Why Discourse?

Why Discourse?

I’m not sure people understand maintenance burden.

Google groups has been a maintenance headache. Probably one of the smaller maintenance headaches, but still a problem.

With most of the system’s that PS:One has developed over the last several years, new member handling, auto admining of the 40 or so systems group member’s, etc has been automatic.

PS:One cycles through motivated individuals pretty quickly. If we ever come across a gap between an old productive member and a new ones, we lose something. There are a few ways to handle this: One is to stop burning people out, and to make sure that gap doesn’t exist. The other is to reduce the amount of information that can fall in that gap.

Per application user management is a great way to burn out technologically creative individuals. I’ve seen it happen a few times.

Our current systems approach is to reduce maintenance burden to deal with the first problem. The other is to make most of the tasks a systems person needs to carry out be automatic. Google Groups has not presented us with much as far as solutions to deal with these 2 problems. They offer no api to add or remove subscribers, and are notoriously difficult to write scraping tools for, and offer no guarantee of long term stability for scraping tools.

We have investigated a few potential solutions for mass communication in the membership. Most of these focus on web forum technology, as we are hitting the magic threshold where mailing lists are no longer the right solution due to message volume. So far discourse is the most promising.

Jeff Atwood Is one of the main developers and founders of discourse. Previously he started stack overflow with Joel Spolsky (the Joel on Software guy), and has been running a blog called coding horror since about 2004. He’s got some experience with online communities and a lot of opinions and practical experience on what makes them work well and what doesn’t, including a few very well known implementations of online discussion platforms. I don’t always agree with his technical and social decision minutia, but I have to understand that he’s coming from a wealth of experience, and has left the discourse discussion platform open to plugins and extension.



09 2015

X,Y,Z Finder for the ShopBot

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The PS:One ShopBot is a great CNC machine that has the benefit, among other things, of being huge, allowing for a lot of cuts on large pieces of material. One of the difficulties working with the machine, however, is getting the bit at exactly 0,0,0 in the X, Y, and Z axis so that if you need something cut at exactly six inches from the edge of the material, it will be exactly six inches. There is already a built-in method for setting the Z axis, using a metal plate and clip and running a specific program on the ShopBot, but there is no such program for setting the X and Y, requiring the user to manually position the bit. This can lead to inaccuracies and wasted work.

To help everyone with accurate setting of the the X, Y, and Z axis, I made a thing:

The front of the plate, looking down on a test piece of wood for calibration

The front of the plate, looking down on a test piece of wood for calibration

This is an aluminum plate that is milled to be as precise as I could make it (read: probably a lot of room for improvement) where it sits on the lower left hand corner of the piece to be cut, with the corner of the work sitting directly in the middle of the circle.

Side view of the plate

With the piece placed on the work, the cable is plugged into the back (I had originally drilled two holes on the front left and bottom of the plate, forgetting that is where the bit has to touch so as to not push the plate off the work, so I drilled a new hold on the back and wrote “Do not use this hole” on the other two) and attached via the alligator clips (ToDo: make a better cable) to the Z plate.

The cable connects the XYZ plate to the Z plate that comes with the Shopbot for finding the Z axis.

The cable connects the XYZ plate to the Z plate that comes with the Shopbot for finding the Z axis.

The user should position the bit somewhere over the top part of the plate, where doesn’t matter. The user loads xyz-zero-finder.sbp (the code is available at this GitHub repository) into the ShopBot software and runs it. Assuming the bit is somewhere over the top, it will then slowly move the bit down until it touches the top, at which point it will move to the side (visually this appears to be moving towards the front of the machine, but in reality the side of the machine with the power switch is technically the bottom, or X axis). The program will move the bit inside the circle at what it believes is exactly 0,0,0 and, after displaying a message, will move the bit up two inches to allow the user to remove the plate and put it away.

