The Big Think

November 19, 2015

Why is English so weirdly different from other langu…

Filed under: Education — jasony @ 9:42 pm

Why is English so weirdly different from other langu…: “Even in English, native roots do more than we always recognise. We will only ever know so much about the richness of even Old English’s vocabulary because the amount of writing that has survived is very limited. It’s easy to say that comprehend in French gave us a new formal way to say understand – but then, in Old English itself, there were words that, when rendered in Modern English, would look something like ‘forstand’, ‘underget’, and ‘undergrasp’. They all appear to mean ‘understand’, but surely they had different connotations, and it is likely that those distinctions involved different degrees of formality.”

Anodizing Successful!

Filed under: The R2 Project — jasony @ 10:26 am

The company said 10 days for the anodizing but the employees were so excited about having an R2 frame to work on that they put me at the front of the line. The big boss at the shop told me that they all took special care walking the parts through the 20 (!) tanks required for the whole anodizing process.

So today, after less than 48 hours in the shop, they called and told me that R2 was done! I was thrilled to go pick it up (and took them some pizza as a lunchtime thank you as well). Then I spent some time doing a tolerance check (that is: I assembled it!). The glossy finish I gave the parts was totally worth all the work. It looks amazing.
Here are some pics of the frame with all of my current pieces in place. I still have to design and laser etch the circuitry patterns but I’m thrilled that this part is done. Also, much relieved.

I had to get the dome out of its box and do a test fit, of course. It drew all kinds of attention at Techshop. People love R2.

Long, long way to go but this was a major milestone. Great to see it coming together.




Proud R2 papa

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November 16, 2015

Polishing Pics

Filed under: The R2 Project — jasony @ 2:06 pm

So I just realized that I haven’t posted any pics of the polishing process (say that five times fast). I’ll update you a bit.

Since finishing the frame a few months ago I got online and researched sanding and polishing aluminum. There’s a TON to learn when you prep for anodizing. I opted to go the cheap and easy route.

Hahahah, but seriously folks. I had you there, didn’t I?

Instead of using the TechShop buffing wheels that may have been corrupted with steel (a deadly combination when you’re anodizing aluminum), I bought several different brand new buffing wheels. I also got two different types of aluminum polish (Mother’s Aluminum polish and Mother’s Billet polish). But before I even got to that point I had to sand.

And sand. And sand.

Here are two pics of a part when it’s ready for sanding;



You can see the milling marks, scratches, dings, crud, and ink from the plant. The aluminum feels rough and the edges are sharp. Yes, it’s a completed part but it’s still a visual mess.

The vertical rods (3/4″ solid aluminum) are about the same:


Yuck. The aluminum gets beaten up and scratched during the milling, forming, and tapping process, and it doesn’t start in a very good condition when you buy it anyway.

So I bought a set (which ended up being two sets) of wet/dry aluminum sandpaper. I also got a cheap pneumatic sander. Using the sander I hit the aluminum with 400 grit w/d sandpaper until I removed all of the basic scratches. If I had to do it again I’d have probably started at 200 grit. 400 took forever to remove the scratches. This is metal, after all. I’d work on a little 6×6 section for probably ten minutes before the big dings had been replaced by 400 grit sanding marks.

Next, I repeated the process with 800 grit, then 1000, then 1500, then 2000, then finished off with a 3000 grit wet/dry pad. For all 38 pieces of the frame. Total time spent sanding was about 20 hours over several weeks. It was also a mess with wet dirty aluminum “sawdust” flying everywhere. Even wearing an air mask, shop apron, gloves, and goggle/faceshield, I still ended up coming home looking like a coal miner.

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For the aluminum rods I had to first use a hard wheel to remove the worst of the scratches:

(Thanks to Sean for filming)

Once I had the parts sanded up to 3000 grit I installed a Sisal buffing wheel onto the new grinder/polisher/sander at TS. It’s a great tool! Big enough to do a project like this.

I’m simulating this pic with a non-spinning wheel:

I then put white polish on the sisal wheel and made a pass over each part to start to bring out the shine. Once all 38 parts were done I installed a soft cotton polishing wheel, put red jeweler’s rouge on it (the kind that you use on fine silver and gold), then started over and polished each piece until they sparkled. But I wasn’t done yet!

I then put the pieces into my storage box that I’d made at TechShop on the laser cutter (the box is in the “Because-I-Can” category). Then, one by one, I took each piece out and put a coating of Mother’s aluminum polish on them, followed by a final coat of Mother’s Billet Polish. These last two use a chemical reaction to get any surface oxidation off and give it a final, final polish.



