Monday, August 18, 2014

RadioShack LED Strip Driver

I modified the Pololu RGB LED Strip drivers from version 1.2.0 to support Radio Shack's behind the times model that is 30 LEDs controlled in 3-diode sections.  I had to swap the colors around to match this pinout, and I changed the struct to a class (because why not).

The fix was to physically reorder the declaration of red/gree/blue variables in the struct declaration.  This way, when the information is written to the strip, it is sent in a different (and now correct) order.  You can make the fix yourself by changing the file PololuLedStrip.h:
typedef struct rgb_color  {    
   unsigned char red, green, blue;  
} rgb_color;
typedef struct rgb_color  {    
   unsigned char green, blue, red;  
} rgb_color;

And here it is on GitHub:

I should probably talk to Pololu on licensing concerns here.  I found the license from the original driver and copied it into my repo.  I couldn't figure out how to fork this properly, so I just re-uploaded it until I understand git a bit better.

Friday, August 15, 2014

C3BO: Proof of Concept using Timbermanbot Schematic

This post is part of a series about building electro-mechnical PIN-cracking robots, R2B2 and C3BO.

This is a proof of concept for @JustinEngler's C3BO ( using transistor controlled relays. It was prototyped by modifying Blink from the Arduino sample project.

The schematic was obtained from Timbermanbot ( as seen on Hackaday (

In the video, You'll notice I've replaced the touchpad for your finger with a wire to the headphone jack's ground as the circuit ground. The two pieces of copper tape were no longer sticky enough to stay by themselves, so I am holding them down. They press two and 5 with about 8 key presses per second.

Monday, August 4, 2014

OFBC: Putting it All Together

Note: This is part of the Project Write-up for OFBC: One Fluorescent Beer Coaster

After months of effort, we had a circuit, PCB and shell design to accomplish our goal.  Putting it all together meant solving some unique challenges in the home stretch.  By far the most communal part of the project was finishing the circuit.  Parts were bought by three different people.  It took hours of trial runs and four different nights in my shop to finally get the circuit assembled and ready.  In all, the project taught us to keep moving in spite of obstacles.


The main obstacle was PCB manufacture.  As detailed in that post, uncooperative copper and etchant lead to abominations not fit for solder.  Drill bits broke in PCBs, holes were misaligned, and traces were torn up as we worked and reworked the boards.  The major blunder was the reversed PCBs, but it was tempered by the lack of polar components.  Only the transistor and MOSFET needed to be adjusted when we realized our mistakes.  The quality checks and encouragement as we worked as a definite plus.  There were several times I wanted to just give up and abandon the project.  Truly, I get by with a little help fro my friends.

After the PCBs were in our hands, the task of soldering all the components was a team effort.  One person ran continuity tests on newly etched boards.  Another bridged scratches and pasted down traces.  Buttons (functional and fake) were inserted and crimped at one station while a fourth person began to solder on components.

That moment of truth when the LED lit up was breathtaking all nine times it happened.  When it, more often than not, didn't work on the first try, the scramble to troubleshoot was a team effort as well.  A loose connection, bad trace or through hole in need of a reflow was rooted out in minutes. I can't describe the feelings from closing the box with nine functional copies of the idea sketched out on a picnic table the year before.


Shell manufacture forced choices between what we wanted versus what we needed.  The mechanical ideas at the outset gave way to manufacturing considerations.  Features were pared back to match timelines, work schedules and summer vacation.  Anyone reading this who has worked in an Agile Development environment will recognize similar decisions they make every Sprint.  To borrow a cliché, "Perfect is the enemy of good enough."  With this in mind, we have an eleventh hour compromise ready: should the 3D printer prove a roadblock, we have arranged for a Wednesday night Hail Mary meeting to turn Ziploc Containers into eternal glory.

The Ziploc idea produced 4 "just in case" models.  We stabilized them with glass beads and hot glue.  The containers became the shell and mount for the PCB.  The beverage lid was provided by another ziploc container hot-glued onto the buttons.  Hot glue for grip and stabilization of the platform finished the job.  See the result in the pic below next to the finished shells.

Luckily, the 3D Printer roadblock was cleared just two days before the BBQ.  Poor quality filament lead to clogged extruders.  After a good cleaning, we were back in business.  5 shells total were produced with various upgrades.  We got a top that nested well with the shell, and the mouse-hole in the shell was added to allow the USB to be passed out of the body.  We did not get impressions in the top to get the lid closer to the lens of the LED.  We also did not get any part of the body held together by magnets.

Final assembly took place at Toxic BBQ itself.  The lights stayed on this year, but we started conversations and passed out some business cards with links here.  We placed a few on the tables farther out that didn't have light, and we presented two to the organizer in a Utilikilt.  Furthermore, it went on display in r00tz and the HHV for most of the convention.

Final Word

I left DEF CON for two years running with a profound sense of my own shortcomings.  I saw people around me doing amazing things, but I couldn't point to similar achievements for myself.  Though not terribly complex (most ideas came from Instructables, after all), the process and coordination required to pull off this simple idea has been eye opening.  It all started by pivoting from planning to doing.  It finished with an 80's-montage-worthy string of late nights and high fives.

Already, these efforts are fertile ground from which numerous other ideas have sprung.  Facing another DEF CON, I'm looking for the next big project instead of lamenting my noob credentials.  Only time will tell how many of these work their way to reality.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

OFBC: Shell Fabrication

Note: This is part of the Project Write-up for OFBC: One Fluorescent Beer Coaster


In parallel with the circuit, we designed an enclosure that would be more sturdy than hot glue and disposable containers.  The general idea was a shell with a lid that had some travel.  Our first designs focused on a mechanical clip to lock the lid in place.  Further ideas were a rail to keep drinks stead, a drain channel for condensation, and an interlocking base/top for easy stacking.  Our lack of expertise with the 3D design software and the complexity of the print made us go back to basics.

Similar products used a coaster shape, so we started there. As the whole point of this project is to show off, we wanted to make it easy to disassemble top and bottom. To make this happen, we settled on magnets instead of screws for both top and bottom.

First Full-size Print (with Frenchman Mountain in the Background)


First, the 3D Printer needed to be calibrated, then the extruder needed to be cleaned, then the Kapton tape needed to be replaced.  After a much better test print, we got our first dimensional fit.  Once the PCB was together, we realized two things: 1) the buttons we bought had a much heavier mechanical action than the test buttons and 2) the LED package was too tall for the way we printed the top.  Combine the two, and a lot less light was reaching our girly drinks.  Something had to be done.  The above problems were noted, and various other edits were written directly on the 3D printed shell (a sharpie on white ABS works wonders for clarity).  They were handed off to our man with the printer while the rest of the team worked on PCB fabrication.

Between orders of Kapton Tape - Let's try Painter's Tape!

It was about 10% too small.  Looks like a job for Superm*n!

Not nearly as bright as it should be


The final prototype came together the weekend before DEF CON.  Edits to allow the charging cable to escape from the bottom of the case, a drip cover to prevent condensation from entering the shell, more accurately nested tops and bottoms, and a host of other small changes came together for the final prints. In all, the first run is bulkier than we imagined, but we have discussed ways to miniaturize and reduce costs across the board.  It will be something we are proud of showing off.

The 3D printer was the final obstacle.  From miscalibration to a clogged extruder head to a stepper motor burning out, we had our fair share of problems getting the final package in a physical format.  If the repairs don't come through, we'll be manufacturing stand-ins for the Toxic BBQ.  Nothing can stop us at this point. 

The current Sketchup files will be available on the OFBC project on Github.

Great Size, Less Filling