Arduino Playground by Warren Andrews is a great collection of Arduino projects. With an ever-growing collection of Arduino books on the market, it is getting difficult for a book to stand out. Many books are introductory project books to get someone up and running. The projects and programming in most books is simple and offers little to a more advanced user.

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Sample page posted with permission from No Starch Press

Arduino Playground  focuses on more advanced projects and cod that is often pages long. The sample page, right, shows the end of a program and some brief discussion. While the code printed in the book lacks comments, important lines are marked with numbers. This makes it very easy to identify critical lines of code and the expanded discussion following the code provides lots of insight.

The sample page on the right also mentions shields. Arduino shields are expansion boards for the basic microcontroller. These boards can add everything from sound to motors to sensors. Many Arduino projects use one or more shields. For example, the project referenced in this sample page discusses a motor controller shield. Arudino Playground goes into good detail to discuss how things things are electrically wired. The author discusses power loads and various votlage supply rails. This information is critical to more-complex projects and is a welcomed addition to this book.

Most Arudino books focus on the Arduino Uno board, the most famous form factor of the popular microcontroller. Arduino Playground uses the right board for the right project. This means some projects use the compact Arduino (my preferred board). This board requires a bit more work as the user needs to solder wires to the various pads. The sample page below shows a nice project photo with the Arduino nano and various modules and plugs. However, even with cool projects, the book does not do well to promote the projects on the cover or early in a chapter. The lack of color print also detracts from the promotion many of these projects deserve.

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Sample page posted with permission form No Starch Press.

Overall I really liked the Arduino Playground. I enjoyed working with more than just an Arduino Uno. The scope of the book is great for those looking for something a little more complex than the range of starter books already on the market. However, this book is in a very crowded market and it lacks the color print of other Arduino books. While it certainly is a good book content wise, I think it could have been even stronger with color printer and better presentation of the projects.

Today launch pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center roared to life for the first time in over half a decade as a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched a Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station. Follow me after the break to learn why this launch means a lot to me an see some photos.

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As a followup to my previous tip, I was asked how I get my prints to stick to my build platform. My MakerBot Replicator 2X has a heated aluminum build platform that is coated in Kapton tape. ABS will still okay to this material, but it is not perfect. To help my prints stick better, I was the build platform with acetone before each print. I make sure I do this just before I start the job. Using a paper towel, I ensure there is nothing left on the platform. This also leaves a thin coating of acetone. Hitting print just after I finishing cleaning (but with a preheated bed and extruders), the first layer of HIPS or ABS sticks well. Since many of my prints are for complex parts, there is almost always a HIPS raft. Acetone is a solvent for both ABS and HIPS, making the first layer extra sticky.

I tend to use a fair bit of acetone with this process. I typically get my acetone from Walmart. Acetone is commonly used in nail polish remover and they typically sell large bottles.

If you’re having issues with prints sticking to the print bed, give this a try.

I get a lot of questions about 3D Printing. Lots of people ask what printer I have or what materials I use. As you can see in the photo above, I have a MakerBot Replicator 2X. My printer is a few years old now, but it has a heated build platform, dual extruders, and a closed in shell. While it lakes the bells and whistles of wifi and an app, it more than meets my needs. Follow me after the break to learn how I use my printer and how to use dissolvable supports! Read the rest of this entry »

Back in November, I got a Phantom 3 Standard drone. The stock drone is a lot of fun, but it could use a couple upgrades. The first upgrade wanted was to replace the stock phone mount with a tablet mount. The larger screen on the table makes it easier to track objects. I got some really cool photos of an RC DC-3 flying around my drone at the local flying field, but following the small plane was difficult on the tablet, likely impossible on my phone.

The original phone mount is not very durable and after using it a few times, the plastic broke as you can see in the photo. DJI did send a replacement that was metal, but it would still limit me to my cell phone.

I found a tutorial on Phantom Help that used the DJI Inspire 1’s tablet mount. I initially decided to just screw the tablet mount into the plastic. I used some glue to add support. The upgrade was well worth it and it functioned well when out at the field flying.

However, within a week the mount broke. The plastic shell was fine, but the metal support broke. You can see the damage in the photo below. To be fair, this was after shipping my drone to my parent’s house for the holidays. While I packed the controller well, it appears some of the packing air bags broke in transit. I am still not quite sure how the plastic shell escaped damage (especially since it looks like the metal was crushed ).

