Laser Cut Cocktail Recipe Coasters!

Years back, I used to throw a lot of cocktail parties.  Between myself and two good friends, we owned five cocktail shakers and 35+ martini glasses.  During the parties, we’d typically be the only three people shaking martinis for all the guests.  Though that’s awesome, it also means we missed out on much of the socializing and mingling during each party.
blog21In preparation for a recent birthday party, the solution came to me: Use Lasers!  So, I laser cut ten coaster-sized pieces of basswood and then laser engraved my twelve favorite Martini and Champagne cocktail recipes on them.  I also cut stands for them that had a laser engraved “best practices” guide for shaking Martinis – you know, the things that bartenders are typically too busy to do for you: Chill your glass before pouring your drink into it, shaking your drink until it is sufficiently cold, etc.  The drinks have recipes that taste better than what most bartenders will make for you, because they include things like an amount of lemon or lime that they’re too busy to squeeze into your drink.
blog22The party was an even more awesome experience for me, because I wasn’t only shaking drinks all night.   It was also even more awesome for the guests, as they found that great cocktails are super easy to make!  And who doesn’t like to make things? blog26 Also, the carbonated Gin & No tonic is real crowd pleaser!  See my previous post about home carbonation for more info, and note that all types of inappropriate things can be carbonated:  Gin, Ardbeg Corryvreckan, grapes, etc!

How To Laser Cut Really Big Halftone Photos

Wanting to up the ante a bit after having the Makerspace laser cutter chop out hundreds of city blocks to form a big map of MKE, I decided to laser cut a  24” by 18” halftone image!  As it required the laser cutter to carve 10368 circles out of an off-yellow piece of 98 Lb paper, the cutting took 1.3 hours and produced quite a bit of confetti.  I’ll display this with a purple (rather than black) paper behind the off-yellow laser cut paper.  In person there is an interesting transition from an abstract purple/yellow shape into a black and white image as one moves further away from the image.  You may even want to sit back from your monitor to improve the “image quality.”

Laser_Cut_Halftone_Image_color2

Check out this video of the laser cutter in the middle of cutting 10000 circles!  Note the mysterious logic employed by the laser cutter to determine the order of its cuts.

I imported a photo into GIMP, and desaturated it to produce a black and white image.  After bumping up the contrast and darkening it slightly to nearly saturate the darkest areas (and avoid any totally white areas), I brought it into Inkscape.  Inkscape can create halftones in a two step, manual process.  The first step is to draw an 8 pixel by 8 pixel circle in the upper left corner of the 1133×720 pixel image, and select Edit->Clone-> Create Tiled Clones.  To create a rectangular grid of halftone dots whose sizes are set by the color of the image below, use these settings:

Rectangular_array

From a quick test cut of a particularly dark area, I found that I needed to add an offset between each row and each column to account for the kerf of the laser.  I.e. the laser beam has a cutting width that is wider than that of the line, and so in the darkest areas of the photo the halftone dots overlapped, causing a large section of the paper to fully detach. That led me to make this test strip with 11 shades of grayscale, evenly spaced between pure black and white.  I laser cut this test strip with various offset distances between the rows and columns in order to arrive at the optimal 10% extra offset between adjacent rows and columns shown in the above settings. Note also that the smallest size circles may not even be exported from Inkscape due to their infinitesimal dimensions (i.e. if you export as a .pdf).  The minimum gap between circles with 42% speed and 100% power on an 1133 pixel wide image blown up to 24″ is 0.79 pixels, which is 0.017″.

test_tripApplying these same settings to the image created a 128 by 81 array of circles, for a grand total of 10368 vector objects.  In my first trial run last weekend, I found that sending this much data to our 60 Watt Universal Laser takes 5 minutes and results in a print error I noticed only after hitting start!  After 1.3 hours of vector cutting, I found that a few of the rows and columns were shifted a bit from their intended location.  It’s not clear whether this had to do with the print error, or if the paper moved slightly during the cutting process.