If you’re keeping track, all of the above means that each coat gets ten different passes of progressively higher grits. The first grit, 400, is usually my final grit when I’m woodworking. For R2, that was the starting grit. By the end of the process I’ve polished the 6061 aircraft aluminum up to a chrome-like shine.

After a total of over 600 hours of work, here is the final result. Aluminum ain’t supposed to look like this, folks:



Finally, I brought the parts home and wiped them down with a soft rag to get any little bit of polish remaining off of them before I took them to the anodizers.

The anodizing company is doing the job for an extremely inexpensive rate. When the plant manager saw that it was an R2 frame he was really excited about it. The normal charge from another company is $500 but he’s doing it for $70 (basically cost, I think). I told him that all of his employees would get their names etched into the frame as thanks. Might even buy them pizza when I pick it up. It’s a really screamingly great price for a job like this. They even agreed to mask and plug any questionable holes that might interfere with the process. They’re going above and beyond since it’s a nice change from the generic metal unidentifiable parts that they usually do.

Why go to all that work to polish up to such a ridiculous shine if the parts are only going to be anodized black, you ask? Well, the final color will be black, but the final finish takes on the finish of whatever the unanodized surface looks like. If it’s bead-blasted then the finish is matte. A brushed aluminum finish will give you a brushed anodized look. And a stupidly-polished aluminum will look something like this:


So thats where the project stands right now! I have to admit that I’m a little nervous knowing that the box of parts is sitting in the anodizing warehouse. I’ll be glad when I get it back.

Frame Away!

Filed under: The R2 Project — jasony @ 1:00 pm

Just dropped it off at Brooks industrial coatings here in North Austin. The plant manager could see how nervous I was at turning it over. When I showed him a picture of the whole frame assembled he gestured me over to where his four employees were racking parts.

“Okay, guys, group meeting. We got a fun one here. This is Jason. Jason, take it away.”

So I took three minutes to tell the guys about the 600 hours of work, learning to machine, 20+ hours of wet sanding and polishing, etc. When I said “I’m building an aluminum R2D2 their eyes lit up and they all went “coooool”. Then Bob (the manager) said, “alright guys, treat this one like a fine lady”. So I still feel nervous but pretty good. He told me to call in a few days to see if he has any questions. Otherwise it should be ready in about 10 days.

Off to the Anodizers

Filed under: The R2 Project — jasony @ 11:31 am

I’m taking my box of R2 frame parts to be anodized today. Fingers crossed hard. I just want to make sure nothing happens that could ruin almost 600 hours and over a year of work. I’ll know in a week or so.

November 15, 2015

Circuit Patterns

Filed under: The R2 Project — jasony @ 11:19 pm

Erin wants to stage an intervention.

I’m going to take R2’s frame to the anodizer this week (I need to write up a whole post on that with pics, actually). After it’s anodized I wanted to laser etch a cool circuitry pattern into the black anodization layer. After some extensive checking around online for cool scalable vector circuit patterns, the best I could come up with was this:


Unfortunately, when you blow it up to the 18×18″ diameter of R2’s main rings you get this:

Screen shot 2015-11-15 at 11.15.09 PM.jpg

Way too fuzzy and indistinct for a good quality etch, especially considering the amount of time and work I’m putting into the frame.

So I’ve decided that I need to zoom way into that top picture in Illustrator and recreate it by hand on a separate layer. Only then can I get a really great scalable jpg. Erin couldn’t believe that I was going to do it (hence the intervention comment). Fortunately, though, it’s not all that bad. the pattern above is a 9×9 tiled image. So if I isolate the center 1/9th section and recreate it I can easily tile it. It should only take a week or so working about 30 minutes per day. No problem.

November 10, 2015

Where Are The Adults at Yale?

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 1:42 pm

Where Are The Adults at Yale? – Tablet Magazine: “…going to college is a challenging experience. And I don’t mean to downplay the difficulties that some students from historically disadvantaged communities may encounter at an institution like Yale, which for most of its history was not a friendly place for minorities of any sort, never mind people of color. But when I hear, in 2015, students complain about feeling ‘marginalized’ at Yale due to their racial, ethnic, religious, sexual, or any other identity—and, on top of this, demanding institutional retribution against those who mildly express viewpoints they don’t agree with and sartorial injunctions on pagan bacchanal holiday garb—I can’t help but think of James Meredith. Meredith was the first black student to attend the segregated University of Mississippi and had to do so under the cover of heavily armed federal marshals. When I see photographs of Meredith and other black students of the civil rights era staring down state-sanctioned American racism—not the rumored antics of inebriated frat boys or emails from well-meaning child developmental psychologists about the propriety of certain Halloween costumes—I don’t see people pleading for Dean’s Excuses so they can huddle in a ‘safe space’ to recover from ‘traumatic racial events.’ I see unbelievably courageous young men and women who, by keeping their heads high, exposed their spittle-flecked antagonists as the bigoted Neanderthals they were and changed this country for the better.”

