Poor mans DIY Laptop Stand

Continuing on my “Poor Mans” series I found that making things with what you have at hand can be both fun and resourceful. To set the stage it might help to give some background first. Around a month ago, I left my position at Microsoft and have relocated to Kigali, Rwanda. I joined a team of inspiring people looking to reshape energy and in healthcare in Africa. They are called Great Lakes EnergyYou can check out their new website which we just launched.

Being in Rwanda you need it’s a bit harder to get some o the fancy things we might get used to at home. Amazon one click simply isn’t one click away. So sometimes you need to improvise. Since I would be working of my Acer S7 now, one of these things that I quickly found I needed was a laptop stand. I was looking for the classic macbook tilted stand that we’ve come to see as the staple of every startup office around the US.

So in the spirit of DIY, I put on together with some parts I found around the office. First and foremost was using the stand of a Sunking lamp as the base. (Sidenote: the sunking lamp is an awesome 20$ solar lamp that’s incredibly durable, Something I wish we had in the states! )

sun king solar power lamp

sun king solar power lamp

Great Lakes is also a distributor of sunking lamps so we simply happened to have a lot of them lying around. I quickly realized that the bent wire stand could be perfect for this job.

I simply needed a piece of PVC covering to act as a flange to hold the laptop on the stand. After drilling to holes in the PVC panel, I made to stoppers using masking tape.

Stand with PVC cover

Stand with PVC cover

Lastly, I needed some added weight on the bottom in order to keep the stand well balanced. I found some large steal bolts hanging around in the storage room. Strapping these to the bottom of the stand worked well.

Finally it was ready for testing.

it works

it works

Looks like we have a winner.

Printing on Borosilicate Glass

Recently I decided to up my game a bit and start printing on borosilicate glass. You probably know this material from your mom’s pyrex cake pans. Due to its extremely low thermal expansion it has been a favorite for applications requiring smooth surfaces and lots of heat.

Prior to using borosilicate, I was contently using the TAK surface print surface provided by Afinia. Though, the TAK surface has incredible adherence properties. These properties were a bit too good at times. It was common that I would find the adherence so strong that the printed models would get damaged while trying to remove them from the print bed. An extremely annoying problem to have. Even though the pad lost its adherence property as I did more prints, it was still producing an uneven looking on the print bed facing side of the model.


Prior to switching my print bed I did a quick survey of my other options out there.

Some of the options are

I decided to try borosilicate after years of using masking tape and builtak. Though I was pretty proficient at using both surfaces I didn’t like the final finish I got on the builds. It was common I would get bumps on the bottom surface as well as simply adherence problems and failed builds.

I went with borosilicate because of the price and the amount of knowledge online. I also like the idea of printing on a completely flat and smooth surface. The major caveat with using a glass composite is the need for a surface coating. This is something you’ll find most people refer to as coating the surface with an ABS Slurry. This is simply a fancy word for some left over ABS dissolved in Acetone solution. This is a solution which you need to apply on the glass prior to printing else you’ll quickly find that your print is not sticking to the surface. I found a very nice way to apply the slurry is with a spray bottle.

I found this guy at my local pharmacy where they sell travel bottles.ABS Slurry in spray bottle

Acetone is simply nail polish but don’t do what I did and simply go but some nail polish at your drug store. Nail polish actually has a very low amount of acetone and will not do the job. Simply stop by home depot and check your solvent aisle.

To get started all you need to do is apply a very thin coat of the slurry on the borosilicate glass. Simply spray a few times creating a super thin coat on the surface. Be careful not to inhale the slurry vapors. Though Acetone is note very toxic keep in mind that this slurry contains dissolved ABS which you might inhale. I use a full face mask when I’m using the sprayer. The sprayer will simply apply a super thing coat of abs on the print bed. Let it dry and start heating the bed.

Using any surface will not compensate for having a uneven surface so make sure that your print bed is completely level prior to printing.

Now my prints come out with a super shiny finish on the bottom. Now I simply ask myself why didn’t I do this before?

