Thoughts on the 1st Pittsburgh Maker Faire


So the first full Pittsburgh Maker Faire took place on October 10-11, 2015. I displayed Symonator there and had a pretty good time with it. Some thoughts from the weekend: Read the rest of this entry »

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Symonator and Some Pin Logic


So this is Symonator, my homage to the classic Simon repeating game. You’ll notice there are 16 buttons. This leads to an interesting question: How does one quickly read the status of 16 buttons and compare it to a required pattern, especially when that pattern may require more than one button to be pushed at a single point in time?

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What the hell is “Turn Tartan Overnight”?

One of the best things that Carnegie Mellon has had for quite some time has been Sleeping Bag Weekend. When I was looking at colleges in the late 80s, I went to a Sleeping Bag Weekend at CMU, and it pretty much sealed the deal for me. I got to stay with a couple of current students with similar interests, visit some classes, and see the campus.

Later, when I worked at the admissions office, I helped out with Sleeping Bag Weekend. The attendees were affectionately referred to as “Baggers.” We started a semi-tradition of hanging out with “abandoned baggers” whose host students forgot about them or ignored them. Later on, many of us who went to such a weekend would say things like, “Yeah, I was a bagger.” It also brought a sense of pride when you’d run into a new student who was your bagger and decided to come to CMU, in part, because of your influence.

Well, as is typical of my beloved alma mater sometimes, they’ve pretty much dumped “Sleeping Bag Weekend” for (sarcastic drum roll, please) “Turn Tartan Overnight Weekend.”

What the !@#$ does that mean? Is it supposed to be some transformative experience? What if a student just wants to check out the campus? What do they call the attendees now? Tartan Turners? Overnighters? TTOs? How can it be an overnight thing if it’s a weekend? It doesn’t even roll off the tongue properly.

As a friend of mine pointed out, they took a strong brand, known by staff, students, alumni, prospective students and the like, and threw it away.

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My Pittsburgh Maker Faire Project

(Note: Looks like I got some recognition for this project. In case you’re wondering, Stuffed Cabbage Inc. is not a real company. It’s just a domain name I picked because I really like the stuffed cabbage my great grandmother used to make. My real name is Christian Restifo.)

So, if you know what Maker Faire is, you know how awesome it is. If you don’t, imagine a festival where people who like to build things, hack electronics, make things the spit fire, do cool interactive art pieces, and the like get together for a couple of days to show off what they do.

I’ve been to the Detroit Maker Faire several times, and I actually presented my dreidel lights at the first Pittsburgh Mini Maker Faire (which is essentially a smaller version of a full Maker Faire).

Well, they’ve upgraded it to a full Pittsburgh Maker Faire, and I will be demonstrating what I’m calling the Symonator, an homage to the original Simon electronic game. You know, the one with four buttons where you have to follow a growing, repeating pattern.

Only I think 4 buttons is not enough.


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The trivet that I failed on numerous times

Okay, so for my fourth pay it forward gift, I made a trivet for Lynne who, like me, went to Carnegie Mellon. This trivet contains the thistle symbol for CMU.

I failed at this build many, many times. First, I thought I would cut some blue and green ceramic tile and inlay that into a piece of wood. Needless to say, I couldn’t cut all the tiny pieces and make it look anything remotely like the thistle. Then I thought I’d use fireglass and make an image out of that. Yeah, that failed miserably, too. Then I decided to switch to wood and use a technique I had employed previously to make a rose for my wife.

So, step one. Obtain…….drumroll please……important Turkish oak chips. Yep, that’s right. This project is made with oak chips imported from Turkey. I won’t go into how I got them, but let’s just say it involved a transportation company delivering them before I had the import permit….which is kind of against the law. Then, after the chips were legally cleared to enter the US, they disappeared for a week. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Tilted Square

The tilted square. If you know what that is, you’re a Carnegie Mellon student/grad/staff/professor from some years back. CMU’s logo used to be that beloved square, tilted at 14 degrees.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to find anymore. The university has pretty much purged it out of existence, and it’s not considered “correct” to use it anymore in university communications, documents, etc. Not even a throw back t-shirt to give us alumnae/alumni some love.

Below is the great tilted square logo. I’m posting this under the fair use clause of US copyright law, mainly for historical and criticism purposes. Note that CMU probably still owns the copyright to this image, so don’t go off using it for anything other than fair use (i.e., commercial purposes, etc.)

Many people consider it a very poor design for any number of reasons: the tilt itself, location of text relative to the basic shape, the fact that the text “cuts” across the square in a very unnatural way. Me? I like it, but maybe that’s because I think it represents what’s great about Carnegie Mellon: we’re a little bit different.

cmu tilted logo

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Raise Your Glass…..or Wooden Drinking Implement

Another pay-it-forward build update.

So, for my friend Kathleen, I decided to make a wooden beer/soda/water mug. It’s made from flat pieces of wood cut at an angle to make an almost circular polygon. To do this, I first had to build a jig…..