Compared to the turmoil of the 60’s, the bar for courageous behavior has certainly reached a new low.

November 9, 2015

Health Care

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 1:42 pm

New Yorkers Face Hard Decisions After Collapse of Health Republic Insurance – The New York Times:

“If anyone could manage to obtain treatment under the Affordable Care Act, it should have been Liz Jackson.

With a severe nerve condition that forced her out of a job, Ms. Jackson did not just qualify for a government-subsidized plan, but she also knew her way around the new system, having been trained as a volunteer ‘health care navigator’ to help others sign up.

Yet the collapse of her insurer, Health Republic Insurance of New York — the largest of 12 health care co-ops nationwide set to close this year — has left her and more than 200,000 others in a panic over medical coverage after their plan ceases on Nov. 30.

Health Republic lived a short and difficult existence, squeezed by premiums that were low by design and cut off by Republicans in Congress from government subsidies promised along with the federal health care law.

Ms. Jackson, 33, is in a situation more grim than most of those losing coverage. She said she was told by state health care officials this week that she no longer qualified for subsidies promised under the federal law. Without them, she does not know if she will be able to afford insurance after her Health Republic policy ends.

‘I’m an advocate for the health care law,’ said Ms. Jackson, who lives in Harlem. ‘And if I can’t navigate this, who can?’”

Too bad there was nobody warning that this would happen when the plan was being responsibly debated rammed through Congress on a party line vote.

November 5, 2015

10 Reasons We Sold Our Television

Filed under: Disclosure — jasony @ 11:55 am

10 Reasons We Sold Our Television: “9. I’m Actively Recovering
I’m a story addict. Serial shows are my nemesis, because they rarely ever resolve in a way that is satisfying. This means I (and every other television viewer) must keep watching and watching and watching a program to get an emotional payoff. This is death to my literary spirit. The best solution? Getting rid of the television and picking up a book, instead.”

The other 9 reasons are very good as well. I confess that we have a very nice 48″ flat panel, but this is used for RedBox movies once or twice a month and pretty much stays off the rest of the time.

Breaking the TV habit was hard the first month. Now that it no longer holds sway over us I don’t miss it a bit. Actually, I would actively campaign against ever plugging in the cable again. It’s basically given me years of productive time back — time that can’t be replaced and that would, I am sure, be regretted on my deathbed. Instead, I am using that time to develop skills, build an R2D2, read, and help Erin with her business. That extra time has become precious to me. Why would I pay to have that time taken away?

End of an Era

Filed under: Education,Maker,Science — jasony @ 10:30 am

After 14 years, the next season of Mythbusters will be the last. What a great run!

What We Owe the MythBusters: “The MythBusters’ delight in gonzo engineering also helped inspire the rise of the modern class of tinkerers known as ‘makers.’ When the show began, the idea that average people could build their own complex gadgets was a fringe notion at best. Today, more than 400,000 students worldwide gather to compete in FIRST Robotics competitions. Thousands of adults and kids attend Maker Faire festivals to show off their quirky inventions. ‘I feel really lucky that ‘MythBusters’ coincided with the whole D.I.Y. movement and contributed to it,’ Mr. Savage said. ‘I mean you’ve got 10-year-old girls building robots now!’

‘MythBusters’ didn’t do all this alone, of course. American culture is embracing its inner nerd on many fronts today. The cult of Steve Jobs and our fascination with tech start-ups have played a part. So have fictional TV shows like ‘CSI’ and ‘The Big Bang Theory.’ The astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has stepped into Carl Sagan’s shoes, and ‘The Martian,’ which its star, Matt Damon, calls ‘a love letter to science,’ is one of the biggest films of 2015.

Best of all, a study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that the number of college freshmen enrolling in STEM majors has climbed nearly 50 percent since 2005. If a few more kids today want to grow up to be Elon Musk or settle on Mars or cure cancer, we have Jamie and Adam partly to thank.”

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