Category Archives: Uncategorized

Ah, the lovely incense of (lead free) solder

Since I’ve been doing Arduino work, I’ve accumulated a few board and Shield kits that I need to put together. I haven’t soldered since college, so I decided to brush up on my rusty skills by buying one of those little electronics project kits: a Velleman MK102 Flashing LEDs kit.

It turned out really well, thanks to my Hakko FX888D Soldering Station from SparkFun, and my QuadHands 3rd hand from Amazon. The circuit worked right away.

Check out the really, really boring video of the finished board blinking away at YouTube – whee!

The front of the board doesn’t look too bad; only a few parts pulled away from the board a bit:

Velleman MK102 kit
The component side of my finished Velleman MK102 Flashing LEDs kit

The back is the real giveaway that I’m a newbie: most of the soldering looks pretty good, but I see a couple cold solder joints, a couple dirty solders, and one pair of soldered points that are a bit too close for comfort – fortunately they didn’t short out.

Velleman MK102 kit, solder side
Solder side of my finished Velleman MK102 Flashing LEDs kit.

Not bad for a first effort, and on par with the handiwork on many cheap electronic gizmos you might buy. Next I’m planning to solder one of those little Flashing LED Christmas Trees, which has many more components. Then I think I’ll be ready to have a go at one of the Arduino board kits!

I’ve blocked Comment Spam… I think

Chirk Castle barred door
A barred door in Chirk Castle, England.

Comment Spam is the bane of blogs: fake comments that are nothing more than links to sites offering  high-fashion shoes, purses, and porn (curious set, no?)

I’d love to accept real comments from anyone who is not anonymous, but unfortunately Spam Comment robots happily provide fake identities. So I’ve had to restrict comments to people who have created an account on my site.

…but even that doesn’t take care of the problem. As this WordPress FAQ explains, the WordPress comment settings affect only future posts; existing posts are still targets for spam.

So now I’ve set up comments to work only for people who have accounts on this site, and have turned off comments for all my old posts.

Hopefully my new posts will welcome your comments, as long as you create an account with me. Sorry for the trouble; blame the Comment Spammers.

The Squirrels predict a cold winter

The Co-Presidents never put much stock in rural folks tales of very wooly caterpillars predicting a bad winter… until one year when we noticed a squirrel had made a huge pile of fir-cone nibbles, a few months before we were snowed in for a couple weeks.  A similar thing happened before the last bad winter: we noticed a squirrel tossing down hundreds of green pine cones, to stash the goodie-parts away for the winter.

So a few weeks ago when we noticed that a squirrel had dropped hundreds of these Douglas Fir cones onto our deck, a suspicion grew within us that this winter could be a doozy.

So here’s our prediction: 2014-2015 winter in the Portland Oregon area will be unusually cold.  There, we’ve put our bet down. Let’s see how winter turns out.

Fir cones on our deck foretell a hard winter
Fir cones on our deck foretell a hard winter

Light Up: a donating piggy bank

Arun Mota, a design student at Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design, conceived of a piggy bank that donates a portion of your savings to a cause.

The project nicely ties together the cause (electricity for rural areas) and the form (a jar that lights up when you put coins in it). I also love the feasible simplicity and clarity of the mechanics of the piggy bank and the donation system. I want one!

Demonstration image of the Light Up project by Arun Mota
“Light Up” project by Arun Mota

Tim Hunkin: Brilliant artist, engineer, and maker

I first heard of Tim Hunkin when I watched his TV series The Secret Life of Machines: a whimsical but thorough explanation of how various devices, from elevators to fax machines, work. I was hooked.

More recently, I’ve been following Tim’s work at his site,, which shows and describes his fantastic (and fantastical) projects. I love his animated collection boxes / vending machines. My all-time favorite is Nobby: a sculpture of a lifeboat man, who rattles his box and, on receipt of a coin, nods his head in benediction. It’s a nicely understated and sympathetic experience – I look forward to seeing it one day.

Tim Hunkin's animated collecting box named Nobby
Tim Hunkin’s animated collecting box named Nobby

The definitive Mad Science

My definition of Mad Science:

  1. It must be based on actual technology, vs. pseudo science.
  2. It must be provocative, causing an initial reaction of horror or revulsion.
  3. The horror or revulsion must be based on the concept rather than being simply disgusting.
  4. It must have an artistic element, vs. being just science.

An April IEEE Spectrum story covers a work that wins on all counts: Dr. Hirotaka Osawa’s Wearable Eyes, designed to let you look like you care when you are phoning it in or even asleep!

So let’s go through the checklist:

  1. Check. It’s based on academic work on anthropomorphic robot faces: how we perceive emotional cues from faces. It is also about the stress of “Emotional Labor”, performed by e.g. healthworkers, who have to be nice to people all day.
  2. Check. The idea of literally putting on an attentive face horrified me, and the photos of the wearable eyes gave me The Creeps.
  3. Check. I’m horrified by the idea of a future where service workers literally wear masks to convey happiness rather than reveal their uncaring, drab reality. Once the initial revulsion passed, I started thinking seriously about how a mask-of-attentiveness might in some cases be beneficial or stress reducing.
  4. Check. The video is pure Performance Art. I truly can’t tell whether he’s serious about this or not – I believe he is.

Now that I’ve teased you, here’s the photo. Note how in most of the photos, he’s wearing the same expression – except for his cyber-eyes.

Dr. Hirotaka Osawa's work on automatic, always-attentive eyes.
Dr. Hirotaka Osawa’s work on automatic, always-attentive eyes.

My Take On Things

Pippa Chillin' at Sandy's Portie Party

Pippa here, giving my particular point of view on happenings. Love the new site, because I can post under my own name at last! The only thing that would make it absolutely perfectatious would be smell media – I mean, I’d love to smell to my friends about the growing herbs in the garden, the chipmunk in the log pile, Linda’s sock – which is Bliss Itself – and how much fun I’m having at Tracey’s Nose Work Detectives class!

Needhamia literally joins the 21st Century

The original Independent Nation of Needhamia was built before 2000 – literally in the past century. …and seriously needed an update. Now with the power of WordPress, the Co-Presidents and Court Canus Minor have joined the at-least-recently-modern world!

See About Needhamia for tours of the ancient ruins of the Old Needhamia (e.g., The Ministry of Education).