Hey everyone! *waves*

After much discussion behind the scenes amongst Ben and myself (the NBitWonder co-founders), we have made the decision to close down NBitWonder. We had a good time setting up and operating the site and presenting the projects we developed, but certain factors are going to require us to move in different directions in the future. We had a wonderful time sharing our DIY knowledge with you, our readers, and hope that you found our projects fun and amusing.

Effective October 24th, domain registration and web hosting services for NBitWonder will expire, and the site will no longer be accessible. Please use the remaining time to browse our site, read any and all of our content, and learn as much about our projects as you wish. NBitWonder’s other online accounts will remain active, so feel free to check use out on YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, or github, if you so desire. NBitWonder’s projects and intellectual property is freely given as open source, so grab a copy of your favorite project today (even though the main site is shutting down, NBitWonder github and source repositories will remain active and publicly accessible).

Even though NBitWonder is coming to an end, this is not the end for our authors and staff. Feel free to observe their future projects and endeavors at the locations below:

George Hadley: Random Access Memories
Sam Mussmann: SamMussmann.net

So long, and thanks for all the fish!

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The RepRap Saga Part 16: Lulzbot

This post is the 16th post in my ongoing series about my experiences building and using a RepRap Mendel, an open source 3D printer. For more posts in the series, see here

Starting Over:

With the old Sells Mendel in a better place, the question arose of what printer to replace the Sells Mendel with. In 2012, there are more choices of available printers than ever before. The Thing-O-Matic, Replicator, UP!, Ultimaker, Fab@Home, printrbot, and Mosaic, to name a few. Many are good designs, with nice features and price ranges.

For my purposes, I wanted a robust, reliable, single-filament printer for approximately a thousand bucks. I ultimately chose to stay with the RepRap “brand” of printers, as they are a printer in the true DIY tradition (not an unmodifiable lasercut box from a company) and are the original hobbyist rapid prototyper from which almost all 3D printer designs are derived. From my experiences with the original RepRap Mendel, I learned that a good hotend design is worth its weight in gold, and one hotend design stood head and shoulders above the rest: the Budaschnozzle design from Lulzbot. Lulzbot sells complete Prusa Mendels, so I decided to give one of those a try.

The Lulzbot Prusa Mendel

I ordered a Prusa Mendel from Lulzbot, and roughly a week later, it arrived. Upon arrival, I was most impressed. Some of the primary features of the printer included:

  • Power Switch: I know this sounds ridiculous and basic, but Lulzbot included a nice, neat power switch (where Mendel-Parts couldn’t be bothered to consider such things)
  • Single, Unified Power Supply: For the electronics, drive motors, and heated print bed. As opposed to 2 separate power supplies, set by small, easily loseable fuses as per Mendel-Parts design.
  • Heated Printbed PCB with Glass Build Platform: What? You mean I can actually control the temperature of my printbed and turn it off in software, as opposed to reaching into a bag of fuses, hoping I haven’t lost the one I need for a particular plastic, and crawling under my table to unhook the heated printbed power supply? Thanks Lulzbot, I feel deeply honored! :-)
  • Mechanical Endstops: After all, jousting has been a forsaken practice for hundreds of years, so why should are electronics perilously joust optical gates in a manner that’s sometimes damaging and often frustrating.
  • Prusa Mendel Design: I mentioned this in my “Lessons Learned” post from the original RepRap saga posts, but the Prusa Mendel design does away with much of the mechanical overdesign of the original Sells Mendel and creates a resultant design that is much more efficient and easily user serviceable. Easier to build, easier to repair, and overall simply better.
  • Fully Assembled and Pre-Calibrated: I’ll be honest, this feature doesn’t matter very much to me. I would have happily spent a weekend putting a machine like this together, and find the accomplishment of building a working object from pieces to be fun. That said, coming pre-assembled and pre-tested got me to the point of first print in about an hour, which was a large step up from the 3 months I spent working on my original Mendel.


