Laser Engraving on an iPhone

- 8GB iPhone, Laser Engraved
- Laser used: 45 Watt Epilog Laser
---(courtesy of Mark Clements,
---Advanced Marking Solutions,
---Fife, WA).
- Laser Speed - 100%
- Laser Power - 70%
- Download artwork file (Corel Draw Format)

I recently decided to tattoo my iPhone for all eternity. I made this decision for a few reasons. First, there are some obvious security advantages to personalizing a portable device. Although personalization will not prevent a determined thief (who, with sandpaper in hand, would just steal the device anyway) it will certainly help deter tempted jealous types from letting their hands wander onto your property.

Now, some of you might be asking yourselves why I would make my iPhone difficult (if not impossible) to resell by putting my name on it. This brings me to my second reason for tattooing my iPhone. I typically use a phone until it dies, then I buy another. Therefore I will probably never sell my iPhone to someone else because historically I'll wait until my current phone is on it's last leg before I shop for an upgrade. However, for those of you who are like my friend Matt (upgrading and signing a new 2 year contract for a discount on the newest and coolest phone every 6 months) tattooing your iPhone would be a bad idea.

As a side note, when I was in high school it was cool to have an expensive TI calculator. Unfortunately, people lost their expensive TIs every year to theft. Those of us who couldn't afford to buy a second calculator if our first was stolen would scratch our name into the case or cover it with stickers to prevent our calculator from being "mistaken" for someone else's. Times have changed a bit and now it's cool to have an iPod, not a calculator. If you have a friend or family member who owns an expensive iPod or similar device, don't destroy it with hand etched names or stickers, get it laser engraved!

If you would like to look into laser engraving devices such as iPhones, iPods, laptops, ect, there are several good resources out there, including Adafruits laser engraving service out of NY. There are undoubtedly others who will engrave your device, but I've used Adafruit before for their MintyBoost kit and I liked the service I received from them.

If you already have the means to get a device engraved (maybe you have a laser or know someone who does), I'll include a link to the vector file that I used for my phone for others to download (Corel Draw format). To get the artwork I used on my phone, click here.

The Epilog Laser website also has a file you can use of a martini glass that looks pretty cool. This would be a way to personalize your iPhone but still keep it somewhat easy to resell (although personalized, it doesn't have your name on it, so as long as the new owner isn't a non-drinker, you're good to go). The Epilog site also has specifics on how to set up the laser (speed, power, etc). These are the same settings Mark and I used when engraving my phone.

You can purchase a laser similar to the one used to customize my iPhone for a surprisingly small sum, about 10k. If you're interested in owning your own personal Epilog Laser System, you can contact Epilog to find out who your local reseller is. If you're in the Northwest, contact Mark at Advanced Marking Solutions. He spent a great deal of time going over different Laser options with me and allowed me to see an Epilog Laser in action by helping me customize my iPhone. It has always been a dream of mine to own my own laser and Mark was instrumental in helping me decide if an Epilog Laser was right for me.

If you have any questions or comments, please post them below!

MintyBoost iPod and iPhone USB charger

image above is from

I have been looking for a long time for a project that I could build with my fiance that would be and interesting and useful, and at the same time provide her with an introduction to electronics and soldering.

I settled on the Minty Boost from LadyAda. Kits can also be purchase from Make Magazine's online store (which is where I got my 2 kits - the kits were v1.2 by the way). For $20 I figured I really couldn't go wrong, and I was right.

The kits proved easy and fun for my fiance and the instructions from LadyAda's website were more than adequate. When we were done we had two functional chargers. The picture below shows our chargers without the Altoids gum tin (we need to go buy some gum).

Here is where things get a bit sticky. You can see in the picture that there are 2 iPhones and a Shuffle. One charger is plugged into the Shuffle, while the other charger is plugged into the iPhone that is turned on. The Shuffle charges perfectly (although it's hard to see that the LED is on in this pic), but the iPhone refuses to charge. I'm stumped as to what the problem might be. We have tried both iPhones (one has the current software version of 1.0.2 while the other has an older 1.0 version) and neither iPhone will register or take a charge. If anyone has any suggestions or figures this out, please let me know by posting to this blog, or to the iPhone portion of the LadyAda forum (or both, that way both communtites benefit from your infinite wisdom).

All in all, I think the project is a lot of fun even if I never get my iPhone to work with it. I would highly reccommend the project to anyone interested in useful electronics projects. And don't be scared away by this project. My fiance had never soldered in her life and she had no trouble at all. Just remember to follow the instructions carefully and you'll be set.