In order to improve the second version (shown at top), I chose to move away from the rectangular grid of halftone dots – recall that Kays and London teach that hexagonal close packing is for champions.  The reason to abandon the rectangular spacing is to improve the dynamic range (i.e. to make the blacks blacker).  For example, rectangular grids of circles pack at an “efficiency” of Pi/4, which is 79%, whereas hexagonal close packing results in a pi/6*sqrt(3) packing, or 91%.  That means that the darkest sections of the image will be darker, as more of the light colored “front” piece of paper can be cut away.  See the image below, and note that the hexagonal pattern does indeed appear darker.

rectangular_vs_hexagonal2

It turns out that Inkscape doesn’t easily permit this.  I ended up spending an hour or two fiddling with the column and row offset settings using my 11 black/white tone test strip to find settings that gave the hexagonal offset with the closest, even hexagonal spacing between adjacent circles.  The following settings worked great for an 8 by 8 dot on the darkest square of the test strip:

hex_arrayI test cut this yesterday, sending ¼ of the data at a time to the laser to avoid printing errors. However, part way through the cutting, cut-out paper circles stuck to the long air assist nozzle of the laser head (ironically) hit a washer I was using to weigh down the paper to prevent movement while cutting. The paper shifted by about 1mm, which was enough to make some adjacent halftone dots overlap and cause others to have a visibly wider spacing.

In the process of cutting that photo, Shane happened by and mentioned that vector cutting 10368 objects may be just as fast as the typically-very-slow raster cutting time.  With three clicks, I turned off the vector outline of the halftone dots, and selected a fill color.  After test cutting a row, I found that he was right.  Check out the difference between raster  (100% speed, 100% power) and vector (42% speed, 100% power) in the darkest section of the image – the area with the closest spaced circles:

vector_vs_raster2

The vector halftone dots are perfectly circular, though the edges are a bit rough.  Some of them have a very small border and so are a bit fragile.  The raster halftone dots are not very circular, but the edges are very smooth and the boarders are slightly wider.  I chose to raster cut the 24″ x 18″ image, and found that the raster cutting time of 1.4 hours was nearly equal to the 1.3 hour vector cutting time.

Note that many programs can create halftones, though often the results will not be suitable for laser cutter use:

halftone_error

The next step is to laser cut this image into wood.  Also, Inkscape will let you draw any shape to create tiled clones from – so please do share photos of any halftone images you create with star shapes!

Giant Laser Cut Map of Milwaukee

I’ve been on a laser cutting kick lately.  In the last two weeks, I made 9 travel coasters, two of which feature neighborhood maps of places I’ve lived.  Though I could have just raster cut these very small coasters, generating the vector version allowed me to create this big map of Milwaukee, Wisconsin!  This wall hanging map is the maximum size of our largest laser cutter: 24″ by 18″!  Boom!

Big_MKE

This map was inspired by a project made by my friend NJStacie a while back.  While she has both the infinite patience and the limitless awesome that allowed her to use an X-acto knife to cut out all the city blocks of Boston from an actual map, I used a laser cutter and software. To create images for my roadtrip coasters, I simply took screen captures of google maps, and processed them into vector files using GIMP and Inkscape.  There are so many extraneous details in google maps (lines for buildings, the text labeling street names, etc), that it was clear I needed an alternate approach for making this map.