Nice and shiney

Look at that. Smooth and shiney : )


ABS Welding for 3dprinted objects

Recently, a close friend of mine sent me a video showing a method to fuse ABS printed parts together. Generally, with 3d printing, as the objects being created get further complicated , it’s a common requirement to print them as multiple part and  use some sort of adhesive to bring them together.

ABS Filament fusing is just like welding. Though, instead of using electricity to arch and thus cause heat, we are looking at using a dermal to cause heat through friction.

It’s a very straight forward process and works very well! I’ve included a video of me demonstrating after a recent test. The results are far better than using a hot glue gone or simply super glue.

A quick final  note: I’m using ABS filament for this. In principle I don’t see why PLA shouldn’t work though I haven’t tried it. If someone does I would love to hear their experience.

Building an FPV racing drone Part 3

If you’ve come this far, this means you’re almost done with building your FPV drone.

A quick anecdote before we get started. While doing my initial flight test I burned an ESC. I’ve also decided to pull the power for the FPV transmitter straight from the battery rather than the ESC as I feel this might be the culprit for my ESC burning.

O simply go back to your wiring and create another splice to pull power for the transmitter.

WP_20150104_007 WP_20150104_005

You might have notice that I’ve added some gears. This is optional. However, it makes take offs and landings a bit more stable.

I’ve uploaded the landing gear assembly to Thingiverse here: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:621393

You can print your own. It uses a 3mm aluminum pipe and 2mm screws to hold it in place (M2x12mm Bolt) use a bit of Loctite to prevent wiggling.


These are the same screws that are used to hold your motors in place.



Looks like you’re ready to almost fly now. We’ll have to verify a few things prior to flying.


1-Calibrating ESC

2-Calibrating flight controller

3-Calibrating Receiver controls


You can start by downloading OpenPilot GCS here: http://wiki.openpilot.org/display/BUILDS/OpenPilot+Software+Downloads

Once you get this installed you’ll notice a usb port on your flight controller time to plug this guy in. At this point make sure you have your props off the quad as this can cause major problems.

You’ll soon be needing the battery to power the ESC’s so make sure you have it charged and ready to go nearby.

Once you launch Openpilot GCS connect your usb and start the “Vehicle Setup Wizard”


Here you’ll first be updating the firmware on your cc3d board so simply go through that process.

-Next, you’ll be talking about choosing and calibrating your ESC’s. Here make sure you choose PWM as the input signal configuration

-Quadcopter as vehicle type.

-Quadcopter X has the quad type

-and 490MHZ for the type of ESC. (rapid ESC)

Next get your battery ready you’ll be calibrating the ESC’ simply follow the steps on screen and go through all the steps.



Last you’ll move on to the Receiver configuration. This is important. Make sure you have the battery plugged in while doing this.


One interesting thing is to make sure you have your controller in Acro mode NOT helicopter mode. Simply follow the prompts on screen to calibrate.



One thing to take not of is my Flight mode switch didn’t register during calibration so I simply used another switch on the controller for this purpose. I went with a 2-state switch but since I plan on using a single flight mode for now it should be fine.



After this It make sense to reduce the aggressiveness of some of the stability parameters.

Here are a few screenshots from how my settings look. I suggest starting with the less aggressive and going up from there.

gcs_stabilzation gcs_stabilzation_basic gcs_throttle gcs_idle_throttle


Pre – flight check:

  • Make sure all your props are turning the proper way. So you need to have the proper prop on the proper engine. This is a bit confusing but once I had the proper configuration I simply wrote with a sharpie on my ESC and props in case I need to remove them. (which I actually did)
  • Make sure you got your arm setting correct on your transmitter.
  • Make sure all cables and ESC’s are mounted properly and nothing is going to get in the way of the turning props.



And here is a video of the maiden flight. Be sure to time this flight to understand the endurance of your quad.

Trouble shooting?

Drop your question in the comments area.

Happy Flying!



Setting up your self hosted WordPress site

Azure dashboard url settings

Azure dashboard url settings

Happy New year! With a new year I decided to move my blog to my own hosting instead of using the wordpress.com. I figured that since I have a nice domain and some hosting on azure, why not take advantage of it?  In doing so, I figured this could be a great piece of knowledge, for those people who are also hosting on wordpress.com and would like to self host.


