Retro-Futuro Cyborganic Objets d’Art

We’ve written about Gordon Bennett’s amazing robot sculptures before, which are built from old electronic parts and other junk. Here’s a French artist, Stephane Halleux, doing equally awesome work using similar materials.

Unlike Bennett”s work, which is all themed around robots, Halleux does a lot of people, pets, and other curious creatures. Much of it cyborganic in nature, existing in an interzone between man and machine, all rendered in a decidedly retro-futuristic flava. Too bad the site’s all in French, although the work pretty much speaks for itself.

[Via Brass Goggles]


Hacker Worm Makes Music

When I first saw this headline, I thought that maybe it was a computer worm that had been turned into music. But they’re talking about an earth worm, playing a circuit-bent PCB, as it writhes around on top of it. As someone in the comments points out, given the mucusy wetness of a worm, while good for conductivity, might make this “hack” torturous for our little invertebrate friend. It’s shown being released back into the yard when its gig is over, but it might have been quite the shocking adventure. “Oh, PETA…?”


Spinal Tap Smells the Planet

When my wife and I first saw Spinal Tap, we laughed so hard, several people around us got up and moved. We laughed pretty much from the moment that Marty DeBergi entered the first scene, in his USS Ooral Sea cap, till the credits rolled. We’d both been involved in rock and roll and it was just too spot on for its own good. So, seeing that there was a new Spinal Tap short, a sort of “where are they now?,” in advance of their reunion at the Live Earth Concerts, I was hoping for similar dumb-funny fits of giddiness.

It didn’t disappoint. The vid opens on the set of Marty DeBergi’s new film, “The Hills Have Eyes with Macular Degeneration.” Hoping to get the band back together for Live Earth, Marty seeks out the members, now not talking to each other. Nigel is a ranch hand on a miniature horse farm, David runs a hip-hop production company, called Back Alley, in a former colonic irrigation clinic. Derek talks to Marty from a rehab center, via webcam, where he’s being treated for Internet addiction. Marty, the affable lunk, manages to get the band talking again and to agree to reunite for the benefit.

If you’re a Tap fan, you’ll likely get as big a kick out of this as I did. Wonder who the drummer will be at Live Earth? Too bad Mick Fleetwood has thus far defied the band’s drummer curse. He’s still with us (as far as anyone can tell), but no word if he’ll mount the exploding drum stool for the upcoming shows.


Make Podcast on BEAMbots with Free PDF

This week’s Make: Weekend Projects podcast is about BEAM robots. Bre shows you my Trimet project from Make Vol. 6 and a SolarBug kit from He also plugs our pal Dave Hrynkiw’s awesome Junkbots, Bugbots, and Bots on Wheels. As part of the podcast, Make has made available the PDF to my BEAM projects piece from Make Vol. 6.

This means that all of my robot articles from Make are now available online (links to PDFs):
Mousey the Junkbot
Pummer, Dude!
Two BEAMbots: Trimet and Solarroller


Antigue Radio Repair Site

You may have seen Mark’s item on Boing Boing about the Philco Mystery Control, the amazing wireless remote for ’30s and ’40s(!) radios. That was nifty enough, but the site that it links to, The Philco Repair Bench, has lots more amazing material about antique electronics, mostly the Philco brand, but some applicable to other radios of the era. I have a ’40s-era radio that belonged to my great grandfather, from Lebanon. Looking at this site has inspired me to finally break down and try to figure out what’s wrong with it and to try to get it up and running. There’s a great collection of links to other radio repair and restoration sites.

These collector/fan-run sites are an eternal delight. Years ago, I was shopping for an Ericofon on eBay. I did a search, found this site, Ericofon, and within a few hours, I was an expert on these mod/atomic age wonders. I got a really a nice one on eBay that just needed some wire repair work. Found all I needed on the site. One of those “Gawd, I LOVE the internets” moments.


Cyber Barbie Next Online Child Menace?

