Once again, this little device to the left has saved me $100+.

A few years ago, my Chevy Volt’s ABS warning light came on. A brief search around various forums said the most likely cause was driving through deep puddles in wet weather. That the water would muck up the ABS (automatic braking / skid avoidance sensor) and, typically, waiting until everything dried out and then resetting the trouble code would fix it (would make the warning light go out).

To reset the trouble code requires an OBDII scanner of some sort. OBDII is the on board diagnostics system and a standard connector for interacting with the system has been mandated on all new cars in the US since 1996 (but the original OBD systems date all the way back to 1969!).

When you take your car to the shop and they come back after 15-20 minutes with a printed report of various trouble codes? Most likely, a standard report produced by the OBDII system.

There are three types of codes, more or less, confirmed, pending, and permanent. Confirmed and pending are typically the “detected a problem, might go away” and “might be a problem variety”. Permanent are the “yeah, really, a problem was detected” variety. Would have been at least $150 to clear the codes at a dealer and, of course, an upsell for many hundrends of dollars to “fix” the “clearly on the verge of failing” sensor.

The whole Ratchet & Clank series of games is just fantastic (save for the last one or two that kinda lost the plot). This year, the first 3 games were remastered for the PS3; 1080p and a bunch of new content. If you like 3D platformers and haven’t played R&C, I highly encourage you to do so.

R&C features a whole slew of upgradeable weapons. You collect bolts — the in-game currency — and use those to buy new weapons (and ammo). There is one incredibly powerful black market weapon available called the R.Y.N.O. (the “Rip Ya A New One” gun). Priced at 150,000 bolts, it would take many, many hours of repetitive game play to harvest enough bolts (until you beat the final boss once and start over in challenge mode where bolt collection is 2x to 3x faster).

Photo 1

There aren’t any cheat codes that’ll get bolts any faster, but there are bugs that can be exploited. Specifically, you can exploit a flaw in the geometry engine to go through a wall, fly through a roof and then fly to a race track where the game engine rules are tuned to you being on a hoverboard. In particular, you can use “the taunter” to break boxes of bolts in a way that the boxes keep breaking for as long as you hold down the “taunt” button.

It takes about 3 or 4 hours of taunting boxes to generate the 150,000 bolts to grab the R.Y.N.O.

Now, of course, this hack — “cheat” implies a Konami-Kode, this is much more of an exploit than a purposeful feature — is well documented online. This is a pretty typical example video.

It, however, is the hard way. A much easier way to do this is to go to the room containing the two health globes (screenshot(s) forthcoming) that said video shows you flying to. Once in the room, stand in the corner behind the globes and knock yourself through the wall using the decoys. Once through the wall, walk to the left along the narrow ledge until you are between the building and a really tall wall that goes over the race track. Wall jump up to the top of the building and fly to the race track as the video shows.

Much, much easier than the video for several reasons. First, going through a right-angle corner is a lot easier than that nuttiness in the raceway plaza. Secondly, no need to fly nearly blind from way up high through the roof of the building.

Of course, the hacker in me immediately asked “Why does this happen and can we exploit this further?”

Turns out that the answer is a resounding yes. It is really easy to find flaws in the game geometry that can be exploited. Look for sharp corners and aim your decoy gun (or any gun with a target) into them. If the gun’s target jumps between planes rapidly — better yet, if there are places where it will steadily oscillate between two planes — you can almost assuredly use the Decoy trick to knock yourself through that spot into whatever is beyond.

The glitches that result can be pretty mind bending. I have yet to see the game crash, but “divide-by-zero” would be an apt description of some of the results.

I’ve now used this in a few places in the game to complete a mission without doing any of the intervening bits or to get into a secret room without bothering to find the oft-well-hidden entrance.

Roger & I now have quite a few worlds to explore!

Since picking up an Ultimaker nearly a year ago, I’ve printed many things (and wrote a very well received article for Make: Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing).