Cmoy Pocket Amp PCB

I'm working on a PCB for the Cmoy Pocket Amp. I may also be willing to put together a kit for the Octopart Doublet Amp. More details to follow. In the meantime, if you're ever looking for electronics parts or components, consider using the search engine. It's free and easy to use, so check it out!

The New Transformers Movie Has Started It All Over Again

When I was a kid I can remember several cartoons that I watched religiously, but one of my favorites was Transformers. Transformers were my first real exposure to humanoid robots, and in the 80’s I would argue that robotics was still very much in its infancy. Sure there were humanoid robots with an Ozz-ish Tin-Man look about them as far back as the fifties, probably even earlier (I fully expect someone to comment to this post about the first appearance of a humanoid robot in film or literature . . . c’mon, someone out there knows that bit of trivia). The Twilight Zone had a few good robots, and I remember reading an article about a humanoid robot that made an appearance at a worlds fair (complete with a metal dog, if I remember correctly*), but at least in my case it was the Transformers that I think deserve all the credit. Without the Transformers, I may have never been turned on to electronics and robotics.

*Shortly after this post I googled the worlds fair robot that I mentioned above. His name was Electro, and his dog was Sparko. Electro and Sparky were designed by Westinghouse. I'm including a picture with a link back to the pictures original source. It's a pretty cool site, you should check it out if Electro sparks (*ahem*) your interest. Other great sites about Electro can be found here:

Around that same timeframe (the 80’s) I also fell in love with Zoids - mostly because my dad loved them, and would bring them home as gifts for “us” to put together. He actually put them together and once they were fully assembled I got to look at them from a distance while they sat safely perched on the table in the corner of our living room. My dad was probably right to try and protect the Zoids from me. I was, after all, a typical kid. I would wait until mom and dad weren’t home and then I’d sneak them down from their tabletop safety. It seems like every single time I inevitably lost a piece or two. I was always loosing the little gold men who piloted the windup robotic creations, anyone else have that problem? My favorite Zoid was the mammoth pictured below.

Sadly, Zoids became extinct and I had lost so many parts to my Zoids over the years that every last one eventually became crippled or non-functional in some way. They are probably still in a box somewhere in my parents garage. But I digress. It was really the Transformers (at least for me) that started it all. They fueled my passion for robotics and electronics from an early age. I didn’t even realize to what extent this was true until the new Transformers movie came out.

I went to see the movie . . . alone. Don’t laugh, my fiancĂ© was working the late shift and I was stuck in 5 o’clock Seattle traffic. While crawling along at 5mph I saw a billboard at a movie theatre that was showing the Transformers movie. I veered off, sheepishly bought a ticket, and sat down with all the giddiness of a 10 year old kid. The only thing missing was the oversized Sweet Tarts candy that they don’t sell anymore.

The movie was awesome. I won’t go into a review here; there are plenty of other sites dedicated to that kind of stuff. But the point I’m trying to make with this post is that the Transformers movie has started it all over again, for millions of kids across the world. A newly revived interest in humanoid robotics has been reborn in our youth – and I’m glad.

Toys R Us will undoubtedly be stuffed with Transformers action figures for the holidays. And those kids lucky enough to get a Lego’s NXT system for Christmas will probably skip right past simple line-following designs and try to create robots that transform from a humanoid into a car, or jet, or . . .

My hope is that world events like the Transformers movie will put pressure on public and private institutions to increase educational expenditures on science and electronics programs. When I was a kid I could take pottery or painting as an after school or summer class. Don’t get me wrong, the arts are under funded too, but I can’t even imagine what I would be like today if I could have taken summer classes in robotics or electronics. I’d probably be even nerdier and less well-rounded. But maybe, just maybe I’d have invented something truly unique by now. Who knows. All I know is that my children, if I ever have any, are doomed. I just hope I don’t push science and technology too hard on them.

The Matchbox PC

I came across this article about the Matchbox PC while researching small PC's for use in portable MAME cabinets. The article is old (2000) and I think these little PCs would be difficult to come by these days, but I would still love to see someone use this PC in an arcade cabinet. A Windows 95 or Linux version of MAME could be used to create a truely portable (maybe even handheld) mini MAME. The video quality might be questionable, but it would probably run older PacMan style games just fine.

Check out the original article from here. I've quoted the complete contents of the original article and pictures below, only because I'm not sure how long the above link will remain active (it is 7 years old already). The content below is a quoted article from, it is not my own review.

