Tuesday, July 8, 2014

New Toy, and the Wizard's Tower


So, yeah, got a new toy: a Printrbot Simple 3d printer. I've been curious about that sort of thing for a while, and when it became apparent that I'd be able to use one to produce custom cookie cutters, it went from "interesting" to "order one now."

I haven't made the cookie cutters yet. I've spent the past couple of weeks experimenting and learning how to use both the printer itself (as much an art as a science) and the modeling software to make printable designs. But I've got a viable design, and I've put together some useful stuff in the process, which brings us to this stuff right here.

We play a lot of Castle Panic at our house, to the point where the board, cards, and pieces are showing serious signs of wear. While poking around over at Thingiverse, I ran across some Castle Panic game pieces and the extra pieces from the wizard's tower set. It was obvious I had to make some of those, both for inherent niftiness and to save wear and tear on our increasingly frayed bits of cardboard.

Most of the pieces I just sprayed with a bit of stone-texture paint (see down at the bottom), but I wanted to do something special with the wizard's tower, sen here shortly after printing.


There's a little window just below the turret. I thought that might go nicely with a light. After figuring out more or less where the center of the bottom was, I got out a half-inch spade drill bit and started boring a hole in the bottom where it's thickest. After a couple of inches, I switched to a quarter inch bit. Weird observation: when the PLA plastic I'm using gets hot because of the friction from drilling, it gets gummy.


 Through luck or good planning (it was luck), the bit poked a hole at the bottom of the window, just barely visible here.


From there, it was simplicity itself to give the tower a spritz of paint (in something contrasting the stone-textured walls and other towers), attach a couple of wires to a small LED, stick them down the hole through the window, and tape the other end to a couple of tiny hearing aid batteries. This is what the final setup looks like:



My new toy. Is much fun.



Sunday, June 22, 2014

Heaven-And-Earth Lamp


Seemed the right name for this steampunkish lamp. Like the previous one, it's mostly made from PVC pipes, primed and painted copper or aged bronze. However, I wanted to balance the mechanical look with something organic.


So it supports a small terrarium. It just happens to be almost exactly the same size as the bulb on the upper end. And, of course, there are the usual bits of gearing and gauges and such.








The thing about this lamp is that it's very, very big but provides very little light. I could hardly fit it in the photobox, yet it only has a 40w bulb. Is OK; it's a curiosity anyway.


Friday, March 21, 2014

Astrolabe Notebook

I like historical scientific instruments. I've got a small collection of reproduction items and a few authentic historical items from the mid-20th century. I particularly like astrolabes, with their swirling retes and the complicated arcs of the plates. And I thought it'd be a good theme for the cover of a notebook.


I started with a 5x7 hardcover, spiral-bound notebook. I took the image of an astrolabe rete, extracted a 5x7 section of it, and converted it to black and white for the silhouette.

I pasted it to a double-thick piece of old file folders, the two layers also glued together, and cut out the shapes with an X-Acto knife. Painfully slow, that was.

Once done with that, I sprayed it gold, then gave it a faint haze of brown to give it some age.

For the plate section, I cut out a 5x7 piece of foil-faced paper and drew a bunch of arcs on it more or less at random with a silver marker. The marker was far too large to fit in the compass, so I had to wire them together.

With both pieces done, I stacked the two pieces together. The foil piece was a little bigger than the cardboard rete, so I had to trim it down a bit.

To prepare the piece for a little more dimensionality, I drilled a quarter-inch hole in the bottom corner.

That was just a preparatory step, though. To make sure everything would line up, I glued the foil paper to the notebook, then the file folder layer to the foil.

For the center, I nailed a hole through all three layers and used a fancy paper brad in the center, then glued a plastic jewel to a piece of paper and glued that over the hole in the lower corner.

Finally, it was just a matter of putting a grommet through the hole in the lower left and covering it with a watch gear, through which the red jewel can be seen from the right angle, and cutting a notch in the upper right so another fancy paper brad could be installed.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Seeing Things By Steam



This is a really simple one. The pipes are a bunch of PVC piping fitted together into a pleasing shape, with wires salvaged from an old lamp run through them. The assembly was primed and covered with hammered copper textured spray paint. Once that dried, I attached the cords for the light ends to some standard pull-chain sockets (I liked the Bakelite-ish look), epoxying them in place, and wired the other ends together to a plugged cord with some wire nuts and electrical tape. Add the 40 watt Edison bulbs (below) and it's ready to roll.



