Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Thought I'd share an actual adventure with you for a change.  Deb and I went to Sandals Montego Bay for our honeymoon a few months back agreeing to find some much needed relaxation there.  That lasted all of about one day.  I've always been a big fan of snorkeling and decided before the trip that I wanted to try scuba diving while down in the Caribbean.  Deb, always up for an adventure, was in as well.  The only prior knowledge of the different accreditation levels I have before sauntering up to the dive shack was "resort training" and probably something more involved than that.  Apparently you can get learned up to three ascending recreational classifications while at the resort.  They are: resort, supervised, and open water.  They made a pretty good case for taking the open water course and we, after some deliberation, anxiously signed up.  The open water certification allows you to  rent equipment, request air fills, and dive without any higher supervision, provided ya do so with a buddy.  Now, it did cost a little coin and it did involve four certification dives over three days with a decent amount of coursework and studying but afterward we totally agreed it was worth it for a bunch of reasons.  Most notably, our life long certification allows us to dive where ever we want without an instructor and we got to do our dives in 85 degree crystal clear Caribbean water.  Beats a freezing flooded rock quarry in Pennsylvania any day. 

If you're thinking about doing something like this, there are a few things you may want to be aware of before hand.  Our swim test was 400 meters in the pool.  Probably a good idea to warm up first or make sure you didn't imbibe too extravagantly the night before prior to embarking on this non-trivial task.  Moving on to coursework, be prepared to invest a few hours reading and taking practice tests during your down time.  We were given a video with a non-functional dvd player.  The book would have to do.  When it comes to the actually diving, don't psych yourself out.  Breathing while submerged under 40 feet of water is not a natural environment for humans but the equipment is safe and thanks to your redundant regulator and your buddy's redundant regulator, you are never without air.  

Now for the fun stuff.  Diving is truly a unique and exhilarating experience.  You get to witness the beauty of the underwater kingdom firsthand and observe the colorful and interesting creatures within it living and playing in their natural habitat.  I think I'm hooked. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

This card box runs firmware...

And lights up of course.  One minor detail in the vast expanse of wedding preparation is the acquisition of some sort of receptacle to house cards or envelopes that may get lost in the shuffle of larger items on the gift table.  I suggested to my soon to be wife that I could handle the task of building such a thing and she happily accepted knowing full well what the outcome would be.  I appreciate her willingness to support my hobbies and obsessions.  And so it began.  Don't forget to watch the video at the end, not bad for iPhone video huh.

Among the design considerations I mulled over, I felt color scheme and an interactive element took precedence over the rest.  Sure, the box contains a few old tricks but incorporates enough new (to me) tech to satisfy my desire for an original product.  Most of the time my designs are influenced greatly by the available materials and tools at my disposal.  This project was no exception.   How hard is it to find a lightweight and inexpensive yet sturdy cylindrical box big enough to hold approximately 70 large envelopes?  Too hard, I basically had to make my own out of two hat boxes, tape, some brown utility paper and a lot of glue.

Let's start with the new stuff.  Our wedding colors were purple and green so the box had to match the particular shades we selected as close as possible.  Probably could have done it with paint but decided fabric was better for a few reasons.  On the top of that list, Deb got me a sewing machine for my birthday so I was itching to do more than hems and patch jobs with it.  Plus, fabric does a great job of hiding blemishes and rough edges.  Turns out there were plenty from the aforementioned hat box mod.  And the fabric store had plenty of colors and patterns to pick from.  A little too many perhaps, it was hard to decide. 

Since people were going to be interacting with the box by putting cards into it, I thought it would be a good idea to provide some feedback.  Oddly, I've never worked with photointerruptors before but it was obviously the perfect way of sensing something entering the box.  When a card blocks the infrared light between transmitter and receiver, a signal is send to the microcontroller.  I thought it appropriate that the micro respond by flashing some green lights.

