What a Tool!

After moving back to Michigan nearly eleven years ago, my father-in-law introduced me to the fun of going to auctions.    In particular, we like to go to auctions that have lots of tools and machinery, which, in Southeast Michigan, are plentiful.  As a result, we’ve bought our share of what are known as box lots, which are literally boxes full of things that really aren’t worth trying to sell individually–miscellaneous fasteners, hand tools, fishing reel parts, lead weights, and left-threaded bipolar frobulators.  My father-in-law is so devoted to auctions, he’ll sometimes bid on these things just to keep the sale moving.  Most of the time, the items are fairly mundane, but occasionally we get something that is either beautiful, mysterious, or sometimes both!  Rather than keep them secreted away until someone buys them at my estate auction, I’m going to share them (virtually) here in what I hope will be an irregular series.  In each installment, I (or others–guest tools are welcome!) will share a couple of tools that are either aesthetically pleasing examples of bygone industrial design or non-obvious in their purpose and/or use.  The goals are to share the beauty of these tools, have some fun, and maybe learn something too.

To kick it off, I’m sharing a couple of recent finds.  First off: goggles.  The goggles shown here are fairly uncomfortable (and they could use a good cleaning), but I love them because they’re just so wonderfully archaic!  The aluminum frames and glass lenses suggest a manufacture date in the 1940’s, but that’s just a guess.  The levers on the sides appear to allow the lenses to be removed for replacement (or cleaning), though I haven’t been able to get them to move; there is a bit of corrosion on them and I’m afraid I’ll break them if I push them too hard.  The leather strap on the bridge allows for a bit of adjustment; the buckle is thoughtfully placed so that it is facing outward, rather than pressing against the bridge of the nose.  The padding around the eyes is some kind of plastic or rubber which may have been pliable at some point but is now rather brittle.  The cheap staples that hold the pads on is a little incongruous with the overall quality of the goggles, making me wonder if perhaps they’re an after-market mod.  Given that the lenses are glass (and seemingly not impact-resistant), I’m guessing that these were probably meant to be used for welding.  What do you think?

My other recent find is less showy, but it makes up for it with a bit of mystery.  The “5 Minute Vulcanizer” clearly has something to do with rubber, but I don’t know how it might have been used.  Perhaps it was used for patching the sidewalls of tires that appeared on cars like the Model T?  Or, perhaps its rustiness is fooling me into thinking it’s older than it really is.  Please register your educated opinions, observations and wild guesses in the comments!  And, if you want a larger picture, click on either photo to see it in its full 4000 x 3000 resolution.

Until next time….

Robot Knife Fight Development Day (4/1/2012 10am-6pm)

SWiT here. Ted and I have been working on a game we call “Robot Knife Fight”.  It’s 2-4 identical autonomous Arduino powered robots in a 6’x8′ arena.  Their power switches are held in place by a balloon and they have a sharp pointy thing on the other end.  Four robots enter one robot leaves.  All the files concerning the robots will be available on github soon.  We could use help with getting OpenCV in Python (or C) to process images from the camera above the arena.  Robot positions will then be reported to all robots via radio.  This Sunday Ted and I are sitting down with our 2 arenas, 2-4 robots, and as many pots of coffee necessary to make this happen. Stop by if you are curious, want to help, or if you want to compete. We will be at i3Detroit either developing or testing the new arena code from 10am until 6pm Sunday April 1st. Soon after competitors will write code for a randomly chosen robot and see how it does in the arena against the others. If you have questions email me at switlikm@gmail.com.

Remember games with physical pieces? You can download those too.

(Or, ‘You sunk my Monopoly!’)

Hackerspaces/makerspaces tend to accumulate certain types of stuff. One major category, measured by both money and square footage, is rapid prototyping. In concrete terms, this means things like CNC mills and lathes, 3d printers, laser cutters, and such. While many of these are a bit expensive for everyone to own just yet, that’s why we exist.

There’s a lot written on the subject of rapid prototyping, but it’s relevant to everyday people because it means a change in the way we think about products. As do-it-yourself gets faster and easier, it starts to displace traditional manufacturing in ever more situations.

When I explain the CNC area to guests, I compare it to a mechanical typewriter and a word processor. With a traditional machine, once you’ve made your first part, making a second one is almost as time-consuming. It’s like typing a whole second copy of a document, versus just clicking “print” again. With the machines here, you can “print” physical objects (though the setup is sometimes a bit more complicated than loading paper). This also means that certain design features, like curves and generated shapes that might be hard to do by hand, are easy to include in your digital design.

But the other cool thing about digital designs is that, just like documents, you can share them! Email a copy to a friend around the world, or post them online for anyone to download. That’s what Thingiverse is about — some of the people behind the Makerbot project started a website just for sharing digital designs for rapid-prototypable objects.

So when I spent a few hours last Thursday designing a simple laser-cuttable Battleshots board, I didn’t want that work to be spent on making just the single game I needed. With a few clicks to export the files in a Thingiverse-approved format, and a few minutes to upload them and write the description, I created my first Thing. Now anyone can download it, visit their friendly local laser cutter, and make a copy! A custom-made drinking game, the product of personal production.