Magnetotron Featured on MAKE and Hackaday

So the folks at MAKE did an awesome profile of me and my Magnetotron, plus I just found out that Hackaday featured it as well. Very excited here in NYC.

BTW, if anyone's interested in the Magnetotron, I'm accepting offers for its sale. Email me - colombo.michael [at]
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Magnetotron World Debut

I performed with the Magnetotron, my cassette tape-based instrument, at the ITP NIME show at Cameo Gallery in Brooklyn on 12/11. Accompanying me on bass is Kevin Bleich, and Justin Storer on drums.

It was a great time - special thanks to my fellow musicians and the videographers Alex Kozovski, Roopa Vasudevan, and Rose Schlossberg.

My Blue Sculpture

To those paying attention, I took a mixed media sculpture course in the fine arts department at NYU. It was a lovely time that got me out of my comfort zone. As a musician-turned-builder I never thought of design as a crucial component in my work. Since taking that class I've learned all about presentation and context that now informs my work.

Anyway, here a couple of pics from that course. The assignment was "something blue" so I raided my junk box for all that seemed to fit, then pieced it all together. I hope you enjoy.

blue sculpture

blue sculpture

Presenting the Magnetotron

As many of you know, I'm a big fan of old media, especially audio cassette tapes. This will be the realization of an idea I've had for a while, which is to make a musical instrument using tape. A rotating cylinder containing strips of tape with different tones on them will be played by tape heads attached to my fingers. Check out my NIME proposal on Prezi and this nifty hand-drawn pic of the concept.
magnetotron sketch
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Variable DC Power Supply

I completed this project for Eric Rosenthal's Basic Analog Circuits class. It was an exercise in point-to-point soldering, but after completion I decided to build an enclosure for it with a voltmeter I bought from Adafruit Industries.

You can also see a complete post and tutorial on my blog post at MAKE: Magazine

Flexible Venn Diagram Crowdsources Comparative Relationships

Flexible Venn Diagram
Flexible Venn Diagram
Flexible Venn Diagram

This was a quick project, borne out of a piece of scrap MDF left over from someone's laser cutter project. The circles were joined just so to make a venn diagram, and sized perfectly for post-it notes. The idea came as soon as I picked the piece up. As you can see, over the three weeks it remained up on the ITP floor it was used quite a bit, often with quite hilarious results.

Lamp Painted Honda Glacier Blue

Lamp Painted to Match my Honda
Since my wife and I moved back to New York City after a two year stint in upstate New York, we quickly found it difficult and impractical to hang on to our 2008 Honda CRV with the Glacier Blue finish.

The car, which brought us on an epic cross-country trip in 2009 (during which I proposed to her in Albuquerque) was recently sold. But I plum forgot to give the buyer my touch-up paint kit.

During an aimless drive through Putnam County once, I salvaged an interesting looking lamp with a dated color scheme - natural wood and brass. I just got around to revamping it with the chrome and glacier blue theme of the Honda. It's fitting that it should bear the colors of the vehicle with which it was discovered. I'm quite pleased.

How To Build a Loft Bed

When my wife and I moved back to NYC last year, our new apartment was still packed to the gills despite some significant downsizing. Since we moved into a turn-of-the-century brownstone in Brooklyn with high ceilings, a loft bed with plenty of storage space seemed ideal. After our wedding, we promised to treat ourselves to a brand new queen-sized tempurpedic mattress.

The hunt was on, but after some local inquiries, we discovered that major furniture stores simply don't carry queen-sized loft beds. They can be special-ordered, but only at great expense. The more I looked at pictures online of loft beds, the more confident I was that I could design and build one myself. Soon I found myself designing what would become the largest and heaviest object I had ever built (and one that had to be sturdy enough to hold two adults and three cats for several hours at a time).

I erred on the safe side, and overbuilt the heck out of it. I planned on using 2x6's and 2x4s for the framing, and plywood for the mattress platform, and put together with bolts, nuts, and washers.

My father and grandfather both spent time as draftsmen at some point in their careers, so I suddenly found myself with a board set up with graph paper, meticulously laying the bed out to scale in three dimensions.

The construction itself took a lot more time and effort than I anticipated (this is always the case), especially hoisting the heavy bedframe up onto its 5.5 foot tall legs.
2011-07-02 21.51.25

In the end it worked out wonderfully - sturdy, clean, with about 160 cubic feet of storage space!
2011-07-02 21.51.02

This past month we moved yet again, so I broke the bed down into pieces the movers could handle. Since our new place has lower ceilings, and we've downsized even more in the past year, I chopped the legs down to a more reasonable height. It still has plenty of space underneath, but climbing into bed isn't as much of an ordeal.

Enjoy this stop motion video I took of the bed's reconstruction. It was hot as the dickens while I was doing it, and I was a bit reticent about putting a video up of me in shorts and an undershirt. But then I read this article about ITP students vs. MIT Media Lab students and figured f*ck it. Enjoy!

