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  • MIT hack is not a hack

    Ten years later, this is still brilliant:

    The text on the sign literally translates (from French, if you’re a dunce): “This is not a hack”

    In case you’re wondering where you’ve heard that phrase before, or have no idea where it comes from, let me fill you in. The wording comes from the painting “The Treachery of Images” by Rene Magritte:

    Magritte’s point, and the “treachery” referred to in the title, is that images are deceptive. In fact, the object in the painting is not a pipe. It is the representation of a pipe. As the artist famously asked, “Can you stuff it?” Of course you can’t, because as he so plainly pointed out: IT IS NOT A PIPE.

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  • RobotFest / Mini Maker Faire

    On Saturday (April 24th) I went to the RobotFest / Mid-Atlantic Mini Maker Faire outside of Baltimore, MD.

    Lots of cool things to see there. One of my favorites was this Arduino Ant Farm, by Adam Franchino.

    Check out some of my photos from the event:


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  • Inverted Tomato Planter

    I made me an instructable.

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  • Epic caveman discovery!

    I just discovered annealing! Seriously. Just now in the garage. First, some background.

    About a week ago, I was trying to bend some 5/32″ copper tubing in an 1.5″ arc, to make the “arms” for the aeolipile. Since I don’t have any sort of equipment capable of doing this the proper way (i.e. a pipe bender) I was using my hands. I didn’t have much luck. The pipe was too rigid to bend smoothly, and forcing it too much caused it to buckle (left in photo). So, like any good troglodyte, I decided to use fire. That didn’t work out too well either. Again, the issue was one of control. Too much force and it would still buckle. I should point out I was trying to bend the metal while it was glowing red, which probably made it too soft. Anyway, after my several failures, I left the remnants of the previously heated copper pipe sitting on the workbench and went about my business. I completely forgot about it, and didn’t think much of it until about an hour ago when I noticed it sitting on the workbench.

    For whatever reason, I picked up the remnant piece of tube, and tried to bend it. To my surprise, it was much more ductile and easily cold-worked into a lovely 1.5″ arc (right in photo). I knew from the discoloration on the metal that this was part of my earlier experiment, and that it had been heated to glowing and then allowed to air-cool, which is exactly the process for annealing both steel and copper (though copper can be quenched in water as well, whereas with steel this will cause hardening and less ductility). I consider this an excellent (re)discovery, and one that I will take full advantage of in my next aeolipile.

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  • I’m no Hero

    This is my first attempt to build an aeolipile, also known as “Hero’s Engine“. Sad to say, it doesn’t work in its present state, and probably never will, since in spite of the failure I’m going to attempt a more ambitious and dimension-critical design. The new design will try to solve what I think is the main problem with this version, specifically that the rotor doesn’t turn freely enough. It will move if you push it lightly with your finger, but it will not turn on its own, which is pretty much benchmark A-1 in the engine design business.

    I was kind of hoping that the power of the steam would be enough to make it move and keep it moving, but this in clear violation of a key principle of making things: the forces at work in any system are usually much bigger or smaller than you perceive them to be, and you shouldn’t rely on them to fix your half-assed design. Eschewing proper tolerances because “physics will take care of it” is a fool’s game. Friction, you win again.

    I’ve been practicing brazing things (tin cans, sheel metal) together and figured I’d try to create something that moved. Well, this attempt didn’t work. For one thing, I kept getting leaks, which tells me I need to improve on my brazing skills. No surprise as I’ve only been at it for a week. After sloppily globbing on enough solder sink a ship, I managed to seal it up pretty well, but the damn rotor wouldn’t turn. I kept filing it down, and enlarging the holes, but to no avail. *sigh*. So, my first blog post about my engineering life is a failure. But at least the blog isn’t blank anymore :)

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