Category Archives: News

Why we need a CNC pick-n-place

It was good to spend a few hours this weekend actually making stuff again, rather than just coding and coding and doing yet more coding! So good, that we thought it was time to make a few more board sections for our electronic board game.

In about two hours we managed to get just two pieces made up. Mostly this was down to dabbing the solder paste onto just three or four sets of pads at a time, then hand-soldering each SOT-23 sized hall effect sensor, and each 1206 sized resistor in place.

Hand-soldering SMT components is slow going. And almost an hour per board section is pretty woeful. So it’s time to start seriously thinking about this CNC pick-n-place machine. Steve is going to go beserk.

I went down to BuildBrighton for a few hours this evening, with Grumpy Paul (he doesn’t have a G+ link). Over a few hours, we cobbled together a basic x/y axis, using some 12mm linear bearings and stainless steel rods that have been lying around for ages. We’ve mounted the steppers onto the y-axis carriage – one on each side rather than a single long belt down the middle, as we need to keep the middle clear for placing components. Also, because we’re expecting the head to travel to the edge(s) to pick up components from a tape reel, we couldn’t really use the moving y-axis bed approach we implemented in our CNC drill from about 18 months ago.

We’ve gone for “proper” stepper motors this time, and a 2mm pitch timing belt, and proper CNC pulleys (rather than some cheap plastic mouldings and £2 motors from China!)

Here’s the x-axis carriage being assembled. The steppers are mounted on each end. A belt will run along the outside edges, over the pulleys on the motors that are mounted on the carriage, to a fixed point at each end of the travel – using this sort of arrangement:

As usual, the entire thing is being designed and built on-the-fly.
There’s no real planning gone into the design so far (as Grumpy Paul will testify, having had to take a rasp file to it on more than one occasion). We’re using Arthur’s method of getting everything square – that is, to fix one end, run the carriage up and down the y-axis a few times, then bolt it all down onto a scrap sheet of wood, wherever it rests!

The travel on the y-axis is surprisingly smooth. Maybe it’s because of the added weight of the stepper motors (we expected these to make the travel worse, not better). Maybe it’s because we lightly sanded the rods with some wet-n-dry paper, as the linear rails felt a bit sticky in places. But in all honesty, it’s probably Paul’s idea that made all the difference – a tiny blob of lithium-based grease on the rods makes the carriages glide up and down with hardly any resistance at all.

We didn’t actually get much further than laying everything out tonight (despite nearly five hours, and staying ’til almost midnight). But there’s every chance that we’ll have the CNC moving in at least two axes on Thursday night. That’s if Steve doesn’t put his foot down and ban us from doing any more work on it ’til the board game is finished!

The thing is, at our current rate of construction, we’re going to need about 20 more hours just to make up enough board sections to call it complete. Surely spending a few hours to build the tools to speed up finishing off the board game it time well spent? Isn’t it?

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Why can’t smart advertising be just that little bit smarter?

Many years ago, cross-domain security meant that what happened on one site couldn’t be disclosed to another. Then, with the advert of social media, and content being shared, re-shared, regurgitated and re-presented as new information (when it’s actually a re-hash of someone else’s content) ad-bloody-infinitum such restrictions were relaxed. And if not, exactly relaxed, then workarounds were created, and generally deemed accessible – anything, so long as critically important things like a Twitter feed or Facebook status update could be presented as part of the existing web page.

It’s not that long ago that the web development community derided Microsoft’s insistence on not only supporting, but promoting, iframes. Now they’re used everywhere.

And that nasty 3d-effect border that a lot of browsers insisted on displaying, in order to demonstrate what a stupid idea using inlines frames was, has all but disappeared.

These days, content from one page appears as if it’s part of another, with the clever use of iframes and a bit of jQuery. In fact, eBay uses exactly this technique to display content when you click on the “my eBay” link – sometimes it goes a bit screwy and you get multiple scroll bars all over the place, but it the main, it’s often impossible to tell if the content you’re reading is actually coming from the web site that appears in your web browser’s address bar.

Whatever the means or the method, advertisers have always been quick to jump on technology to ram yet more marketing rubbish, if not down our throats, then at least in front of our eyeballs. What’s getting a little bit insidious is how major website owners are happy to cross-charge each other (and ultimately, the end customer) for showing adverts which are simply inappropriate.

Here’s just one example:
I recently search Farnell for some 24C256 eeprom chips.
I even got so far as to add a few to a basket. Then I checked the cost of sending them, if I didn’t hit the minimum £20 order level. It was too pricey, so I thought I’d try another site.