The song accompanying the video above is called "Green Thumb" written by the lovely Ann Courtney (now frontwoman of the band Mother Feather). I helped arrange and engineer this tune in 2005.
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I Circuit Bent the Hangout Feature In Google+

I'm definitely a big fan of Google+ so far, and yesterday a group of friends and I decided to use it's "Hangout" video chat feature. We thought it would be fun to keep adding more users to find the breaking point.

I think it was after getting 9 people simultaneously video-chatting that the app froze on my Macbook. I refreshed it, and this is what I saw and heard - a tableau of blank faces with soundtrack that sounded like R2D2 with a head cold. I did not know software could be circuit bent, or unintentionally datamoshed. I recorded the sound with my cell phone and did a screen shot of the page, so this fairly accurately recreates what was going on. Enjoy!

Vintage Macintosh Mouse Case Mod

Vintage Macintosh Mouse Case Mod
When I was a kid I had one of the first Macintosh computers (you remember, the ones that looked like big cinder blocks.) To this day I love the classic styling of the original mac mouse. I happened to still have one, and recently modded it to accept USB compatible optical components while being virtually indistinguishable from its original design. I'm happy to say it works perfectly, and now I'm the envy of all my local geeks and hipsters.
Vintage Macintosh Mouse Case Mod
Vintage Macintosh Mouse Case Mod
The first attempt at the mod was with this microsoft optical mouse. I had it on hand, and it looked like I could hack it to make it fit. Though in order to do this, I had to saw off the front part of the MS PC Board that contained the buttons and scroll wheel.
Vintage Macintosh Mouse Case Mod
Vintage Macintosh Mouse Case Mod
This didn't seem to be a problem at first, because there were no other essential components in the part I was planning on cutting off. Also, I would only be needing one button since I wasn't interested in modifying the external functionality of the mouse (some people have tried this with IMHO hideous results).
I tested the IC with some wire probes, and found which pins controlled the left-click. My plan was to break these out and fabricate a new mount for the button. This would've been fairly labor-intensive, not to mention that because of space constraints, it would put the button smack on top of the IC.
Vintage Macintosh Mouse Case Mod
I fiddled around with the configuration and tried drawing up a jig to make it work, but decided to scrap the idea and shelved the project for a while.
Vintage Macintosh Mouse Case Mod
When I decided to come back to it, I tossed the Microsoft mouse and went for a Macintosh ProMouse instead. When I opened it up I could tell right away it was going to be easier. The PCB fit into the vintage mouse with just some minimal trimming, and the click button was mounted smack in the middle. It was even the same make and similar type switch as the old mouse. You could tell these two mice were part of the same lineage. It was actually a bit eerie.
Vintage Macintosh Mouse Case Mod
Vintage Macintosh Mouse Case Mod
Vintage Macintosh Mouse Case Mod
I traced out the footprint of the ProMouse and cut the silhouette out of the vintage mouse with a dremel. I popped it into the spot with epoxy, waited for it to dry, then sanded the whole bottom flush.
Vintage Macintosh Mouse Case Mod
Through trial and error, I mocked up a button assembly that would mate well with the switch on the ProMouse's PCB. Once I found a hot-glue prototype I was happy with, I took it apart and reglued with JB Weld.
Vintage Macintosh Mouse Case Mod
The last step was splicing open the rubber piece the cord fits into. Once done, I hot glued the new USB cord in place.
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Building a Telepresence Rig at ITP

For the next two months I'll be working at NYU's ITP as shop and equipment room staff. It's a great gig because I can be within my grad school community, and even get some of my own work done when there's not much going on.

But sometimes I'm asked to do an odd project, and the other day I was given a fun task - rig up a telepresence station in an afternoon. We had the camera already to go, so this was a pure construction job.

Full-time staff member Marlon and I slapped together a bunch of speed rail onto a chair, and secured it from beneath by sandwiching some flat plates together.

All in all it was a quick but satisfying build. The 360 degree, remote controlled camera floated at head height in the chair, and the addition of a Domo head made it seem like it was just another day at the office for Bob.

Afternoon Project: Telepresence System

Afternoon Project: Telepresence System

Scrapwood Box, String, and Text: "Provenance"

A couple of months I covered the construction of a scrapwood box I've been using to keep materials in. The hacked together look made it an oddity amongst my other functional furniture pieces I've made before.

It occurred to me to turn it into a piece of artwork because I've been investigating this connection between the inherent intrigue in an apparatus that's idiosyncratically constructed for something purely functional or whimsical. Exposing the parts, accentuating ugliness, has been something I've been pushing more and more in my work.

To go even a step further with this, I catalogued the story of every single piece of wood I used in the box. It turns out they fell into groupings because they were scrap pieces from several different projects I've worked on. I mapped all of the pieces into short descriptions on paper by tacking strings from each piece to it's corresponding story. Thus when looking at the piece, one can learn the provenance of each component that went into it.


The Best Way to Store Rolls of Tape

Whether it's Duct, Gaff, Packing, Electrical, Masking, Painter's, or any other tape roll under the sun, the easiest way to keep them is on a loop of rope with a clasp or carabiner on one end.

