Being an artist in residence at Evil Mad Science was a tremendous amount of fun! It feels like it went by really quickly, since everything is sort of a blur. It's one of those things where you wish there was more time to explore everything, but at the same time there is a lot of work that has to get done with this newfound knowledge in order to advance and go further!
There were always opportunities to learn more about electronics, arduinos, building things, open source, and more. This was exciting because I never really knew what next I would learn. There's just so much information, it was like swimming in an ocean science. It was all around you! And you could learn a lot from every little speck! I even touched a radioactive rock!
Machines & Tools
They have so many machines and tools that I didn't even get the chance to use each one! Laser cutter, CNC, vinyl cutter, sanding tool, drill press, photography setup, embroidery machine, microscope, metcal, and I'm probably forgetting some. My favourite is obviously the laser cutter, it was the best thing EVER!
The laser cutter was the best. I had some prior experience drooling over a laser at SpikenzieLabs, which was great to build my skills off of. One thing I enjoy more about EMS' setup for the laser cutter is that they have a dedicated laptop for it, and the laser is tethered via USB. This way you don't have to try and figure out the internet shared printer settings in Windows.
Some new things that I learnt here about the laser cutter were:
• How to focus the beam by raising/lowering the deck
• Setting the home position
• Estop process (lift the lid to stop the beam)
• Fiddling with settings
• Laserable material properties
• Cleaning the lens isn't as frightening as it seems
The laserable material properties is a very important thing. Depending on what type of wood you get, there could be some type of glue layer between the different wood layers. The laser will or will not be able to penetrate this layer. It's really important to pay attention to this, and always check around for more info about the material you're interested in if it is able to be cut the whole way.
Learning how to use the CNC was really interesting. Since it is such a gigantor machine, there are a lot of safety rules to follow. There is also a really long setup process that you have to do every single time you switch bits. Zeroing the z-axis becomes a little annoying after a while.
The noise is really loud, screechingly loud, so you have to make sure you wear ear plugs. However, it is pretty cool to watch it cut long lines. It cuts it at an increasingly deeper depth, so as it moves along it goes deeper. It needs a few passes to go completely through, and it leaves tabs so that the piece is still attached enough to finish all the cuts. You can break these tabs with a knife, then sand all the edges down. The sanding is what makes the ostrich eggbot so smooth. This is done with a fancy sanding tool, making the end result very gentle.
The embroidery machine is quite interesting. There are all colours of the rainbow on the machine which makes it very flamboyant! They had some test embroiders of the open source hardware badge. This machine came to the rescue when Super Awesome Sylvia needed her new lab coat embroidered! It was pretty cool, she drew what she wanted on Inkscape, then the machine stitched it out! This is probably the machine that frightens me the most, as it is very rapid with many needles and makes interesting noises. Also, apparently the file format for this is very difficult.
The photography setup is a dream! They had two standing flashes that make all the photos very bright and clear. The camera is a Canon 7D! WOW! It takes HD videos too. In order to get the white background, they have a roll of paper hanging down from a horizontal tripod device. The paper drapes down along a table, so the surface and background is white.
The usual technique for taking the photos is to make sure that you can see a bit of a grey shadow cast from the object. The shutter speed is at 1/200 so that it doesn't close faster than the flash fires. If that happens, you will get a bit of the photo that is darker along the bottom. The ISO and aperture can be adjusted. I only adjusted the ISO for a few photos where I wanted more graininess, but quite frankly, the camera is too good to notice- so this is a better thing to do in post processing. For the lenses, there was a macro lens and a normal (don't remember exactly) lens. Playing with it was so much fun! It takes great photos, and there's nothing more fun than just shooting at different angles and focuses and seeing what happens.
This is also worthy of note, they have a lot of various screwdrivers and other hand tools. If you can think of it, they probably have it (except for z-bend pliers i think). The drawers that the hand tools are placed in are quite nice too. One chest is lined with green velvety cushiony stuff, which is a nice texture to feel when reaching for a tool. The other chest was actually created with the CNC machine! It would be really neat one day if there were furniture stores where you could have your furniture custom made for you, and have it ready by the next day.