The bit at the corner of the work after the plate has been removed and the bit put back to 0

The bit at the corner of the work after the plate has been removed and the bit put back to 0

The plate is in the drawer under the ShopBot in the Arduino box (ToDo: Make a real box for the plate). Feel free to use it and report back how it worked for you, so that we can make it better.

I want to thank Dean, Everett and Todd for giving me valuable advice about how to mill the plate on the Bridgeport; it was tricky because both sides of the plate are milled and getting it to sit properly in the vice was very worrying to me. I also want to thank Eric for suggesting the project in the first place.



09 2015

Hack a Replacement Wacom Tablet USB Cable



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Did you lose the USB to USB Micro B cable that connects your Wacom pen tablet to your computer? Don’t panic! This is not necessarily another propriety piece of equipment you can only get from the manufacturer. There is a quick fix.

The cable that comes with the Wacom may alarm you to have lost it; it looks unique, since the smaller Micro B end has a 90 degree angle turn. This is a design element possibly for aesthetics and maybe to prevent the cable from pulling out easily from the tablet while it is in use. You do not need a replacement cable exactly like the one that shipped from the manufacturer. What you need is a replacement cable that fits.

This is where cable replacement gets tricky because the Micro B port on the tablet is deep and very narrow. Most cheap, off the shelf cables have both ends encased in a massive brick of rubber that will not fit the tiny 6 mm tall by 12 mm wide Wacom Micro B opening. You can take any old cable and make it fit by whittling down the rubber as close as you can to the metal. A box cutter with a sharp, new blade works well. I tried to improve the look of this hacked cable with a single wrap of electrical tape, but had to then remove the tape as that still made the Micro B end too thick to attach.

If you want a neater cable to use for the long term, beyond this DIY quick fix, step away from the cable aisle in your electronics store and head over by the cell phone accessories. The Micro B cables marketed for smartphones tend to have a sleeker design, more color choices and smaller rubber grips which will insert into the Wacom. Bring your pen tablet with to make sure the cable you select will fit before you leave the store. Also, be sure you get a combined data and charging cable, since charging only cables that look similar are usually in the mix of products for cell phones.


09 2015

NERP Tonite! Roll your own firmware: The ESP-8266 Revisited

NERP is not exclusively Raspberry Pi, the small computer and embedded systems interest group at Pumping Station:One in Chicago. NERP meets every other Monday at 7pm at Pumping Station:One, 3519 N. Elston Ave. in Chicago.

The ESP8266 module has come up several times in discussions at NERP, and it keeps getting better. Tonight at NERP, Jay Hopkins will tell us about some of his recent findings as he revisits the esp8266. In Jay’s own words:

“The esp8266 is an ultra low cost module (sub $10) with an 80Mhz 32 bit processor, up to 4 MB flash memory, 100k of ram and 802.11 radio.   What sets the module apart from other ultra low cost modules is the inclusion of an 802.11 b/g/n radio and in firmware the IP stack for connectivity in the IoT (internet of things).

“At NERP we will be looking at the tools available to build firmware for the ‘8266.  Both microPython, lua and the arduino IDE are available for programming the ‘8266.”

Find NERP and Pumping Station:One at
Doors open at 6:30pm.
NERP is free and open to the public.
Ed Bennett ed @ kinetics and electronics com
Tags: electronics, embedded, NERP, Open Source,
raspberry pi, hackerspace, Beagle Bone, Element14, Pumping Station One


08 2015

Our New Quiet(er) Planer!

Hey All!

Last Tuesday, we received the planer that we decided to purchase in that vote informal action from a month or two ago.  It can plane a board up to 16 inches wide, and thanks to the skewed cutting angle provided by the helical cutter head, it is far quieter than our previous planer.  Last Friday and Saturday, I planned and built out the dust collection, figured out the power layout for the shop, and researched how to run a 220V line.  After much reading, I decided I wasn’t competent to hack our 220V electrical system and started hunting for an electrician.  On Tuesday night, after showing Eric B. what I had planned, I learned that I had already done the hard parts.  Eric’s knowledge helped carry me over the finish line, and I’m happy to report that the planer is up and running!  The first authorizations will be coming soon, as soon as your Wood Shop team can craft a training checklist for the machine.  Here are some pictures!

planer1  planer 2  Andrew1

Can you feel the excitement?  Andrew can!



