Jun 20 2015

These badass winding sticks that I made (Woodworking part I)

By Max


I’ve been doing some woodworking stuff, and I’ve been finding that the thing I’m really enjoying is making the tools I need.  Thus, the actual project itself is moving… slowly.  But anyway:


The idea with winding sticks is that you put one on the near side of a piece of wood that you’re working, and the other on the far side, and if there’s any twist in the surface of the wood it’ll show up as them being out of parallel. Like so:

20150208_202001 20150208_202010

So in this (greatly exaggerated) case, the wood that’s under the winding sticks is high in the upper left and lower right corners.  To bring the face into true, you could plane off either of those corners.  To be effective, the winding sticks themselves would ideally be perfectly straight and identical.  Mine are accurate to about .0015″, which is the measurement tolerance of my micrometers and perhaps a bit more accurate than necessary.  I dyed one dark and left the other light to increase the contrast between them, and added the notches and alignment dots which really helps with sighting.

More to come on this topic soon.  I’ve got a bunch of stuff I’ve finished but I just haven’t had time to write about it.  But I’ll be on a three week car trip through France and Italy soon, so should have some time to catch up :)








Apr 24 2015

Poetics in Architecture Collage Assignment

By Max

So I’ve been taking a class at CCSF, History and Theory of Modern Architecture.  I didn’t major in architecture, and actually I’ve been kind of making this whole fucking career thing up as I go along, all these years, and with the more flexible schedule now (oh also I left the firm I was with to start my own lighting design practice, Minuscule Lighting Design, more about that later.  Changes!) I took the opportunity to fill in some holes in my education.  For one of our assignments we had to make a collage expressing ideas of poetics in architecture, and, well, here look:

Poetics in Architecture Collage


By the way the class is taught by Monica Tiulescu, who makes amazing/grotesque procedurally generated organic… things.

Jul 9 2014

1920’s Style Goosenecks

By Max


In my prior post on improvising a conduit bending machine, I mentioned that it was for a period reproduction lighting fixture for a theatrical project I was working on.  Well, the project is Speakeasy, and I’m happy to say that it’s up and running and getting great reviews.

So as you’d hope to find in a speakeasy, there’s a bar, and we wanted some more commercially styled lighting to go above it.  There were these gooseneck fixtures from the palettes I had put together, that we liked (top center):


My issue with the fixture as shown is that industrial chic wasn’t really a thing back then, in the way that in this day you can go to an upscale bar and all the lighting fixtures will be up-armored and distressed so that they look like they’re fifty years old.  Also, on a more practical level, period commercial lighting is a lot more difficult to find then residential lighting, and matching sets are pretty much impossible.

So I came up with this concept image, which retains the idea but it is a little more sophisticated implementation:

Concept image for the fixture

Concept image for the fixture

You’ll recall that we began with four freshly bent pieces of 1/2″ conduit:


I then cut bases out of MDF, improvising a jig to cut out the circles, and then around them with an ogee bit to do the corner detail:


Which, by the way, makes a fucking mess:


I cobbled together the rest of the connecting hardware from a pretty broad swath of departments at Home Despot:


And assembled:


I got a pretty acceptable bronze finish with a product called Rub n’ Buff.  Which has a hardcore following of the people who buy yard sale furniture and make it fab-ulous, so there’s plenty of good blog posts out there explaining how to use it, as it turns out.

Anyway, final shot of the bar.  I’ll write up some more on Speakeasy, which is one of the most ambitious theater projects I’ve done, soon.


Jun 1 2014

Breadboard-friendly i2c logic level converter

By Max

IMG_20140531_222803 (2)Lately I’ve been using my 5V Arduino in concert with 3.3V devices via i2c, and so I’ve found myself requiring an interface part to convert the two logic levels.

I had previously done this on the breadboard with two 2N7000 MOS-FETs according to this Philips application note AN97055:

i2c Logic Level Shifter Schematic

This worked, but it was a lot of parts to set up on the breadboard each time, and I wanted something hardwired so that I could focus on other things when it came time to troubleshoot.  So I cooked up this little guy:


Testing the waveform with an oscilliscope, you can see some noise is introduced on Channel 1, but I always wonder in these cases how much of that is just because I have a bunch of probes stuck everywhere– the act of measuring changes the measured behavior and so on.  But, it should be perfectly adequate for prototyping purposes.

i2c SCL line

5V signal in blue (channel 2). Resulting 3.3V signal in yellow.


If you’d like my Eagle files to incorporate this into your file, 3V to 5V i2c Eagle Files.

A pdf ready to etch is here: 3V to 5V i2c Eagle Files Level Shifter Rev0.

One note: if you look at the pictures of the finished product, you’ll see that rather than the usual way of doing things where you put the PCB on the bottom plane, then drill through and put the components on top, I’ve instead mirrored the layout, and soldered the components on the top plane.

