World, meet my first home-made circuit board

My very first PCB
My very first PCB

Well, with the priceless aid of my dear friend HappyThawts, I’ve managed to produce my first home-made Printed Circuit Board!

How it went

There were a bunch of weird issues that came up in making it and thus it’s not all that ideal, though I could hack it to work. The main challenge was that my copper clad boards were actually covered with PhotoResist (for masking boards via UV). The process we used entailed working directly on a layer of Copper. Thankfully Happy realized that Acetone would probably send the PhotoResist on it’s merry way to aqueous exile in my trash-chemicals bucket. She was dead-on there.

Another problem was that we used Ferric Chloride as our etchant, however, the particular solution I had on hand was given to me by someone cleaning out their closet a few years ago. It turned out that the Ferric we had was 12 years old! Happy informed me that it tends to lose it’s muscle over time, and the etching we did took a lot longer than it should have.

The Process

The process we followed is a well-documented method that’s meant to aid in cheap, rapid prototyping. There are many small variants on this process to choose from. I love the notion that I can come up with an idea and later that night have a working prototype built out. In addition to written instructions being a dime a dozen, there’s a ton out there and some good YouTube videos on it too.

In short the steps are:

  1. Print out your desired circuit pattern on the low quality (thin) magazine paper using a lazer printer. Glossy magazine paper doesn’t hold the toner well and the cheap paper make it easy for you to remove the paper at the right time just by weting it with water and letting it fall apart.
  2. Clean off some Copper-Clad (essentially a fiber-glass board with Copper plated on a side), position the magazine paper on the board and apply a bunch of prolonged heat via an Iron.
  3. Remove the magazine paper by dipping the board in water and gently brushing away the paper.
  4. Dip the board in an etchant such as Ferric Chloride. Check on it closely to monitor your process. Observe proper chemical handling safety precautions.
  5. If you like, you can remove the toner with Acetone / Nail Polish Remover, though I like keeping the toner on the traces to isolate the copper a little more from the elements.
  6. Go ahead and use your board!

What’s Next

Next I’ll be repeating this process, but using more appropriate boards and fresh Ferric Chloride. I expect this to work out really well and a few Google Searches on the subject will re-inforce how many people are making this work for them. I’ll blog on this in more detail as I continue on.

What would you make?

So, with this established, I’m wondering what kinds of boards people out there would use this process for? Personally, I’m a fan of making a bunch of Arduino rip-offs with it. In fact, the board I made this time is a single-sided Arduino board.

Quest to Submit an Internet Explorer Bug Report

Put Simply
Put Simply

Here’s the anti-epic tale of my distinct efforts to improve Microsoft Pusher Internet Explorer.

Why would I want to improve IE? Well, I don’t really, but a sad number of users on the net don’t yet know any better. It seems clear to me that Microsoft’s selection of what web standards to implement (not the W3C internationally agreed upon standards, but rather their own) must be either the product of negligence or an attempt to push their own agenda (mainly to make their competition look foolish in the eyes of their lesser informed users). I think that kind of approach can only work for so long – users continue learn.

The Spark

Ugh.. WTF Microsoft?
Ugh.. WTF Microsoft?

I was working away on a fun little project to get a background gradient image to look good on a page I was editing. The key was that while I had this nice gradient background, if anyone went in to edit that page with a WYSIWYG, they’d get in to trouble quickly as they could only work with how high the gradient background image was. That sucked massively, there was also a lot of hand editing of style info for HTML tags required along the way, also sucky, I didn’t want editors to even need to know what HTML was to do their edits.

The solution I found was pretty awesome.. First I figured out that if I set the table I had been putting the content in to have transparent background properties, then I could dump the gradient in wrapper DIV tags. This got rid of the initial problem of each table cell repeating the gradient and screwing everything up. Of course, this added more HTML styling requirements. I solved that issue the way it’s meant to be solved, in CSS. The final key was to set a background-color for the DIV section. This has the effect of if the DIV section ends up being higher than the background image, the background color is shown. So I just set the background-color property to what the gradient faded out to and it looked seamless.. The div section could be made infinitely long the gradient would still look good.

So, there I had my editor working as it should, but as I tested it more heavily I found that IE 8 had a problem. From certain views (font size presets), it’d draw a black line along the bottom of the background image that made my gradient. I swiftly checked IE 6, Firefox 3.5 and Opera 9.x and couldn’t reproduce the issue elsewhere. Nevertheless, the bar would remain present in certain views with IE 8.

Let me SHOW you What I mean

I made a video of the issue as I felt this was definitely a bug that could annoy me for awhile as I hate stuff like that and it’s sort of a weird case to explain. Alas I posted this video on Vimeo:

Doing the right thing

So with this all documented/figured out, I decided I may as well admit this site is going to continue to have IE users for some time to come. I wasn’t willing to find another solution as the solution I found definitely seems as good as it’s getting. I expect that if I looked for a completely different approach, it wouldn’t work nearly as well with other browsers or the editor (WYSIWYG).