The best way to store rolls of tape

Just like using the right tool for the job, using the right tape is also essential. There are folks who are in the cult of duct tape, but frankly, it's comparatively expensive and in many cases there's a tape that can do a better job. Keep them all together in the way I've shown, and get familiar with which one is right for the job.

I learned this little trick when I worked briefly in film production. I didn't see it being used anywhere outside that field, until I met my classmate Luis Violante. I asked him where he learned to do that and he said "oh...when I worked in production." Go figure.

"Fruit Powered" Sound Sculpture

This was constructed from an obscure piece of aeronautical hardware I procured at the Pratt and Whitney Surplus Store in Hartford CT. I snaked stainless steel wire from it to act as resonators. Then at key points I installed piezo transducers. At the center the stainless steel wires stab into a banana and a pear. The whole works sits atop a speaker that the transducers constantly feed back.

Standing waves appear on the floor surrounding the piece and viewers' position and footsteps alter the resulting drone.

Making Candles from Scrap Wax

Some of you may remember how my wife Melody and I had to scrape through 4 days without electricity last winter when we lived in our cottage.

Of course we busted out every last candle in the house and used up nearly all of them too! As you know, sometimes candles come in a nice little all-encompassing jar that catches and burns nearly all the wax. Then there are others that don't have receptacles, and can end up making an unholy mess, terminating their lives as frozen, gelatinous blobs that get tossed in the trash.

I've hung on to all that leftover wax and recently melted it all down to make a new candle with it!

Here's the scrap wax I started with.
Making a Candle from Scrap Wax

Then I put it all in a standard aluminum can and set it on the stove to melt.
Making a Candle from Scrap Wax

I hung a piece of cotton string in the liquid wax.
Making a Candle from Scrap Wax

When it had solidified (this takes several hours) I cut the can open with a hacksaw.
Making a Candle from Scrap Wax

Now I have a beautiful, fragrant, candle!
Making a Candle from Scrap Wax

The Bounce Announce Automated Musical Instrument

This project completed as my final project for both Physical Computing and Introduction to Computational Media at ITP.

Briefly, ping pong balls roll down 4 individual tracks, and are launched at the bottom by solenoids. The solenoids are triggered rhythmically by an Arduino.

The ping pong balls bounce sequentially onto carefully placed musical instruments. On the instruments are several piezo-electric transducers that send serial data to Processing, which responds with a visualization scheme projected from above.

Here's a video documentation of the project. Enjoy!

Hacking Together a Scrapwood Box

I just can't stand to throw my scrapwood in the trash. Unfortunately, it tends to pile up after a while, and I'm forced to think of new ways to use it. As you may know, in the past I made scrapwood shelves that seemed to be a success, so this time I tried my hand at making a scrapwood box for holding some of my materials.

I had been using a cardboard box that was slowly disintegrating, so this was definitely a step up. Like scrapwood projects I've done before, I set myself some ground rules. I used all pieces of wood as I found them in my scrap bucket, no additional cuts were allowed, and the only fasteners I used were screws and nails.

It's great to not only have created something new, sturdy, and unique, but due to the scrapwood's involvement in prior projects, the box itself becomes a chronology of my own work. I can point to the black bottom and remember that it used to be part of my workbench, then became a TV stand, and finally was dismantled, with the tabletop becoming my drafting board.

Other pieces have stories too, and I'm reminded of them whenever I dig around in this box now.

Enjoy this time-lapse video of the build. The backing track is "A Scene Unseen" by Kinetic.


Apparatus As Art

While at NYU's ITP program, I'm given the opportunity to take classes outside my own program.

Given my recent penchant for construction and assemblage, I decided to enroll in a sculpture studio course at NYU's Steinhardt School.

Being in the mix with fine arts students has resulted in some interesting results and revelations.

For a recent assignment, I made a sculpture with a kinetic element, and asked the class to ignore the apparatus controlling the "artwork", as this was intended to be concealed in a final iteration.

During the crit the apparatus was all they could think about.

I'll reserve that day's piece for another blog post, but will show you the apparatus from it alongside two similar constructions from other projects. These were never intended to be artworks, but it seems that my most successful "art" comes when it is unintended as such.
Apparatus as Art

Fishing with Rare Earth Magnets

For Fun and Profit
Fishing with Rare Earth Magnets
In the Shop Vac.

Hardware Hacking for Zevs' "Hip to be Square"

Recently I completed a hardware hacking gig for the French street artist Zevs. He wanted to take an old school Sony Dream Machine clock radio and enable it to play "Hip to be Square" by Huey Lewis and the News at a greatly reduced speed. The piece premiered along with several other works last night at Gallery De Buck in New York City, as part of Zevs' "Liquidated Version" exhibition (running through April 7th).

I was excited to work on this project because it combined my skills as a musician, hardware hacking, fabrication, and electronics.

The piece needed to look exactly like a standard Sony Clock Radio, except for two small buttons in the back to control an mp3 player and FM transmitter. The big challenge was to neatly fit all the hardware into the enclosure and make the design robust enough that the piece could withstand travel and continuous use both in the gallery and by a potential buyer.

