Apple Press Night

Jennifer Farmer brought her home-made cider press to the space tonight, along with apples from her house!  Built with boards and plywood and an automotive jack, the rig cost less than $50. Fresh juice for all!!

Smashing apples with a 2x4

 Smashing the apples with a 2×4

Getting ready

Getting the apples leveled

Big Squeeze!

The apples weren’t quite perfectly leveled, so the jack is a little off center.

The juice pooled in the pan, then drained through a hole into a hose, and into the jug.

Sweet goodness

The gurgles were music to our ears!

tada apple juice

Ta da!

Pouring the bounty

Pouring nature’s spoils!

Come by and say hello at NoCo Maker Faire!

Come by our booth at NoCo Maker Faire, we’d love to chat!


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Optical Probe – a tool for reverse engineering optical protocols.


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From TV remote controls to high speed networking via laser fiber optics, optical communications is done every day. Because most of this information is carried on short pulses of either visible or invisible light, it is impossible to reverse engineer these signals without proper test equipment.

But, before you can reverse engineer anything, you have to know it exists.  A blinking light is obvious, but it could also be several pulses close together as several bursts of data. A dim light may be a dim light, or it could be a high speed pulse train that is fooling your eye into thinking it’s dim. Older telephone modems used to connect their “RX” LED to the data stream, and, because it faithfully reproduced the data optically, you could eavesdrop on the communication from across the street.
Once you know you have a signal of interest, test equipment allows you to sample it ways that exceed your senses. Humans can’t see infrared yet. Sure, there are experiments to see if the eye can become sensitive to infrared by substituting one type of vitamin A for another, but that’s a bit extreme just to see if your remote is working, isn’t it?  Equipment, from night vision scopes to cell phone cameras can all detect invisible light, but they are not fast enough to analyze the data contained in their pulse trains. Amplitude, frequency, and other characteristics need a more advanced probe — this probe.
I designed this probe when working with a power meter reader. It output a dim IR light (that was a pulse train) to a meter and the meter would respond back with … something. I didn’t know what, it just looked like a blink of light.
The circuit for viewing those light pulses is easy. An oscilloscope can only sample voltage over time, so we need to give it the ability to sample light. A phototransistor (Q1) will modulate electrical current flow based on how much light strikes it, but an oscilloscope measures voltage, not current.  We add a power source (B1) and resistor (R1) into the circuit: according to Ohm’s law, the voltage across the resistor will be proportional to the current through R1, which is the same current that flow through Q1. Varying the resistor’s value adjusts the gain of the circuit. Because the phototransistor is sensitive to infrared light that we can’t see, it would be helpful to add a visible LED (D1) and a transistor to drive it (Q2) to give us a bit of visual feedback. This enables us to use the optical probe to check if there are signals present without the need of the oscilloscope. Of course it won’t see the pulses you’d see on an oscilloscope, but it will work well as a remote checker.

Don’t forget! NoCo Mini MakerFaire is this weekend, Oct. 4th and 5th

SSD will be there, you can count on it!  Make sure you look for our booth and stop by!

Starting up the “project of the week” again

Wow, it’s been a while since the blog has been updated with a member project. However, I know for a fact that our members are always busy with projects: we talk about them every Tuesday night! So in the spirit of Do-ocracy, I’ve started pestering my fellow hackers to get me information on their projects, so we can post them here. For a quick list of examples, we have members working on projects like:

  • power monitoring solutions for the home (several members building their own systems)
  • some of those power monitoring solutions extend into home automation
  • a solar powered base station to extend networking beyond a foothill to his house in the next valley
  • reverse-engineering an RC car’s protocol
  • ultra high resolution microphotos:
  • an LED video screen on a wearable shirt
  • art projects for Apogea and Burning Man art festivals
  • an LED augmented motion sensitive umbrella
  • a cargo bike
  • hand crafted teardrop trailer

In addition to these individual projects, we also have ongoing work on the hackerspace itself.