Now Let’s get to the beef.


I’ll go over how to setup a wordpress site on azure and forward a custom domain to it in this tutorial. The reason I’m using azure as

  1. It’s super simple to do a self-host
  2. You can use many other features in azure if you’d like to
  3. I work for Microsoft : ) and azure is quite a cheep option.


I’ll be using azure websites for this as it provides the easiest maintenance and setup option. Setting up the server literally will take me a few clicks, it will also be very cheap (free if you have some bizspark credits hanging around)

  1. First step is to head over to the azure portal login with your existing account or create a new one.
  2. Once you’ve done that you can hit the plus sign on the bottom and create a new website. Azure is kind enough to offer a template for wordpress sites so this will be quick.

    start by creating a new website service from gallery

    start by creating a new website service from gallery

  3. In the next menu that pops up you’ll choose blogs and scroll down on the list to WordPress. wp2
  4. I’m now naming by demo site atilev which would put it at http://atilev.azurewebsites.net.wp3
  5. You will be prompted to create a database. Since WordPress uses MySQL you’ll have to use clear dB. This will happen automatically for you. You all you need is to choose the name from the dropdown.
  6. Go ahead and hit create, check the box on the bottom of the last page saying you agree to ClearDB’s terms and you’re good to go. Once the website should be up shortly and you can go to http://<youwodrpesssitename>.azurewebsites.net and start the setup. You should be seeing a screen like this that will be asking you to create a username and password for your worddpress site.
  7. If you’re not you’ve done something wrong. Go back.
  8. To setup a custom domain for you wordpress site you’re going to need a few things. First you can’t use the FREE tier of azure websites so you’ll have to upgrade to the standard or basic tier. You can do this by going to your deployment and going to the Scale page. The small instance works fine for me as it keeps my costs down. If you have a lot of traffic you might want to increase this.wp4
  9. After this you can navigate to the configuration tab and scroll down until you find the domain names section When you click on “manage domains” you’ll be provided instructions on a few ways you can verify that you own the domain. At this point you’ll need to log into your domain provide like godaddy.com or namecheap and add a CNAME record that points your domain to the azure website. Keep in mind this took around an hour for me so take a coffee break after you put in the CNAME record. You can only enter in your domain name on the azure portal once azure is able to verify it.
    Azure dashboard custom URL settings

    Azure dashboard custom URL settings

    Godaddy CNAME record settings

    Godaddy CNAME record settings

  10. Once you’ve verified that your domain is now resolving azure service you can go ahead and add it.
  11. One last thing now you can log in to the admin portal of your WordPress site by going to http://www.yourdomain.com/wp-admin
  12. Simply login the credentials you setup in step 6. Once you’re in you should be seeing your admin panel Here you’ll need to set things up but first go to the settings page and click on general settings. You’ll need to put in the address for your website so that WordPress can display the proper urls when navigation occurs. Here how my setup looks:

    WordPress settings

    WordPress settings


With this final step, you should be done! Blog and post the night away. If you have any questions feel free to post the in the comments. You’ll see that my posts are a bit stale currently on atilev.com but that should change soon.




Building a FPV racing drone Part 1:

I remember the first time I tried on a pair of FPV goggles and took my drone for a spin. At that moment what I felt was incredible. I true out of body experience. My mind ran wild thinking how I could do this in 3d and increase the quality. I could see this being a game changer in the future of entertainment. So I had to build on for myself. I usually fly dji phantom 1 which is has so many add-ons that it looks like a Frankenstein. Also its flight time is down to merely 6 minutes with all the added weight.  So I decided to build something smaller and a bit more nimble. I’m going to be using off the shelf components and maybe a 3d printed part here or there.

