Category: Workshop

Apr 27 2011

Camera, motor, kittens

Going through the workshop, making small improvements and sorting some things out.

For one, after several months of it bothering me, I knocked together a better mount for the angle-poise webcam.

Doesn’t look like much, but now the tilt is on top of the pan pivot rather than the other way around. The previous one was smaller but meant the image was only level when looking directly forward (along the line of the arm). Turning to show what I was doing to the left or right meant the image turned on it’s side. This way the image should remain level and I’ll be able to manuver the camera closer to the action.

In my sorting, I also scrapped some broken battery drills that either had dead batteries, broken chargers or damaged electronics. So I have four sets of low-voltage motors with reduction gearboxes and torque-limiters, and one electric screwdriver with just the motor & gearbox.

I haven’t checked yet, but Wikipedia suggests about the maximum torque you can expect from a battery drill is around 30Nm.

I’d been considering using them to make a large track-mounted robot arm, but at only 30Nm it’s unlikely they’d be able to make the arm move under it’s own power, let alone do anything useful.

If I packed out the torque control spring I could have them continue to run at higher levels, but I’ll still need more powerful motors I suspect. I’ll be looking into what’s cheaply available. Initial enquiries suggest radio-control vehicle motors won’t have enough torque. Steppers may be another option.

I’m envisioning something of a comparable reach to that of a human arm, so about 30cm between joints.

And finally, we still have some kittens looking for good homes.


Apr 09 2011

New workshop PC

While it’s probably nothing special to many, I’m very glad when I can aquire replacement computer hardware. Especially when it’s free and in a better state than my existing stuff.

For a little while now, the workshop PC had been running on it’s secondary IDE channels only. It was a 1.8Ghz  P4, but with USB 1.0 and PC133 RAM. It crawled at most things and took a few minutes to start with little to load. It also didn’t cooperate well with the PS3 Eye camera I picked up a few months ago. The memory bus was slow enough it choked even once I got a dedicated USB 2.0 card for it.

Some kind soul donated a bunch of used machines to the London Hackspace a fortnight ago. Mostly older Dell machines and a few oddities. Nothing that could be expanded much (except the 5000 which got re-purposed by the space itself). After examining a few I selected to re-home a Dell Dimension 4550 with an 80Gb HDD.

Dell Dimension 4550


The case was marked as having a 31Gb drive, but I don’t know where that number came from.

I got it home and pulled it apart. Got it cleaned of dust and fluff and found some leaky caps on the mainboard, hidden under a cowling. They got replaced with some caps I pulled from some obsolete server gear some time back.

Bad bad caps, no motherboard for you!

After running it for a few hours on the original RAM, I started upgrading. I’d already replaced the epoxy(???) thermal pad with some good thermal grease. I had some 400Mhz DDR sticks around, which fortunately worked (though underclocked) even though the machine is spec’d for 266Mhz. That got the RAM up to 756Mb.

The official spec says the machine can take 1Gb of RAM, but it can actually take 2Gb. There’s just only two RAM slots.

All clear after the transplant

I swapped in the best AGP x4 card I had (which came from the former workshop machine; a GeForce MX4000 128Mb),  put in a better optical drive (which was capable of opening when the case was on it’s side, unlike the original), the USB 2.0 PCI card (because the PS3 Eye apparently needs an entire USB controller to itself) and added an extra hard-disk.

I spent a few hours transferring files around to get all the data from the previous two workshop machines onto this one, then juggled some more while I formatted one drive to do a clean install, then transfer data across and format the other. The 80Gb disk that was already in it was reporting some bad sectors in SMART, so it’s been relegated to the D-drive/storage-disk where I’ll stuff music and video capture files. Non-critical stuff.

(Yes, I’ll be annoyed if I loose a long capture, but I’ll probably just get some corruption rather than losing a file outright.)

The machine’s primary 80Gb was partitioned in two again for dual-booting. I got XP Home installed on one since I couldn’t find the old machine’s XP Pro key certificate and the Dell case already had a Home key sticker. I’ll get round to installing Ubuntu on the other partition once I decide which version to go with. 10.10 I didn’t like much.

It’s now in the workshop, running fine on the extra workbench I built last week. The PS3 Eye works fine with it and I’ve managed to successful do a test Livestream with it and record video to disk (though still need to find some on-the-fly compression that’ll work with the camera format).

