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Frankenprinters May 14, 2019

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My army of loyal readers (hi, Mom!) will recall my fondness for and fascination with the promise of 3D printers, and similar robotic manufacturing techniques. I should have acquired several by now, but I am famously cheap thrifty and so never indulged this particular whim..until just a bit ago when I acquired three not-working printers from a cosplay parts dealer named Alder (last name redacted, because I never learned it) for a bargain price of a hundred bucks apiece.


They each had at least one major thing wrong, and all had some disconnected wiring. The middle one had a missing limit switch on the y-axis and a missing adjustment for the z-axis (it’s still missing; I am going to try and fix that this evening–look for exciting updates) limit switch.  I can’t tell what else is wrong with it until I stop threatening my build plate.

The left one needed a bit of wiring (fairly easy to find wiring diagrams for the boards attached, with a bit of intuition) and an adjustment to the z-axis limit switch and a new motherboard. The right one needed (may still need) a new heated build plate (I am currently using it as a PLA printer, so a hot plate is not so critical), wiring, z-axis adjustment and some patience, as I was a little too stupid to fix it myself when I bought these guys a while back.  I had to grow in confidence before I could troubleshoot. In fairness, the exhausting regimen of commuting between my work and home on weekends (six hours one way) really dampened my spirits.  I’m not usually such a coward.

I forget how many of them needed new hot ends or thermistors (two, I think) and rewiring to accomodate them.

Lastly, all needed new blue tape (very important; no adhesion without fresh tape!)

adhesion fixed.jpeg

and one needed new glass.  The first print (with new tape) did not photograph well:

sdhc swiss army knife.jpeg

I attribute poor image quality to beer; cameras should never drink.


Noir, a Novel, by Christopher Moore May 2, 2019

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Noir, a Novel, by Christopher Moore combines Moore’s signature humor with the delivery of a noir-fiction detective. It is, like all his books, filled with wild improbabilities or impossibilities depending on your religion (or lack thereof). Get the audio book version; the reader gets it just right at every turn of the page.

For your trouble you will get murder (of course; it is a noir novel), kidnapping, gangsters, conspiracies, secret societies, hookers dressed like Dorothy Gale, a girlfriend referred to as “The Cheese”, potential human sacrifice and a completely unexpected ending, unless you are big on deus ex machina, or catches in left field.

In my usual way of ensuring maximum delight, I give no details whatsoever. Let it unfold in your mind. Available on Amazon (of course) and sfpl.org.

January Dancer, by Michael Flynn May 1, 2019

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January Dancer, by Michael Flynn, is a juicy little bit of wordplay cleverly disguised as a science fiction novel featuring clever cops, more clever criminals, powerful pre-Human artifacts, corporate greed, human cupidity, piracy, rebellion, senseless violence, gratuitous sex (is it only coincidence that it advances the plot?) and moral courage.

I enjoyed it hugely. Basically, a pre-Human artifact is discovered by a space crew repairing their ship, surrendered for a fee to the Big Corporation With Evil Ends in Mind, stolen by space pirates, recovered by persons unknown, sought by idealistic rebels, found by clever policemen, stolen by ….

It’s a little bit complicated, but pretty much everyone can enjoy it despite the complexities of the MacGuffin hunt, if only for the names of the places and characters and the fascinating patois of the locals (see wordplay, above).  In the hands of the capable narrator, it fairly sings with delightful banter and description.

Available on Amazon (of course) and sfpl.org. Most highly recommended.

3D-printed Millimeter-sized Robots April 25, 2019

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An exciting (and lovingly detailed) paper in Science Robotics documents the design and production of Millimeter-scale flexible robots with programmable three-dimensional magnetization and motions for use in hard-to-reach body parts and possibly surgery as well. Developed by researchers in the University of Toronto, the tiny little device is activated by a magnetic field:

As in all the best papers, this one show materials and methods in exquisite detail, illustrating the physical apparatus for patterning the magnetic needles which make up the basic structure of several tiny machines: the millimeter-scale segmented magnetic swimmer, the untethered multi-arm magnetic microgripper, and the multi-legged paddle-crawling robot.

What’s really wonderful about this paper is the careful explanation of the first principles used to build up all the other pieces (see Table 1., where they show the reason they are able to successfully manipulate in three dimensions using only a single magnetic field).