Looking at various LEDs and circuit boards under the microscope was fascinating. When looking at the breadboard, it was similar to adventuring into a different world of its own. It's like, this is where electronics live, in these dusty square holes that are ours to insert into and take out of. I appreciate the electronics allowing me to take a peek into their homes!
The RoboBrrd Brain Board was cool to look at too. There is a camera mount for the Canon camera, but the lighting has to be very good in order for the shutter speed to be quick enough to not cause blurriness. So I took some photos with my iPhone, and it somehow worked reasonably well!
Those were basically all the machines and tools that I had experiences with. Hopefully one day, if I ever get to go back, I can try some of the others! ...Or just use the laser cutter more.
I was wondering how to make stuff work without an Arduino, but more advanced than a 555. Windell somehow took these loose thoughts and showed me exactly what I was looking for, a programmable chip that doesn't have the Arduino bootloader on it, and has lots of IO pins for its relatively inexpensive price!
This is where I learned how to make an AVR blink! It was so cool! The only bad part was when I could have bricked the chip because I had set the wrong fuse values. Learning about how easy uploading the code was pretty cool! I plan to experiment with it some more soon.
We also fixed one of the RoboBrrd Brain Board issues, which was not having the correct components on the reset line. Couldn't get the LoL shield to work on the 1st try, but this was not a task of importance, so I can look at it later on at some point in the future.
There was a lot of electronic gear! For instance, a multimeter that can clip over a wire and measure values. There were also giant multimeters there, about 2x as big as mine. They had an oscilloscope, and a cool power supply that was inside an old Mac.
The soldering iron was really spiffy. Since it is a metcal, it heats up really fast- 7 seconds! One of the funny things I noticed was how much water is used on the sponge to clean the tip. I always thought too much water was bad for the tips, but apparently it is not, as it keeps them very clean.
One of the coolest things ever was when we visited a really cool company, the person there actually gave me a metcal! (not sure if they want to be named- but they know who they are, so thank you, you rock!!!) I was über surprised and excited! It's a tiny, cute, lil metcal. There were also some additional tips in there, which will be interesting to experiment with. I'm not going to use any of my lead-free solder with this iron, ever.
One of the robots I never got to play with were these bright orange robot arms. Their geometry was really pretty, it was a joy just to spend 5 minutes looking at it!
Using the microscope is a pretty good tool to use to fix circuits too. For instance, Windell was able to fix some smt components that weren't soldered properly with it. Course for some he just used his bare eyes because he's that good.
Most of the electronics I worked on while there was with the Heathkit! There were a lot of interesting components inside of the Heathkit!
...like electron tubes!
For programming, I started to learn Cocos2d and Box2d. This is one of the areas that I didn't really explore yet, so I was pretty psyched to try it out! For a few days I was stuck with trying to figure out how to compile the code faster, by perhaps using a static library of sorts. The issue here was that I was using some example code as a base, rather than using the Cocos2d Box2d templates. As soon as I made the switch, the compile time was way quicker. I made it to the point where a common figure of sorts was hardcoded and working, but needed to be parametric in order to be more modular.
Food & Cooking
They make all their food by hand every single day. This is outstanding! They are the truest of all makers out there. They helped me learn about how to cook, and all about different foods. Waffles, pizza, and ice cream were the best! They can make real Ben & Jerry's ice cream because there's a recipe book for that- pretty cool! Also I never realised how great of a food bread can be, as in, it's actually kind of easy to make and not very expensive! They never made any french bread while I was there (i think), but that is probably what I'm going to try and make first! Amongst many other things to make and cook!
By far the most valuable lesson I've taken away from being an artist in residence at Evil Mad Science is just in general, how to be a better citizen of planet Earth. They approach problems with a calm elegance, and they strive for excellence in their projects. Their excitement for all of these different foods and projects is very contagious as well!
It was a lot of fun to go to all the electronics and other stores around to see everything. Also, the PIXAR trip was superb! The biking, looking at the stars, and lemons were all great.
Going to RoboGames and Maker Faire Bay Area 2012 would not have been at all possible without their help, so a huge thank you to them!
There will be more blog posts being posted soon with more details of the lasered RoboBrrds and Robot Party and more, so stay tuned! CHIRP