08 2015

Newbie Programmers’ Office Hours (NPOO)

Officially announcing the creation of Newbie Programmers’ Office Hours! This will be like PYOO, but specifically with a focus on beginning programmers. We are language agnostic.


Please bring a laptop and we will try to help each other with projects and tutorials. If you don’t know what to work on, we will give you a suggestion from our resources page on the wiki.

For experienced programmers: you are welcome too!

More info here: https://wiki.pumpingstationone.org/Newbie_Programmers%27_Office_Hours

Meetup: http://www.meetup.com/Pumping-Station-One/events/224514793/

When: Every Saturday at 7 PM
Where: Upstairs in the Electronics Lab


08 2015

Prototyping a Device to Measure Child Body Fat…

EDIT: PLEASE RSVP at Pumping Station One’s Meetup page  so we know how much pizza to get! /EDIT

Save the Date: August 17 @ 7pm in Pumping Station One’s Electronics lab:

Prototyping a Device to Measure Child Body Fat: What a Research Firm Learned When It Dipped Its Toe in the Maker Movement


NORC at the University of Chicago serves the public interest and improves lives through objective social science research that supports informed decision making. Working extensively with the federal government, one of NORC’s key functions is to collect high-quality data.

Historically, NORC has collected data through surveys. In recent years, NORC has also begun to capture objective measurements of the “real world” using remote devices and sensors.

To deepen its capabilities, NORC identified a pilot project where it could learn more about the Maker Movement and hackerspaces. This project was inspired by a major federal research effort designed to help scientists understand the causes of a wide variety of childhood illnesses. For this project, NORC could not find an off-the-shelf body fat measurement device that met its needs. So they embarked on an effort to prototype their own device, working with a maker consultant who is an active member of the PS:One community.

Join us for an interactive talk to see the device they developed and share what they learned about the device and about partnering with makers to create a new hardware solution.

Brian Whiteley is an IT Director at NORC. Among his other responsibility, he currently leads NORC’s mobile and sensor based initiatives.
Randy Horton is Managing Principal of 94 Westbound Consulting and is a product and innovation consultant to NORC.
Randy Horton
Ed Bennett is a maker consultant and an active member of the PS:One community.

The NORC presentation on August 17th is on the PS:One calendar in a slot normally used by NERP. NERP is not exclusively Raspberry Pi, the small computer and embedded systems interest group at Pumping Station:One in Chicago. NERP meets every other Monday at 7pm at Pumping Station:One, 3519 N. Elston Ave. in Chicago.


08 2015

CNC Build Club – Chilipeppr Presentation


Thursday 8/6/2015 @ 7;30pm we will be doing a Chilipeppr Presentation

Here is a link to the Meetup page on it.

Chilipeppr is full featured, web based, GCode sender.  GCode senders basically send your CNC toolpath files to the micro controller running your CNC machine.

Chilipeppr takes that concept to the max.  It more like a full featured front end to your CNC machine.  It visualizes the GCode, shows the status of your machine, helps with work offsets and jogging.  It also has some cool tricks it can do to deal leveling and Z probing.  It is currently compatible with machines running Grbl and TinyG.

John Lauer, the creator will be conducting the presentation via Google Hangout.  We hope to expand the presentation.  I’ll tweet out a link on @buildlog and post it here when we work that out.

We will have a machine or two for a physical demo.

Here is a link to the hangout.