The only bit that required more than minimal effort was the fake gauge:



The body of the gauge is a PVC end plug:



I partly filled the interior with epoxy, printed out a gauge face dial based on an image I found on the net, put that in the plug with a bit of a needle for an indicator, and covered it with more transparent epoxy. I secured it to the lamp by drilling a hole through the back and screwing it in:



It's a nice decorative lamp, though the low-wattage bulbs means that it doesn't provide a lot of light, and it's sufficiently lightweight (a couple of feet of half-inch PVC pipe doesn't weigh much) that I might want to add a more solid base.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Geometry


Part of a bigger project. Shouldn't take more than a decade to finish.


(The key to this is realizing that everything is based on two square grids with the same center, but they're at a 45 degree angle to one another.)

Monday, September 9, 2013

So what's the point of this, anyway?

There are any number of things I could be doing to satisfy any creative ambitions I have. Why this stuff? OK, aside from the Alex's Batcave room, which is sufficiently cool to require no explanation; everyone worth speaking of wants a Batcave. Why the faux-antique high tech items? Well, for a start, our most sophisticated tools are our most boring. When I started working in IT, computer hardware was uniformly featureless beige boxes. Now, it's mostly featureless black boxes, but some are featureless grey boxes. Exciting! They're also shaped pretty much like they were decades ago. Monitors are smaller because they're LCD screens instead of tubes, but present essentially identical rectangles to the viewer. Desktop computers are tall rectangular boxes, keyboards are wide but flat rectangular boxes, mice conform to one of a handful of designs to fit the hand but be used ambidextrously, laptops are clam-shell boxes, and tablets are almost entirely screen on one side and featureless plane on the other. There are vents and ports around the edges, and even an on-off button on most devices, but they're otherwise as featureless as possible, and everything that happens, happens invisibly inside the featureless boxes. I'm surrounded by such devices all day, and I'd like them to be more interesting.

Part of my approach to more interesting devices is to have technology that looks like it does something. Sure, sticking gears and smokestacks onto a computer won't give those bits a function, but they look like they might have one. Rather than being an inscrutable slab or hand-curved peripheral, the device takes on an illusion of having macro-scale parts which visibly work towards some end.

There's a secondary goal of, for lack of a better word, humanizing devices. Wood and leather are organic. Using them on a device puts the user in touch with substances connected with life, and possibly make it look a bit more like they were made with human hands than stamped out by a machine. Fake buttons, cranks, and similar elements make it look like you're supposed to physically interact with it. Beaded and filigreed ornaments are decoration for decoration's sake, something that only a frivolous, feeling human would add. All of those elements bring it closer to being not just an item for storing and processing data, but one which a human touches and regards.

Though a number of things I've done might fall under the rubric of "steampunk," I'm not sure that's the vibe I get from all of them. The iPlume feels borderline pre-industrial (say, Georgian), while the USB drive with the brass-screened porthole feels electrical, like a tube radio, rather than steam-powered (call it, perhaps, Edwardian). That said, I can see why people into casemodding might go heavily into Victorian and para-Victorian modes. We don't have a great many approaches to industrial design to play with. The Industrial Revolution shades into dieselpunk, which shades into the Space Age, which shades into today's featureless black boxes.

What I'm doing, I realized only recently, isn't that far different from Japanese chindogu, made famous back in the early-mid 90s by the Unuseless Inventions books which a friend at the publishing company I worked for at the time showed me. They're not as deliberately useless or self-defeating as real chinodgu are, but they are definitely whimsical and over-elaborate. (Also, never sold.) They all function, even if they're larger, heavier, and/or more elaborate than they need to be.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Clockwork Mouse


Had an old mouse. Had a broken mechanical clock. So what do I do with them?


 I cut the body of the mouse in half down to but not including the base and removed the rear part. When chopping up a mouse body, if you want to use the original buttons, it's important not to take off too much from the rear. The buttons attach well back in the body.

For the front of the mouse, I painted it copper, then did the middle button in gold for contrast. The remaining section of mouse behind the buttons is upholstered with a scrap of leather, while the sides are veneered with wood. The key is something I picked up at the craft store.

The rear is the workings of the old clock, cut to fit with a Dremmel and decorated with a variety of additional and repositioned gears and other components.

One of the nice things about this one is that when it's plugged in, the red glow of the LED is visible from the rear, but there's not a glare because it has to reflect through several layers of gears and structural bits.