On a positive note…

Reviewing the last several posts, it would appear that for a few months that I have been in the doldrums of despair. While that is partly true, it is not where I have spent the majority of my time.

At work, I’ve been working on several projects dealing with online video, digital publishing, and helping out a team re-architecting several systems within a client’s structure. In other words, work has me busy and it’s been the good kind of interesting.

If you’ve been paying attention to the weather in the mid-western United States, then you can guess that I have been mostly indoors during the record cold and snows this year. It’s put my woodworking, and anything in the garage on hold, almost everything.

Earlier I had a picture of a cat resting in the partly assembled shelves of a bookcase I build last year. That cat, Angel, is kind of the neighborhood cat, and since her original owners didn’t take her in anymore, we’ve had her wintering in the garage. She’s quite happy there, but a little stir crazy like all of us since she can’t go outside. She’s even gotten into the house a few times, and while our dog likes her, the cats in the house, one of which is a daughter of her’s, definitely do not like sharing the house with the newcomer.

I’ve been working on a talk about Grunt, a task running utility that I use at work to reduce the redundant things I do (building, running tests on code, and making deployments). I’ve applied to give a talk at Chicago Code Camp in a few months, and plan to give the talk before then to the people at work.

I was planning on going to the Game Developers Conference (GDC) this year, but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards given the current focus of projects at work. Though I should be seeing Jim Van Verth next month, and he will be speaking there. He is wicked smart, and now works at Google. Sometimes I hope by being in the room with him that I get better at my own math skills.

So until it warms up outside, I plan on continuing the inside hobbies. Oh, I’ve also played far to many games while stuck inside this winter, finishing Batman Arkham Asylum, Arkham City, Tomb Raider, and playing many levels of Orcs Must Die 2 with Erin (my wife). When it warms up, the workshop will be aired out, and I can continue on the secret project. Until then, I am endeavoring to not distract myself from writing and editing the writing I have done. It’s a losing battle right now, but I hope for at least a Pyrrhic victory over my procrastination.

Erin hasn’t seen the Avengers movie yet, and I am making sure that she is fixing that gap in her knowledge now. So until next time, stay warm.

3D Printing: The Stepper Conundrum

Today’s conundrum from my 3D printer has vexed me for three days now.

So, an update since the last one.

Last time, I estimated I was at 60% complete with the build and needed to finish that, install the firmware, get the filament, and begin printing. Well… that was almost what I had to do.

I’ve completed the physical build, as much as I can but more on that later. I’ve installed the firmware and tested that it works with the software on my computer. I’ve even attempted to do a test print to start calibrating the settings. Oh, and I got the filament (after ordering the wrong type of plastic the first time).

Filament, just realized that some of you might not know what that is. Filament for 3D printers is basically thread made of plastic. Really thick thread, but it comes on a spool and is fed into the 3D printer like thread into a sewing machine. It comes in two main sizes 3 mm and 1.75 mm. I am using the 1.75 mm, since it has been found to work better than the 3 mm filament. which sometimes overwhelms the heater that melts the plastic.

So anyway, that’s where the problems started.

The trouble presented itself as an inability to push the plastic out to be printed. It comes out like frosting from a cake funnel, or like toothpaste from a tube, and is supposed to be layered up, one on top of the other, until you have a completed object.

At least that’s the idea.

You see, there’s a motor that pushes the filament into the extruder (that’s the toothpaste tube). The motor is a special kind, called a stepper motor. Named that because it can take individual steps of rotation, unlike most DC motors that just spin. Because it can do this, it can push just a little, or a lot, of plastic through the hot end of the extruder in measured amounts.

Mine however, was not doing that.

What it was doing was pushing a little of plastic out, but then reversing direction and pulling the filament back, then pushing it back in or pulling it out more, depending on fate and whimsy. It wasn’t so whimsical for me though. The melted plastic cools very fast, but ends up leaving little spiderweb threads of plastic as it comes out. I went through a fair amount of plastic in the last three days troubleshooting things.

Something said at work today, along with thinking about all of the settings are available finally led me to the solution.

I had tried everything I could think of over the last few days. Switching stepper motors, switching driver circuits, changing the amount of plastic to be extruded. All of those things done one at a time to see the result of the change, and making note of how it improved or made worse the problem. At work yesterday though, one of my co-workers was wrestling with an issue and it was suggested that while he was going through the same process as I was with the 3D printer (it’s a common troubleshooting process for code), that perhaps he had more than just one problem to fix.

This was no surprise to me, having just come off another project where I was tracking down a bug that led to several other bugs being uncovered and needing fixing before I could fix what the client actually wanted fixed. It wasn’t until I got home and looked through the firmware that I realized there was a setting I missed.

Going through the calculations, I realized that the stepping code wasn’t set correctly for my printer. I adjusted that, but still had a problem. It was a bit better, but still would reverse seemingly at random. I switched stepper drivers again, and voila! a working stepper motor.