This meant submitting a bug report to Microsoft because I’m leaving this site as is. Of course, only a small portion of the IE users are likely to install updates, but at the very least I feel I’ve found a real bug that ought to be patched if I’m going to continue to try to endure IE. I’m tempted to add a bit of an easter egg to pop-up and insist visors install another browser, but that’ll have to live as a fantasy for now.

Subsequent Hilarity

My.. Err.. Hero?
My.. Err.. Hero?

It turns out that Microsoft doesn’t really have much of a mechanism for allowing users to provide feedback. I found they do have some support for their One Care system to be criticized, and in fact I was so impressed with how that was organized it baffled me that the same approach wasn’t being provided for IE, but maybe they just figure they’re in little danger of being de-throned.

I searched around and of course found other IE users have noticed the same lack of interest in user feedback. But I persisted, I was sure there’s got to be some means of getting the message to them, though it should never take much more effort than googling “Internet Explorer Murders Kittens Bug Report”.

How to report bugs for IE

I finally found a reasonable place to give feedback to Microsoft. They have a plugin for IE that lets you report problematic websites. I suppose the idea behind this is that IE is perfect and shouldn’t really fail, so “naturally” any problems must be with sites that are out there.

You can use this plugin to then notify Microsoft of yet another website that doesn’t fully cater to their non-W3C standards. This is what I used to submit my issue to them. The form I filled out expressly asked me to not provide any personal information for reasons I can only speculate about. Maybe they outsource reading the reports to untrustworthy types?

Lesson to be Learned

Err, that's a "feature"!
Err, that's a "feature"!

If you’re not a company stuck in the 90’s like Microshaft, you may be able to recognize that using the web is a massive part of MANY people’s work day. This means that when a widely used product like IE has a bug in it, even if it’s tiny, the users will notice and they often care.

Software projects that will remain successful in this climate must provide a simple, fast and well-designed mechanism to help guide users in submitting meaningful bug reports. That is of course unless the project can afford to hire SkyNet to conduct exhaustive Quality Assurance. Let’s face it, writing super solid software is like trying to get to the speed of light, you may feel like you’re getting close, but at the end of the day that’s a dragon you’ll never catch, not even with an infinite supply of Doc Brown’s magical fire logs.

I think competition between big players like Microsoft, Apple, Google and perhaps IBM & Sun Microsystems can be extremely healthy and driving for innovation, I sincerely hope that Microsoft manages to re-organize to really take full advantage of the current climate so they can keep the others on their toes. I have seen some great stuff come out of Microsoft on this wavelength in the past and I’m mostly thinking of XNA. I just hope when their Exchange momentum dies off they’ll manage to really get back on the horse and rock our worlds. I suppose for the moment Windows 7 has a glimmer of hope at providing that.

Of course the other massive possibility is that entirely open movements like those generally referred to as Linux could also end up coming out on top as it’s all about the users with those projects, though I think total domination from that camp will require more of the population having an interest in getting their hands dirty in geeky details.

“But I’ve only ever used ASP Browser Internet Explorer, what’s actually useful?”

You're settling for good when there's awesome.  Upgrade to Firefox 3.5!

If you’ve only ever used the “Internet” by clicking on the blue e-button, you’re in for a hell of a treat. Go get Firefox (or Opera if you must). Once you’ve installed firefox, you should then go install a few helpful addons. If you need more detailed instructions, please comment below.

My top favorite addon is AdBlock Plus. This one lets you get Firefox to block ads from known advertising web servers. Firefox will re-write what you’re looking at to appear as though the undesired ad info had never been there. This is one of those awesome helpers that you forget about until you use a machine without it, then you wonder how all those other suckers out there can stand all that noise.

After that, I fancy the Delicious addon. With that beauty I can store my bookmarks remotely on delicious. Since I use a crap-ton of different computers all the time storing bookmarks locally is a complete waste of my time, but through delicious they can all be put somewhere where I can always find them with no dependence on the workstation I’m using. The Delicious firefox addon lets you use Delicious inside firefox just like typical bookmarks.

Of course there’s a ton of other great addons to use, go check them out. And if you’re already all over the firefox band-wagon, here’s a great place to go to get a very cool script to put on your site to help people make the switch.

What do you think?

There you have it – IE is a monster and I’ve spent vastly way too much time on this relatively minor bug. Nevertheless, I think it’s a good subject to really talk about and besides, I felt it’d make for an interest blog post. What Browser do you use?

Toor Camp 2009 in Review

Toor Camp Logo

Well I’ve been home from Toor Camp 2009 for a week now and I’m feeling it’s about time to post my personal review of all of this.