The Matchbox PC, MPC for short, is the world's smallest PC capable of running such popular operating systems as Windows 95, Windows NT, and Linux. The main unit of the MPC, TIQIT part number 10902, consists of a motherboard, two JUMPtec modules (DIMM-PC and DIMM-IO), and a daughter board with a CompactFlash socket and power supply. It measures 5 cubic inches and weighs 3.3 oz. With the addition of a Li-Ion camcorder battery and port expander it becomes a complete PC, having the same connectors found on desktop PCs 300 times as large and capable of running the same programs. The expander board, part number 10903, expands the main unit's VHDCI connector to an array of standard PC connectors. The MPC proper, part number 10901, consists of the main unit (10902) and expander board (10903).

FULLY SVGA CAPABLE. The Graphical User Interface (GUI) of your favorite operating system may be viewed at a resolution of either 800x600 or 1024x768, device permitting, with any of the following display devices. A standard computer monitor, of any size whether 12" or 21"; A VGA-capable LCD panel of any size; A VGA-capable head-mounted display; Any video projector. (We take the 3 oz MPC everywhere with the 4 lb Compaq MP1600 video projector, making it possible to project a Powerpoint talk, an Internet surfing session, or a demo on any convenient white surface without the audience having to crowd around a small monitor or laptop screen.)

FULLY INTERNET CAPABLE. In conjunction with an ethernet connection, ordinary modem, or wireless modem such as the Metricom Ricochet, the MPC can be used to browse any web site accessible from your desktop PC, in 8-bit color. FULLY AVAILABLE. The MPC is in production and can be ordered from the producers site, now for delivery soon. Its price you ask? $1,495.00"

A little googling turned up these results on the matchbox pc. Especially interesting was the article from in 2005 found here.

My Mini Arcade Project

Although this blog does not concern a robotics project, it does fall under the category of electronics, so I'll go ahead and share. A few years ago in college I began to wonder if it would be possible to build my own arcade machine. At the time I was learning Visual Basic and programming up a storm. The first game I programmed was a pong clone. It worked . . . almost. But hey, it got me thinking about all those years I had spent plunking coins into an arcade machine.

I love anything associated with classic arcade style gaming. I even own a few pinball machines. So when I started poking around and discovered that I could build my own arcade I was ecstatic! I googled and googled over the course of a few years after college discovering as much as I could and growing more and more comfortable with the idea. I kept up with the MAME scene but held off starting the actual construction of my arcade until I had the time, space, and tools - none of which existed while I was in college.

Once I was ready to start my project I began look for a donor computer. My fiance had an old e-Machine laying around gathering dust. That seemed like the perfect place to start. I installed the MAME32 software and made sure that the PC had enough speed to handle most games without lagging - which it did, much to my surprise. The next step was to decide on the type of cabinet I wanted. Standup arcade, tabletop (also known as bartop) arcade, or cocktail. Ultimately I chose the bartop MAME option for it's small size, portability, and ease of construction.

Portability is really where bartop cabinets shine. If you are college age, you can pack your cabinet around to every party. If you have kids, you can take your bartop arcade with you for Thanksgiving at grandma's house. That way you can set up the cabinet on a table in a spare bedroom and keep the kids out of your hair. That works better than bringing the kids console gaming system with you because grandmas always seem to have one TV, and its always in the livingroom where everyone is trying to visit - not an ideal location for loud kids playing loud games.

There are numerous websites detailing the construction of various types of MAME cabinets so I won't get into that here. If you're interested I'd recommend you start by visiting Build Your Own Arcade Controls. I'd also recommend a great book on the subject called Project Arcade: Build Your Own Arcade Machine by John St. Clair.

Once I decided to build my bartop MAME things came pretty easy. I had researched the project for several years (literally) and had read Project Arcade from cover to cover. Therefore I was able to avoid most of the problems one might have when constructing an arcade cabinet from scratch. However, that's not to say there weren't problems. There were several, some of which took me weeks to figure out. But over the course of a month around the Christmas holiday I was able to build a functioning arcade with several hundred games.

That left me wanting more. I decided to tackle a larger project. Building 5 cabinets at once for the purpose of selling them. Costco and a few online retailers sell arcade cabinets with around 100 classic games. I even offer 3 full size arcades in Amateur Robotics Resources Online Store. I planned on selling cabinets with over 2,000 games. It was a tall order, but I was confident I had ironed out most of the kinks with my first prototype. Just to be sure I built a second smaller prototype with a faster, newer computer. This "beta" version handled a more current version of MAME32 and ran many newer games that the first cabinet choked on.