08 2015

Radiationpalooza with Bionerd23, Ryan, and Elizabeth: Wednesday 8/12

Bionerd at ChernobylElizabeth and Ryan in Pripyat

Date: 8/12/15
Time: 7 – 10 PM
Location: Pumping Station: One, Lounge

bionerd23 has been a youtuber since 2007, but her science channel only became famous from 2012 on – that’s when she started visiting the radioactive exclusion zone of Chernobyl. Being on semester break in Chicago, this physics student will explain the basics of radiation and the devices that measure it to you – followed by insights into her trip to the Chernobyl zone with Ryan & Elizabeth. The three will give you personal insights on what it’s like to walk the abandoned, radioactive ghost town of Pripyat, including photos, video, and artifacts from the zone. They will give live demonstrations of radiation measuring equipment, including Geiger counters, quartz fiber and TLD dosimeters, NaI(Tl) scintillators, and gamma spectroscopy. They will also examine samples from Chernobyl under PS:One’s scanning electron microscope using secondary electron imaging and energy-dispersive x-ray (EDX) spectroscopy.


bionerd23. Female homo sapiens sapiens (confirmed via PCR). Born in an ancient decade of mullet haired people. Resides around the radioactive wasteland of Chernobyl and frequently posts photon based imagery of her natural habitat on youtube. She recently appeared in the documentary movie “Uranium – Twisting the Dragon’s Tail” (aired on PBS on July 28 & 29 2015).

Ryan Pierce. Male homo sapiens sapiens (assumed but untested via PCR). PS:One member since 2012. Collects and repairs Geiger counters. Maintains PS:One’s SEM. Travelled to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in 2013 with someone he had never met, based on the popularity of her youtube channel. Currently serves as PS:One’s Secretary.

Elizabeth Koprucki. Female homo sapiens sapiens (PCR testing refused, leading Ryan to hypothesize she may have DNA of reptilian origin.) PS:One member since 2012. Former PS:One CNC Area Host. Currently employed as Assistant Director of Fab Lab and Design at Chicago Innovation Exchange, University of Chicago. Her first time leaving the country was her 2013 vacation to Chernobyl.


08 2015

Make anything a Drone: a first person video camera rig.

TinyCamera_13 Radio control flying is traditionally done “line of sight.”  That is, you stand in one place, and watch your toy fly around.  Modern electronics means we can get little cameras, that hobby size aircraft can easily lift.  For example, that little camera package you see there, is 17.5 grams.

My previous camera package fried when I hooked the wrong power supply up to it a few weeks ago.  For the record, putting 12.6v from a LiPo battery pack, doesn’t do good things for the health of a 3.3v video transmitter.

TinyCamera_01Here were my ingredients.  Not quite mise en place but definitely close enough for hackerspace work.

We have some protoboard, my new transmitter, my old transmitter, the video camera, some pin headers, a JST style battery connector, a set of dip switches, and most importantly, a voltage regulator.  That last bit is to stop me from frying the camera or transmitter on accident again.

TinyCamera_06When doing protoboard assemblies, it’s always a good idea to dry fit everything.

In a fit of bad practice, I have no decoupling (capacitors) to support my voltage regulator.  As with many things in electronics.. sometimes it works even if you do it a bit wrong.  If the video signal ends up being poor, I can always add more power filtering later.

TinyCamera_14When I first fried the video transmitter, I thought it had shorted out against my quadcopters chassis.  It’s not a good idea to leave power rails exposed, so there’s a good bit of hot glue on the bottom of the board.
Once that was done, I powered it up, and made sure I could change channels using the DIP switches, and that the video was clear in my goggles.

TinyCamera_11Antennas are a funny thing.  Most people doing FPV use circularly polarized antennas.  I didn’t have any small coax handy when I built this the first time, so I just reused my conventional antenna.  That little black wire, is a full wave antenna at 5.8ghz!

Other than being twice the weight of the previous camera rig I was running, I’m quite happy with how this turned out.

Keep making stuff!

PS: If you’d like more detail on the build: http://realtinker.blogspot.com/2015/07/building-better-fpv-video-rig.html


07 2015