Pixie Power [Maker Update #41]
This week on Maker Update, a magic bag of NeoPixie dust, my #1 video and photography tool, hydrodipping 3D prints, MagPi 59, making art for 3D glasses, and maker faires. My Cool Tool this time is the Manfrotto Magic Arm and Super Clamp kit.
Project of the Week
NeoPixie Dust Bag by John Park
Manfrotto 143 Magic Arm Kit with Umbrella Bracket Super Clamp and Backlite Base
10 Tips for Making Great Build Videos by Becky Stern
Cool Tools Podcast: Donald Bell
Hydrodipping 3D Prints by Ruiz Bros.
MagPi Issue 59
Raspi Online Interactive GPIO Reference
Red/Blue 3D Art with Photoshop Tutorial by Josh Ellingson
Maker Faire Nantes Nantes France
Reno Mini Maker Faire Reno, Nevada USA
This week on Maker Update: a magic bag of NeoPixie dust, my #1 video and photography tool, hydrodipping 3D prints, MagPi 59, making art for 3D glasses, and maker faires.
It’s Wednesday, July 5th, I’m Donald Bell, and welcome to another Maker Update. I hope all you American Makers had a safe and happy 4th of July. I’ve been having a good week, though the timing of Independence day has thrown my production schedule a little, so this is a light show and probably going up a little later than usual.
Still, plenty to cover here, so let’s get into it, starting with my favorite project this week.
A big high five to John Park of Adafruit for his guide on making this interactive pixie dust prop he calls the NeoPixie dust bag. It’s a little sack of flake salt that diffuses the light from the ring of color changing LEDs behind it. A squeeze of the bag triggers a color change, or any number of LED effects.
All that’s needed to pull this off is a $25 Circuit Playground Express board, a single alligator clip, and a small Lipo battery. It’s a relatively cheap project with a big payoff. Which is to say, I’m man enough to admit that I would totally make one of these for myself.
But another big aspect of what makes this project so great is that the Circuit Playground Express board can make use of the Microsoft MakeCode platform — allowing you or your kid to visually configure, test, and tweak the code in an environment that feels so much more approachable than an Arduino or Python IDE.
John walks through a couple different animation demos, which you can play with or download and transfer directly to a Circuit Playground. With all these visual variables, it’s easy to poke around and change things to make the design your own.
I get so excited when I come across a project like this that is beginner friendly, relatively affordable, and has an undeniably magical payoff. I haven’t seen anything quite like it, and I’m looking forward to seeing more MakeCode projects.
This week, for my Cool Tools review, I’m going to show you the Manfrotto Magic Arm and Super Clamp. You can pick up this combo for around $154 on Amazon Prime. Not cheap, but I rely on this every single week and it’s been a worthwhile investment. If you happen to pick one up using the link in the description, you help support my videos and the Cool Tools blog.
So what’s so magic about the magic arm? This is the best tool I’ve found for getting perfect overhead shots of project builds on your desk or workbench. It has a standard camera mount on the top, a heavy duty clamp on the bottom, and a locking elbow joint in the middle.
Unlocked, the whole thing can twist and wiggle around until you find an angle you like. By locking the elbow, every joint, from top to bottom, seizes up and holds its place. This is especially handy when you need a heavy camera to cantilever out over your desk and stay still while you drill and solder and screw a project together. Most of my Cool Tool videos, with the exception of this one, are made using this system.
The only thing I don’t like about it, aside from the price, is that every few months the elbow joint needs to be tightened with an allen wrench to keep the tension snug. I also sometimes wish the arms were a little longer so I could get higher over my work. But it helps that the clamp has a removable wedge so the clamp can attach to round poles, like a big tripod, when I need more height.
I learned about the Magic Arm from a post by maker extraordinaire Becky Stern on Makezine.com in 2014, where she shares 10 tips for making great build videos. I’ll include a link to that in the description, along with an Amazon link for the Magic arm kit. And remember, you can see thousands of reader recommended tools just like this at Cool-Tools.org.
Speaking of Cool Tools, this week I’m on the Cool Tools podcast sharing some of my favorite tools — including the magic arm, which made me think to include it this week. The interview is from back in March, before I started working for Cool Tools and before I had completed my car for Maker Faire, but it’s a fun listen and an honor to be on a podcast I’ve enjoyed for such a long time. So check it out.
Over on Adafruit, the Ruiz brothers have an outstanding guide on applying designs to your 3D printed projects using a technique called hydrodipping. You basically print to a transfer film, float it on the surface of the water, and then carefully dip your 3D print into the film. It looks really cool, and a neat way to dress up your projects.
There’s a new issue of MagPi magazine out, issue #59. It includes a bunch of summer Raspberry Pi projects. I downloaded the free PDF of the issue and learned about an online interactive reference for the Pi’s GPIO pins. The site is called pinout.xyz, and not only does it detail which pins are what, but you can click on them too and see details about each one.
And my friend Josh Ellingson, who made the illustration of me riding in the Kitty Grabs Back, he has a guide on his site for making your own 3D artwork in Photoshop that can be viewed using old school red/blue 3D glasses. As an example, he shows how he created the 3D album art for this 7-inch record by Aloha Screwdriver, which happens to be my band. So, side note, I play guitar in a band with a new 7-inch record out that comes with 3D glasses. I’ll leave a link in the show notes on how to pick one up if you’re interested.
Maker Faires! There are just two this weekend. The biggie is in Nantes, France, home of the La Machine workshop and their big, crazy, steampunk creatures. The second is in Reno Nevada, which is in its fourth year. If you get to either one, shoot me an email and let me know how it was. I’m Donald@makerprojectlab.com.
And that’s it for this week’s show. Be sure to subscribe, and like, or leave a comment, or send me an email. And if that Magic Arm looks like a game changer for you the way it was for me, picking one up using the link in the show notes helps to support these videos. Alright? Thanks for watching, and I’ll see you next week.