I teamed up with a friend from college to help with the project. Curtis had a background in both computers and business, so he seemed like a good fit for the project. His job was to figure out the marketing aspects of the project as well as the legal issues. My hope was to license the games for legal use in the arcades. It was also agreed that he would get the "beta" cabinet once completed.

While Curtis was working on that I was busy designing the layout of the cabinet parts so they could be professionally CNC routed from 3/4" melamine. That way they would all be 100% identical. I purchased 5 new PCs from Dell and began the process of disassemble and integration into the arcade cabinet. Not an easy task.

I ordered various arcade parts from online suppliers including Ultimarc, Happ, and GroovyGameGear. Once they arrived I was able to begin the tedious process of assembling the control panels and testing the cabinets.

In the group photo above, you can see the huge "alpha" prototype (front row left), Curtis' smaller "beta" prototype (front row right), and the 5 production cabinets. You can see that the 5 cabinets haven't had their LCD panels installed, nor any of their buttons, joysticks, trackballs, or spinners. You can also see that there were two design options, 1 player with a trackball and spinner, and 2 players with a spinner, but no trackball. The finished cabinet in the first picture is a 2 player version. There were also a few color options. The sides of the cabinets were either black or yellow with black or red t-molding trim.

After months of tweaking and frustration, I finally finished the arcades. Sadly, Curtis was little help throughout the project and never figured out the legal or marketing aspects of the endeavor. I have since moved for work and the project has been shelved (not because they aren't finished, but because I don't have time to figure out the legal aspects of selling them).

If you or anyone you know is interested in details about one of these cabinets, write a comment that includes your contact information. All comments are private until I have a chance to review them (to prevent any inappropriate comments) so rest assured your contact information won't be published here for everyone to see.

I've gotten a few requests for the specs on the computers I used for the 5 arcade cabinets. I've included below an image of the original order from Dell.

Parallax Basic Stamp Kit

For my next bit of robotics experimenting I chose the Parallax BASIC Stamp Activity Kit. Sometimes sold at RadioShack, as well as numerous sources online, the BASIC Stamp Activity Kit from Parallax is a great primer in working with BASIC Stamp Microcontrollers. However, it's not the only kit available, it's just the first one I got my hands on. Any similar kit would prove fun and educational!

Blogging from my iPhone.

Well, I just got an iPhone and I thought I would try to send a blog with it. Typing takes longer but it will work in a pinch. Unfortunately you cant upload pics from an iPhone like you can a computer. I'll be working on a way around that. I may have to find a way to email pics to some type of online storage and pull the address from that. C'mon blogger, give users native iPhone support!

Vex Robotics Design System

I have always been interested in electronics, but I didn't learn of my true passion until I was exposed to the Vex Robotics Design System.

Since its release in April 2005, Vex has revolutionized the Amateur Robotics industry by allowing common amateurs to build robots from scratch.

Soon after launch Vex began showing up in various publications including Popular Science and Robot Magazine. I got my first glimpse of the Vex system while reading Popular Science in a doctors office. (A digital copy of the PopSci article I read can be found here). I was so stunned and excited about the product that I almost left my appointment without seeing the doctor. I knew I had to have a kit, no matter what the cost. I even had the receptionist take a photocopy of the article so I could take it with me.

The kits were sold through RadioShack for around $300 and included all the parts to build some pretty robust RC robots. I was impressed by the sheer number of parts and pieces that came with the kit. On the downside, the metal components were made of steel and heavy, the servos, motors, and sensors were made of plastic but seemed fairly durable. In fact, I never had a plastic component break. I have heard of stripped gears and gear shafts, but under normal use plastic seemed to work just fine for me.

One initial limitation of the kit was the fact that Vex had not released their programming package yet, so I was a bit disappointed by the lack of autonomous control. To control your creation you had to use the Remote Control (RC) components that came with the kit. Programming kits, omni-directional wheels, and chain and sprocket sets were just a few of the add-ons that Vex released soon thereafter.

Sadly, RadioShack stopped carrying the kits in late 2006. For a time, you could pick up Vex components for 50% off, which was great until supply was exhausted.

However, Vex has been reborn in a new kit by Revelle Monogram. You can purchase the Vexplorer Robotics System directly from the Amateur Robotics Resources Online Store. New features and components (including parts for a gripper/claw), wireless video, and backwards compatibility with first generation Vex parts are just a few of the reasons I'm excited about this new kit. For me, Vex was my first true experience with amateur robotics and I would highly recommend the system to anyone interested in getting their feet wet with robotics.