Table 1. Capabilities of major existing methods to pattern magnetic particles. 1D: Only binary magnetization can be patterned, e.g., longitudinal or perpendicular recording in a hard disk drive. 2D: Direction of magnetization in each layer is restricted to a single plane. 3D: Magnetization in each layer can be patterned in arbitrary direction. Discrete: Magnetization in each area is independent of adjacent areas. Continuum: Magnetization in each area cannot have sudden changes with respect to adjacent areas. N/A, not applicable.

Screen Shot 2019-04-25 at 10.10.00 AM
*Shape of media refers to the structure of the composite materials in which the magnetic particles are dispersed. 2D refers to planar structures, whereas 3D refers to solid 3D structures.

†States of magnetization is defined as degrees of freedom related to the orientation of hard magnetic particles or preferred magnetic axes of soft magnetic particles in each area.


Beautiful. The rest of the paper is just as detailed, and even fairly easy to understand.


Homework: T. Xu el al., “Millimeter-Scale Flexible Robots with Programmable Three-Dimensional Magnetization and Motions,” Science Robotics (2019). robotics.sciencemag.org/lookup … /scirobotics.aav4494

Synchro de Mayo May 21, 2018

Posted by stuffilikenet in RV and camping, Toys, Uncategorizable, Uncategorized.
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is not really what it’s called, it is just when it happens.  A congregation of some of the 2600-odd Volkswagen Vanagon Synchros in the United States, it’s really a long camping party in Hollister State Recreation Area and the best place to see immaculately kept and/or innovatively modified Synchros:
















There’s one in every crowd, I guess.







Why four wheel drive?



Vanagon owner doing what they do most.



The newest Volkswagen four-wheel drive: not for sale in California (or maybe the USA)


Typical Vanagon in its native habitat.

There were other VW vans there, of course:





His Plan to Own Lakefront Property Advanced December 18, 2016

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I hope my new weather machine does not work better than I thought.

EXCITING UPDATE: everyone knows about the flooding and the two atmospheric rivers.  Very sorry about that.


Unity3D Game Engine November 8, 2016

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If you already know a few things about coding in Java or C#, you can probably cobble together a few different types of games using Unity3D’s game engine. I can state this with fair confidence as I have done just that following their video tutorials with slavish adherence to every bit (and byte, I suppose) of their coding advice.  The Unity3D game engine will allow you to compile to a number of different operating systems; I built an Android app and a web-based sample you can see here.  It’s a fun little space shooter a la Galaxians, but a bit more primitive.  I was just thrilled to make it work with so little knowledge of C#.

I’m an idiot; I am sure you all can do better.  The video tutorials on Unity’s site show examples of 2D and 3D games, both perspective and first person games.  There’s lots of shooting, but there doesn’t need to be (Katamari Damacy, anyone?); be creative. 

My personal dreamscape of computer games involves cutlery fighting with crockery; YMMV.

Perovskite’s Progress September 4, 2016

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The Problem: we need power that is renewable and carbon-neutral.

Potential Solutions: nuclear, wind, hydro and solar.

Potential Problems With the Potential Solutions:

Nuclear—waste segregation  for 100,000 years, expensive plants that only last 50 years at best

Wind—not always available, but good start

Hydro—not nearly enough rivers and too many snail darters

Solar—expensive, and we need a lot of them

Solution: make solar so cheap as to be ubiquitous by economics alone. Traditional silicon cells have to be made in expensive, high-temperature processes, like growing a single crystal and slicing it, sputtering other materials on it, etc. Enter alternative materials, such as perovskite (CaTiO3. Actually XIIA2+VIB4+X2−3, but I digress). Perovskites can be manufactured with low-cost, low-energy wet methods (except maybe some annealing of deposited TiO3 ). In one-step solution processing, a lead halide and a methylammonium halide can be dissolved in a solvent and spin coated onto a substrate. Such spin-coated cells recently have shown efficiencies above 20%, competitive with silicon cells. You can make perovskite cells at home without spincoating:

The weird thing about the preceding video is that it was one of many.  A LOT of people are looking into perovskites for solar power applications…which is good, because there are a few problems.

Perovskites are prone to degrade under air and water. Bummer, seeing as how solar cells sit on rooftops with lots of both handy.  Researchers have begun to tackle this problem, most recently from the Graphene Flagship at Instituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) and the University of Rome Tor Vergata, who have significantly enhanced the stability of perovskite solar cells by adding a MoS2 buffer layer to retain 93% of the initial light conversion efficiency after 550 hours, compared to only 66% for cells without the MoS2 buffer layer. This is impressive as heck, especially since the MoS2 layer is sprayed on, keeping costs and power requirements low. Evidently the MoS2 layer prevents ion migration from the electrode, and aids in hole mobility.