So long story short, I have a solution for my problem, and as soon as the new stepper driver arrives, I will have a working printer.

I’m keeping the bad driver board for now, to learn from and see if I can eventually fix it. Right now though, with the deck, the secret project, the 3D printer, NaNoWriMo, and HoNoToGroABeMo coming up, I have enough on my plate to last through November!

If any of you have any questions or suggestions about 3D printing, or stepper motors and their drivers specifically, feel free to drop me a line in the comments.

One project down. On to the next!

So yesterday, I talked about all of the projects I have been doing this year, and how I’ve finished a few. Today I can chalk up another one done.

The laser engraver that I have been reworking is finally running smoothly. The small one I had posted about before has been up-sized to be useful for what I wanted it for in the first place, that being cutting vinyl templates for etching glass. It’s cutting second template right now. Well, not now as you read it of course, but as I write this. There are still some kinks to work out by dialing in the settings, and the electronics all need to go into an enclosure, but the bulk of the work is complete.

Pictures? You want pictures?!? *sigh* Ok, here’s pictures. The original, next to the new version:


As you can see, the new one is quite a bit bigger than the original. I haven’t used the whole bed yet, and I may not, since the part you can see in the picture is actually all I need for what I had originally planned. Perhaps larger templates are in my future.

I just looked at the image again, wow, what a mess! That’s boxes from the office, my dog’s feet, an old QuickCam from my Quadra 660AV days, and some plaster molds. As you can see, I still have a lot of cleaning to do in the basement.

What next?

Well, I have the deck still, though I got in all of the posts for the main portion this weekend. Given all the delays with getting holes dug, and family emergencies, I am going to have to get an extension on the building permit. Hopefully they actually give extensions. It’s coming along though, and the octagon’s posts should go in tomorrow, weather permitting. After that are the beams and inspection, before moving on to the joists and decking.┬áThat will be my main focus over this next week while daylight permitting.

Work is research right now. I’ve reached out to a friend, Jim Van Verth, to help me with some of the higher order math involved. At least it’s higher order enough to me that I don’t know what the symbols mean. I am sure Jim can shed some light on them for me. Thanks in advance Jim!

I’m also working on AngularJS, since it’s something I’ve been seeing worked on more and more. I have a nice little test project for learning it. It’s an interface to a home kegging system for beer. The original project Kegerface, was php and a flat file with beer information. I’m using it for inspiration, but will be completely rewriting it in AngularJS and running on a NodeJS server. More on that in the future, and links to my Github repo when I’m ready for people to hack on it with me.

Don't forget to wear these. Your safety glasses.
Don’t forget to wear these. Your safety glasses.

Work on the secret project also got done this weekend, and it’s running even smoother now. If I can dial in the base rotation system, I will be just about done with the prototype. I’ll keep teasing you with the details until I can talk about it.

I could keep going, but I have more to get done!

A final note. When working with lasers, don’t forget these, your safety glasses. (With thanks to Norm Abrams.)

Pick of the Day

So this last Saturday, before the rain here on Sunday, we performed a annual ritual around my house. That ritual? Going apple picking.

We’ve gone several years running now, and it’s always been a great time with the family. We don’t go in for the corn mazes, or the other bits and bobs that many of the larger orchards offer. I want to spend time with my kids and my wife, and going to a place like that just makes me want to leave.

A taste of fruitThis is the second time we’ve gone to this orchard. Last year, with the drought, they actually only had apples at the payment hut, but they allowed us to walk through the orchard. After an hour walk, we found a few apples in the trees, and they graciously let us just have them. We also bought some apples from them last year, this year though, had a much bigger crop.

We had arrived just before a larger crowd, and by larger I mean only three other cars. So things were calm and quiet. It was a wonderful sunny day in the high seventies. We went from tree to tree, looking for the apples that were larger and more ripe than the others. The place we go to doesn’t use pesticides on their trees, so we also had to look out for wasps and other stinging insects. There were some, but as is normal, we left them alone, they left us alone.

Erin watched and took pictures while with my youngest on my shoulders, we were able to reach some really nice apples. Handing them from her hand, down to me, then my oldest, and into the bag, it was a great way to bond and develop a memory that we will all share.

After fifteen minutes of picking apples in their honey crisp section, we had gathered over 20 pounds of apples. Nearly 1o kilograms! That is a lot of apples.┬áSo far, aside from eating them, Erin has made apple turnovers – of which I have demanded more.

We took some more time to look through the orchard, and took the scenic route back to the entrance and the payment hut. We had a nice conversation about their cider and how the triple beam scale worked for weighing the apples as we checked out. It’s a pleasant place, and well worth the time Erin and I spent with the girls.

Overall, this is about spending time with family. Getting out, doing something beyond the norm, being with the people you are with, and taking things more slowly, at a pace you can really grasp. I’ve spent too much time in front of monitors of some kind, and so have my kids. While this didn’t take long at all to do, maybe 3 hours at most on the Saturday, it is something I will remember for years. Well worth ditching a computer for.