Category Archives: Objects

More Adventures in Tiny Stepper Motors and Drivers

A tiny stepper motor being driven by a TMC2208 Stepstick

Last summer I posted about some tiny stepper motors from the internet, thinking about them as an alternative to mechatronic standbys like those terrible SG90 type servos or larger and differently terrible 28BYJ-48 geared steppers driven through a ULN2003.

At the time, I tried one with an A4988 stepstick from the top of my parts bin, and it didn’t work, so I figured there was some limitation and stuck to directly driving with H-bridges.
…it turns out the “limitation” was that the cheap current-setting potentiometer on that particular stepstick was broken so it was driving no output current.

Discoveries:

  • Those little bipolar stepper motors work fine with bipolar stepper drivers.
  • Generational gains in bipolar stepper driver ICs are substantial (eg. A4988 -> TMC2208).
  • The venerable 28BYJ-48 unipolar stepper motor is easily modified to run from bipolar drivers.
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Installing SKS B53 Fenders on a Giant Escape Disc

Giant Escape 3 Disc with SKS B53 Fenders
Giant Escape 3 Disc with SKS B53 fenders, modified to fit

I’ve been biking a fair amount lately after a 20-odd year hiatus; I decided last year that I wanted to start biking, bought a Giant Escape 3 Disc near the end of summer, but didn’t get confident enough riding to use it around campus last year among the students texting their way to their first (next?) vehicular manslaughter charge before they flocked back.

This summer, I’ve been dong my commute into campus on it, plus a significant amount of fun/exercise riding, and the top fixable annoyance has become getting sprayed at the slightest hint of wet. I did some hackin’ that I haven’t seen on the interwebs to fit the fenders I picked to the frame, which is the point of this post.

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Latitude 7390

Dell Latitude 7390, my several-generation-old next generation of carryin’ around computer.

The Latitude E7250 I’ve been carrying around since 2017 is one of my favorite machines I’ve ever had; it’s small, robust, has perfect hardware support under Linux… and is starting to get a little too feeble for some tasks I’d like to use it for, experienced a few spurious shutdowns, and has a screen crack causing delamination.

I continue to be a fan of having a small, relatively inexpensive machine for carrying around, and a believer in “The only Dell laptops with acceptable build quality start with a 7”, so in the tradition of the $400 for a refurb and RAM upgrade I spent on the E7250, I ordered one of its more-or-less direct successors, a refurbished Latitude 7390 on a half-off sale a few weeks ago for about $470.

After a few weeks, it looks to be an excellent successor. Nitpicky details and comparisons below the fold.

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Onn Surf 8 (100003561) Hacking

I have an Onn Surf 8 (One of the surprisingly-not-that-shitty ultra-cheap Walmart tablets) that my research group bought a couple of to use as Android dev testbeds. I’ve been occasionally using it as a normal tablet since I have it around, and have been consistently irritated by the collection of bloatware it comes with…. so I decided to hack it. To tl;dr this whole thing, ignore the collection of typically scammy Android dev forum and blogspam crud, and use the open-source mtkclient for your MediaTek Android device hackin’ needs.

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TI Silent 700 745 Hard Copy Terminal

Top view of an open Texas Instruments Silent 700 Mod. 745 portable hard-copy TTY

I’ve wanted a hard-copy terminal for a while – both to play with and to use for explaining why serial works the way it does, but they tend to be expensive. Most of the common hard-copy terminals also aren’t really convenient objects to own: loud desk-sized machines (Teletype 33 family, most DECWriters), additionally clockwork nightmares (IBM 2741, earlier Teletype devices), which speak ridiculous protocols (…ditto).
This only leaves a handful of reasonable options, the most common of which are portables like TI Silent 700s and DEC LA12s, or one of the dasiywheel-printer based terminals (which are often non-period-correct things like a WheelWriter with a modern serial interface card in it).


So, of course, I’ve been idly keeping an eye out for a deal on one on the auction sites, and mid-October last year I got lucky: I scored a TI Silent 700 Mod. 745 for $34.00+S&H (about $47 all in) from a Shopgoodwill auction, and got it working.

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Some Cheap 3D Printer Upgrades

Photo of Anycubic Kossel on top of a concrete paver + upholstery foam isolation platform.
Paver + Foam isolation Platform

I’ve had an Anycubic Linear Kossel for several years now, and have generally been quite pleased with it – if Anycubic were still selling them I’d still be suggesting them as ideal first printers.

It has produced quite a number of useful pieces, a decent assortment of household conveniences, and the usual selection of toys and meme trash for myself and others.

I’ve made a couple recent upgrades that seemed worth documenting.

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Over-Designed Model Paint Shaker

An over-designed and useless agitator for Testors enamel bottles

…An otherwise useless exercise in rapid prototyping.

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Toys for my Escape Velocity Itch

Printed and painted Kestrel and Lightning models on a PowerBook 5,4

I had my regularly-scheduled itch to play Escape Velocity or one of its successors and/or clones the other week, and decided to play the real thing this time since I did a lap on Endless Sky not too long ago, and NAEV still doesn’t quite grab me.

I’m now most of the way through a game of EV (under emulation in Basilisk II), and …impulse bought a cheap 2004 15″ Aluminum PowerBook G4 (a 5,4) off the internet after a crash ate a save file. I have good coverage of Apple 1984-1994 in my collection (in the form of bulky desktops with CRTs), and x86 OS X is pretty easy to run in a VM, but I have a hole in the late PPC era. That machine will hopefully eventually also get its own post as I finish fixing it up, it’s not in perfect condition but it auctioned below prevailing when I was looking, and seems to be acceptable.