These are many of them and some lessons learned from each.

Printed Ornaments

Koch Snowflake Tree Ornament Baubles

This is Thingiverse Object #35561.

Every year, we have an annual ornament exchange in our neighborhood. Last year, I used EMSL’s Egg-Bot to create an Eichler themed ornament.

This year, I started down the path of custom designing an ornament for printing, but grabbed the Koch snowflake baubles from Thingiverse.

Lesson Learned: Design software is hard to use. 3D design software is harder. You’d think a simple circle with some stars and words extruded in 3-space would be easy to do. Still, people totally dig the unique texture and shapes of these. In hindsight, I probably should have used Inkscape (awful, but works and is what is used for the egg-bot) to do a 2D design and then extrude that.

After a while with the Ultimaker, a series of notes on the various things one can do to tune the 3D printing experience.

Some of this is specific to the Ultimaker, but most of it is not. Much of this is personal preference and, frankly, there is probably some stuff in here that is wildly sub-optimal. But, hey, it has worked for me and it worked better than it did when I started.

I.e. feedback and corrections are quite welcome!

First, a note on consumables. I have stuck with PLA (polylactic acid) exclusively. It is a plant derived material that requires a lower temperature and is quite thoroughly non-toxic (there are lots of articles about fume-venting ABS… not so with PLA). As well, when I screw up — which is often — the resulting garbage is biodegradable (however, I’m donating my “pile of PLA” to someone who needs input into a PLA scrap-to-usable-filament project).

PLA also doesn’t require — though it can benefit from — a heated print bed. ABS, the other common material, seemingly really does (though one can live without).

Thus, these tips are optimized to PLA.

These tips are also somewhat ordered in the steps that they should be done to maximize benefit. In some cases, that is because the earlier steps have a bigger ROI than later ones. In others, it is simply that the later steps really require the earlier steps first.

Ornament On Tree
In Action

Every year, our neighborhood has an annual ornament exchange.

This year, we hosted the party at our house.

For our ornament, I picked up a bunch of matte finished shatterproof (i.e. plastic) ornaments from Amazon.com and shoved ’em in EMSL’s Egg-Bot.

For the artwork, I found an elevation illustration of the front of a typical Eichler and used Inkscape to trace a relatively minimal line drawing of the elevation (attached below).

Worked great! The person that received their ornament loved it and, of course, then everyone else wanted one, too. No problem! I printed ’em up in whatever color combinations folks wanted.

When loaded in Inkscape, the lettering and wreath on the door are in a different layer than the house line art. The Egg-Bot Inkscape driver makes it easy to print a layer at a time and, because the stepper motors stay powered unless you explicitly turn them off, you can easily swap pens after a layer is printed without knocking things out of alignment.

If you have an Egg-Bot, those particular ornaments + Sharpie ultra-fine markers are pretty much an optimal combination. You don’t even need to take the little hanger top off when printing. As can be seen in the photo on the left, the ornament part fits well into the cup of the egg holder and the plastic eye is held quite firmly by the spring loaded part of the Egg-Bot’s egg holder.

Eichler SVG

Reddit Logo Egg

This year, we decorated our eggs using Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories’ Egg-Bot.

I picked up the kit from EMSL a few months ago. Roger and I put it together over a few evenings. Software installation is relatively easy (for an X11 app) and usage is quite easy.

The assembly, no surprise for an EMSL kit, was a breeze, with a extremely well written and illustrated assembly manual. Seriously — EMSL kits are the best kits I have ever assembled!

The Egg-Bot can draw on pretty much anything round that is smaller than a tennis ball; eggs of all types, light bulbs, golf balls, Christmas ornaments, and — even — fruit (I used a lemon for test purposes).

The trick is finding a marking instrument that is appropriate to the target surface. For eggs, Sharpies work quite well, but Bic Mark-It markers are too runny.

