We had a (very small) meeting this week, which mainly consisted of planning the Ballistics Day (details in a second post). I also attended the NSME committee meeting and that was also productive:
- If we start supplying bracket specifications to the NSME someone will produce the resulting brackets, possibly producing cardboard ones first to check fit. We’ve agreed doing one axis at a time would make sense. If the mill is useful to the club they would then consider purchasing the parts that are still Martin’s. If the endeavour fails or is unused by the club then Martin’s parts can be given back, and the rest sold.
- A marquee will be left in the clubhouse for use if required on the Ballistics Day. There is also a water supply and hose for steam trains and water rockets which we can use.
- The NSME are impressed with our railway clock, but do not desire one of their own, as it would not be in keeping with the station’s aesthetic.
Today was the grand opening of the NSME extended tracks. We set up a stall to illustrate the things that NortHACKton do. We spent a lot of time talking to the public and hopefully made a few new friends. Over 2000 people rode the trains today, the exact number is unlikely to be known as they ran out of commemorative tickets. That meant a lot of people to talk to.
The rolling ball sculpture and pinball machine were a great hit with kids and a great opener for conversations. The chain mail shirt and quadcopter also garnered a lot of interest. It was great to have people asking questions about projects and then being pointed to the appropriate person to chat to. Thanks to everyone for coming down to lend us a hand, lets hope we get some increased interest to our next workshop.
On Monday we spent most of the evening trying to get EMC to work on a donated PC, and then with Martin’s stepper driver board. Alan did some good work persuading the rather picky realtime Linux distro to work at all, and then we set to work.
The board consists of a breakout board connected to the parallel port of a PC, which opto-isolates its inputs before amplifying them up a small amount to be used with stepper motor drivers. These drives generate quadrature output from two input signals, a step signal (or clock) and a direction voltage. The job of the PC is to directly step each motor, and the accuracy with which it can do this affects the maximum frequency of steps that it can generate.
This is a hard real-time task and so a Linux kernel is used that allows tasks to be prioritised above nearly all of the kernel tasks and drivers. This kernel will not work with binary graphics drivers, and quite a few other drivers that are incompatible with its priorities, hence the difficulty in setting up. Once this obstacle was overcome we traced the stepper control lines to the right pins of the parallel port (in Martin’s absence) and eventually puzzled out the power supply to run the stepper motors themselves, admittedly pretty slowly to be on the safe side.
In lieu of having a mill to connect them to, we found some software for playing tunes via gcode and soon we were graced with at least the higher parts of the Super Mario Bros theme, played about 4 octaves too low.
The NSME May Day re-opening is now 3.5 weeks away, on Monday 2nd May. As part of this we’re having a stall ourselves (wiki page for organising here) in the afternoon and in the evening, a BBQ and hack session focussing on glowing in the dark! Whatever you’re making on 2/5, make it glow, by any means you like.
Next meet is on the 18th April and will feature Mat talking about his quadcopter, how he built it, and how he controls it. This is also the only meet to test any contraptions for display or use at the NSME open day, so make the most of it!
Notes from the NSME committee meeting of relevance to Northackon:
- If we choose dates for events sufficiently in the future, they can enter the Blower magazine (bimonthly, due out soon) and the events calendar of the club, so other NSME members can easily find out what we’re up to. This is also good planning anyway.
- Money for guest members and money for refreshments both go in the same pot by the kettle, there’s no paperwork involved.
- The NSME AGM is on Tuesday 15th February for Northackton members that are also NSME members.
- There is discussion in the NSME of organising workshop courses as the workshops are currently underused. Previously a Model Engineering course ran from the Wellingborough campus of Tresham College, but this is not in the 2010-11 prospectus.
- We reported back that we’ve been accepted into the Maker Faire UK 2011, can take NSME leaflets up to distribute for the May opening (details below), and gave details of our recent talks.
- For the May opening, we’d be welcome to have a stall in their marquee and/or to put on some activities in the parkland adjacent, from midday onwards. R/C planes would not be permitted, but the kites are of interest.
Specifically regarding May, the NSME are having a Grand Reopening on Monday May 2nd. The Mayor of Northampton will be unveiling the new station names and opening each line. All rides to the public will be free for the day. The actual opening will be occuring around 1pm, but the site will be open to the public from midday. Suggestions for activities are welcome, but don’t forget the Park will also be used for public parking for the day as well.
We now have sets of keys for our physical space, as a number of us are now members of the Northampton Society of Model Engineers. The NSME have a clubhouse, number of workshops, two trainlines, and some trains near the centre of Northampton. They have allowed us to join and form a sub-club. We can meet when they’re not using the space so we’ve both got room for the facilities, and we’ll also be keeping the place occupied too.