Let’s start with the bill of materials

[Qty. 1] Super Simple Mini H-Quad FPV V3 Frame

[Qty. 1] CC3D Flight Controller

[Qty. 2] APC 5545E Electric Prop {or} 5030 Prop

[Qty. 2] APC 5545EP Electric Prop {or} 5030R Prop

[Qty. 1] 36mm Power Distribution Board

[Qty. 1] 1800mAh 3S 40C LiPo

[Qty. 1] XT60 Connector Pair

[Qty. 12] M2x12mm Bolt

[Qty. 4] Tiger MN-1806 2300KV Motors

[Qty. 4] Afro 12A SimonK ESC

[Qty. 4] M3x6mm+6mm Nylon Spacer

[Qty. 4] M3x8mm Nylon Screw

[Qty. 4] M3 Nylon Nut

[Qty.~] Cable Ties

[Qty.~] 16AWG Red Wire

[Qty.~] 16AWG Black Wire

[Qty. 1] Sony Super HAD CCD 660TVL Camera

From <http://polakiumengineering.org/category/multicopters/>

This is an awesome list from Polakiumengineering so kudos to them. They have a really nice 3d printed acetone treated frame which looks pretty nice. You could of course print one yourself but you would need a pretty large bed 3dprinter.

If you noticed there isn’t a receiver and transmitter in this list. I’ll be looking to get a Spektrum DX6i transmitter with a DXM compatible receiver. I haven’ purchased these yet so look forward to my second post for more details there.

One more note is the FPV goggles. Fatshark is the de facto fpv goggles. Though oculus and other VR alternatives are nice concepts they really don’t play well with FPV thus far. The portability aspect of fatshark and the built in receiver makes them very practice. I own a Predator model which comes with a transmitter (http://fatshark.com/ )

Moving on to construction the first bit was simply attaching the motors to the frame which only took a few minutes.

Be very carefull when doing this! if you screw the screws in too tight they can damage your motors
I recommend using a plier to shorten your screws as I lost 2 motors due to screwing them in too tight. You have been warned.

Now comes the fun part. I’ll be putting on the ESC’s which control the power which flows in each motor. I’m also excited to try out some of my own 3d printed parts for this project. As there might be opportunities to shed weight while affecting performance in the most minimal way.


Stay tuned.

The breathalyzer Photo-booth.

We all know photobooths are fun but you know what’s even more fun? A photo-booth when people are intoxicated. All those silly faces and majestic poses produce the most epic roles of black an white 2×2 strips.

Since it’s new years I thought I put together a a photo-booth from my Polaroid given to be my a good friend. The to the impossible mission it’s still possible to get Polaroid film here in NYC. Albeit it does coma at a hefty price. ($20 for pack of 8 shots)

The problem with poloroid machines is that they trigger is located at an awkward position on the left hand side of the machine.

I had to create a 3d printed part that would fit onto a servo and the shutter trigger to get this to work.

problem trigger

Having a 3d printer is quite handy and I was able to make a piece that I could use a servo to push.

the design can be found here:

trigger piece in action

trigger piece in action

With this much we’re pretty much ready to go all we need is a simple toggle button. I found this one at Radio Shack.


So now we have a simple photo-booth. Nothing fancy hit the button a timer will light up the lights give you a countdown to the red LED and bam. You have a poloroid selfie. But one fun are sober selfie’s. I want everyone that gets in front of this camera to have a sufficient amount of alcohol in their blood to get that glammor shot. SO, luckily I had an MQ-3 alcohol sensor just lying around. This is a fairly off the sheld ethyl alcohol sensor you can get from sparkfun (https://www.sparkfun.com/products/8880) I would suggest getting the breakout board as well as the documentation is quite iffy.

I used a 4 D cell battery pack with only 3 batteries to power the Breathalyzer. 3 cell’s gives you 4.5V. You can use some alligator clips to short the last cell.

There are plenty of examples on how to wire up the Breathalyzer on the sparkfun page I followed this example which worked well for me.


I also used a potentiometer to switch between the Breathalyzer and standard trigger. you can skip this part or use a switch. I just happened to have this POT lying around.

The Gas sensor takes a bit of time to heat up so best get it running a few minutes before testing. I used a simple bottle with some exhaust valves in order to get a better reading.

WP_20140106_16_11_28_Pro WP_20140106_16_13_17_Pro

Code for the app the app is very simple.

Happy shooting!!

Arduino code:https://github.com/jlark/arduino_hacks/blob/master/photobooth.ino