Monday, November 22, 2010

If you can't find it, you don't own it (part 1)

Mr. Jalopy's famous side one, track one of the Maker's Bill of Rights is all well and good, but more basically, if you can't FIND it, you don't own it.

Owning an object has a cost, however minor, associated with it.  You'll have to move it if you change residences, you have to keep your kid/cat/ferret/sugar glider away from things you don't want smashed/pissed on/drug under your couch/scent marked by a weird oily forehead gland, and clutter (IMO) occupies mental real estate we can usually ill-afford to waste.  If you're going to pay these costs, you should take care to keep your gear well organized so these costs aren't wasted when it comes time to use something.

As a hackerspace-going maker, I find myself with an additional constraint- if I want to work on a project at the shop, I need to either bring what I need (tools and materials both) or be darn sure I know what and where stuff at the shop is.  My solution is a robust, scalable, compact group of toolkits broken down by four disciplines:
  • Electronics- since I'm an electron jockey, this one was first.  It's all the standard stuff- breadboards, jumper wires, voltage regulators, diodes, etc.  One Arduino, of course, and a wire stripper, and a small, simple meter, but no real tools to speak of.
  • Electronics tools- this is the first "add-on".  My electronics kit contains everything I'm likely to need to breadboard something up and get it working; this kit contains everything I'm likely to need to make a project permanent: soldering iron, pliers/dikes/screwdriver, more capable wire cutters, some spools of wire, a better meter, etc.  Also, a few batteries and battery holders, a couple of Arduinos, some shields, and a few Xbee modules.  Some cables, too.
  • Computer/custom project stuff- this is my rolling laptop case.  It's a much less well defined kit, because I don't have a spare computer to throw at it right now, but ultimately I expect that it will contain a laptop, a nice assortment of cables (possibly drawing some out of the tools kit), a rich digital library, a nice notebook and several pens, a graphing calculator, and have assigned space for my o-scope and a small box which will be large enough to contain and protect projects in process.
  • Electromechanical parts and tools- enough parts and tools to make a fairly decent little robot (or six).  Several Tamiya gearboxes and associated hardware, an X-acto knife kit, some drivers, belts, gears, motors salvaged from all manner of equipment, wheels, pulleys, etc.  Sculpey, JB-Weld, and a hot glue gun round out the mix.
Below is a nice, tagged image showing the outside storage area of my electronics kit.  If the box looks familiar, it's because it's the same one that the MakerShed electronics components packs are distributed in.  They are sold locally for about $7 (frequently on sale for $5) at Menard's, a fairly stock home improvement warehouse common in the upper midwest.

    Mouse over the buttons for descriptions (you may need to view on the blog site itself for that- Google Reader, at least, doesn't display them); click the image for a larger view.  As you can see, there are some fairly esoteric parts in there (the QT110 touch sensor, pager motors, and the IR receivers spring to mind); I've still got some empty space even WITH those parts so why not?  I feel like I have my bases pretty well covered here.

    This, of course, is just the lid- it lifts up to reveal another set of larger and deeper storage compartments inside.

    Inside, there is a nice assortment of 5% tolerance resistors (65 values) with each different value separately bagged, labeled, and stored in increasing order and segregated by decade for easy access (if you can't find it...).  The Arduino clings to the underside of the lid; it's held in place by a few dabs of Sugru under some old PC motherboard standoffs.  The largest subdivisions has a small, cheap meter, a few breadboards, a cheap wire stripper/cutter, and a largish HD44780 driven LCD (4x20, LED backlight).  There's also a 3x magnifier, because there are a LOT of small numbers in this box, and a standard 5.5mm by 2.1mm barrel jack with wire pigtails that leads to the outside world.

    There are a few other sensors in here, along with some batteries, some largish switches, discrete semiconductor devices, a bag of random LEDs, and some terminal blocks (see my bathroom hassler project for more details on the terminal blocks).  Again, there are probably a few things in here that could go (SCRs?  Really?) but for now and until I have a need for the space I'm going to keep them in.

    I'm interested to hear what other people think I should have in here- maybe some logic ICs?  I'd like to add some variable voltage regulators- I know I have some LM317 parts around here somewhere.  A small variable voltage wall-powered supply would be nice, too.  Some higher power transistors, too- the NMOS parts I have in there are pretty decent as are some of the PNP parts, but I have no PMOS or NPN TO-220 devices.  Maybe some L293D motor drivers?  What else am I forgetting?

    Tomorrow (hopefully) I'll do a write up on my electronics toolkit.


    1. I have been looking all over for one of those boxes. My folks live near a Menards, any idea what the thing is called, or who makes it?