In Summary

  • In Short: It was awesome
  • In slightly less-short: It was rough in terms of heat, closed silo and drama
  • The Bottom Line: I’ll be going next year
  • Photos Here

The Good

In the Silo
In the Silo

MakerBots!
MakerBots!

Toor Camp was awesome as I met all sorts of cool people. It was awesome in that at night when the heat was reasonable, it was fun to go around to various camp sites and visit with random like-minded people. I had many conversations with people where we shared a sense of relaxation around the notion of being able to talk full-speed and in the way we generally thought and still be understood. I guess that’s just a perk of being around a bunch of people that have spent just as much time grinding on the same kinds of stuff.

There was tons of interesting stuff being setup all over. People were quick to share their creativity and ideas. I learned a fair bit about security topics, which I suppose is to be expected at a hacker conference. I presented my old usb mouse mod at a little late night event called Ignite Toor.

The Bad

Gettin By
Gettin By

Survival
Survival

The heat was brutal. Most days were a few degrees over 100F/40C and several people from our group were overwhelmed by it. As such they spent a fair bit of time in idling cars with the AC on full, puking in a bucket. Personally I was just really overheated, but I didn’t get sick, possibly due to massive water consumption on my part.

Dust was rampant. The camp site was located in an extremely dusty place. The dust was a very very fine powder that would get in everything. It was a factor that everyone there had to just accept as there’s little you can do about that, especially when the wind picked up.

The Venue (a retired nuclear missle) silo was highly attactive when discussed in HTML, but when it came to in practice – I can’t know the full facts, but the result was the silo didn’t get opened until near the end of the camp. And once it was opened the coordinators offered a list of hazards like Asbestos, Lead Paint, Possible radioactivity (though quite unlikely), Poorly Lit Drop Offs and so on. I suppose that’s to be expected, but I didn’t really consider it before hand – once on site I wasn’t very motivated to expose myself to much of that sweetness.

The Ugly

Douche-bags
Douche-bags: Yes that little bit of grey metal to the upper left is their wind array for their main trailer. I never did see a solar panel.

The hilarious ugliness at the camp was surrounded by this remarkably foolish “Energy” company Levitate. In the future, if you see this name just think Lying Morons and you’ll be fine.

As a key part of a forced last minute deal by the site owner, the campers were forced to attend a concert put on by this company claiming to be preparing to launch it’s hybrid solar/wind power technology. The campers were forced in that their attendance was required if access to the silo was to be granted. That in and of itself was epic moronity in the only thing attracting people to that site was the silo, denying access at all was entirely confusing and made me wonder if there were potential liability issues that perhaps needed to be reconsidered.

Levitate posted the below freakin’ amazing bullshit facebook post for the event that was saturated with blatant lies about the camp and the campers therein endorsing their activities:

A group of the world’s smartest hackers will convene on July 3rd 2009 at a decommissioned nuclear missile site in the desert of Eastern Washington State. The goal: to solve some of the world’s most challenging issues through technology and to showcase a new large-scale renewable energy solution for the World.

Literally on top of a symbol that once represented global destruction, Levitate Energy and Tri-Film Productions present a renewable energy concert featuring the talents of Seattle bands Amber Pacific, Visqueen & Throw Me The Statue.

The entire production will be powered by Levitate’s ultra high efficiency hybrid Wind and Solar Modular Turbine Unit.

This is an invite only event but for more information contact Tri-Film Productions.

A Banner Levitate should adopt
A Banner Levitate should adopt

I could spend time explaining how this is all bullshit (except perhaps the fact that “Tri-Film” was involved too). But the short of it was as follows:

Gas Powered Wind Mill
Gas Powered Wind Mill. And by "Wind Mill", I mean "tiny boxed-in air-shovel POS"
  1. They took power from a diesel power generator used by the camp to power their concert.
  2. Their trucks with their wind power generators had at least one small gas power generator hidden away aboard
  3. The fundamental design of their wind power setup makes no sense if you have a crude understanding of what a moment force is – also understanding the absolute bare basics of fluid dynamics is enough to make you spit milk out your nose when you see their setup
  4. One of their people tried to get some friends of mine to cease standing like poles (as they were protesting). This began with dancing very very close to them and escalated to some kind of punching (I didn’t see it first-hand).
  5. To Reiterate: They blackmailed people to attend their concert, which was really a promo event where they were trying to snap a bunch of photos and the like

At the end of the day

Silo Entrance
Silo Entrance

At the end of the day I had a damned good time at Toor Camp 2009. I met a crap-ton of awesome people and had a great time learning, when I could take the heat.

I hope that as this was the first Toor Camp, the next one will secure a more suitable venue and for me that mainly entails much less dust, heat & drama.

The camp organizers nailed down some key features fairly well (stuff like providing electrical power, internet service, water, pseudo-showers and a few other things).