Its easy to get a small google map without text labels, check out the url of this page.  My first approach to get more than 512×512 pixels was to use the Google Maps API, which is a toolset to imbed an interactive google map into webpages using Java.  The great thing about it is that the rendering style is completely configurable. Even better, there is a GUI to quickly configure your desired style, and automatically generate the JSON object to pass to the style property of the MapOptions on your webpage.  Instead of investing 10 or 15 minutes reading about how to integrate all these steps, I just created the style, and took a few .png screen captures.  I opened them as layers in GIMP and combined them to create the following grey and black image:

milwaukee_whole

I saved it as a .png, and imported it into Inkscape, selecting Embed Upon Import. I created vector data from this raster image by first selecting Path -> Trace Bitmap, opening a dialog box with many choices.  I really only experimented with the top two import choices, Edge Detect and Brightness Cutoff.  I found that Edge Detect gives two outlines, one of the streets and one of the city blocks.  For this reason, Edge Detect seems to be the best choice to create the widest streets, and therefore the strongest paper cutout.  It required some cleanup though, so I selected Path -> Break Apart, adjusted the Fill and Stroke, and then just deleted all the street outlines (thereby widening the spaces between buildings, which is effectively the streets).  As some of the streets were to narrow to really form one continuous outline, they formed a lot of smaller street segments that I deleted in five or ten minutes of fast and furious clicking.  After all those steps, a vector version of the following image was produced:

vector_lines_of_milwaukee

I did a few test cuts to find a power/speed that cut all the way though some colorful, 98lb, 25″ by 19″ acid-free archival paper I picked up.  The goal is to use enough power to cut though, without using too much power, which widens the kerf (laser cut width), thereby undesirably narrowing the streets.  This ended up being 100% power, with 52% speed. Check out the laser cutter in this real-time (not sped up) video.  Note that one typical problem of having both air assist and super-power fume-removal suction while cutting is that the laser cut bits tend to flip over into the cutting path, potentially resulting in an incomplete cut.  That meant when the laser cutting was complete, I had to carefully punch out the 15 or 20 stubborn city blocks that weren’t completely cut though.

I also cut this design into a coaster, and made one with my old Massachusetts neighborhood too.  Naturally this was a lot of data on a small surface, but the results are pretty good despite the vector cutting time approaching that of the raster cutting time! I cut these at 100% power, 100% speed, like the other coasters.

Map_Coasters_Improved

After I completed all these steps, I learned about a way to access vector map data directly.  The Open Street Map site allows export of .svg vector data just by clicking the share button on the right side of the page!  Even better, one can zoom in to Milwaukee, and press the big green Export button on the upper left to export an .osm database of the visible section of the map.  This OpenStreetMap archive can be opened in Maperative! and a style can be applied to the rendered map.  Maperative has several styles built-in, and I simply edited the google maps-like style to omit all the buildings, and draw all roads, highways, on-ramps, etc in a black with no border.  Maperative can export .svg files, but I found the content of these files are a bit of a wreck.  For example, each different road type is a separate vector path, meaning that there are many separate paths in the file.  Ultimately I found I’d taken the wrong approach, as I should have rendered all the city blocks as black vector outlines, and omitted the roads – as that is what I really need to laser cut.  With a bit more work, using Maperative would likely be a quite quick path from map to laser cutter. However, I abandoned this approach as I’d already created a somewhat reasonable workflow.

Laser Cut Road Trip Coasters: Improved!

I used the Makerspace 60 Watt laser cutter to make coasters that show the path of some road trips I’ve taken.  That way I can enjoy the sweet irony of sitting on my couch enjoying a tasty beverage while having thoughts of travel!  This project was somewhat inspired by mmassie’s OpenPaths Zurich vacation keep sake project.

As I don’t use OpenPaths, I used Google maps to plot the course of past road trips, and simply took screen captures.  I wanted to create vector images with hairline width (0.001″) lines so the laser cutter can make each coaster in 45 seconds instead of 20 minutes. There are many ways to generate vector data using these raster .png images. I chose to semi-manually edit out unnecessary parts of the images using GIMP, and then used Inkscape to extract vector data from the resulting simplified images.  If you’re new to these tools, just search for “Inkscape raster to vector” tutorial videos.  An alternate approach is to just import the raster image into Inkscape, and use the Bézier line tool to trace the important paths.  Yes it is manual, but this alternate method also only takes 5 minutes to complete.