Have you noticed the subject of TV news’s latest demonization of the Web? It’s [cue the killkillkillkill slasher music]: Webkinz. Webkinz is a sort of Beanie Babies meets The Sims. Little Timmy buys a plushy at Sweatshops R Us, enters a code found on it, and it unlocks a trippy-ass online world for him and his plushy’s virtual persona to play in. While the company apparently takes great pains to keep it kid-only, and everything is contained within the Webkinz domain, the media has been doing that great conflation thing they thrive on: because it’s on the Internet, it’s right there alongside the predators and the porno malls and the dens of identity thieves (which’d sorta be like warning you not to let your kid talk to grandma on the phone ’cause the phone system is used for phone sex and planning terrorist attacks). Anyhoo… now Barbie, that little synthetic crumpet, wants in on some of that Webkinz bank. will be a similar wonderland of kiddy eyeball kicks, beige pop music, and plenty of opportunities for buying virtual beads and baubles. The crapo-pop will be piped in via Barbie-shaped USB-based MP3 players that’ll contain music and code to unlock new features on the site. The site is in beta now but all of this’ll be in full pink swing by fall. Just in time for TV producer’s to cue up another round of “perils of the Internet; how to keep your kids safe!”

[Via Gizmag]


SRL’s Pulse Jet Hovercraft

Please, dear Gopod, tell me that SRL’s going to be bringing this with them to the Maker Faire. It’s a Hovercraft powered by four pulse jets. No, you can’t ride on it (unless you want it to be your trip to the Pearly Gates), it’s radio controlled. And loud enough to animate the dead.

Check out this machine test video, and watch all the way to the end, with the nighttime shots. The jets look beautiful in the dark. Now THAT’S a glowstick you want to bring to a rave!

[Via Suicidebots]


The Fine Art of Mouse Dissection

If you’re coming to the Maker Faire and are going to take my Building Mousey the Junkbot Workshop, to save you time on your bot build (and therefore give you more time to enjoy the Faire), I recommend you eviscerate your own mouse to bring a prepped one, ready to install its new innards. Just to be clear, we’re talking about a mouse of the computer kind, not of the biological variety (smart ass). I’ve written a short guide to Mouse Dissection which should tell you all you need to know.

See you at the Faire! It’s shaping up to be one hell of a nerdfest.


Mouse Dissection 101

By Gareth Branwyn

This document was put together for the 2007 Bay Area Maker Faire(May 19, 20). If you’re coming to the Faire to take my Building Mousey the Junkbot Workshop, you can save some build time (giving you more time to enjoy the Faire) by bringing an already-prepared, recycled computer mouse. Here are the instructions you need to do that prep. We will have more dead mice at the Faire and we’ll have two parts bundles for sale: one to build “My Mousey the Car,” a non-robotic, much simpler, version of Mousey, and one to build the full Mousey the Junkbot, as seen in my book, the Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots, MAKE Vol. 2, and as a “special guest” on The Colbert Report!

Tools Needed:
Screw Driver(s) (likely small phillips head)
Dremel Tool (w/ cut-off wheel)
Shop Goggles or Safety Glasses (a must!)
Dust Mask (ditto)
Soldering Iron (full Mousey only)
De-solder Wick or De-soldering Pump (full Mousey only)

To create My Mousey the Car or Mousey the Junkbot, you first need an empty computer mouse case to house your cute little Frankenmouse creation. For the Car version (which includes little more than two DC motors, a power switch, and a 9V battery), you can use any mouse, mechanical or optical. For the full Mousey the Junkbot, with its LM386 brain, IR sensors, bump switch, and reverser circuit, you need an older, analog/mechanical mouse (you know, the kind with that always-grody rubber ball underneath). You likely have one of these in a junk drawer someplace.

In selecting your mouse, you want one that’s as symmetrical as possible and fairly roomy inside. You can use “lopsided” mice, such as the popular IntelliMouse from Microsoft, with the curved body. It’s just a trickier to build and to get the motors aligned and the weight balanced, so if you have a choice, choose symmetry.

You also want to do a little planning ahead to see how everything is going to fit. For the Car, this is no big deal. Any mouse should have plenty of space. For the robot version, this is a factor. Getting everything inside will be a challenge with a mouse of any size and design. Below is a rough layout for a typical arrangement for Mousey the Junkbot components. You’ll need to fit all of these inside your case (tho they don’t have to go in the same places). Unscrew the mouse halves. Many mice have screws under the little rubber glide pads, so check there if your attachment screws aren’t obvious.

With your proper mouse selected, you’re ready to remove everything that’s not needed inside. First, remove the printed circuit board (PCB). This is usually attached only by the scroll-wheel mount (if your mouse had a wheel), so snapping the wheel usually frees the board. Removed the cable, scroll-wheel assembly, and PCB. Save the PCB. You’ll need parts from it (if you’re building the full Mousey).