I considered saving space by using discrete electronics and circuit boards, but decided to forego this in favor of off-the-shelf components. I did this because I was working on a deadline, and was more confident in the fabrication skills it would take to make space in the enclosure than my electronics expertise.

It turns out the space was much tighter than I thought, so I had to remove a considerable amount of material with the Dremel. There was a lot of plastic in the trash by the end of this, and part of this process left a circuit board floating with no support, so I had to fabricate a new one and glue it to a sidewall.
Hardware Hacking for Zevs' "Hip to Be Square"

With this done I set about fitting in the components. I took the buttons from a similar clock and mounted them to the on/off switches of the mp3 player and FM transmitter, then drilled out holes for the buttons and LED indicators on the back plate of the clock.
Hardware Hacking for Zevs' "Hip to Be Square"
Hardware Hacking for Zevs' "Hip to Be Square"
Hardware Hacking for Zevs' "Hip to Be Square"

After mocking up and testing the electronics, with separate transformers for the clock, mp3 player, and FM transmitter, I carefully epoxied all the pieces in with JB Weld.
Hardware Hacking for Zevs' "Hip to be Square"
Hardware Hacking for Zevs' "Hip to Be Square"

To make everything fit, I had to do a lot of chores like making a custom USB cable to power the mp3 player, and hardwiring the power cord to the circuit board on the FM transmitter.
Hardware Hacking for Zevs' "Hip to Be Square"

I'm proud to say the artist was pleased with the results, and he called the piece the "cornerstone" of the exhibition.

More shots from the exhibition:
Zevs' Exhibition Opening at Gallery De Buck
Zevs' Exhibition Opening at Gallery De Buck
Zevs' Exhibition Opening at Gallery De Buck

Making a Mouthpiece Fit My Horn

Recently I made an exquisite trade through Craig's list - 5 beat up student violins and a student model trumpet, in exchange for a 90 year old Alto Horn. Since acquiring it I've played it a whole lot.

Playing the alto horn

The problem was, the mouthpiece that came with it was for a mellophone, which has a shaft size that's too small for the alto horn. I set about increasing the shaft size instead of holding it together with scotch tape.

First I covered the mouthpiece shaft with a liberal amount of JB-WELD. Initially I thought it would be possible to sand it down by hand to a cylindrical shape, but this proved to be difficult.

Thickening the Alto Horn (Mellophone) Mouthpiece Shaft

My next idea was to sand while it was turning, as on a lathe. This required finding just the right size bolt and nut to secure the mouthpiece, but once done I was able to mount it in my hand drill. which I then mounted in my bench vise.

Thickening the Alto Horn (Mellophone) Mouthpiece Shaft

Then it was just a matter of sanding it down while the drill ran. I'm quite happy with the results, and glad I didn't have to go out and buy a new mouthpiece.

Thickening the Alto Horn (Mellophone) Mouthpiece Shaft

Repairing a Vintage Hohner Harmonica Case

My Grandfather bought a Hohner Chromonika while serving in World War II (ironically, a German brand). When I was a child I had my own little blues harp, and seeing that I had an interest in it, he gave me his harmonica, in a lovely finger-jointed wood box.

Being a child at the time, I was a bit rough on the whole kit, and the box ended up broken with a couple of the pieces lost. I took the time recently to fabricate new finger-jointed pieces, and attach a new pair of hinges. Here's how the build went:


The Harmonica Case and the blank I cut from scrap stock.


I used the dremel to cut out the finger joints, after scrolling the existing joints on the box. Some adjustments were necessary to get a tight fit.


The joints were attached with wood glue, and clamped for drying.


I jacked these hinges off a box that I hardly use. They're pretty weathered, and a decent fit.



I'm happy with the results, and glad I was able to try this detail work with the dremel.

Workshop Tour

After a feverish build session on the "Bounce Announce" project, I trashed the workshop and re-organized in the aftermath. This is probably the cleanest it's going to get for months, so I decided to document it.

The "Bounce Announce" instrument will be completed by Sunday, at which time I will post video of it in action. If you'd like to see it (and lots of other awesome projects) live, make sure to go to the ITP Winter Show.
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"Bounce Announce" Visualization Element

I've decided to take the Bounce Announce project and add visualization to it utilizing piezo sensors and processing. Every instrument will have a piezo trigger attached to it, that will be processed by Arduino and fed to a Processing visualization sketch.

On a projected backdrop, the effect should appear to be differently colored expanding concentric circles that originate from each impact point.

bounce announce visualization

Hooking an Electric Fence into an LCD Monitor

I found this half-dismantled LCD monitor o the junk shelf, and grabbed it because it looked pretty. After reading up on LCDs a bit, I had the notion that sending voltage through it might make for some interesting effects.

Since I've moved out of the country and don't have any use for my electric fence controller anymore, I hooked the thing up to the LCD and backlit. Just look at the trippy results.