The coasters are cut from 3/16″ 4″ x 24″ solid basswood using fairly standard settings of 100% power, with 100% speed for etching, and 3.5% speed for cutting.

trio_s

I made quite a few coasters, and above is a photo of three of them. The coaster on top is a rail trip through Italy, the second is a 1000 km, 12 day (right hand) drive through Ireland, and the last is a much longer than 12 day road trip through the southwest – note the vertical and horizontal lines are the state borders of NV/NM/CO/UT.

A few days later, after polishing my vector editing skills in Inkscape, I made an improved version of the above three coasters.  I added circles to more clearly highlight each stop, and I etched the names of each stop on the reverse side of each coaster.  One group of raster to vector settings I used in Inkscape resulted in the creation of two sets of (closely spaced) hairlines for the outline of Italy, as shown in the coaster above.  I really liked how distinct the outline of Italy is relative to the path of the trip.  I chose to intentionally create two offset hairlines for the other country or border outlines, using Inkscape’s linked-offset path command.

Check out the new and improved design of the front, with dual country/border outlines and circles to denote the stops:

Three_Coasters_Front_Improved

Check out the reverse sides of these coasters shown below, with names of each stop etched on them. Albuquerque.

Three_Coasters_Back_Improved

Weekend Project: End Table

This weekend I made an end table for my living room.  Its in the style of two night stands I made, this one for the tool at hand contest, and this second one! The legs of this series of small tables are getting increasingly eccentric.  To build it, I started with three pieces of 2×12 lumber, and a 1/2″ diameter dowel rod.  I avoided using metal fasteners, and instead used only wood glue and 8 3″ long dowel pegs to attach the legs to ensure that sculpting the table with my chainsaw-blade-equipped angle grinder would be safe(r).  To save some labor with the grinder, I actually cut some of the zig-zag legs with a band saw first.  Even with the pre-cutting, I ended up making 1.5 cubic feet of wood chips and saw dust.

EndTable

2014 RPM Challenge: Accepted!

Today is the first day the 2014 RPM Challenge, which is the National Novel Writing Month of music!  The goal of the RPM challenge is to compose and record an entire album during the month of February! I accepted the challenge by dusting off my Cacophonator and Mohogonator, and got to work making music after dinner today. As today also marks the 50th anniversary of the Beatles invasion, this project drew inspiration from the Beatles’ back catalog!

RPM_Challenge

I used the dynamic duo of Cacophonator and Mohogonator with Auditionator (i.e. Adobe Audition) to record a session for about 12 minutes at a blazing fast 192kHz sample rate.  After chopping the recording into individual tracks, I digitally slowed them down to the customary rate of 44.1kHz, thereby expanding the work to its final ~45 minute length.  For inspiration while I was recording, I listened to Beatles songs sped up to 435% (which is 192/44.1) of their customary speed.  My tracks needed a bit of post-processing: on some of them I chose to bump the pitch back up an octave or two and add “Beatle Fades” to the beginning and end.  Anyway, within twenty minutes after the recording was made, I had edited the songs and uploaded them.  You’ve read that correctly, in less time than it takes to listen to the pieces, they were composed, recorded, processed, mastered, named and uploaded.

Today is also the 50th anniversary of the first Beatles song hitting #1 on the US pop charts: “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” This whole project was inspired by this apparent coincidence in timing, and each track was directly inspired by listening to the sped-up Beatles original.  I hope you enjoy each of the 11 tracks I created!

While My Cacophonator Gently Weeps
Got To Get You Into My Cacophonator
All You Need Is Cacophony
With A Little Help From My Cacophonator
Sgt. Cacophonator’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Cacophonator Came In Through The Bathroom Window
Lucy In The Cacophonator With Diamonds
Got To Get Cacophonator Into My Life
A Hard Day’s Cacophonation
You’ve Got To Hide Your Cacophonator Away
Cacophonator Wants to Hold Your Hand

It may be more convenient to listen to the entire album: “Cacophonator 2: Electric Boogaloo; A Love Tragedy in 11 Parts” on the RPM Challenge site’s Cacophonator page. Just scroll down to “My Player.”  There is plenty of February left: I encourage everyone to participate!