I performed several test prints with the Lulzbot Mendel, and I can happily say it worked great, and far better than I had ever achieved with my original RepRap. The new printer was more refined, and, overall, cheaper. I would highly recommend the Lulzbot RepRap models to anybody interested in getting involved in 3D printing, and by all means, go out there and get yourself a printer; you’ll be glad that you did!

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The RepRap Saga Part 15: Of Legacies and Second Chances

This is the 15th post in a series detailing my efforts to construct a RepRap Mendel, an open source 3D printer. For the rest of the build series, see here.

The Story Thus Far

Many months ago, I put the finishing touches on the RepRap saga, a lengthy series of blog posts detailing the rigorous, difficult process of putting together a non-standard RepRap configuration. It was long, tiring, and very frustrating, but eventually a working printer was produced. You can see here for the last post in the build series, which subsequently links to all of the other posts in the RepRap Saga.

Sadly, not long after I got the printer working, it broke again. This was due to some not incredibly well-printed gears and Mendel-Parts (Longtime readers will know that, in my mind, Mendel-Parts and failure mean the same thing at this point. They couldn’t design their way out of a paper bag, and I will never purchase from them ever again.)
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Higgs Boson Research Papers, Get Em’ While They’re Hot!

Picked up while browsing Reddit, via Discover Magazine:

We were all transfixed by the Higgs seminars on July 4, but the work was nowhere near over for the experimentalists — they had to actually write up papers describing the results. And of course taking the opportunity to do a little more analysis along the way.

Now the papers have appeared on the arxiv. (Via lots of places, e.g. symmetry breaking and Matt Strassler.)

The official CERN research papers are available for the ATLAS and CMS detectors, in PDF form, for free! (Good work research team, more publicly funded research should follow suit!)

Even if you don’t understand particle physics (I can certainly say I don’t to any appreciable degree), these papers are groundbreaking work and definitely worth checking out!

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NBitWonder is Moving

Yes, that’s right. After many years of undergraduate and graduate school, I have finally graduated from Purdue’s electrical engineering masters program and am leaving West Lafayette. And NBitWonder’s coming with me.

Our new physical address is:

NBitWonder, LLC.
5119-1 Stonehedge Blvd.
Fort Wayne, IN 46835

We look forward to continued good times here at NBitWonder and hope you will join us as we continue to take DIY to the next level :-)

George Hadley
Chief Executive Officer
NBitWonder, LLC.

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Purdue ECE477 Senior Design Spring 2012 Round-up


Being comprised exclusively of Purdue alumni at the time of this writing, the NBitWonder staff loves covering the happenings and goings-on of our old alma mater, particularly ECE477, the semesterly embedded senior design class. The class has students working in groups of 4 develop an embedded system concept, perform requirements definition, part selection, schematic design, pcb layout, fabrication, construction, and packaging in a one semester, 16-week period. Projects are very well documented, including bits such as environmental impact analysis and patent liability information. Without further adieu, here’s a quick overview of this semester’s ECE477 projects:
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Flame War of the Currents: Honorable Mention Edition!

Many of those into engineering, math, and science know well the story of Nikola Tesla and his famous rivalry with Thomas Edison. Nikola Tesla, an Austro-Hungarian immigrant a Serbian immigrant from Austro-Hungaria, had an impressive list of technical achievements, discoveries, and inventions (including the famous and well known Tesla Coil), is regrettably not a household name learned in every social studies curriculum in the United States (those wanting to learn more about Tesla should consider the PBS documentary and book Master of Lightning; it’s a fantastic read and I strongly recommend it).

Tesla may not have risen to mainstream prominence yet, but you know attention is being given to the issue when a popular webcomic and a financial magazine are having a back to back debate on the issue. For those not in the know, The Oatmeal (an internet webcomic that I highly recommend) released this comic lionizing Tesla and lambasting Thomas Edison. In response, Forbes blogger Alex Knapp released this rebuttal post offering counterpoints to the comic. The Oatmeal then fired back with this volley.