Test Audio/Video for the "Bounce Announce" Audio Installation

I'll soon be building a sound installation consisting of several hundred (ping pong?) balls in a series of hopper assemblages. At the bottom of each hopper will be a feed tube with solenoids at the end. The solenoids will be triggered by Arduino, and pop out the ping pong balls at prescribed times.

The ping pong balls will bounce sequentially onto carefully placed musical instruments on the floor below, before finally coming to a rest in a cushioned collection area.

The Arduino will be communicating via midi on the computer, and following instructions from a pre-conceived score written specifically for the installation.

Video below is of balls bouncing onto different combinations of instruments, to give an idea of the "Bounce Announce" setup.

Below this is audio I captured from the above video, in layered form, to give an idea of the possibilities of the installation. The final product will hopefully be much wider in scope, with perhaps a dozen solenoids with corresponding instrument arrays.

Bounce Announce Test 1 by PushTheOtherButton

Scrap Wood Shelves Featured in Stop Motion Animation

Last week, my classmate Will Jennings and I created this whimsical stop motion video at ITP using my scrapwood shelves, and their assorted corresponding knick-knacks. We created it using IStopMotion, which is a fantastic program if you're looking to do that sort of thing. Enjoy!

Pez ZomBie from William Jennings on Vimeo.

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Tapescape and Tapelake - 2 Cassette-Based Robots Meet for the First Time

At Maker Faire last week, my booth had the TapeScape robot on display (which I made with Ilan Schifter - made almost completely out of a tape deck, broadcasting the sound from the "scape" of "tape" it would roll over), prompting several people to mention that there was a very similar robot inside the Queens Hall of Science.

I had to check it out for myself, and had the pleasure of meeting Dan Perrone. His project is not only very similar to TapeScape in it's design and action, but has quite a similar name: TapeLake.

It turns out that we developed our projects independently of each other, but came to similar conclusions, and are both Brooklyn residents. As Dan said "We're all the same fleas on different dogs."

See video below of our encounter:


Moonisphere Rising

Contrary to popular belief, the moon (at least for one weekend) is not made of cheese...

Makings of the Moonisphere

The Moonisphere build begins today at Maker Faire.

Wedding Ring Geek Out

At ITP I have already met many kindred spirits, one of whom is Nelson Ramon, a longboarding, computer hacking, Colombian uber-geek. This is a photo of him, doing what he does:
Nelson Ramon
He congratulated me on my recent wedding, and it turns out that he also got hitched just a couple of months ago. So of course, we compared wedding rings. I explained that mine was hand-hammered out of titanium by a local artist and New School professor, Paul DeBlassie. But I knew I had been bested when he showed me his white gold ring, also handmade, but with his anniversary engraved on the inside in binary!!! I definitely lost that geek fight, but am proud to have been there. Congratulations Ramon!
Colombo - Nelson Ring Comparison

Mighty Cat Scratching Post

Mister Blackie Tests the Scratching Post
I've been a cat owner for a while, and (through research and patience) have found the solution to keeping feline friends from ripping apart my couch.

Half the battle is in giving your cats a sturdy scratching post - nice and tall so they can stretch out, bottom heavy so it won't tip over, and made of something they can dig into, like sisal hemp.

I saw the opportunity to build these when visiting the Tilly Foster Farm in Brewster NY, where they happened to be demoing a host of antique farm equipment engines. One of the exhibits was a working 2 horsepower dragsaw, slicing cookies off a giant tree limb. The owner was letting people take the cookies for free, so I helped myself to two.

These became the bases for my mammoth scratching posts.

First I drilled out and cut a nice big circular hole in the center using my jigsaw.
Mighty Cat Scratching Post

Then I traced an identical circular piece out of plywood, with which I could attach the actual post (2x4s with the corners cut, then wrapped and stapled with 1/2" sisal rope) with screws. Once done, I drilled some nice beefy screws diagonally into the piece of tree limb to keep it steady, making sure to countersink the screws and fill in all the gaps with my homemade wood filler (screened sawdust and wood glue).
Mighty Cat Scratching Post

Next I thought up a novel way to make the tops of the post look nice, because they had just the end strand of the sisal stapled to the top - not too aesthetically pleasing and not too pleasant for cats either. So I found a smaller branch that was the same diameter, and cut it to size, making sure to make a crevice for the sisal to sit (first sketched out with a sharpie, then routed out with a spade bit and a rasp bit)
Mighty Cat Scratching Post
Mighty Cat Scratching Post

Liked it so much I built another!
Mighty Cat Scratching Post

Frankenstein Guitar Amplifier Build

I'm moving from the country to the city soon, and have been making a steady attempt to consolidate and downsize beforehand.

I've had several dead and dying guitar amplifiers in my workshop for quite some time, and I had ruminated enough on how I was going to hack them all together into something unique. So, check out the pic and video of it below, and be sure to read the
instructable for some more detail about how this was all done.

Frankenstein Guitar Amp Build

Frankenstein Guitar Amp Build - More DIY How To Projects
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Lamp Assembled from Drum Hardware and a Car Jack

Had this one kicking around for a while - it originally featured a boom arm for better adjustability, but this made it top-heavy - so it's now a humble, but neat-o straight desk lamp (though still somewhat adjustable).

