You may remember Mr. Michaud delivering a post about the incredible LED sign at the begining of this last month. Since then, there have been a few updates from our Canadian friends at hacklab.to.
First off, they have provided a live stream of the sign for the entire Internet to enjoy.
From all the times I have checked it out, it has been a clock. Too bad Flava Flav is a bit too scrawny to hold that sucker up. If he could, I still doubt he or most people could also carry around enough mobile electricity to make it worthwhile. Maybe if we are lucky, the hacklab kids will see this and make it a reality. Yes hacklab, I’m challenging you.
Second, Andrew Kilpatrick has provided a wonderful technical writeup of the “getting it to work” process. This project is fairly impressive, not because they built out a sign that uses 3,072 LEDs, but because they also had to do a bit of reverse engineering to do so. The sign was built from a number of surplus LED sign panels. This was a good idea as designing and assembling something that size would be fairly expensive, error prone and incredibly time consuming. No matter how much you love playing with electronics, be it for work or hobby, soldering 3,000+ LEDs WILL get tedious and boring. Why re-invent the wheel when you can benefit from someone else’s hard work? Especially when that someone may have been a small team of engineers that over-designed and mass produced something that fits your needs. Even if you have no technical documentation and only your wits and some basic electronics gear to figure it all out, its worth it in the end as you’ve learned something.
After poking at the boards over a weekend they found it required only four control pins and had some pretty neat control options. They ended up using the hacker’s defacto microcontroller (Arduino) and some clever code to light up the daisy chained panels. You read that right, they were designed from the start to be plugged into each other.
I would go into more detail, but like I said earlier, Andrew has done a wonderful writeup of all the details you could want. He and his crew definitely deserve the spotlight. So go check out the writeup already!
The entrant that destroys the most space surfboards wins. Simple. If you are in the area, I would highly suggest checking it out once they release the location.
These radical astronautical surfers are self balancing due to a solid state accelerometer. So unlike your tiny helicopters, they shouldn’t go flying into your cat’s face. They are on sale at ThinkGeek right now and I am honestly considering picking one up for funsies.
Now keep in mind that when I say capacitors, I am not referencing the ones you come across in your average electronics lab. I’m not talking about the semi-dangerous ones (read: fun) found in disposable cameras either. These caps are listed as 300 uF @ 10 kV. If I have done my math correctly, then that comes out to approximately 15,000 Joules. Let’s say that again… Fifteen. Thousand. Joules.
Let’s review some basic science. One joule is approximately the energy required to lift a small apple straight up one meter. I asked the following question to a good friend out at UC Santa Barbara who is working towards his MS/PhD in Electrical Engineering: “What can 15,000 Joules do?”. His response was… “[Mess some things] up”. (Expletive Deleted)
That bank of caps is actually part of a coin shrinking operation at hackerbot labs that Bre Pettis posted about on his blog a while back. NOTE: It’s kind of hard to tell who actually put it all together as it took place at hackerbot, the video was shot by a guy from the hazard factory and the photos are from hackerfriendly. If someone wants to claim ownership or straighten things out, feel free.
The gist of quarter shrinking is this: The current from the capacitors is quickly discharged through a single layer work coil. Inside this coil you place a coin. After the capacitors have fired, you will find two things: A work coil that has exploded, and a (hopefully) shrunken coin. The process is called electromagnetic forming and works by subjecting your coin to incredibly strong magnetic fields.
Remember that there is a lot of power going through this contraption. If you do try it at your own hackerspace or even at home, please take as many safety precautions as humanly possible. The remains of the work coil have been known to shatter 1/2 inch Lexan polycarbonate. Like the title says, this is dangerous science and if you might very likely die if you are careless.
To close, my rule of thumb regarding these things is as follows: “If one person says it’s probably a bad idea, it means you should most definitely do it. If two people say it’s a bad idea, maybe you shouldn’t.”
Picture of capacitor bank by hackerfriendly/Rob Flickenger; video by hazardfactor/Rusty.
I feel intimidated as my “credentials” don’t sound anywhere near as impressive as our friend Brendan. Oh well… I’m a software developer for a startup in Chicago, I can manage to play with electronics without poppin caps, I used to be an art kid, I thoroughly enjoy spinning electro and I generally have a lot of poorly thought-out ideas that will never come to fruition. If I inspire at least one person here, perfect.
As you can see, I have already made a few changes to the blog design that I hope are appreciated. I hope to make this easier to read for everyone. Enjoy it.
And with that auspicious post from Josh we welcome him with open arms onto the hackerspaces.org/blog team.