Once I was home, I decided to order the metal insert. The threaded insert would allow me to remove the mount for shipping. To accommodate the new insert, I had to make the hole larger. I screwed the insert into the plastic and attached the nut. To make sure it stays secure, I used some hot glue. I also used hot glue to hold down wires that I had to reroute after the install.

The picture of the final install is below. I highly recommend this upgrade to anyone that got a DJI Phantom 3 Standard for the holidays! I also picked up a hard shell case for the drone and the accessories. For return shipping to Florida, I did remove the tablet mount and used the case. Both the controller and drone returned in perfect condition. I can’t wait to start flying again!

My favorite building platform is LEGO. I have boxes of LEGO Technic. I frequently build robots and then take them apart. To make finding the right part easier, I sort most of my LEGO. The image above is a small stash of my sorted LEGO Technic parts.

There are three stages to my sorting scheme. First is what you see in the picture, little bins holding small quantities of parts. I typically use these bins to build a model as they are handy and portable.

Bins work well for small amounts of parts, but if your addicted to LEGO like I am, you probably have way more parts than you can fit in bins. Inside the cardboard box you see in the photo (and several others around my apartment) is a similar assortment of parts, but in bags. Each type of part gets its own bag and these bags hold the overflow of parts. For larger projects where I need a lot of one part, I will usually pull the bags and keep them handy. Some parts, like LEGO Technic pins, I keep in soda bottles. I find it is easier to fill up a 2 liter bottle with black friction pins and pour from that. Bags have a nasty habit of friction pins all over my work area.

My last level or sorting is something I affectionately call MUL or Miscellaneous Unsorted LEGO. MUL is typically a box (or now 3) of past projects or sets I have parted out to get sorted. A few times a year (and I am in the middle of one right now), I take all my MUL parts and sort them. Most of the time parts go directly to a bag as I like to keep my bins stocked.

While I sort parts by type, I do not sort by color. While I would love to have that much organization, it simply isn’t practical for me to spend the time parting things out that far. I also do not have that many parts on hand (although I’m sure my brother, parents, girlfriend, and apartment maintenance manager would disagree).

I enjoy keeping my LEGO parts sorted and organized. It lets me build without having to dig for a part. This is just one method of organization and I know many other AFOLs sort their bricks as well. It is software a work in progress as it has evolved over time. I am always open to new sorting ideas!


One of the awesome projects at Maker Faire 2016 was creating a drone. Radio Shack had a free workshop using their DIY Drone Kits. Naturally I got a kit and quickly assembled it. However, my drone piloting skills are still developing and this quad has had more than a few rough landings. It wasn’t long before the original airframe needed to be replaced. A couple weeks of work later, I was successful and the replacement airframe can be found on Thingiverse! Follow me after the break and I’ll share all the details on my latest project! Read the rest of this entry »


The Unofficial LEGO Technic Builder’s Guide by Pawel Kmiec is a great technical manual for building mechanical models. Unlike some of the previous books I have reviewed, Kmiec’s designs are for the advanced Technic builder. Kmiec does cover some basics, as you can seen in the sample pages below, but this quickly gives way to complex gearboxes and suspension systems. Join me after the break for more of my thoughts on this great LEGO reference!

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Special Project Update

Posted: November 9, 2016 in News

You might have noticed I didn’t post last week. This will be the only post this week. I am working on a special project and it isn’t ready quite yet. I have had several iterations on this project, but it still needs another one or two to be 100% functional. It’s very exciting! In the mean time, I have a book review to share next week and the plan is to share my special project the following week! Stay tuned!

Hot glue is a maker’s best friend. Regardless if you’re creating a costume for Dragon Con or mounting some electronics, hot glue is an essential tool. Recently my hot glue gun died and it was time to get a new one. I found this inexpensive glue gun on amazon for around 20 USD and it arrived today!

My old hot glue gun was a simple low temperature model that took small glue sticks. However, it came in handing in securing cables (FIRST Tech Challenge and FIRST Robotics Competition  teams know what I’m talking about!) and holding electronics in place. This time I decided to upgrade to a variable temperature model that can take larger glue sticks.

There is something to be said for high temperature glue guns. Experimenting with this new tool, I discovered that higher-temperature glue seems to be more durable and hold better. I am really interested to see how this affects attaching electronics to 3D printed parts. The glue temperature is not warm enough to melt ABS or PETG plastic. More experimentation is needed to fully understand how I can best utilize my new hot glue gun. I am far from an expert in hot glue, but it is an important to have a hot glue gun handy when making. You never know when it might come in handy!