The Milwaukee Makerspace Theater

BIG_HMMMMMM2

Around 25 members have hopped in the new Milwaukee Makerspace Theater after the last two Tuesday meetings.  Its up and running in a “no hearing protection required” way!  The bass still goes way down to subsonic tones, but its being powered by a small & sensible surround sound amp.   Its a very immersive audio experience, and likely sounds much better than any 5.1 system you’ve heard because there’s only one seat!  The sound has been optimized for the single theater-goer: You!  The theater is hooked up to a DVD player, and is available 24/7  for any member to watch a movie in: no check-out required.   Note that any video source you have can be hooked up via the HDMI cable.  Alternately, you can follow the lead of JasonH, who used the theater with a portable audio player to rock out while he worked on his own project near by. See the photos below for the simple instructions on how you can start up the theater, and feel free to take a break from making by using the theater!

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Home Theater with Insane Subwoofer

After the mediocre commercial successes of some of my previous audio products, I decided to pursue a project that has absolutely no commercial potential.  Although my Automated Gmail Assistant had a 0.1% view to purchase rate, they definitely delighted their new owners!   On the other hand, my novel audio surround sound processor, audio-visual processor and audiophile headphones did not produce any revenue, despite being manufactured in an exclusive edition of one each.  Not to be discouraged, the goal of this project was to expand on the core idea behind the aforementioned audiophile headphones, but to overcome the main two drawbacks of using headphones:  1) Many people find that headphones are too uncomfortable and impractical for long term listening. And 2) most headphones lack the concert-like visceral bass impact, which is that feeling of the kick drum shaking your chest that only rock and roll shows could provide.

BIG_HMMMMMM2

Simply put, the Humorously Maniacal Milwaukee Makerspace Multimedia Machine (HMMMMMM) is a personal sized movie theater, with 5.16 surround sound.  That’s right, this theater is like a conventional 5.1 home theater, but with 15 extra subwoofers to delight the senses. While the bass in a live concert can be felt in your chest, the bass in the HMMMMMM can be felt in your soul(!).  In addition altering listener’s consciousness, the HMMMMMM will soon be used to screen our yet-to-be-filmed Milwaukee Makerspace orientation video as an integral part of our onboarding process for all new members. The HMMMMMM measures about 7 feet long and about 4 feet wide.  An eager movie-goer can simply climb up the integral stairs (shown on the left) and jump in through the 27” diameter escape hatch in the top of the HMMMMMM. Despite its crazy appearance, the HMMMMMM offers a surprisingly comfortable reclining position, much like that of a lazy-boy.  Check out this photo of the HMMMMMM under construction for a better idea of the ergonomic internal layout: There is a pillow for one’s head, and ones feet extend to the right.  The 27” display is mounted to the angled portion on the top surface, about 24” from the viewer.  Eventually, two 24″ monitors will expand the visual experience into the periphery.

The_Incomplete_HMMMMMM4

The audio portion of the HMMMMMM is a 5.16 system.  The high frequencies are played by 5 uninteresting Swan/HiVi speakers that are arranged in a properly boring 5 channel surround configuration.  The more exciting portion of the audio system is the subwoofer – well, the 16 (Sixteen) 10″ high efficiency subwoofers that provide that TrueBass™ sensation the masses crave.  Its clear from the use of 16 subwoofers that one object of the HMMMMMM was to create an audio system that plays low bass.  Playback of really low bass typically requires an extremely large speaker box, and still notes as low as 20 Hz are rarely audible.  However, inside any speaker box the bass response is naturally flat to much lower (subsonic) pitches.  For more on the sound pressure level inside and outside speaker boxes, check out this link.  The graph below is a measurement of the SPL or sound pressure level (how loud it is) versus frequency (pitch) at the listener’s ears in the HMMMMMM.