  • we’ve obtained four Lulzbot printers from their production line retrofit. This is where hackerspaces were given the option to buy their phased out equipment for cheap. A couple of our members have taken on the task of getting them up and running and at home in what was our admin office.
  • some members working on an aquaponics setup, including one at the space

As we get back to project of the week, we will feature these projects and more. Stay tuned…

3D Tactile Children’s Book Workshop

Earlier in July, SSD was proud to host a workshop centered around the idea of making tactile books for children with visual impairments.


The workshop creators, Abby and her associate Vicki, approached SSD a few months prior asking to host the workshop at our space. The idea was too amazing to say no. This workshop was just one in a series of workshops, which are part of a larger research project. You can read more about the project here.

The main goal of the workshop was to understand the 3D design process as well as understand the gaps that must be filled to get parents printing books for their own children. Luckily, the skill level of each participant was at a different point on the spectrum, ranging from no experience with 3D design software, to some experience, to one attendee who does 3D design professionally. Each chose a different children’s book to model, and went about the design process.

Here, Todd models a bear from Goodnight Moon out of clay. His lack of 3D modeling software experience made him seek a more outside of the box approach. Luckily, Abby and Vicki were well prepared with a variety of modeling mediums and tools.

I chose The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein as my model. Here you can see me designing the first page in SketchUp. I chatted with Vicki about how you could compress many pages into fewer tactile images. It’s interesting to think of conveying the morals and ideas through touch rather than visually.

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Mike, who designs 3D models professionally, creates a page from Each Peach Pear Plum.

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It was a pleasure to both host and participate in this workshop. I wish Abby, Vicki and the rest of their team the best of luck as they move forward with this project. We hope to have them back for more workshops like this in the near future.


Front Range Open Hardware Symposium


SSD Member Alicia Gibbs hosted a discussion that included congressman Jared Polis on the future of open source hardware.

Ten local companies discussed how open source had made them more competitive, how open source will play into the future of the economy, and what the government can do to support the movement.

Polis seemed most surprised to learn that there are laws that aren’t open source – for example, a toymaker must purchase the rules concerning safety, costing thousands of dollars. This inhibition defeats the whole purpose of the laws, which is to make it easier to make toys safer.

Also surprising to most attendees was the fact that the measure of success of government grants to small companies depends on  how many patents are issued on the technology. This leads to a perverse incentive where public money is used to lock up ideas rather than promote free and open ones.

Also, proprietary tools in education hinder students when the post-graduation companies they work for cannot afford (or use different) tools than they’ve learned.

More information at the Open Source Hardware Association.


Jared Polis looks at a factory automation robot used in testing products at Modular Robotics. The device is used in-house, and uses a lot of open source products. Since it is not for sale and does not compete with their products, there is no disincentive to give the updated design back to the community.



Talking and asking questions.



2014 Election at Solid State Depot

Is January almost over already?! It seems like we were ringing in the New Year just yesterday. And, as with any new year, it is a time for change, for renewed commitments, and for looking ahead to the future. This past Tuesday (January 21, 2014) we held our second ever election for the new, 2014 Board of Directors for Solid State Depot. As laid out in our Bylaws, the number of Board members is proportional to the number of members we have. Thus, this year we elected seven Board of Directors. Please welcome the 2014 SSD Board:

Dan Julio

Rob Bryan

John English

Liz Baumann

Marianne Reddan

Ben Burdette

Joel Bartlett


A special thanks goes out the 2013 Board members for being so brave as to be the first ever Board of an up-and-coming hackerspace.

SSD Board of Directors 2013The 2013 SSD Board. From left to right: Andy Tracy, John English, Dan Julio, Joel Bartlett, Bryant Hadley 

A special thanks also goes out to the members who took on officer roles in 2013.

