; the first one I’ve ever worked on. It’s a 4×8 PRT Alpha from Shopbot, and we bought it used, which means that it’s the older model, but it did come all wired up. That means that we got it up and running quickly, but it also means that I don’t really know what I’m doing when I have to find a wiring issue. If I’d wired all the connections from scratch, I might actually remember what things are. As it is, I find that I have to talk to tech support about once a week.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with this machine. In function, price, and capability, it sits somewhere between a DIY hobbyist tool and full-fledged production machine. It’s cheap (for what it is), and you are expected to be pretty handy with a multimeter and machine code to keep it working (I am not handy with these things). There is no hand-holding or helpful software wizards or internal digital diagnostic checks on this machine. On the other hand, it is a sturdy steel table equipped with fast and powerful stepper motors and a 4hp spindle that can do a lot of serious work.

Shopbot3

Here are a few “starting-out” lessons I’ve learned that seem really obvious in hindsight. As you might guess, these are trial and error kinda lessons:

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