As usual, I had all these things on hand being all lonely and useless. The blue rick-rack on the shade is courtesy of Melody, scored at an estate sale last month. Enjoy!


Report from the Cold Spring Craft Fair

Report from the Craft Fair
For it being our first craft fair, it went very well. We weren't concerned with making money, so much as observing people's reactions to our creations.

The scrapwood shelves turned a lot of heads, but a lot of the time there would be a man being interested in them and his wife pulling him away. :) But I did sell one piece, to a happy Martin W (who works for a NYC design firm, and is keeping my card on file - yippee!) pictured here. When he bought it he said he won't "ruin it by putting knick-knacks on it."
Report from the Craft Fair

Does this make me an artist? One woman said my shelves reminded her of Louise Nevelson, and when I admitted to not knowing who that was, she said "shame on you!" I tried explaining to her that I'm not an artist - this was just something I like to do, but this didn't seem to quell her agitation. All the same I take it as a compliment. It led me to check out Nevelson's work, which I really dig! And read this quote from her:

"When you put together things that other people have thrown out, you’re really bringing them to life – a spiritual life that surpasses the life for which they were originally created."

I can run with that...

Scrapwood Shelving for Knick-Knacks and Tchotchkes


My wife, Melody and I have been hard at work all this week in preparation for the Cold Spring River Festival. Melody designs and sews some awesome and hilarious apparel, and I'll be selling all different sorts of things made from recycled and repurposed materials.

It doesn't take me a lot of time to accumulate all sorts of scrap lumber from different projects, and I can't bear to see it go to waste, so I designed and built these shelf units that are perfect for keeping your odds and ends and action figures and bric-a-brac that you don't know what to do with.

I tried to make everything look a bit less hacked together by filling in the gaps (with homemade wood filler made from screened sawdust and wood glue) with a putty knife, shaping it with the jigsaw, and sanding everything down.

I've got some other tricks up my sleeve for our table at the festival, but I really do hope a couple of these pieces sell.

The Story of My Sockets

Homemade Customized Socket Organizer
People come into tools for all different reasons - you might have the $40,000 super precision Snap-On Set, or the Chinese plastic molded toolkit you bought in Bushwick when you were scraping by as a college student. Maybe you've inherited some tools - maybe you've bought some specifically for a job, and even today when digging around you can still recall the exact circumstances in which you were made to acquire it.

For most of us it's a combination of all these things, and probably more. This motley set of sockets has come into my possession through many miles and at least a couple of generations. It was always my father's habit to throw his sockets into a box and go hunting for the right one when necessary. But I had just organized my drill bit collection (just as motley, and organized just the same way-back-when by my father) and wanted to put it to use.

I dumped out all the sockets and separated them by metric (aqua) and English (natural) units, then organized by size. After drilling the right sized holes for each piece, I had fashioned my very own socket organizer, perfectly tailored for my needs. It cost nothing but the few pieces of scrap wood I had, and if I ever acquire more sockets I can just cut out the parts I need to change - keep it ever-evolving. And by the way, I'll always remember that the aqua bits were from the picket gate I rescued from the trash to make tomato stakes with.

The easy route would have been to go to sears and buy the super-duper socket set and make sure to keep it organized, but this way I can append some pride to the whole matter - make do with my own design, and come to find that I'm actually the better for it. Now these sockets rest in a drawer in a dentist's cabinet in my basement (scored that gem with the marble base for 50 bucks at a barn sale). Again, it's a matter of seeking the alternative for the better, not just to settle for less, but to push for more! This is what "pushing the other button" is all about. When something seems too easy, or you're not quite getting the satisfaction from your work or yourself you think you should, go ahead and try the other thing - push the other button. You could surprise yourself with what happens...

Evaporative Cooler Update!

Methinks the evaporative cooling set-up did it's job just fine! Between 11:00 to 1:20 the inside temperature creeped from 85 F to 90 F and has held steady since then (writing this at 3:30). I'm calling this a not-too-shabby success, since the outdoor temperature climbed from 91 to 97 in the same amount of time.
Evaporative Cooler Triumph!
So I didn't quite reach the wet-bulb temperature of 84, but here I am writing this entry - a bit balmy, but if it were 97 indoors I'd probably have passed out before finishing this paragraph :)

Lots of thanks to Make: Magazine for featuring this project!

DIY Evaporative Cooling in a Heat Wave

At home, we only have A/C units on the second floor, and I do most of my work on the Mac, which is on the first floor. Yesterday the New York metro area wasn't just hot, it was Africa Hot, and today looks to be more of the same, but I've got work to do. This morning I lowered all the blinds in an attempt to keep the heat out, and set up the window fans on tables with shallow baking pans full of water in front of them. The idea is that the air flowing from the fans will evaporate the water and cool down the room.