The resultant Flame War of the Currents (according to ye olde quick Google search, I just coined that term…awesome!) has helped bring Tesla and Edison back into the public eye, and if you can resist the urge to fanaticism, provides a great opportunity to learn about famous and important inventors that helped shaped the world and bring about the technologies we enjoy today.

That said, there are many many fantastic names in the realm of electricity alone, reduced to classtime stories told by engineering professors, and the likes of whom may never reach the collective mindset of the public. With that in mind, NBitWonder is proud to give a shoutout to a few scientists and engineers whose contributions made tremendous impacts on the world today.
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HiBot ACM-R5 Snake Robot looks lifelike, leaves us wondering when we can own our own hydrobot swarm (or if it’s already here)

Every once in awhile we like to post a video that, while not necessarily DIY, is inspiration, and gives makers something to dream about and shoot for. Over the weekend, video footage of DARPA’s latest stair-climbing robot made rounds on facebook, the blogs, and the internet at large. The video is certainly impressive, and we look forward to spirited rounds of “drunk person or unstable PID algorithm” with our friends when people watching in the future.

However, what really caught our attention was one of the related videos, which showed off an older robot (2009, although the original demonstration was 2005) from HiBot, the ACM-R5 Snake Robot. Snake robots are nothing new, and robots such as Titanoboa have received gratuitous amounts of press coverage on Make, Wired, and elsewhere.

By comparison, however, HiBot’s ACM-R5 Snakebot has received little to no coverage by the maker community up to this point. Which is unfortunate, because the ACM-R5 has a trick that most of it’s fellow snake robot cohorts lack: it can swim in water. Check it out in the video below Continue reading

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Retro BSD Running on VoIP32v2

After quite some time without development activity on VoIP32, I began investigating modifying Retro BSD to run on it.  Retro BSD is a port of 2.11BSD Unix to the PIC32.  It operates by loading the Unix kernel and hardware drivers into the PIC32’s Flash memory, then loading individual executable files from an SD card and executing them from RAM.  Of particular note, the project includes a BASIC compiler and a MIPS assembler and linker in the default filesystem image, so development for the system can happen on the system itself.   While the source for a C compiler is included, it is too large to run from RAM and is currently not operational.  Still, to say that the Retro BSD project is impressive is an understatement.

Due to the hard work of Serge Vakulenko, who started the PIC32 Unix effort, modifying the project to run on new hardware is as simple as editing a couple of Makefiles.  After doing so, using MPLAB to download the kernel to VoIP32 was pretty straightforward.

The project includes drivers for an SD card connected via SPI, and supports the use of serial or USB for the console connection.  Over the weekend, I was able to modify my existing HD44780 LCD driver and graft it onto the Retro BSD kernel.  The LCD appears as ‘/dev/lcd’ in the Unix filesystem, and writing to it is as simple as piping text to that file.   As time allows, I would like to add simple networking functionality using the board’s onboard PHY.

Retro BSD is an extremely impressive project, and I think having a real operating system like Unix running on our hardware has the potential to greatly increase its value.  We’ll be sure to write more about future successes with this software.  It’s awesome!

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MPLABX v1.0 Released

We’ve covered Microchip’s MPLABX IDE over the course of the year, and were very excited to see the news that MPLABX is finally out of beta! MPLABX v1.0 has been released, and is available for download here, along with release notes and the latest copies of the various Microchip compilers.

Among other things, MPLABX offers the following features:

  • Java-based, cross platform GUI: Program PICs on Mac, Windows, or Linux
  • Refreshed, improved graphical user interface
  • (Most of) the same great functionality from MPLAB 8

We are very excited about this project. MPLABX represents the first official cross-platform compiler/IDE (that we’re aware of), and we hope other chip companies follow in their path.

(via Dangerous Prototypes)

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