Sunday, January 25, 2015

Office Space

For reasons which can be summed up as "corporate reorganization," I suddenly acquired the need to be able to work from home full time with multiple computers. We've had space in the semi-finished attic which we had hoped to turn into a home office, but it's the most remote part of the attic, and it's packed solid with boxes, so that's not likely to happen any time soon, so I have to work with the space I've got.

The most accessible space we have at the moment is the vaguely retro-styled lounge, furnished in part with a few vintage mid-century pieces I inherited from my grandmother. A typical desk in that room would both take up more space than I'd like and clash horribly with the rest of the room (and would doubtless cost significantly more than the solution I ended up with). What to do?

Well, if you look over here at one of the record players, you'll see a panel of pin-ups behind it (reproductions salvaged from some recent calendars and pasted onto a panel).

Rolling the record player out of the way, the pin-ups and a couple of fold-out panels are hinged to a frame holding everything to the wall.

The lower panels fold out as supports for the fold-down panel of pin-ups, which in turn...

...folds out into a 6' x 2' workspace, using piano hinges in grooves sunk into the panels with the router. I still need to run some cables and improve the lighting, which I'll be doing over the next few days. Some day, I'd like to surface the desk better, but since I'll be WFH full-time starting in a week, that's not an option these days.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

In Which Stereolithography Reverses The Polarity Of Graduate Studies

Back when I was in grad school, I did a little work in support of an ongoing project in Epirus by helping to digitize a map. There was a large-scale contour map of a region being surveyed, which was taped down on a special digitizing table. Other grad students and I would come in now and again and spend some time clicking around the contours with a specialized mouse, slowly reproducing the printed lines on the map in a digital format.

I recently came across a web-based utility called Terrain2STL. The Google Maps interface lets you pick a square of terrain anywhere on the planet (3 to 27 arc-seconds on a side; in the interface, it looks more like a rectangle because of the map projection). The utility uses the topographical information underlying the selected block to automatically generate a .stl file, suitable for use with a 3d printer or CNC mill. Indeed, it was trivial to make this:

That's not in Epirus, mind you. It's here:

(Photo yoinked from here)

It's Mt. Athos, the sacred mountain on the other side of the country, and home to a whole bunch of monasteries where women aren't allowed (so it was fitting, I think, that my lovely and talented spouse take the picture while holding it). The point is, though, that in this day and age, stuff I did in grad school can run backwards. Instead of taking a physical object and turning it into data as I did, someone could get the data and run off an object, perhaps sticking pins in it to indicate sites for further investigation or drilling holes to indicate where there's been looting. And if I could remember just where in Epirus that map was, I could do it myself. Oh, brave new world that has such widgets in it.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Phone Case, Mk. I

We got the kid an inexpensive cell phone for Christmas. Printable cell phone cases are a dime a dozen on 3d printable sites, but pretty much only for iPhones and Galaxies, so if I want to print a case, I have to design it myself.

It was harder than I expected. Finding the basic dimensions was easy, getting the precise locations of all the buttons and ports and such a bit more difficult (it involved wrangling a rigid ruler held up against slightly curved surfaces), and getting Sketchup to play along was remarkably difficult.

I started by drawing a basic rectangle. My plan was to poke some holes in it, use the offset tool to expand the area by the desired thickness of the sides, and the push/pull tool to raise the base and edges by suitable heights.

The biggest problem is that, once I made the desired "cuts" in the base, using the push/pull tool would raise or lower the face and leave walls outlining the cut-out for the camera and the name, but didn't extrude it into a solid. I had to copy the base, raise the existing copy to the desired thickness, and then paste a copy of it back at the original height to close up the solid. I also couldn't figure out how to cut holes through the raised sides, so the cuts go all the way up. Here's what I ended up with:

The printing took forever, but it worked fairly well:

If/when I do this again, I'll probably take a different approach. I'll probably do something similar with the base, but for the sides, I'll design slabs of the appropriate dimensions for each side, poke holes as appropriate, and rotate them 90 degrees to use as sides.

Oh, and ideally I'd use Ninjaflex or some similar flexible plastic rather than relatively brittle PLA.