Installed in place

It’s also whisper-quiet! :D

Only annoyance is the front-panel lights are barely visible. They’re so dim you have to kneel in front of it and concentrate to tell they’re on. If I get a free moment I *may* try to replace them with better LEDs, but for such a minor thing it’s really not worth it. If I really need to know if the HDD is running, I’ll be willing to bend over to see.

An additional bonus has been realising the old PC’s case is perfect for another project! My hope to build a desk from all that mahogany I have was also one to have a PC installed directly within the desk’s structure. The old case was riveted together with a motherboard tray held in with screws! A few minutes with the drill and I have the rear of the case with all the needed mounts and the tray to mount a motherboard on! I can plan more about the future desk around these parts. :)

Jan 04 2011

Streaming from the workshop..

Nothing special, just if you want to peer in on my tinkering and sorting, seen through the new cam. :)

Watch live streaming video from starborneworks at
Dec 10 2010


I should be clearing up.

I should be doing exercises.

I should be learning more database theory, writing adverts, making moulds, doing accounts, doing innumerable small odd-jobs to get in a smidge of extra cash.

But I’m not.

I’ve indulged myself this last couple of days and it’s felt good. I’ve been tinkering in the workshop.

Long story short, I’ve been trying to motorise the angle-poise lamp I have the webcam attached to, with a view to getting it hooked up to some machine-vision software for motion-tracking and having it run as cameraman. At least it started there, and now I’m looking at adding microphones, a speaker and tri-colour LEDs to turn it into a sort of intuitive feedback device.

It’s essentially a robot arm though, with 6 degrees of freedom. I’ve never made a robot arm before. I also have no spare money to throw at it, so I’ve been running through my various parts bins.

Collecting “useful” things, and/or taking them apart to see how they’re assembled is something of a compulsion. However actually recombining them feels like something I’ve let atrophy. It’s been frustrating at points, but it’s an enjoyable indulgence. And it feels like it’s starting to get back into gear a bit.

It’s also helpfully letting me see what parts are actually still any use to me.

Mar 29 2010

Well, the Shore 75 rubber is now here, the 60 has been returned. I’ve not yet caught up with the orders though. There’s a rare collective motivation going on in the house right now that’s saying “Yes, let’s actually clear stuff out!”

Over the past few days I’ve filled one of the wheelie-bins all by myself just with stuff from the workshop. And there’s more yet to come!
It’s been a really harsh thing to do though. I’m a packrat, and I do tend to use the things I pick up sooner or later. But it’s best not to dwell on it all. The space is far more important atm.

Ordered some more Bonsai prototyping bits, but the aluminium tube was out of stock in the end, so I’m going to have to go with stainless instead.
You see, the first simplification I’m making to the Mendel layout is to use the frame as the runners by wrapping the studding with push-fit tube. It should also have the benefit of making assembly and adjustment easier, if I cut the pipes to the correct lengths. Just assemble and tighten.

Also stripped down the big bicycle frame someone dumped in the alleyway. The front fork stem is the same diameter as the stem on the unicycle I picked up last year. Will have to do some careful grinding and welding, but fitting the unicycle up as the front wheel should be fine. And the frames pedal cranks look like they’ll swap with the unicycle ones, so I can hopefully get the mechanism I was after working alright.
It should make it all into a nice half-horse and buggy. Eventually.

I’ve got a rough forge assembled, but I still need to line it with refractory. Have fire cement and perlite, but think I need to pick up some dry sand too. Well, and some charcoal.

Got some footage from the digital camera that needs editing. Also haven’t yet tested the capture machine I assembled last week. It’s on my to-do list.

Seeing who’s interested in what types and sizes. Think I can afford to get one atm. No reply from supplier atm. Will call them in the morning and make an order for the large blue UKFur shirts.
Also converted the carrying case that came with the shirts into something more like a portable shop by chopping down an Ikea hanging rail and mounting fixings inside the case. Now I can store the rail inside the case and use the case as the base of it.

Yeah, I’m behind on this. But I am catching up.

[20/06/2010: Amalgamating old posts from “Dreamwidth Creative Blog” into to re-purpose DW blog account.]

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