 I did that so that I could solder the pin headers on top, as you can’t solder them to the bottom traces because the plastic connectors get in the way.  If you download the pdf I linked to, it’s already been flipped and is ready to go.  If you download the eagle files, make sure you select “mirror” from the print options.

Hope it comes in useful for you!


Apr 17 2014

Artwork for Craggin’s Lament, a Dungeons and Dragons campaign

By Max


Some of you may know I run a Sunday night Dungeons and Dragons campaign (specifically Pathfinder, with Roll20 for our virtual table top).  If that’s not your thing, move along, nothing to see here.What follows is artwork I’ve created for the dungeons that the party has explored over the last two years or so.  Mostly made on my tablet with Sketchbook Pro.


“Wading through cold, knee-deep water, you come upon a multi-story circular room, with a staircase winding around the perimeter.  From the ruined openings on each floor, water pours into the open space at the center with a deafening roar.  Cold mist lands on your face continually, and lichens and fungi line the walls.  Everything below the top three floors is filled with cold, turbulent water, and you can’t see how deep the chamber goes.”

The party needs to use the stairs to move from floor to floor.  But waiting in hiding are flying will-o-wisps, which can stun and enchant the party members, causing them to step off the stairs and fall into the water below.  They don’t take any damage from the fall per se, but the Hook Horror Darkfiends that live in the pool will try to pull them under.  Symbiosis!  Once someone fails their save, the remainder of the party has to think fast to save their wayward member.

This encounter was very nearly the last of the party’s stalwart mage, Baden Switch.

necromancer lair 4F1

“At the end of a long narrow tunnel you see a wan glow and have a sense that the corridor opens up to a sizable room.  As you creep closer, you see that the room is four stories, and contains an enormous brass machine that goes from the floor almost to the ceiling.  Pipes, manifolds, valves, and dials of obscure purpose branch out of it at every part, and there are bridges that connect to the pathway that runs around the center of the room at each of the upper levels.  As you get nearer, more of the lower structure of the machine comes into view, and you see that many of the pipes disappear into a rough-hewn opening in the wall, which is the source of the green glow that throws the room into relief.  The wall around the opening appears to have partially collapsed, and the machine itself seems to have undergone heavy damage at some point, and then repaired with clumsy haste.  It is dark, and silent in the chamber.  You don’t see any sign of the lich, although on the ground floor there are long wooden worktables covered with glass vials, oil burners, and papers.”

The first run-in with the lich, the party got bottled up in one of the small tunnels that lead into the room.  The lich cast Wall of Fire, filling the tunnel completely with opaque fire that does damage when you try and move through it, and the party had to retreat without landing a hit.  The second time, they were prepared and executed good tactics, prepping spells and buffs, entering from multiple tunnels at once, using surprise to good advantage, and engaging with melee fighters immediately.  On his first round, the lich cast Obscuring Mist, Quickened (minor action, effective spell level 4th), ran to the machine (move action), pulled a lever on it, and with scream of triumph, snapped the lever off completely. (standard, strength check DC 15).

“As everything in the chamber is shrouded in a dense white fog, you hear the machine roar to life, filling the echoing chamber with noise and making spoken communication difficult or impossible.”

It went badly for the party for a few rounds, but they still managed to unload a lot of damage, and at the end of the day liches just don’t have a lot of hit points.  The rift that the glow was coming out of was an open portal to another dimension, and on a high roll every round the machine would summon undead through the portal.   Which the lich could control (fun fact, they get Control Undead a certain number of times per day the way clerics get Channel Divinity).  But, as it happened, the machine never hit its numbers and the party cast Chill Metal (2nd level) on the pipes going into the rift, mostly neutralizing it.

UntitledHaving dispatched the lich, the party had the option to solve a puzzle to unlock the library, the room in blue behind the blue magical barrier on the first floor.  Shown is a screenshot from our virtual tabletop, Roll20.

Valley-Map-Parchment-WebFive years ago, gold was discovered at a sawmill near the hamlet of Craggin’s Lament.  The entire valley is now in the grips of a full scale gold rush, and prospectors, outlaws, gamblers, and merchants have transformed the town into a bustling jumping-off point for any who seek their fortune in the hills.  Hired to locate a missing merchant in a bandit-infested alpine pass, our heroes come into possession of an ancient map, showing the location of settlements of a dwarven empire forgotten by all but scholars of antiquity.  Exploring the ruins, the party soon becomes the focus of forces powerful and mysterious…

One of the very first handouts I made for the session.  Map drawn on paper, then scanned and the folds and paper background were added digitally.


Dungeon map for a low-level side quest published by Paizo, “The Forgotten King’s Tomb.”   Texture brush FTW.