So I searched eBay for the same chips and got a list of results.
But right there at the bottom of the page, was an advert for Farnell

It didn’t just say “hey, we sell these chips as well, why not buy some from us?”
The data that tracked me adding them to my basket but then not completing the checkout has been passed to eBay. So now eBay uses this information to display an advert, to encourage me back to Farnell.

Which, as an eBay customer just seems stupid.
If the advert is successful, and lures me back to Farnell, then eBay (and the eBay sellers I would otherwise have shopped with) have lost out. So why are eBay sellers being charged ever more to advertise on a platform which is quite happy to encourage buyers to shop on an entirely different site? Why would eBay think sending customers to a “rival” site is a good idea for anyone (except themselves, taking a rake from the advertising revenue)?

But that’s not my major issue.
My issue is that this so-called “smart advertising” just isn’t… well… smart enough.
Here’s the thing, Farnell.

You know I visited your site.
You know I wanted to buy 24C265 eeprom chips.
You even know that I went to your checkout page.
You know that I didn’t buy goods from you.
And you know that I then went to eBay to find someone selling exactly the same products.

Here’s where I’d like Farnell to use the tiniest little bit of intelligence:
WHY didn’t I buy from you?
WHY did I get all the way to the checkout, then jump onto another site, looking for exactly the same product?

It’s not like I went looking for an alternative; I didn’t search the Farnell catalogue, fail to find what I wanted, and so tried to find it somewhere else. There’s only one reason that could be deduced (even by a stupid computer) for my reason not to purchase – I thought I could buy it cheaper elsewhere. So why would anyone think that putting a picture of a sad puppy would make me abandon that quest, and return back to the website I’d just dismissed as too expensive? For all the intelligence and data gathering that these massive companies undertake, the reasoning behind showing “targetted” adverts just seems pretty dumb.

I hate advertising on the ‘net. I hate spam, and Twatter and Facebook, and the constant barrage of adverts that litter many web pages. But I also appreciate that, for some, it’s a necessary evil. I’d even concede that, sometimes – if it’s targetted well enough – advertising might even be useful for the customer.

But the current level of “intelligence” being used by advertisers is about 2 out of  10 – and falling. And I just wonder what the thinking is behind all this cross-site advertising when, even a cursory analysis would conclude that, in perhaps eight out of ten cases, it’s completely inappropriate!

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RFID door entry system for BuildBrighton

It’s been a few weeks where most of our nerd-work has been coding (the app for our electronic board game is starting to look very impressive btw, we’re just not quite ready to unveil it yet!). So it was nice to spend a few hours this weekend working on… Continue reading

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Electronic board game – SUCCESS!

It’s been about ten days since the last meaningful blog update, which can only mean one thing – coding! Actually, it could mean that real life has been getting in the way of nerding about (it has: with the first few nice, sunny, days of 2014 there’s be… Continue reading

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Margate Games : Lazer Arcade video and photos

Now that the Margate Games residency is over it’s time to take stock and document the project. Lazer Arcade draft edit from Seb Lee-Delisle on Vimeo. To my great relief the system worked really well and Lazer Arcade proved to … There’s more
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Testing an audio-based toy

It’s baby Elvis’ birthday soon, so I promised I’d make a personalised toy for him. I thought it would be a doddle, as we’ve already got all the component parts for a really cool “talking toy” from other projects, it’d just be a matter of sticking them … Continue reading

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Playing with Scalable Vector Graphics and CSS3

I haven’t been posted often enough this year! Let’s get out of that bad habbit by starting with some of the things I have been working on. Currently I am thinking of making some further tweaks to my web site, as I am still not really happy with it yet ( I won’t go into full detail though ). Anyway, as an excuse to improve my knowledge around CSS3, I thought I would try my hand Continue reading

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Margate Games : ready to play?

It’s been an intense week of troubleshooting calibration – but I finally got it working today! It’s still a bit fragile so I’m not sure how well it’ll hold up over the festival but fingers crossed. There have been so … There’s more
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Margate Games : calibrating LazerArcade

Today was my first day on site in Margate and setting up the LazerArcade system at full size. I’ve had a tiring day trying to calibrate and I can’t seem to get it quite as accurate as it was at … There’s more
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Margate Games : research on Brighton Pier

Yesterday I was researching on Brighton Pier to see if there were any shooting / throwing games that I could steal, or in art-speak, “draw inspiration from” for my LazerArcade project. It’s always interesting the current crop of characters from … There’s more
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