While I was looking into the player communities (…because it’s become very hard to set up a working install of EV Nova recently, and I can’t find a backup of my registered copy) I discovered that a couple months ago some wonderful person (slurked on thingiverse/quarmus on reddit) made and shared 3D models of the Kestrel and Lightning ships from the original EV.

…So the little Mac-user child of the 90s in me promptly headed down to the basement to print a Kestrel and a pair of Lightnings.

I gave them a quick sand to take the worst print artifacts off and sprayed them down with a couple coats of gray Krylon Fusion, which gave a decent base coat. I needed to do a little (bad) detail painting on the Lightnings, and the acrylics I have around didn’t stick well to the spraypaint, so I dug out my decades-old Testor model enamel set. Eventually they were shaken and stirred enough to get the job done; in another post post, an absurd over-engineered shaker that didn’t really solve the problem.

EV is still one of my favorite games, though I think Endless Sky’s implementation of the formula is actually significantly better for a modern player without the memories, especially now that Ambrosia is defunct and the hacks around registering Nova seem to not be working.

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Resistor Storage

As I continue my electronics part organization spree, I was looking for …something… reasonable for through-hole resistor storage. Resistors are a problem because there are a lot of values, once mixed they’re possible-but-irritating to distinguish, and strips of resistors are awkwardly shaped.

There are some special-purpose drawers, most of which aren’t very flexible (configured to hold exactly the E12 series, or with slots too small for the 4″ strips a lot of cheap resistors come in, or…), and many of which are enormous 3D printing projects in their own right that I didn’t feel like dealing with. There are some systems with small or card-catalog style drawers, but I don’t stock large enough quantities of resistors to invest that kind of money/space, and don’t plan to. I also looked at variations on schemes using card holding binder pages, since I really like the cheap SMT binders (link is the ones Adafruit stocks, mine are all the ubiquitous brown ones with gold-debossed Chinese text because I’m cheap), but after I bought a pack of the appropriate business card slot binder sheets I realized I’d underestimated my size requirements.

After quite a lot of looking around and stalling, the only thing that really appealed to me was cloning Zach Poff’s Edge-Labeled Baggie Method, so I did.

I added some E24 values (like 51x and 75x) that I had stocks of from one purchase or another, and a few other odd labels that I happen to have stocks of. The added labels are missing the cute little colored resistor images because I’m not sure how they were generated and it wasn’t urgent enough to spend a ton of time on – I just put the value and the band numbers on those.

I did cheap out on basically every part; I used 2mil 3×4″ baggies instead of the nice 6mil ones, and I used AmazonBasics 1 x 2-5/8 Inch labels that list themselves as compatible with Avery 5160 labels. Both of those may eventually prove to be a mistake, but for now they work and feel fine.

One thing I am looking to improve upon, I currently have them stored in an old Kroger deli meat tub, which is OK but not ideal. I don’t think I can find something that will hold them reliably and still clear the 3″ height of the drawers I’ve been packing a lot of my component assortments into, so I’m probably looking for something that will close, possibly a large-ish 3×5 card organizer.

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Akro-Mils/Harbor Freight Small Drawer Dividers (in FreeCAD)

Installed polycarbonate drawer divider, next to the CNC setup it was cut on.

I’ve been doing some component stocking lately, and haven’t really set up a solid storage system, so I picked up a Harbor Freight 40+1 drawer cabinet thing to manage various small size + small quantity parts.

There are slots in the drawers to take dividers, but Harbor Freight doesn’t sell them, and Akro-Mils charges a bit much – somewhere in the vicinity of $10/16pcs – for injection molded dividers that experience says don’t fit terribly well. The set of Akro-Mils drawers I use on campus for kitting out instructional labs has first-party dividers that tend to float just enough to get pins trapped under them, which leaves me less than enthusiastic about spending money on those.

I saw some folks 3D Print their own, but always feel silly 3D printing flat parts, and wanted something clear.

..So I took some measurements, ordered some 0.078″/2mm polycarbonate sheet, and CAD’d up the shape.

FreeCAD render of tool-path, with process tree visible.

I did a quick parametric sketch/extrude/profile in FreeCAD 0.18, and unlike the last couple times I tried to build something in FreeCAD, the Sketch constraint system didn’t bug out, the Path workbench didn’t crash, and it posted reasonable gcode. I am very pleased by this development.

Now, it is a trivial part (rectangular, 2mm thick, 34mm tall, 50mm wide for the bottom 17mm, 51mm wide for the top 17mm), but I had earlier versions of FreeCAD fall over on similarly-trivial projects, usually in the path workbench. I’d really like to have (and be vaguely competent at using) a decent all-FOSS design flow for the router, so this is an exciting development. File here if anyone wants it.

There was the usual CNC fuckery (losing Z steps because I plunged too aggressively for the bit, tapping the Z- stop because I had the spindle raised in its clamp for working off a vise and forgot, etc.), some of which were solved by finally switching my Z axis motor to a slightly higher current since I keep having problems with running out of Z force.

Had I looked a little closer I would have noticed there are third party laser-cut acrylic dividers available for like $0.33/ea compatible with the Akro-Mils small drawer size, but if you ignore the …$1000-odd of CNC machine and tooling and the value of my time… these come out to like $0.16, so it’s not completely absurd from that angle, and it was a good tool-chain test. Also, happily, they fit significantly tighter than the Akro-Mils injection molded ones, so no trapped pins.

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