Solar Cells: Few-Layer MoS2 Flakes as Active Buffer Layer for Stable Perovskite Solar Cells (Adv. Energy Mater. 16/2016)

Light Show June 30, 2016

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When I was a boy all we had were clock crystals, dye, oil and overhead projectors. Of course LSD was legal then, so it seemed as impressive as Jupiter.

My Enemies are Vanquished May 19, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Brilliant words, Uncategorizable, Uncategorized.
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I promised no more posting until my enemies were vanquished, and I mostly kept my word.  I can tell because readership has dropped precipitously in the last year. Now my house is (mostly) finished and I started a contract job helping rescue some semiconductor company documents, our stuff is moved to a lovely house in the Frozen North and my feet don’t hurt so much.  Along the way my wife and I both lost our fathers and I developed sciatica bad enough to require an emergency room visit which gave me pneumonia requiring a second emergency room visit.  I discovered some really lovely people work in hospitals (it’s a pity I don’t remember the second visit. Pneumonia does that, apparently). I also discovered that my wife has a real talent for project management, that my relatives and in-laws are kind and generous, and that my friends come through in a pinch.

Thank you all.

We will resume our faithful coverage of strange Stuff I Like including science, technology, all things geeky and some things humorous, especially if your idea of humorous is anything like mine (probably not).  Basically, whatever I am thinking about for half an hour at lunchtime.

Lex Luthor’s Successor May 18, 2016

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A Wannabe Supervillain Built His Own Thermite Cannon

Colin Furze has a new toy. It’s a thermite cannon, or maybe a thermite grenade launcher. As a first prototype, it is excellent; as a R&D guy I have to tell  him that users are not going to be satisfied with so bulky and heavy a weapon.  He needs some engineers to optimize for manufacturing as well.  Still, it is a very satisfying proof of concept.

See, this is the sort of thing I want to do when I retire.

BeerCam June 13, 2015

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Taylorsville is the home of a number of, um, colorful characters. This fellow had a unique approach to the self-documented life.

Servant April 24, 2015

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When a doctor dies broke serving his fellow man he’s really served them.

Exciting update:


I Googled Ukulele Karaoke March 14, 2015

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The results were nowhere as terrible as you might have imagined.  I found that that “ukulele karaoke” is the best way to learn a few uke songs fast.  My sainted sister got a ukulele at Newtonmas and hasn’t touched it, so I lent her a hand.

I Googled Ukulele Karaoke March 14, 2015

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The results were nowhere as terrible as you might have imagined.  I found that that “ukulele karaoke” is the best way to learn a few uke songs fast.  My sainted sister got a ukulele at Newtonmas and hasn’t touched it, so I lent her a hand.

Good! I Can Skip The Learning Part! March 13, 2015

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Better for everyone that way.

Safer, too.

You Know Who Will Win March 11, 2015

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Mutants, Uncategorized, Video.
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Apocalypse Cow by Michael Logan February 23, 2015

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Apocalypse Cow is World War Z, with cows.

Since it is told in the British English style it is, in fact, as hilarious as that scenario can be, which is considerably.  No, really:

"Apocalypse Cow made me snort with laughter." — Terry Pratchett

‘nuff said.

The Story of India February 23, 2015

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As a closeted history geek, I am often driven to confess my adoration for particularly informative books or films.  India is probably the best place to start developing a ridiculous love of history, because they have so much of it. The Story of India displays lovely glimpses into some of India’s glorious and notorious past, from the 5000-year old plumbing to temple rites conducted continuously for two thousand years, unchanged in the same temple.

Ancient Romans worried about the balance of payments to India.  How’s THAT for perspective?

This two-disk BBC video is presented (and written) by Michael Wood in the standard BBC way, but with about a million human touches: interviews with locals about their town, village, temple, museum, architecture…it goes on.  A fine piece of video presentation with breathtaking scenery that shows the range of modern and ancient India’s influence on the world, I recommend this video to any history geek.  The DVDs are on sale of course, but it’s currently free on Amazon Prime and an excellent introduction to India’s storied past.

No Title Can Ever Do It Justice February 11, 2015

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