This jig serves a very important purpose. It lets me reliably and repeatedly cut pieces with a 15 degree bevel. While I can tilt my saw blade for the same effect, it’s difficult to safely and accurately make these cuts. This jig takes care of that for me. I drew it up on the computer and laser cut the pieces for it. Read the rest of this entry »

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Everything is awesome!

Ok, so here’s the next build for my pay it forward gifts. My excellent friend Shawn, whom I’ve known since college, recently started putting together some old Lego kits. He even went so far as to restore the clear Lego pieces which apparently age due to a fire retardant. I’m sure said retardant also probably causes all types of horrible health problems like making appendages you want to keep fall off. Anywhooooo…….

I decided that Shawn needed some candle holders. But not just any candle holders. LEGO HEAD CANDLE HOLDERS!!!!! Read the rest of this entry »

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Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall…..

So once again this year, I’m doing that Facebook pay it forward routine. The idea is to do something nice for 5 people who must pay it forward by also doing something nice for 5 others. If you look at one of my previous posts, you can see what I made last year.

Rather than wait until all five gifts are created, I’ve decided to post about them as I make them. This is mainly due to the fact that gifts this year will be much more involved and take longer. Read the rest of this entry »

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Gifts Galore

Gifts for my friends

Gifts for my friends

So a while back, a friend of mine on Facebook posted a “pay it forward” type of challenge. The idea was that for the first five people who agreed to do the same, you were supposed to do something nice. They would post the same challenge on their pages, and so on and so forth. Well, I decided to do this on a whim. But instead of just doing something nice, I decided to make gifts for people. I told them that all five gifts would be made by me.

Of course, this is me we’re talking about. Even a couple of friends noted that the language of the post was odd and not like me. This is true given that I just copied the text of the challenge, but they still felt it was out of character. Therefore, to stay in character, I decided to make the gifts unique. Here now, are the five gifts I made for my friends.

Recipient: James
Gift: Custom made drink coasters with the BSA logo
Materials: Acrylic and cork sheet
Tools used: CorelDraw/Inkscape, laser cutter, and spray adhesive

James was the one who started this whole thing with the challenge. Since he works for the BSA, I decided to make him some coasters. I’ve done this before for other friends, so it was an easy job to just modify the files and engrave and cut them. Then it was just a matter of gluing the top cork to the bottom acrylic. James probably has a ton of stuff with the BSA logo, but I figured he could use some nifty coasters at work and home.

Recipient: Mark
Gift: Wooden nameplate
Materials: Pine wood, stain, polyurethane coating, velcro tape
Tools used: Bandsaw

Mark is my most excellent coworker and sits in a cubicle that’s next to mine. He’s always good for a joke or random stream of consciousness discussion at work. They’re probably going to separate us at work when we move to a new building.

I made Mark’s gift using a technique that I saw Jimmy Diresta do. He prints out some text, cuts it on a bandsaw and then makes a sign out of it. Very cool. Mr. Diresta is a phenomenal guy; I wish I could make stuff like him. Here’s the video that I emulated when making my gift.

Recipient: MK (well, her kids)
Gift: Door signs
Materials: Acrylic
Tools used: CorelDraw/Inkscape, laser cutter

For MK’s kids, I made some door labels. These are based on the same ones that I made for my boys some time ago. I asked her their favorite colors, and then obtained acrylic sheet in those colors (or something as close as possible). The small signs fit in by friction/snug fit.

Recipient: Adam
Gift: Light up KISS statues
Materials: KISS models, NeoPixel LEDs, Arduino, wood, wires, solder, etc.
Tools used: Glue, model pieces, Arduino IDE, soldering iron, table saw

I’m not really going to explain this one. Just watch the video. Adam also gets 4 posters that came with the models. Why did I make this? Because when 4 KISS models go on sale, they just beg to be made all flashy shiny blinky.

Recipient: Heidi
Gift: Custom made box with a surprise inside
Materials: Pine wood, polyurethane, cabinet hardware
Tools used: Planer, joiner, miter saw, laser cutter, AutoDesk Inventor, CorelDraw/Inkscape, paintbrush

This is the gift that I am most proud of. It started out as a simple concept but morphed into more and more as I went along. I obtained some pine boards and planed them down to 1/2″. I was originally going to make box joints, but I don’t have a dado set for my table saw, and getting one was going to take time. So I planed them down to 1/4″ and did it on the laser cutter. The designs on the front and side are my own creation with a little help from, ahem, borrowed clip art. Unfortunately, taking it down to 1/4″ meant I couldn’t use the wood screws for the hinges and latch, so I used some 10-24 bolts I had laying around. It gives it a nice industrial finish.

The inside contains some medicinal items based on her husband’s suggestion. If you can’t read the script, it’s a tonic for mothers of teenage daughters. It cures ills, aches, pains, frustrations, and such from having a teenage daughter. Directions say to apply liberally to glass as needed.

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