Freesteel Blog » 2015 » November

Monday, November 23rd, 2015 at 8:16 pm - - Machining

Let’s start with the most important circuit board I’ve milled in the last few days.

It’s the last one I did — and it should have been my first.

But we’re lazy at doing the necessary cutting trials, aren’t we?

There had been flaws in the circuits I had machined. In particular, some contours had not quite been fully cut leaving a little join of copper that I had to break with a scalpel. Also, some cuts were much cleaner than others.

Until I did these experiments I thought that uncut material would be at the ends of a cut, possibly due to a tool deflecting back from the cutting forces. And I imagined that the messier lines were because I was in a hurry and cutting too fast.

The truth was the exact opposite of what I thought.

Friday, November 13th, 2015 at 1:08 pm - - Machining 2 Comments »

TomC did the work of porting across the LinuxCNC based controller of the triangle machine tool on an ancient heavy desktop with a parallel port to a Beaglebone Black running Machinekit. The good news is it’s all back to working again, and I can access the UI through X11 over a network over a USB serial port, so there’s some latency, but who cares.

We heard that the BB used a special unit to generate the realtime pulses, rather than relying on a somewhat bogus “realtime” linux build. We began our investigation of the code and documentation.

The Programmable Realtime Units (there are two) attached to the ARM processor are small processors that share a few kilobytes of memory between themselves and with the the main processor and run at 200MHz in a very predictable manner, with each instruction taking one or two cycles. This provides a potential resolution of 5nanoseconds and an order of magnitude faster than the 16MHz arduino I was using for my anemometer experiments.

(My intuition is that this tech is very similar to GPUs, which have thousands of special purpose processors with their own tads of memory, shared memory, unique characteristics, and protocol for communicating with the main CPU.)

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015 at 4:29 pm - - Vero

The original purpose of the Wall Street stock market was to raise capital for big investment projects, such as railroads and steel plants. Later on it became a system for owners to take money out of their companies to fund lavish personal lifestyles by selling on their shares to speculators. The activity has about as much to do with investment as the Department of Defence is to do with defence.

Sunday, November 8th, 2015 at 6:05 pm - - Machining 1 Comment »

Occasionally hope triumphs over experience and I expose myself to another face-punch, like the one I got this morning when I learned that the triangular machine tool development had been rejected for the Innovation Vouchers Round 13.


This is lowest, most easy grant money to go for — according to everyone. You don’t even see the £5000 when you win it because it’s only paid to fit and proper people such as patent attorneys and college professors. If you can’t win one of these then you’re such a loser you don’t need to waste everyone’s time applying for anything more substantial. And boy have I wasted people’s time (including my own) in the past over other rejected projects.

Innovate UK (formally Technology Strategy Board) has only one job, which is to distribute £400million per year on the basis that:

“We work to:

* determine which science and technology developments will drive future economic growth
* meet UK innovators with great ideas in the fields we’re focused on
* fund the strongest opportunities
* connect innovators with the right partners they need to succeed
* help our innovators launch, build and grow successful businesses

You’ll note that this list does not include or imply that:

Our ambition is to acquire the most beautifully crafted set of grant applications in the world to provide a lining to the filing cabinets in our office.

You’d think it’d be obvious that a written application merely needs to meet a certain standard of expressiveness to merit being judged entirely on its content. It either passes that standard or it doesn’t, and I won’t be told that I failed because I simply didn’t sweat enough over the 1000 characters alloted on the form.

Nevertheless, here’s the case I wrote down for obtaining an innovation voucher which I intended on spending at the AMRC:

We have a CNC milling machine based on a triangular geometry that is capable of cutting steel and can be built from parts a tenth of the price of a conventional machine with the same capabilities. Several full scale prototypes have been built and have proven capable. Unfortunately neither of the inventors are trained mechanical engineers and we require expert advice on the design as well as an independent assessment of its potential.

Luckily, in these enlightened days, InnovateUK actually publishes where the grants are going, so I don’t have to file FOI requests as I once used to. The 60 winners of the previous Round 12 have been disclosed.

Here’s one of them, which is presumably intending to drive future feline growth:

To Design and build a fully automated Cat feeder that can support up to eight cats for up to 4 days or the length of a bank holiday weekend.

The feeder will also make use of modern connectivity technologies so as not to break the link between owner and cats but also allow additional functional options such as play and monitoring.

The Modular design will allow for customization for owners offering greater flexibility and increasing the consumer market this product is aimed for.

Here’s another:

New trendy Fashion line for everyone. Pick’n’Mix your t-shirt to make it suitable for you

And another:

Honesty Foods develops a liquid tea bag which contains sufficient protein and fibre to take the edge off your appetite and therefore help reduce snacking.

And another:

With the support of Innovate UK, CookieSmart is developing an exciting new Internet of Things (IoT) application for kids!

And another:

PitchForMe plans to build a platform which gives insight into the real person prior to meeting, from which employers can make informed hiring decisions. An employer would be able to fully understand a candidate’s qualities. Through a cloud based dashboard solution they will be able to find people who have aligned values and truly fit their company. Also included would be personality traits, video pitching, and work histories. Personality profiling would be available which determines strengths, how an employee works within a team, and areas for development.

I’m not making these up. This one is pretty timely:

The external expert will be able to help in defining the technological feasibility if(sic) developing a Human presence detector and linking it to an app that will alert the drive/logistics provider to the presence of human entity located within the trailer of the HGV.

This one is plainly the text of a job ad, and not an answer to a question posed in the application form. Yet somehow it got accepted:

We are looking for a talented and experienced hybrid mobile app developer (minimum 5 years experience) who has a passion for innovation, to join our team on a 3 month contract. You will be providing guidance, advice and technical leadership on a senior level to launch the re-build of our existing iOS app. Your superior technical skills will contribute to the future of the company and to the success of Must. The successful candidate will have extensive previous experience working with PhoneGap or Ionic. The successful candidate will also have experience in the build and deployment of a medium to large scale application capable of horizontal scaling. Candidates must already have the right to work in the UK without sponsorship.

Perhaps machine tools are just too passe and boring. Well, how about this:

An expert external CNC programmer will be able to create a programme for us to use on the machine. We are hoping to develop a programme that will enable us to create different extending tables of bespoke sizes just by inputting the dimensions for each table. This will enable us to create tables of an extremely high quality with precise dimensions.

Sure, it’s a great thing to do, but is it innovative?

If schools were places of learning, then this one should easily be within the capabilities of a school kid as part of an end of year project. I don’t see anyone putting such resources and needs together.

None of this makes me feel any better. In fact it makes me feel worse. Once again I’m a failure. Go suck on it.

Now that I have wallowed long enough in this particular punch in the face, you don’t need to know how much of this blogpost has already been deleted. It’s pretty lucky I don’t have any rent to pay except to the hackspace, or I’d be homeless at this rate.