The printer, which I should really have named by now (I’m not very good at naming things), is almost finished, and I ordered the very last parts I think I’ll need from a local hobby robotics supplier today. It’s taken a lot longer than originally planned, mainly because I’ve been scared of doing the electronics.
I wanted to build the printer myself, from scratch, and feel like I’d done as much as possible myself by the end of it. Partly through some sort of misplaced pride, partly because I wanted to learn some of the mechanical stuff, and mostly because I wanted to really understand the process so I can write about it in the future.
But I have a mild phobia-like response to soldering. So the large bag of circuit boards, ICs, resistors, capacitors, LEDs and thermistors that I ordered as a kit from Open Hardware has been sat in a bag under my desk for months. Literally. I’ve put off getting started on putting them together because, quite frankly, I’ve been scared.
I’ve only weilded a soldering iron once – as far as I can remember – since I left school. I think I used to own one, but I can’t find it any where. The reason is pretty simple – when I was 15 and doing my GCSEs, I tried a few simple electronics projects in the CDT class (Creative Design and Technology, as it was then) and really screwed it up. I was cack-handed with a warm brand, to say the least. The project I chose for my primary coursework piece – a noble attempt to create a radio distress beacon for windsurfers – was an unmitigated failure largely because the piece of circuit board I built for the transmitter had an entirely silver rear, with cold, hard solder smeared all over the tracks of the bread board, ruining ever component thanks to the fact it was just one giant short circuit.
The more I tried to fix it, with more solder, application of another iron and eventually a razer blade, hacking away at the tracks, the worse it got. Electrical engineering, I decided, probably wasn’t for me. And although I’ve built and taken apart countless numbers of PCs, laptops and other computers since then, I’ve always shied away from anything which required actual soldering. I’ve missed out – so far – on the Arduino revolution mainly because I fear a kit in my hands would turn into a soggy mess of plastic and metal, worse than an 80s popstar back on the road after a little too much time in surgery.
With the RepRap electronics, I decided I’d like to try again. Even though my eyes can barely see the holes in the board, I am – depressingly – well off enough that I know if I mess it up I can always buy a pre-assembled kit, hide my shame and just cut down on Food Lover’s take away sushi for a month to pay for it.
So I’m rather happy to report that while progress so far is slow, it’s also not looking too bad. I think I may have written the board off with my very first tap of the iron, and there’s some disturbing smoke trails which have stained the back of the board (which I think – hope – are more to do with the quality of solder than my misuse of the iron) But the actual quality of the soldering itself is, I think, not to bad for someone who is technically a novice.
Who knows, perhaps I missed my calling? Perhaps not. Still, it will make me a bit more comfortable next time I visit the awesome guys at House4Hack.
Tshimologong Precinct, a set on Flickr.
This space in Braamfontein is currently a run down old nightclub, which has been empty for three years or more. In the next three months, it’s going to be converted into the heart of a massive tech revolution that will sweep Johannesburg and, eventuallly Africa. That’s the plan, any way.
So I haven’t updated this much lately, despite promising myself I’d keep a record of my African ‘journey’. Part of the reason has been work, and part is that I did an eight week Coursera course on data analysis, which took up literally every spare hour I had from the end of January until mid-March. It was awesome, and I’ll blog about it properly later this week. The other reason is this:
It’s my RepRap Prusa Mendel 3D printer – I purchased most of the parts, loosely assembled, back at the end of last year before I moved to Johannesburg. It took me a while to source the bits I didn’t have – motors, electronics and so on – and I’m still missing a sheet of glass for the print bed. Today’s been the first time I’ve had chance to work on it for a while, and progress is good. In terms of the structure there’s nothing left to add barring the belts, pulleys and print bed. Tomorrow I need to start soldering together the electronics – bought as a kit from Open Hardware.
