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NC State Fair: Turkey Shoot
9/26/2011

On the heels of a post about the fair and love, I received some feedback that that post was a bit, well, a bit mushy. So I decided to write about another fair feature.

This post is about guns.

I’m not great with a shotgun, but I can, with some consistency, hit a clay pigeon. I am consistently unable, however, to hit a stationary target at the State Fair’s turkey shoot.

The idea behind the turkey shoot is simple: they give you a 12-gauge shotgun and you have to blow a hole in a target which is mounted to a bale of hay. Easy, right?

And then there’s the “Shooting Star”. They give you a machine gun (they love giving people guns at the fair!) which shoots BBs and your target is a piece of paper with a red star printed in the center. Your mission, should you choose to fork over ten bucks - and I fully intend to do so - is to eliminate the star.

In my experience there’s no correlation between where you aim your sights and where the BBs land.

If that is too intense for you, you might try the normal BB gun range. Typically a local outdoors group will give a brief lesson in gun safety (notably absent from the turkey shoot!) and then they give you an air gun and let you try hitting targets.

Of course, this shouldn’t be a surprise for anyone who is familiar with the fair grounds. Every day you can buy an assortment of knives and swords (I’m not making this up!) at the flea market, and twice a year the Dixie Gun and Knife Show (highly recommended!) blows into town.

The fair has a relatively new feature where they ask an individual to blog - for their official blog! - about the event. A homage to the deep-fried delacacies only available during the fair, this individual is given the title of "Deep Fried Ambassador."

So let me shoot from the hip: I think I'd make a very fine ambassador.

And not just because I have am willing and able to eat deep-fried cheeseburgers (true story!) Or that I have the tenacity to drive in State Fair traffic (though I cannot recommend the bus enough. As they say, once you go CAT you never go back.)

I'd be a great ambassador because I'm interested in stories.

I kinda want an excuse to go and talk to all of the exhibitors and ask them how far away they came and if the fair helps their business. I'm interested in what events other people look forward to. What they think about the burger patty sandwiched between Krispy Kreme donuts. How much money they spent trying to pop the balloon. How they managed to win the big teddy bear. And then I want to write about it.

Because, ultimately, that's what makes it worthwhile. For me, the fair isn't about the rides, it's about convincing your friends to ride them with you. It isn't just about seeing the animals, but learning how much work it took to get them from the farm to the building. It isn't about eating funnel cakes for dinner, but concealing it from Mom (who were we kidding?)

The "magic" of the fair are all of the little thoughts and anecdotes of the people involved. I think I can capture that.

And with free tickets to every day of the fair (hey, gotta focus on the goal!) I'm pretty sure I'll have some great pictures, stories, and history to learn and share. Vote for me!

Previous State Fair post.

NC State Fair: Love
9/24/2011

You know that feeling you get right before a date? It's a kind of nervous feeling, you know, because you hope everything will go well, and I mean of course it will, but, well, it's new and exciting.

This is how I feel about the State Fair when it comes into town.

Me and a buddy went to the fair a few years ago. He was looking for an old flame and all we knew was that she was working "at a petting zoo." We visited every single petting zoo at the fair (there are no less than a dozen!) until we found her.

What I remember most about my deep-fried Twinkie is not the taste but the shape of my friend's face when she scrunched her nose and balked at the fact I had just paid good money for one of these things (what was I thinking?) As though somehow her choice of a deep fried pecan pie was more noble or sophisticated, and anyway, she broke down and asked to share my Twinkie and I her pie.

In some sense, I have come to associate cool autumn fair nights with love.

Last year, I did not attend the fair.

Everyone was busy, everyone had excuses and school and some false sense of maturity of having outgrown the fair. Having no company I did not attend. I'd like to have a better experience this year, and I think you all will have a good time too. Please join me!

The fair is October 13-23. Admission tickets are $6 in advance.

Let's go on rides and forget to take off our hats and watch them fly off our heads. If you get in line at the right time then the ferris wheel will peak just as the fireworks start. Let's participate in this year's love a fair.

Enclosure, Low-Fi Prototypes
4/16/2011

I received the latest iteration of my enclosure design. Every time I'm too lazy to measure a component, I end up with a design flaw:

In this case, the toggle switch's pins are too close to the resistor. Back to the drawing board.

I have been tweaking the enclosure's design. I took a page from the field of human-computer interaction and created a low-fidelity model. If you couldn't tell, I was one of those kids who couldn't color within the lines.

This design is actually a few millimeters too small. Updating it will be a breeze; I wrote a small python script to generate SVG files for the box's faces. The script takes the length, width, height, and material's thickness as input. Since SVG files are XML-based, it was easy to automatically generate one with the right dimensions so that the panels interlock. I'll be sending my design to the laser cutter this week.

Hopefully this will be the last iteration of this enclosure; I've spent an awful lot of time prototyping it, and I'm quite ready to move on to more interesting parts of this project!

Laser-Cut Project Enclosure: Part 1
3/27/2011

I've been working on a widget and want an enclosure for it. Using pre-made enclosures is kind of difficult; I have to design my circuit board to be just the right size. And drilling holes in enclosures is just tacky.

So I decided to make my own. This is actually pretty cheap, almost as cheap as buying one of those project boxes from Radio Shack.

I just wanted to post about some of the qualitative aspects of the Forthcoming are the measurements and technical details of the enclosure.

Breadboard Prorotype Printed Circuit Board

Not that I'm trying to sell anyone on laser-cutting custom enclosures using Ponoko (though if Ponoko wants to give me a kickback...), but the mechanics of uploading a design and receiving the material was surprisingly painless. Ponoko is a company that lets you upload SVG files of designs and then ships me a laser-cut piece of plastic.

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to get started: "Where can I find and enclosure for my project?" This is a really common question and, after scouring the entire internet, I didn't find a good answer.

Designing this was pretty difficult for me the first time. Mainly because it is impossible to to find graph paper in Morrisville, North Carolina.

One gentleman has written an program for auto-generating box designs. You can download that program and view his results. I chose not to go with this design because I wasn't quite ready for something where the pieces snap or glue together.

After searching for existing laser-cut designs. There was one in particular that cropped up several places:

I like this one because:

  1. It is a simple cube: 6 faces and a few interlocking parts.
  2. The design doesn't require glue (messy) or snap-in parts (which have the potential to break if they aren't done just right)
  3. The box easily accommodates my PCB because it's held together by screws going through my PCB's standoff holes
  4. It is easy to add holes to the panels for components (like switches or binding posts) to mount

It looks like this generic box design is used by many different projects, accessible, and useful for most of our circuit board designs. This isn't the most advanced or difficult enclosure, but it does the trick for most of us!

After about a week of drawings and arithmetic - nothing difficult, it just took time to map every millimeter of my design's perimeter - I ordered it from Ponoko.

Naturally, the parts didn't fit quite right.

I'm waiting for the next iteration to arrive.

In the mean time, I've been working on a small script to automatically generate SVG files for the enclosure designs with perfect dimensions on all of the cuts.

Be on the lookout for source code and nitty-gritty measurements in the next post!


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