Day 2 (part 1) - Fabric, Access, Workshop and LEDs!

A project log for Cultural Integrity (at the Dethrone Hackathon)

Merging art, crafts, and technology with Art Hack Day

criptastichackerCriptasticHacker 03/03/2024 at 06:240 Comments

The big hacker day was upon us and the gears were in motion!  

Julia jumped into action during morning solo hacker time.  She went to the Mission Fabric Outlet store to find our throne-worthy textiles, as well as coordinating with a participant named Danielle to borrow their sewing machine.

                  (the go-to place for great fabric in the Mission San Francisco!)

                                           (The gorgeous fabric Julia picked out!)

Looking over the items "we will provide" spreadsheet from Art Hack Day, it became clear that I would be bringing most of my apartment to Gray Area.  There was no soldering or programming equipment, 3D printers, drills, or anything like that.  It puzzled me, because I could swear I'd seen pictures of that stuff in other hackathons online (I found out later that they would be providing something different - and special).  But no matter, I am very proud of my home workshop and honestly, much more comfortable with my own tools ('comfortable' is my healthy way of describing it - 'insanely attached' is probably more accurate :P)

I made arrangements with one of the organizers to help me with moving my belongings to Gray Area.  Rebecca didn't have much (or any) experience in helping people with disabilities, which was a bit frustrating at first.  We had a phone call a couple days prior and after a while I told her "I'm sorry, but I didn't sign up to this event to be a disability educator."  I think people don't realize how exhausting that role is (I perform it nearly every day), and forget that they can also do their own research and spend time on these things.

No one knows how to do this stuff, because disability access, history, culture or education are not taught in American public schools.  A fact I lament frequently.  In fact, I had a mini-conversation with some of the attendees about it.

"It's hard being the spokesperson for your own minority group.  And the pressure that comes with that," I said.

"I'm usually the first person in a wheelchair people have ever had a conversation with..."

Amy, Vidya, and Julia all agreed, "yeah, it's my first time too."

...does anyone ever wonder why that is?

For her part, Rebecca was understanding and certainly willing to learn and lend a hand, which I appreciated.  I sent her a document I found online for how to make temporary events accessible.  It's pretty neat!

There's also another really cool guide website here.

I wasn't looking forward to the accessibility coordination efforts with time-strained organizers to bring my things over.  So it was to my amazement when Julia offered to come to my place and help me move things(!)  She was so nice, and this warmed my heart.  I took a big sigh of relief and went through our "to bring" list while she rode the bus over.  Fortunately, I live only about 10 minutes away from Gray Area :) 

When Julia arrived we got sidetracked almost immediately, geeking out over my workspace.  I probably looked like one of those birds puffing up its feathers the way I was beaming with pride over my home shop.

I've spent years planning and building it out, but few people that come over know what the heck it all is!  Julia immediately recognized the method to my madness asking,

 "Is there anything you haven't customized?"

I showed her my 3D printed scissors holder, my compartment closet, wire organizing / recycling bin, microscope, 3D printers, and other fun tools :)

(Magnetic 3D printed scissors holder - one of many custom designs around my apartment)

                                           (My ridiculously organized parts closet)

We learned a bit more about each other, for example I learned Julia had flown here from New York through a school scholarship!  That really shocked me, as I had been so back-and-forth about attending at all.  It made me want to take the event more seriously, especially for her sake.  I also learned quickly that she was an excellent student who wasn't about to half-ass anything.  Well, well, no lazy hacks here!

We began a little bit backwards in the list, starting with one of the "nice to have" features of the project: LED lighting.  'cause hey, that's fun, and we were already at my workbench with all the supplies.

                                                      (My SMD workbench ^_^)

We had decided on two sets of LEDs. One was a strip of red LEDs just to provide a little bit of ambience (and maybe a reference to "you're in hell" on the uncomfortable bus stop side).  The other was a bit more ambitious:  programming a microcontroller with a sensor that would turn on bright lights to annoy you when you sat down.  This was decided on to highlight the anti-homeless motion-detection systems that people put around SF to stop people from simply sleeping in crevices and rain-free areas.

        (An example of PIR motion detection flood lights used to harass the homeless)

(The mock motion light we found in my parts bin.  It has a nice metal swivel base and a 12V plug from an old DC-DC buck brightness hack I did many years ago ;P)

We ran into our first roadblock though: Julia's sensor for this (a nifty Time of Flight (ToF) board from Adafruit) didn't run on her microscontroller!  She had a stock Arduino Uno with the usual Atmega328P DIP chip. Apparently, it doesn't have enough flash memory for the necessary library.

           (The Adafruit VL53L4CX is great, but the code won't fit on an Arduino Uno) 

I pulled out my bag of ESP32's to "quickly" solve the problem. After all, you can program them with Arduino IDE and it has a whopping 4MB memory as opposed to the 32kb of an Uno!  But the particular WEMOS D1 board I pulled out was giving us headaches with its boot loader mode.

(The WEMOS D1 requires annoying button combos to manually enter bootloader mode.  Perhaps it was just a software issue with my driver though.)

After that we looked around for a photoresistor -- but my shop didn't have one!

We also didn't have the WS2812 LED strips I thought were in my bin... This was getting embarrassing :(

We decided to shelve this part of the project, and to move on to more pressing tasks. 

I found some "oldskool" unintelligent LED strips from my old wheelchair lighting project.  They were dirty, but they had a working controller box and remote.  These will run off just 12V, and the controller box changes the voltage levels of the respective R, G, B to make the desired colors and patterns with remote presses. 

(My old scrappy LED strip - it works, but needed some repairs.  Julia said to try packing tape to reinforce the failed joint - and it worked!)

Because these are unintelligent, the entire strip has to be the same color or pattern and it cannot "move" by cycling individual LEDs on and off within the strip like a WS2812 (aka Adafruit "Neopixel").  That's OK though, as this project doesn't need that :)  I soldered up a strip of LEDs to a 2.1mm barrel jack, then used the remote to set the to red.

Then I plugged in my favorite battery pack to power it.  Yay, one task down!

                 (TalentCell YB1206000-USB.  12V @6A + USB out. I love this thing).

While this was happening, Julia was looking up the hours and pricing for TAP plastics, and calling them to find out how late we could come by with a custom order. We had decided that the missing backing glass was very necessary for our project.  I worried that cardboard would not be able to hold up the body weight leaning back, and also that it would just kinda look like ass.

Fortunately, the cheapest acrylic at TAP for this large size (42" x 42") was $60.  "Not bad if we split it!" said Julia.

After that we piled up tools to take to the space:

Portable glue gun & glue sticks? - check!

Portable cardboard cutter? - check!

Newspapers to cut out? - check!

Battery, LED strip, and controller? - check!

Large pieces of cardboard? - check!

Scissors? - check!

Drill & Bits? - check!

Gold Spraypaint? - check!

...and we were off  to get some acrylic before closing! :)

[To be continued...]