Solid State Depot-02The 2013 SSD Officers. From left to right: Top: Jeff Blamey (Marketing Officer) Middle: Andy Tracy (Secretary), Chris Robinson (Technical Officer), Dan Julio (Facilities), Joel Bartlett (President) Bottom: John English (Vice President), Liz Baumann (Treasurer), Bryant Hadley (Operations Officer) Not Pictured: Paul Birkelo (Marketing), Brian Krent (Marketing)

NoCo Mini Maker Faire 2013

The first ever Northern Colorado Mini Maker Faire was held Saturday October 5 in Loveland. Around 3,300 people attended and there were 120 maker/ demoer/ exhibiter booths. SSD had a table with a few of our projects, info about our space, and a revolving 2-4 members present and excited to tell passers-by about our space. We talked to many people and hope to see some of them at our meetings as time goes by. In addition to our SSD table, at least 4 of our members had their own tables / displays at the event as well.

This was the first annual NoCo Mini Maker Faire, and the organizers of the event plan to hold more like it in the future. See to learn more about the organizers, to stay tuned and to see more photos from the event. Thanks to John Maushammer and John English for the photos below, and to all our members who spent time manning our table throughout the day at the event!

Member Project of the Week: Hacking a bargain LED lantern

I’ve often found there’s always a bit of “Tim the Tool Man Taylor” in every hacker.  That is, we all endeavor to make something bigger, badder, and more powerful than anything in it’s class.  Such is the thinking behind this project.  My Mom is an avid shopper, and she is often finding all sorts of bargains.  This time around, she found a camping LED lantern, with 12 LEDs, and a marked luminance of about 30 lumens.


When I took it out of the box and powered it on, the light was adequate, but not for an LED freak like myself.  Furthermore, I don’t know who designs these things, but they obviously don’t test their own creations.  The lights were mounted facing up, reflecting off a hyperbolic cone.  Unfortunately this means that the majority of the light would be shining out from horizontal upward into the eyes of anyone near it.  As well, none of the light went onto the surface the lantern was sitting on.  These two aspects rendered it quite useless as lanterns go.


Seriously, who designed this and didn’t test it?

My mom was a bit disappointed that she apparently didn’t find as good a bargain as she thought, but I reminded her that with a bit of elbow grease and a few cheap components, I could make it better.  You see, the hardest part of making a good lantern isn’t the light engine, it’s the plastic housing.  The ones she bought already had what I considered to be a pretty nice plastic housing, it just needed an upgrade of the light engine.



On opening the battery compartment, I noticed that there was some space in it for extra electronics.


Red arrow shows extra space untouched by the 3 D-cell battery carrier.

Knowing that white LEDs run at a forward voltage of 3.4v, and wanting to not use any type of resistive regulation (to avoid wasting power as heat), I knew that A) I’d either be stepping the voltage down to 3.4v or stepping it up to whatever LED cluster I found.  That meant that i needed space in the lantern somewhere for a regulator.  This little nook had enough volume for many switching converter designs, I just needed to find one to fit it.

I immediately went looking on eBay for LEDs to use, and happened upon a lot of 5 of these aluminium core boards that have three 110 lm LEDs on them.  They’re wired in series for a combined brightness of 330 lm. I picked them up for $8.  However, because they’re three 3.4v LEDs wired in series, they’re rated for 10.2v (the post said 9-12v, but 10.2v works the best).  The lantern has a battery carrier that holds 3 D cells.  This gives me an adequate amount of amperage at 4.5v.  Not enough voltage to directly drive the LEDs, so this meant I definitely would need to buy a boost controller.  Again, eBay serves it’s purpose and I was able to nab these LM2577 switchers for about $2.85 each.



Beginning disassembly


Whenever taking anything apart, make sure you note which screws you pulled from where, and make note of any type of hardware keying like you see here.


Note the red arrow pointing to the key and slot that the designers put in the top. Make sure you keep track of this for later…

When I cracked this open, I discovered that the hyperbolic cone was not glued to the top (bonus!), but would require cutting if i was going to attempt to put it in the bottom (bogus!).


Elemental pieces. Now it’s time for checking if we can invert the cone.

I centered the hurricane “glass” of the lantern on the cone, then used a fine tip sharpie to draw the outline of the bottom of the glass.