DIY Evaporative Cooling in a Heat Wave

How much you can cool a room using this method is dependent on the relative humidity on that particular day. The less relative humidity, the more water you can cool the room down. I found a quick and dirty formula for calculating the "Wet Bulb" temperature, which is the lowest possible temperature you can attain by evaporation alone given the current atmospheric conditions. It turns out that today's wet bulb temperature is 84 degrees, which will feel around 80 for me with the fans going - a bit hot, but definitely tolerable. The thermostats on the fans are holding at 85 right now. However, we haven't reached the hottest part of the day yet - I'll update later this afternoon to see how the experiment worked out.
DIY Evaporative Cooling in a Heat Wave
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Using the Internet to Get Free Stuff in the Mail

     In an earlier post, I mentioned how much I love sending and receiving mail through the good ole USPS. One of the ways I ensure that my mailbox periodically contains treasure when I open it, is by taking a few minutes every once in a while to fill out forms online to get free stuff sent to me. I'll do a bigger post soon showing the bounty I've gleaned in the past couple of years since I started doing this, but today I received two free magazine subscriptions with a juxtaposition that just made me chuckle.
     Behold, my new bathroom literature, free copies of "Yachting" and "Waste Management World". I have vague interest in both of these fields (what with my semi-obsession with re-using and recycling, and a love of water since childhood) but it was just so funny to see these two gems sitting next to each other in the mailbox - what an unlikely pair!
     To get this free stuff sent to me, I use a few different websites that feed into my iGoogle. Beware, because some "Free Stuff" sites can be fronts for scams, but I've been using these ones for over a year and they have been reputable:
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Papercraft (Cardboard Craft?) Pizza Box Robot Monster

     Recently, due to the hard economic times, I was forced to take a job as a pizza delivery driver to make ends meet. The work was tedious, but allowed my mind to wander to some productive places. I came up with some great ideas while assembling hundreds and hundreds of boxes in the basement. Leaving myself voicemails made Google Voice the perfect repository for my pizzeria pipe dreams.

     I'm guessing that pizza boxes are generally die-cut, and as is common in this process, the excess cuttings were sometimes still partially attached to the boxes in all manner of interesting shapes. To pass the time I started collecting them and thinking about what I could make with them. It soon became apparent that I had enough to assemble a mighty creature who could become a menacing mascot for the pizzeria. After four months of steady collecting, I had enough and put this guy together. Though not intended, I think he may be a cross between The Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past From the Future from Aqua Teen Hungerforce, and bad-ass Johnny Five from Short Circuit 2 after he re-assembles himself in the radio shack. 
     Alas, the pizza gig is over, and they did not adopt it as their official mascot. If you work at, or know of a pizzeria in the NYC area that might be interested in displaying my robot on their counter, leave a note in the comments.

But I'm only a hardware hacker....

Thanks for stopping by, especially if you came here via Boing Boing's Notepad page - their post there just beckoned for me to guess at their password, so I did.... I hope you like the projects I've been working on - no harm intended to the Boing Boing folks. When opportunity knocks....
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The Tapescape Audio Robot

Sun, Jun 13 2010 02:00 PM | Permalink
Keeping in the spirit of this blog, I should mention that I'm the co-creator of a robot that was built almost solely from a dual tape deck and could transmit sound from a "scape" of "tape" as it rolled along. This was called TapeScape -

After moving out of NYC after my tenure as bassist for Kinetic was over, this was the first major "maker" project I undertook with my collaborator, Ilan Schifter (who encouraged me to enroll at NYU's ITP program.) We originally entered the robot into an Instructables contest, and then received attention from several well-known blogs.

It was after this that the gears started turning for this website idea. It excites me immensely to know that there is "obsolete" technology and materials languishing, just waiting for others like myself to snatch it up and re-imagine it as something fantastic!

If you have ideas along these lines, I'd love to hear what you've been doing. If you have something laying around and don't know what to do with it, let me know, and we can think of something. Cheers!

Recycling Plastic Bags into Childrens' Blocks

Sat, Jun 12 2010 11:16 AM | Permalink
I learned about the method of "stewing" plastic bags from this instructable a while back, and decided to try it for myself.  In short, it's done by placing the bags in canola oil, in which they acquire a gummy consistency, suitable for molding into rigid pieces. I decided to make some childrens' blocks out of it. As far as I know the plastic is all #2 HDPE which I assume is safe for children. Can anyone shed some light on this? (don't worry I wouldn't give this to kids until I'm absolutely sure).

The swirly, marbled patterns have potential, although just mixing all the different colors together make it ugly as sin. Perhaps in the future I'll use various color schemes and they'll come out nicer.

On further thought, what basically gets created from this process is plastic lumber . Perhaps I can hang onto all my #2 plastic and slowly make enough plastic bricks to build a house. :) or even better, raid the bins on recycling day and live within other peoples' waste. Oh the possibilities....

Check out build pics at my flickr page.
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How To Rewire Roland DS90 Speakers (For Humanities Students)

Thu, Jun 10 2010 08:56 AM | Permalink
After so many years of literary analysis and myriad other right-brained ventures, I've become quite sluggish in mathematical type analyses. So, when I accidentally blew the internal amplifiers on my Roland DS90 desktop monitors, it took six years of procrastination before I finally opened them up and converted them to passive speakers.