Precisely, the Sharpie Ultra Fine Point Permanent Markers, 5 Colored Markers(37675) works very well. Regular Sharpies do not; too fat. However, EMSL has various accessories available, including an “extra wide” pen holder (ordering that very soon!).

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)

Since we accidentally acquired a parakeet, we go through quite a bit of bird seed. Steve– the parakeet– gets a fresh bit of food each day, but never quite finishes yesterday’s. I didn’t want Roger simply pitching the old into the yard as that attracts rats and Ruby — the dog — would hoover it up (she is a confused dog; part cat, part bird)!

So, we built a super simple bird feeding platform. It is a wooden frame with a bit of window screen in the middle. The screen is held to the frame by bits of thin wood nailed to the frame (as seen in the photo). The whole thing is suspended from the house via eye-hooks with coated stainless steel wire.

Dead easy to build and made entirely from scrap and junk drawer bits.

By going with this open design, we can throw Steve’s leftovers, bits of fruit, seed pods and the like onto the frame. Rats don’t seem to bother it given the proximity to the house and the slippery wires (which, frankly, surprises me a bit).

Because it is open, the feeder attracts birds that are normally ground feeders, like this pair of mourning doves that visit the feeder every afternoon.

Keg Cap Taps

This is the reason why I write this weblog. After writing up the entry on the Kegerator project and tweeting it, I received a “nice job!” from the creator of a product called the KegCapTap.

Pretty much every commercial keg of beer ships with a round plastic snap-on protector over the very much standard sized keg coupler/connector. Of course, that snap-on protector is a marketing opportunity and, thus, every keg comes with a nice logo’d cap identifying the brand, if not the specific beer!

Enter the Keg Cap Tap.

The Keg Cap Tap is a tap handle that’ll fit just about any tap valve (the company also sells adaptors). The round end just so happens to be the exact same size as the top of a keg and, thus, quite nicely holds the branded keg protector.

As a result, whatever random commercial brews I have in my kegerator will now be identified quite clearly on the tap.

For my own beers, the Keg Cap Taps came with blank plastic snap-on protectors. For now, I’ll just slap an Avery label on the blank and write in the type of beer. Someday, I’ll have to actually print up little logos and such!

Completed Kegerator

I have always wanted to brew beer and have a number of friends that do. The results are almost always delicious and always interesting.

Having helped with the bottling process, I decided long ago that if I were to ever brew beer, I would not use bottles. Instead, I would rack into a keg and dispense from there.

Obviously, I needed a kegerator!

To force the issue, I brewed my first batch of beer a few months ago knowing that i would have to figure out a means of serving said beer from a corny keg before I could enjoy the fruits of my brewing labors. A 5 gallon “corny keg” is the standard vessel used in soda fountains and it has two “ball locks” on the top, one for the gas line and one for the liquid out line.

I actually looked into simply purchasing a kegerator outright, but they were expensive, generally inefficient, and often designed very poorly.

Thus, I decided to build my own.

Drying Rack

Our laundry / utility room isn’t large, but we consider it to be a gem given that most bay area homes seem to have their laundry in the garage!

Thus, space is a premium and that makes dealing with the handful of items that need to be air dried on a flat surface a challenge. A drying rack that sits around on the floor unused 90% of the time is guaranteed to be in the way 90% of the time!

Thus, a solution that can easily get out of the way was sorely needed!

Having scored a cheap bicycle ceiling lift off of Amazon, I added a couple of metro-cart shelves ($20/each at most hardware stores) held together by four 12″ bolts. the bolts hold the bottom shelf tightly sandwiched between two washers and two nuts on each bolt. The bolts hang from the holes in the top shelf (more washers!) and the top shelf hangs from the bicycle hoist.

Conceptually, it works really really well. Perfectly, in fact. And the metro-cart shelves allow for stuff to be hung from below, too.

The only complaint is that the bicycle lift works exactly as you might expect for $10-$15. Expect to have to keep the shelf level as it goes up/down. No big deal, but I will be replacing the rope in the near future.