SPL_in_HMMMMMM

The graph shows that with a sine wave input, the SPL inside the HMMMMMM is 148.6dB at 40 Hz.  That means the acoustic pressure on the 27” diameter escape hatch is 45 pounds.  Excellent.  Note that earplugs in addition to earmuff style hearing protectors are mandatory to safely experience the TrueBass™.   To understand this strict hearing protection requirement, lets compare the sound pressure level inside the HMMMMMM to other audio systems that may be more familiar.  Note that the loudness of these other audio systems are not visible in the graph above, because essentially all other audio systems (including yours) are inferior.  Adjusting the margins of the graph a bit produces the following graph:

SPL_of_many_systemsThe plot shows how loud typical audio systems are, and how low they play.  For example, cellphone speakers play only a bit below 1khz, and are ~90 dB if they’re 40cm from you.  When a Jambox-type bluetooth speaker is about 60cm from you, it plays ~10 dB louder, and another 1.5 octaves lower, to 200 Hz.  Typical bookshelf speakers can get another 5 dB louder if you’re 1.5 meters from them, but only play down another octave to 100 Hz.  OEM installed car stereos are a big improvement, but they’re still not in the same league as the HMMMMMM.  Yes, the IASCA record holding car is louder than this, but it plays only from 50 Hz to 60 Hz, which isn’t even really bass.

Note that the difference in loudness between a cellphone and a car is 20 dB, while the HMMMMMM is 30 dB louder than a high-performing car stereo.  Also note that the frequency range of a piano, with its 88 keys, is about the same as a bookshelf speaker – a bit over 7 octaves.  Surprisingly, the subwoofer portion of the HMMMMMM has a 6 octave bandwidth, but it plays the 6 octaves you’ve never heard before!  The HMMMMMM plays 6 octaves below what your bookshelf speaker or Jambox calls bass. The HMMMMMM has a +/- 6 dB passband extending down to 2 Hz, with the output at 1 Hz being nearly still above the 120 dB “threshold of pain.”

Disclaimers: For safety, the big 2000 Watt amplifier that drives the HMMMMMM to its full potential is not available when the author is not present.  Ironically, the author has taught 75-100 people, the eager early HMMMMMM listeners, how to properly insert earplugs, meaning that the HMMMMMM is actually a learning tool for hearing safety! Finally, the author has some hesitancy in having the HMMMMMM reproduce recordings with 5 Hz content at 140 dB, because typical hearing protection has little effect at these unnaturally low frequencies.

PS:  Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you’d like to help with the video scripting, filming or editing.

Photography Area Improvements!

We’ve had a dedicated photography area at the Makerspace since moving to our new building in January.  However, the lighting was powerful and direct, which resulted in some pretty exciting shadows.  Today, I set up four 400 watt equivalent, 105 watt (somewhat) compact florescent lights on stands that each have shoot through umbrella diffusers.  Check them out in room just off the craft lab.

Four_Photo_Stands_with_Umbrellas

Now we can take photos that aren’t a nightmere of shadows and hot spots!  Like this teaser photo of FIDO, shown below.  Stay tuned for more info on him!

Mystery_Project_witout_glare_or_shadows

Weekend Project: Planter Boxes!

Last weekend I made three huge, turquoise planter boxes for my rooftop deck – check out the quarter for scale.  Naturally, help from other Makerspace members was key, as I relied on JackD and his JAMbulence for help transporting two sheets of plywood (Thanks!).  I safely sliced ‘em up on the panel saw, and then glued, screwed and nailed them together.  After applying numerous coats of outdoor latex paint and a bit of sanding, they’re already in use in downtown Milwaukee!

Planter_Box