I’ve lived in South Africa for five months now, and think of myself as pretty well settled in. The one thing I won’t ever get used to, however, is the shocking standards of driving on the roads. Especially by people in big, expensive, fast cars who really should know better. I’ve been researching a story on it and one block I’ve come up against is that there’s been no good, reliable and detailed stats about accidents on South African roads released for two years now. Despite the fact that – by some estimates at least – the road death toll is now higher than the much talked about murder rate (and a more democratic killer of all classes and creeds too).
I’m not the only one – there’s gaping holes that should be obvious to fill in the WHO data published on the Guardian today, such as a who’s actually being killed out there on the highways and byways. But the staggering fact remains: fewer people drive here, but the roads are more congested and around ten times more dangerous than in the UK. It really, really doesn’t have to be like that.
I don’t usually reblog my own work, but this was one of the best things I’ve covered since I’ve been in South Africa. GirlGuides: The positive power of programming.
Annoyingly, it was written in a hurry on the busiest week since arriving, so there’s a few things about the words I don’t like. But the sentiment is all there – an amazing event which is inspiring girls from really crap backgrounds to take up computers and change the world. Hurrah.
You may or may not be aware that I’m slowly building a 3D printer at the moment, based on a RepRap kit I bought in the UK. I now have all the parts, just not the time to solder the electrics together (for reasons I’ll be blogging about this weekend).
Thing is, RepRap is still quite expensive – I reckon I’ve spent about £400 in total, and that’s doing it very much on the cheap. And it’s tricky to assemble.
This project, by South African hacker Quentin Harley, looks really promising. An almost entirely printed robot arm which can do everything a RepRap can for a lot less, with a much more easy to assemble chassis.
It’s a work in progress, but if it works it could be one of those big step forward things that will pull the day 3D printers are as ubiquitous as PCs forward by years. Check out the link at It Moves.
My wife has been quite sick lately, and feeling a bit down. My wife also likes cream cakes, of the sort that come filled with milk soaked sugar particles and have chocolate icing on the top. So while shopping in one of Johannesburg’s better (yet surprisingly inexpensive) supermarkets for food quality (Food Lover’s Market, if you must know) I picked up these. The enticingly labelled ’cream buns’ appeared to be just the thing to cheer said wife up.
Imagine, then, our surprise upon opening the cream buns to discover that they are exactly that. Bread buns – rolls, cobs, call them what you will – cunningly disguised to look like cakes. No wonder the guy selling them had a wicked smile on his face – I thought he was laughing about some sinful diet transgression that might be contained beneath the shrink wrap.
Ever had a cream and chocolate sandwich on fresh white bread? No, you haven’t, because it’s disgusting. Cream cakes = good if you like that sort of thing (I’m not a massive fan myself). Cream sandwiches… not so much.
It’s a bit like someone in the bakery saw one next door and thought ‘I can do that’. Wonder if this exciting addition to the product line will be there next week.
Mark Graham makes awesome maps comparing the real world to the virtual, and his latest - geotagged Tweets in major African cities - is another masterwork. It’s really interesting to compare the differences in social media use between, say, Cape Town and Addis Ababa. If you know the cities even passingly well there’s some other stuff they suggest too – in Johannesburg, Sowetans seem to be more prolific Tweeters than those who live in Boksburg (a big Afrikaans community).
Thing that stood out for me, though, is the sheer density of Tweets that seem to originate on the highways. Roads here are as deadly as the much vaunted murder rate, with 40 deaths a day (and many, many more injuries) on the highways and byways. Looking at these maps, you can start to understand why…
Really, it does. A simple plot of searches over time comparing next gen consoles PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Ouya with mobile phone game Angry Birds. Also, note that the heatmap in the bottom left: it’s Germany, South Africa, Puerto Rico and the Netherlands which are searching. The UK and US don’t even figure in the top ten.
Almost makes me wish I had an iPhone. Wonder if it works with a Galaxy S2 as well? Acoustic iPhone Speaker Dock Utilizing a Vintage by ReAcoustic.