Lost Temple Flood Animation

whales

A couple of months ago, when we were at the Noah Conference, we also visited AIG’s new Ark Encounter. It’s an amazingly full-sized accurate replica of Noah’s Ark on the outside, and, thanks to Kentucky building codes, a slightly less accurate replica on the inside (I’m sure Noah’s family didn’t have clearly illuminated exit signs and a 198B.6401 certified sprinkler system), but the craftsmanship of the timber inside is worth the trip.

I visited the workshop in January of 2015, just before construction began, and while designers were feverishly working on exhibit plans, there was nothing built. To see a completed Ark only 18 months later was simply astounding, and everything inside, from the living quarters to the the animals to the dioramas of the pre-flood world, is fantastic. I was inspired to create a little flood-based art of my own, and I used the week after the conference to do a quick animation.

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Make Your Own Cold-Brew Coffee Maker

ColdCoffeeDrip

In case our readers hadn’t noticed yet, it is now completely summertime (here in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway). Our air conditioning is running for a lot of the day, James is a little less excited about playing outside right after his morning nap, and Heidi and I are pretty much only drinking coffee that is full of ice.

We aren’t really coffee aficionados, but do we usually grind our own coffee and brew it in a French press like some coffee snobs swear by. Now that it’s warmer, we’ve begun cold-brewing our coffee, and despite the fact that cold-brewed coffee has a different flavor and possibly less caffeine, we like it. For those that haven’t tried the now popular practice, cold-brewing involves steeping ground coffee in much cooler water for a much longer time. We use room temperature water and let it steep for about 24 hours.

It’s just as easy to make, as long as you prepare the coffee far enough ahead of time that it will be ready when you want to drink it. We’ve been making tomorrow’s coffee right after pouring today’s coffee that we started brewing in our French press yesterday. However, the French press doesn’t hold too much, and it doesn’t filter out quite all the grounds. As usual, I thought there could be a better way.

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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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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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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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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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Making Heidi’s Engagement Ring

EngagementRing

Tomorrow is the two-year anniversary of our engagement, but since Heidi and I plan to be busy then, I thought I’d post about this ring tonight. I think I’ve gotten more questions about this ring than she has, which is a little strange, but then again, I spent a fair amount of time thinking about what Heidi might be looking for an engagement ring before she was probably ready to think about being engaged. It is, by far, the most special design project I’ve ever worked on.

When Heidi first saw this ring it marked the very special first day of our engagement. Interestingly, because I’d been working on it for so long, I more thought of it as marking the end of our wonderful but much more uncertain un-engaged relationship. I started working on it so early because I didn’t know how long it might take to learn how to make a ring like this. I only worked on it when we were apart. When things were going well, I’d sketch on it while I prayed about my hopes. When things were going not so well, I’d worry that I’d never be able to show it to her.

And two years ago, she saw it for the first time. And now, the boring technical background. This was only my second jewelry experiment (here’s the first), and I didn’t know anything about rings, but I knew what I wanted, and thanks to some undercover research that her sister Megan had done on my behalf, I thought that I had a pretty good idea of what Heidi would want.

That being said, my first design didn’t actually work. I sent drawings around to a few foundries that specialize in mechanical parts and jewelry casting, and I was told that I hadn’t made the prongs that hold the stone quite strong enough for the angle I had placed them in. I wanted a strong, practical ring that would last, so I tweaked the angle and thickness of a few parts, and ended up with this:

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Superfortress Sunrise

For the last month or so I’ve been buried in work relating to CNC machines and material constraints and toolpaths, so it was nice to do a quick, straightforward animation job. This was a very fast project for a friend, and I think it turned out pretty nicely. It is extremely simple; the B-29s are textured using blueprint drawings as bump maps, the exhaust plumes are textured boxes, and the planes and camera were animated procedurally. All light and cloud stuff was done in After Effects, as you can see here:

Many, many, Januaries ago, when I was just four years old, my Dad took me to see the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan. At the time, it was still being refurbished, but the Smithsonian used to let folks behind the curtain if they asked nicely. Last January, when my niece Katherine was almost four years old, her Daddy took her to the Air and Space Museum’s giant Udvar-Hazy Hangar, where the completely restored Enola Gay is currently exhibited. She was fascinated by the big planes, but her little brother Nehamiah was most intrigued by the P-40 Warhawk that “had a mouth on it.”