Wiring in series and parallel I could understand, but when it got into the heady world of impedance and frequency crossovers, my brain started to swirl. I'll try to give the condensed version of how I figured it all out.

First, these monitors have two speakers, one standard for all frequencies, and one tweeter for only high frequencies.

A "crossover" is a speaker wired in parallel that has it's frequency limited by wiring in one or more capacitors.

I found out the "crossover frequency" of my speakers, then checked out this site to calculate the proper capacitance

Then it was a matter of rummaging through my junked circuit boards to find the right capacitors. That same site I linked to has a nifty little calculator that tells you how many farad you get when wiring the capacitors in different series or parallel combinations.

Now for the build pics:

The monitors with their butts ripped off.

The capacitors wired in: 2 10 microfarad caps in series, and 1 2.2 microfarad cap in parallel = 7.2 microfarad

Hacking the input: After I went all Om Nom Nom on the preamp circuit board...

I used the existing RCA input jack, and kept the rest of the amplifier guts intact, guessing that their physical presence has an effect on the overall sound of the monitors.

Thinking Inside the Box

Sun, Jun 6 2010 07:58 PM | Permalink
     I'm a pretty decent wood butcher - have slapped together a compost bin, workbench, shelves, even an adirondack chair made of shipping pallets. But what I've never tried to do is a carpentry project that fits edges together snugly, where everything is perfectly square, and it looks somewhat decent (like a wood surgeon would do it?)
     So, after feeling restless and watching this video, in which Adam Savage claims to start going a bit nuts if he isn't regularly building something, I made it an afternoon project to construct a simple, clean, elegant wooden box.
    I must give infinite respect to my friends who are carpenters. It is an art that takes a lot of practice to do well. I feel like my box will hold up for a while, but it ain't the prettiest, nor the straightest thing in the world. All the same, I learned a bit while making it, so it's all good.
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What's it Worth to You?

Fri, Jun 4 2010 09:59 PM | Permalink
     One of my favorite quotes is, "You tell me 'Looks like someone has too much time on their hands,' but all I hear is 'I don't know what it feels like to be creative.'"
     Every day we experience a conscious state taking up what Clay Shirky calls cognitive surplus. In two nights' worth of TV time (watching the NBA finals game 1 last night, and a TV movie this night) I've organized all of my loose hardware: nuts, bolts, nails, screws, washers, and whatever else I might dive into for inspiration from time to time.
     One on side, I paid less attention to what I was watching on the tube. But how much attentions do we really pay to the act of watching television anyway?
     Now the tip: sorting hardware is a devious task when you feel like you've gotten so much accomplished, but it's really just because you sorted the big stuff first. Then it's a marathon of drudgery and fine motor exercise. When you're down to a handful of fluff and the tiniest of pieces, I suggest throwing it all in a tin can, going outside, and burning it from a safe distance with a splash of accelerant (isopropyl, gasoline, kero, what have you...).

Once you're finished, dump it onto the pavement, blow away the ash, and scoop up the spoils!
| assemblage, bolts, developer, diy, hardware, make, maker, making, nuts, screws, thrift, washers

Scrapwood Trellis

Thu, Jun 3 2010 07:19 PM | Permalink

It's June and the plants are going vertical for sure now. Our snow peas needed some help with their ascent so I put together this trellis from scraps I have lying around. Kept my Triangle Square (def my fav new tool) out on the ground while framing it up. The design looks haphazard but keeping everything at right and 45 degree angles makes it coalesce I think.


Wood Gasification Stove Saves the Day!

Sun, Mar 7 2010 10:16 AM | Permalink
The blizzard that hit the northeast states recently left many without power, running water, or heat. I was one of the many who found myself in this predicament, envying those neighbors of mine with generators. Luckily, my homemade wood gasification stove, fashioned from tin cans, saw me through the worst parts. One of these is super easy to make, and I was inspired by this simple instructional video:

When my wife and I awoke the first morning after the storm hit and were still without electricity, I loaded the stove up with scrapwood, grabbed the grill from our toaster oven, and brewed some espresso in the Moka Pot.

Then Melody started work on breakfast - scrambled eggs and toast! We cooked it up on the living room floor, just making sure to keep the stove on top of a few ceramic plates for heat dissipation. Be sure you're adequately ventilated when using one of these stoves- these gasses are not so safe to breathe in large quantities.

After nightfall the house would get really chilly so we curled up and played some scrabble or listened to the radio, generating heat with the stove one batch at a time. By breaking up the combustion process into discrete parts, this stove generates an even, virtually smokeless heat. All that's left at the end is a small pile of ash. All you need is a squirt of lighter fluid or rubbing alcohol to get it started. If you have trees nearby you'll be with heat for a long time. This thing can run on twigs!

The next plan is to build an even bigger one with a longer burn time. It was a drag to have to reload the little guy- introducing fresh wood to a live batch seems to disturb the gasification process and generates smoke. A coffee can sized stove would burn for quite a while.
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