MakerCafe on GitHub

It’s been nearly two months since I’ve had the chance to work on MakerCafe and I’m pleased to finally get back to my favorite project.  When I last worked on code for the project I thought I’d brought it to a critical point where I could release the code and start doing some of my work more openly.  Then my attention was drawn away to some more immediate projects and I never got the chance to do what I’d intended, release the code.

Well I’m back on track now and today I took the plunge and put my code out there on GitHub.  You can see it if you’d like at  I’d intended to submit my code in the form of a python package, but I only got partway to that goal today.  I’ve got to finish attaching the appropriate license information and to add some management commands for the buildout, but I can get that done later this week.

My next goal following the packaging of MakerCafe is to put up a real website with documentation and examples for others to see and use.  I currently host a working copy of a MakerCafe website at for people to see.  I intend to move that over to and to use the .com address as a platform for hosting makercafe sites for the public.  That’s probably a far reaching goal, but I see myself getting there in a couple months.

All-in-all I’m pretty pleased.  The transition from my personal svn repository to git hasn’t been hard at all.  And I look forward to inviting other developers to help out on my project.

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One of the best projects I had the chance to work on at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory this last year was a small driving remote for their robot ATHLETE.  I thought I’d write up a little post about what I did, why I thought it was cool, and to thank the people involved.

Back in November of 2009 I started working with a couple friends to build a small kit for the iRobot Roomba.  At the same time I happened to see a lecture at JPL by Dr. Jeff Norris and was inspired to use a gaming controller for my work at home.  My friends and I chose the Wii Nunchuk as the interface device and began work on a wireless remote system.  Our hope was to build a kit that someone could purchase, build and then easily snap the parts to their Roomba and Nunchuk and be off and running the device around their living room.

My friends and I got through most of the hard work for the system by March when I happened to be at another lecture with Dr. Norris.  After the talk I decided to say thanks by way of telling him how he inspired me to use a gaming controller to drive my Roomba.  To my surprise and delight he asked that I show him a demo–in fact, he and his team been looking for an alternative for driving their robot ATHLETE short distances during testing and my solution might be what they were after.

That night I spent a couple hours building a small breadboard demo using the Nunchuk, a couple arduinos, xbees, and some LEDs.  I brought it in the next day to show it off, just pleased as punch to show what I’d done.  Uncharacteristically, the demo went off without a hitch.  Later that week Dr. Norris got me a charge number for the project for 40 hours of work and $1K in hardware costs.

What I ended up building was a scaled back version of my original controller.  The ground ops team needed an interface between the Wii Nunchuk and the hand held computer they’d use during testing and some Java code they could use to read the output.  That was easy enough and I got to work on it.

For the hardware I selected products I could get directly from my favorite supplier SparkFun: an Arduino pro mini 328, an FTDI breakout board,  some right-angle break away headers, and a small project enclosure.  I also needed a miniB USB cable to connect it to the computer, not to mention the Wii Nunchuk.

For the software I was lucky to find a great resource in Tod Kurt and his blog on the “WiiChuck”.  When prototyping my home project I’d actually purchased his I2C WiiChuck Adapter from SparkFun.  Then I reworked his open-source code to make additions for my own WiiChuck Arduino Library.  I used this library in the Nunchuk code for the adapter.  I absolutely couldn’t have done the project without the head start his work gave me.

The project finally came together in the summer.  It probably took so long because we all worked other missions full time, but we were happy to see it complete.  It was also done just in time for summer testing and I got a great video of the guys using my device out on the Arroyo near JPL:

If you look closely you can see the driver with the device.  He’s at the beginning of the film on the left.

I also got some great pictures of the device itself that you can see in my Flickr Stream “Driving ATHLETE”.

My device and ATHLETE were also featured in the San Gabrial Valley Tribune in August.  You can see Julie with the WiiChuck device in several of the photos they took.

I forgot to mention that when May rolled around I attended the Bay Area Maker Faire in San Mateo, CA.  In the afternoon I actually stopped by the tent with all the kits and spotted both Nathan Seidle and Tod Kurt!  I went over and talked to both of them, told them about the project, and basically gushed about how much I owed both of them for their work.  It was a proud moment for me.

I’ve also got to thank several key people that got this project done.  First, Mike and Will, the two guys I worked with in my original project.  I also want to thank Dr. Norris for giving me the opportunity to do the project and my mentor Dr. Desai for encouraging me.  Finally, the ground ops team for ATHLETE, David and Lucy, were just fantastic and I couldn’t have worked with a better team to get things done.

I’m always going to remember this as one of the best projects I ever did for JPL and I hope I get another opportunity like it in the future.

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Since I started this blog about a year ago I’ve been trying to find a way to connect to the DIY community.  I’ve made projects on my own and posted them online, read blogs and tips from other makers, and worked with friends on a few projects.  Through all of that I’ve learned the limitations of what I can do on my own.  But it’s clear to me that the DIY community is growing, if not sprawling, across the US and that there’d have to be others nearby that I could work with.  That’s when I started looking into Hacker Spaces. Continue reading

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MAMP and Django

Fortunately for me my work and my personal hobbies sometimes coincide in unexpected ways.  At work I’ve recently completed a year long project with altimetry data and am moving on to work with the Mars Science Laboratory.  While I gear up to do that work I have a hand full of projects that I think would be better served with web databases than the old Excel spreadsheet paradigm that people seem to love so much.  This brought me to a great crossroads.  I could quickly build and deploy websites to handle my number crunching work, do it faster than compiling even more spreadsheets, and in the end give a whole new tool to my project.  I liked this idea so I’ve begun to pursue it. Continue reading

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MakerBot Madness

MakerBot Cupcake CNCRecently I’ve been obsessing over the MakerBot Cupcake CNC by MakerBot Industries.  This is a device that you can buy for under $1000 that will print, yes PRINT, 3D objects out of plastic right at your desk.  It’s an open source project with a huge community that helps improve the design and prepares digital files for making other things, which you can download for free at Thingiverse.  Need a new mount for your camera? Maybe a door stop? Want to prototype a toy for your kid? Just download the file, print it up, and you have it in your hands that day. Continue reading

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