Checking the fit, tracing inner circle with fine tipped sharpie.


Cut line now marked with fine tip sharpie.


I cut relief cuts into the circle before attempting to cut the full circle.  This makes it easier to snap off the chunks as you cut them.  Cutting a circle with a rotary blade on the dremel isn’t easy. To make it easier, I put the dremel in a vise so I could maneuver the reflector around the blade rather than the blade around the reflector. Note my use of the blue nitrile gloves.  When handling any type of chromed plastic reflector, you’ll be sorry if you don’t use gloves.  Once smudged with skin oil it’s hard to impossible get them back into a clean state without scratching them.


Cutting relief cuts before cutting along the sharpie line.


Testing the fit.


Testing the fit with the hurricane in place.



Gluing down the cone to the bottom reflector with 2 part epoxy.

As with all higher luminance LEDs they emit a fair amount of heat, which is dangerous for the life of the LED.  They do much better if you attach them to a heatsink.  Junk bin to the rescue! CPU heatsinks are useful for many high power LED projects, and they’re usually free if you can find an older computer to scrap.  This heatsink had two “wings” out from the fan, one of which I’ve already removed with a hacksaw to use for this hack.


Soldering to the aluminium core board is a hassle, precisely because it’s efficient at wicking away heat.  It means you have to dump a lot of heat into the joint just to get it to marginally flow.  I’m not happy with the quality of these solder joints, but they worked.  Oh, and if it wasn’t obvious, solder FIRST, then attach heat sink otherwise you’d never get solder joints to flow.  😉

I added thermal grease between the heatsink and board, and secured the two together with some dabs of epoxy around the edges and holes in the board.


I had to remove the switch and battery contact board in order to wire it up to the new driver board.


I soldered it inline with the regulator.  At this stage, I made sure to adjust the output to match the LED forward voltage, in our case, it needed to be adjusted to 10.2v out.  Since these boards are adjustable, you need to attach the voltage you’ll be working with to the input, and adjust the trimmer pot while watching the voltage on a multimeter.


If you don’t have this in your hacker’s toolbox, go get some.  Epoxy putty is invaluable, as much for being a filler as it is for being an adhesive.  Be sure to use gloves when kneading it though, as it gets sticky and you don’t want it on your skin.


Here you can see the two blobs of the putty that are used to attach the LED assembly to the top.



Drill a hole in the back of the reflector to thread the LED head leads through to the battery compartment.


Threaded the leads down into the battery compartment as I reassembled the top of the lantern.



Here’s where final steps of putting the circuit together take place.



The power board I bought just happened to fit into the switch area without needing to remove any of the plastic.  I always appreciate those little coincidences.


The final product, reassembled.


And finally the two versions side by side.

Two final versions lit up.



All told, the entire mod for the first lantern was around 3 hours for a price of about $6 ($1.66 for the LEDs, $2.85 for the boost controller, and about $1.50 in epoxy and epoxy putty). The time spent on subsequent lanterns was about 1 – 1.5 hrs each, now that I know what I’m doing with the design.  Not too shabby.

So did I save any money over buying a higher lumen lantern that was already built?  Yes, and no.  Yes, in pure dollars.  No in terms of time.  But if you don’t understand why someone would spend the time hacking something that might be easier to buy, consider these points.

Hacking something provides:

  • the pleasure of the challenge to make something better.  It gets the creative juices flowing as you attempt to solve problems.
  • the time spent tinkering (far more relaxing than vegging out in front of the TV, IMHO)
  • the feeling of accomplishment when it works and learning from failure when it doesn’t
  • learning how to do things better when you hack on future items
  • it can push you to learn new technologies and techniques in order to get what you want out of the hack
  • the option to actually have a “good enough” approximation when the desired item doesn’t exist, or is prohibitively expensive if it does.
  • prototyping a new idea based on the initial item

And most of all, sometimes you don’t know precisely what you want, until you’ve hacked it!