Now you should have nothing in the mouse but the encoder wheels and all of the plastic mounts for the various components and for attaching the two body halves. Get out your Dremel tool and a cut-off wheel. You should absolutely wear eye protection for this, and a paper filter mask. The plastic dust is nasty business.

If you’ve spec’d out where the parts will go, you’ll have some idea of what you can get away with leaving in. You’ll need a place in the top half for the toggle switch tail. If the screw post is in that vicinity, you’ll have to remove it. No biggie. You can hold Mousey together with a piece of tape when he’s finished. We recommend taking out everything that’s inside, just to give yourself as much room to work as possible.

When you’re done, a clean as a whistle bottom body half should look something like this:

Now you need to cut notches for your motors. If you’re doing this dissection in preparation for my workshop, you won’t have the two Solarbotics RM1A motors to use as your guide. You need to cut two tabs out of the sides of the mouse bottom. Make them at least 3/4” wide and all the way to the floor of the mouse bottom half. That should give you plenty of mounting room. Just so you know, the Solarbotics motors are approx 5/8” wide by just shy of ½” tall. We’ve found that placing the motors forward of the halfway mark (forward-to-back) is a good spot in terms of overall parts placement and robot performance. Here’s where we tend to mount ours:

Once you cut the motor notches, if you’re just building the Car, you’re done with the bottom half. The only other thing you have to do is drill a hole in the top half for the toggle switch. The photo below shows you the basic placement. You want to drill a hole ~1/4” wide.

If you’re building the full Mousey, the other thing that needs to be cut in the bottom half is the notch for the bump switch package. See the Motor Placement image above for the basic location. You’ll be using one of the button switches from the mouse as a bump sensor that’ll engage Mousey’s reverser circuit. You want the opening to be about 5/8” wide by about 3/8” high. The package itself is (likely) 1/2” wide by 1/4” tall. Don’t worry too much about these cuts. You can adjust them as you test-fit the motors and the switches.

If you’re building the full Mousey the Junkbot, you’ll also need to remove one button switch and the two infrared EMITTERS from the mouse’s printed circuit board. See the illustration below for the likely location of these components. Your PCB may vary slightly.

In this drawing, you are looking at a top-down view of the PCB, with the front end of the mouse at the top of the image. The encoder wheels aren’t used in this project, they’re just pointed out for orientation purposes. Once you’ve located your parts, get out your soldering iron and de-soldering tools. De-solder the pins on these components and bring them with you to the Faire, along with your prepped mouse halves.

BTW: You want to save (and bring) the two plastic pieces that make up the top surface of the two mouse buttons. They likely came apart as you eviscerated your mouse case. You can follow your own creativity as you build, but when I designed Mousey, one of the things I wanted to do was make it look as much like an un-altered mouse as possible. I’d seen some other robots in mouse cases, but the top of the mouse usually didn’t fit or it had been so altered it didn’t look mouse-like anymore. I wanted Mousey to look like your garden variety computer mouse that had somehow transformed itself into a robot, chewed off its own cord, and made a grand escape from its computer servitude. So, when the build is complete, you can glue the button parts back on your case to minimize the “damage” to the mouse formfactor.

BTW 2.0: You’ll also need to drill holes in the mouse top to snake the eyestalk sensor eyes through, but you should save that until you’ve installed everything else inside the case and know where the stalks should go.

* Mousey the Junkbot’s Webpage
* Free Mousey Project PDF from MAKE Vol. 2
* Mousebot Revisited, Additional Mousey Building Tips and Tricks on Instructables.
* My Soldering Tutorial
Information about the 2007 Bay Area Maker Faire

Images are from the Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots, Gareth Branwyn (Que). Illustrations by Mark Frauenfelder, Photos by Jay Townsend.

Urban Exploration/Tunnel Hacking Hits the Mainstream

As many of you likely know, urban exploring/building and tunnel hacking (a.k.a. urbex) — like geocaching and alternative reality gaming — is a growing “sport” amongst geeks. Urbex has come to primetime TV, thanks to the History Channel and its Cities of the Underworld. I was pretty psyched before it aired and am certainly enjoying it (it sure beats America Idle). But I find the host really annoying, with his over-anxious, jumpy delivery that seems to not trust the audience will find the material itself cool without his “woah, isn’t this like SO awesome!” punch to nearly every statement. The content is… SO awesome, it’s a shame we have to suffer the host and the show’s ADD production approach to get to the good stuff, the astounding, and often astoundingly creepy, worlds that exist just beneath our feet.