Apocalyptometer – an IoT Connected Poll Tracking Display

I think I’m not alone in feeling anxious about this election season.  My favorite distraction has always been to throw myself into making, so I decided to channel my politically-driven anxiety into a new project.  Since I find myself repeatedly checking the polling aggregator site FiveThirtyEight for the election odds, this new project is a constantly updating display for the current polling statistics.

Polls-only election forecast from FiveThirtyEight.com
Polls-only election forecast from FiveThirtyEight.com

The specific statistic in question is FiveThirtyEight’s polls-only prediction of the race outcome – shown above, and accessible here.

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EtchABot: a CNC Etch A Sketch

The EtchABot - a CNC Etch A Sketch
EtchABot – a CNC Etch A Sketch

EtchABot turns your Etch A Sketch into a CNC (Computer Numerical Control) drawing machine.  I’m really excited about this project because of its versatility and its well balanced combination of entertaining and educational aspects.  It’s always fun to hack a toy to do something above and beyond its original intent, and if you build the EtchABot and run the example Arduino sketches, you can make:

EtchABot Gallery

There is an EtchABot Arduino library, so it’s also easy to program it with your own ideas.

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Making Uncanny Eyes

Spooky eyes blink, move and even dilate their pupils.

My middle son and I have a tradition of incorporating electronics projects into our Halloween costumes. This year we saw the tutorial for Uncanny Eyes on Adafruit, written by Phillip Burgess, and instantly decided that we had to make them. The project uses two TFT or OLED screens to create realistic moving and blinking eyes controlled by a Teensy 3.1. This post documents our build process and how we’ve each decided to use the eyes differently in our Halloween costumes. It will make more sense if you’ve read the tutorial on Adafruit, however, you should still be able to follow along even if you haven’t.

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3D Printed No-Carve Pumpkin Decorations for Halloween

3D printed goggles make the minion.
3D printed goggles make the minion.

I love Halloween for its spooky and amusing decorations and am always amazed by the creativity people put into making jack-o-lanterns.  However, it’s frustrating to put hours of creative work into carving a pumpkin, just to have it rot after only a few days.  The simplest solution is no-carve pumpkin decorating.  You can find articles on painted and embellished pumpkins online, however, I haven’t seen any that explore the possibilities that a 3D printer adds.  So, I thought I’d bring a little high-tech to my arts-and-crafts projects.

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TinyScreen Case with Buttons

3D Printed necklace case with buttons for TinyScreen
3D Printed necklace case with buttons for TinyScreen

I just updated the TinyScreen case I’d 3D printed for my new TinyScreen and TinyDuino.  The new version of the case has protruding buttons to help access the two very small buttons built into each side of the TinyScreen.  I also wrote a new Arduino sketch to demonstrate the button functionality.  The sketch displays a 3d rotating wireframe shape, which changes when the buttons are pushed.

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TinyScreen and TinyDuino

TinyScreen displays the Mandelbrot set.
TinyScreen displays the Mandelbrot set.

A few months ago, I signed up for a Kickstarter for TinyScreen – a minuscule 96×64 pixel screen run by a similarly diminutive TinyDuino, an Arduino clone that is smaller than a quarter.  My parts arrived yesterday, and I jumped right into playing with them.

I had ordered the video game package which came with a TinyDuino, a TinyScreen, a TinyShield Joystick, a TinyShield USB (for connecting to the computer with a micro USB cable), and a 140 mAh LiPo battery that plugs directly into the TinyDuino.

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Building PlotClock

I found a YouTube video of a clock that can draw the time with an erasable pen, then wipe it away before restarting the cycle:

There is something very human and endearing about the motion of the arms as they perform their task of drawing and erasing over and over and over again.  After locating the plans and instructions by joo at Thingiverse, I absolutely had to make one.

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3D Printers with Kids – Part 3 (Printrbot Prints!)

Printrbot printing.
Printrbot printing its first successful job.

After last week’s frustration with the Printrbot Simple, we were on the verge of returning it and looking for a different model.  Research revealed, however, that there was no other 3D printer for a comparable price that is ready for delivery now.  The 20% restocking fee for Printrbot returns was an additional deterrent.  So, I took a deep breath and submitted yet another support ticket.

We had isolated the problem as a  faulty power supply, whose fluctuations resulted in the printer frequently and unpredictably disconnecting from the computer.  Two days after the submitted ticket, I received another e-mail from Dave from the support team.  He apologized for the issues and shipped another power supply, which he assured us had been tested.  It arrived two days later.

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3D Printers with Kids – Part 2 (Printrbot Problems)

The travails of our Printrbot assembly continue (see previous post for background).  On about August 20, I’d contacted Printrbot via the support page on their website about the faulty cable to connect the thermistor (heater for the extruder) to the circuit board, and the AC/DC adapter that had a loose piece wiggling around inside it.  We were unable to complete the assembly without replacement parts for both.

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3D Printers with Kids – Part 1

PrintrBot Simple Assembly
Printrbot Simple Assembly
Assembling the PrintrBot Simple base.
Assembling the Printrbot Simple base.

My middle son shares my passion for all things technical.  He begged for a LEGO Mindstorms robot when he was 7, and though we held out until he was 8, it’s been one of his favorite and most-used possessions ever since.  Buying him birthday presents is always fun, particularly when I get to play with his new “toys”.  Two years ago he became the only kid on the block with his own Van de Graaf generator.  This year, we’d been discussing 3D printers and how cool the technology is.  I figured that in a few years they would be commonplace enough to buy one.  Well, it turns out that the prices have dropped precipitously as a number of 3D printer manufacturers have entered the market.  My son turned twelve a week ago, and a 3D printer seemed like the perfect present.

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