The focal point of the card box is of course the etched plexi with our logo on it.  As you can see from the previous posts, we kind of liked it.  I etched the plastic in the same manner as I have in the past but finished it in a different way by bending it to match the contour of the round box.  I think it ties in quite nicely. 

This was a fun project.  I learned a few things in the process and everyone at the wedding seemed to get a kick out of it.  I guess it's my silly way of saying thank you for all the gifts. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Just Married!

Ok, so this project is a big one.  A happy and healthy marriage for the rest of my life.  Totally doable.
Deb and I got married in Virginia Beach over the weekend and I couldn't be more jazzed about it.  And the first thing that I was ever early to happened to be my own wedding... bonus!  Check out the gobo and the lighting.  Nice huh.  Props to Mary and Rhett for the picture.  There were a few missteps along the way but that just added to the charm of the event.  Deb was beautiful, our guests were a blast and Blue Steel Lighting rocked the reception out.  I have a feeling these memories are gonna stick around a while.  Now we're off to Jamaica.  Can't wait to post about that. 

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

I'll call you Stampie

So, they are chairs that you take to your chairs.  Cute huh?  These fun little wedding favors kill two birds with one stone.  Hmm, maybe not the best saying for a "love birds" themed wedding.  While they are a great way of distributing the favors (inside the chair) and alerting guests of their seating arrangements, the best part was how we customized it with a handy little stamp from Simon's Stamps.  We have a nifty little logo that will be making a few different appearances at our wedding already and thought that it would be great if we could get it on the front of the paper chair somehow. The original idea was to print it on a sticker but experimented with the stamp method cause there was a good chance the outcome would look much better.  And we were right.  It wasn't so much the idea as it was the stamp.  It's good.  And surprisingly good at that.  Some of the text is pretty darn close together.  I was impressed.  Though it took a bit of practice to get the pressure and alignment just right, only a few chairs made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of personalized decoration. A little candy here and some calligraphy there and we have ourselves quite the unique wedding favor.  Special thanks to Rhett for help with the logo.  The man has the Photoshop skilz to pay the bilz.

Friday, April 16, 2010

One Touch Disco Room

The concept of instantly transforming any seemingly pedestrian space into a disco or romantic enclave isn't new but the manner in which you accomplish this task can vary greatly depending on available infrastructure, technical knowledge, resources, space, mood, style and timing.  If you're looking for an example, you may remember Eric (Otter) Stratton's bedroom from National Lampoon's Animal House.  Or possibly the scene in Accepted when Justin Long's character uses the Clapper to turn on a disco ball and mood lighting. Same basic idea.

The genesis of this idea actually grew out of a few smaller projects that I was working on concurrently.  Since I had already proven out designs for my RC-5 IR receiver circuit, iPod communication code, and common collector peripheral switching circuit, it seemed natural to combine them all in a single housing. 

It's basically a custom iPod/iPhone dock with the ability to remotely switch a variety of external devices.  to begin with, I knew that I wanted to control my disco ball spot light, disco ball motor, flux capacitor, knight rider belt, and silly fiber optic lamp I got from Ikea.  I included three extra ports for expansion.  The desired effect would be reached if, by pressing a specific number on my IR remote, the lights in the room would dim, my lighting projects would turn on and a pre-selected song would start playing.  I think I captured that quite nicely in the video below.

This box works better than my previous dock for a few reasons.  Foremost, it adds an LCD on the front that can display artist and song title information which you can't see on the iPod unless you're right next to it.  And the old dock has a very limited remote.  Sure it's small and cute but I don't mind the bigger universal remote when considering the added functionality like mute and iPod menu navigation. 

You may be wondering why I went with IR control over cooler technologies like wifi or bluetooth.  Good question.  I'll eventually incorporate that stuff into future projects but for now it just made sense to go with a short range solution considering that the person initiating the disco room will most likely be in the room when they do it.  That and I thought it would be a neat exercise to learn the proper way to create a program capable of receiving a Manchester encoded bit stream. 

You know what I wanna do now.... Strut.