Parts are slowly rolling in

A big lovely batch of shiney stepper motors arrived today. My electronics parts came last week (£650 of ICs and connectors – that is always so disappointing to receive). I’ve got a pile of touchscreens, and stepper motor drivers, and a big bag of drive sprockets. A big box of MEGA2560 R3s. Red ones.

The first version of the Polarshield v2 was tested and found wanting, so I’m expecting the samples of the final version at the beginning of next week. The first batch of PCBs took a week to arrive, this batch has taken three weeks so far. I am looking for a new supplier.

So unfortunately, that has eaten up all of my contingency, and then some, and so I’m already behind before I’ve even started. Great!


Polargraph Pro Preview

Hello, I’m getting excited about the new Polargraph installation that’s been eating up all my time recently. IMG_20140327_160058025_HDR This is part an exhibition called Making It, itself a feature of the Edinburgh International Science Festival, and it’ll be running in the Grand Hall of the National Museum of Scotland, here in Edinburgh, for most of next month (April 2014).


I’m just putting some finishing touches to the machine and the control software.

There’ll be more of an update when it’s up and running.

Pre-order PolargraphSD v1.8

I’ve just made a listing for the PolargraphSD v1.8, over at the Polargraph Shop.

The price of it is likely to be the same as the last round, but if you want to pre-order at a decent discount, you can put a 25% deposit down to hold your place in the queue as well as make cash flow a little more predictable. It’s a kind of micro kickstarter. I hope to have this ready for shipping in May, but it’s more likely to be June.

I hope to enlist an extra pair of hands to help me assemble this time around, and am having this semi-formal fund-raising period so that I can buy a few critical parts in a full-sized batch (ie 50), rather than buy them piecemeal over the run of the batch. That ended awkwardly last time, with delays and malfunctions a-go-go.

Edinburgh Science Festival Project

I’ve been asked to make an installation as part of the Edinburgh Science Festival in April, so that’s the project that’s eating up my time at the moment, and the reason for the halt to PolargraphSD manufacturing.

This thing is going to be great though: Two large portrait machines, continuously drawing faces from a kinect / webcam on rolls of paper.

I’m using a Teensy rather than an Arduino for this project, EasyDrivers and optical encoders to close the loop and keep track of position. This will make for a more robust, semi-automatic machine. I hope to have endstops too, and a good presentable gondola that can take a range of fat pens.

I also hope to be taking one of my machines along to the Mini Maker Faire that closes the festival at the end of April.


Pause for thought. And breath.

I’ve got half a dozen Polarshield PCBs left, but I’ve marked them as “sold out” in the shop.

I’m tired. I’ve had a few technical set-backs recently, that would be merely irritating if I was only make two machines a month like this time last year, but it immediately escalates into a full car-crash when I’m making a dozen a month – there’s just no room for mistakes, all the stakes are higher, and things move faster, sell out faster, need more careful management and delays cause more people at a time to be annoyed.

Not a bad problem to have? Well that’s true, poor me, boo hoo, there are worse problems, and I genuinely thank all my customers profusely, and everyone who has joined in on the forum and by email – actually by far the best bit of the project.

But I’m going to work to get this last problem sorted out (accursed SD cards and power management, I do bite my thumb at thee), and then pause my sales and manufacturing department (that’s what I’m calling my hands this week) for a bit to review the project as a whole.

I have an installation to work on in February, which will hopefully be presented as part of the Edinburgh Science Festival in April, and should be jolly exciting, and result in some neat new pieces of tech and software – encoders and a proper library at last! Right now I would not be at all disappointed if that was the last Polargraph machine to roll off the production line – the last of the V8 Interceptors, as it were.

However, let’s be realistic, I suspect the lure of the humming motors, the clattering of beaded cord and the pleasure of visiting my favourite post office lady will soon bring me back in, and … with upgrades.

Happy Holidays

So the building that my workshop is in closes down over the holidays, from now until the 2nd of January, and like Bagpuss, when the studio goes to sleep, the Polargraph Company goes to sleep too. Of course I NEVER sleep, and will hopefully get a bit of time to finish the polargraph processing library over Christmas and New Year. That and Battlefield 4.


There’s a couple of new professional developments that might bear some fruit next year too, including a project with the Science Festival to make a big, show-and-tellable version. I’m hoping that will be a springboard to get auto-homing working properly, and do a bit more work on large scale machines.

Thanks to all the folks who have supported me this year, I hope you think it’s been worth it.

See you all in 2014!

Sorry I’m slow again, but on the other hand, you are fast (like Dreamcast), and you make my day

I got a good portion of the backlog moved when I got the batch of PCBs in, and PCB production is going fine.  I’m waiting on LCDs though. More about that in a minute.

I noticed we silently broke through the 200th Polargraph mark last month: Since September 2011 you’ve helped me move parts for over 200 drawing machines.  I think that’s remarkable, and for that, I salute you, drawing warriors!

In particular I would like to thank all the folks who have contributed to the forum, or written elsewhere and brought more people to the community. You know who you are.  

This is probably the first time I’ve been involved with something that wasn’t already happening anyway, and it’s very gratifying indeed. (Also mildly terrifying.)

So, now, back to our scheduled apology:

I know it’s pathetic to be waiting on parts (it’s not like it’s a surprise requirement), but I was surprised to find that the last handful of LCDs I had in stock were all cracked.  Still work, but not really usable for paying customers, what.

I’ve got a mega big batch of LCDs arriving soon, and they have been arriving soon, since I ordered them a fortnight ago.  I’m just going to have a whinge, so I apologise in advance – everybody else I know has already heard this whinge more than once, so it comes to you, kind, gentle, compassionate reader.  Long lead times is fine, and short lead times is great. Reliable lead times is best. The previous batch of LCDs I ordered astonished me by arriving 5 days later, from the other side of the world. Amazing! So, after ordering this next batch two weeks ago, I was expecting it to be here by now, but in fact I only got a tracking message about it yesterday, saying it was in Hong Kong.  Oh: less amazing.  The good news is that it means it’ll be here some time next week, the actual delivery is air freight, so super fast.

I’m only really exposing this whinge to indicate that I share your pain and to wave a pathetic little white flag. It’s dead frustrating to have ordered something, and then not to have it a month later, when you were quoted a month as lead-time.  I’m sorry about that. What I would like to impress on you is that I take this very personally, and take the necessity to provide a good service for your hard cash very personally, and in cases like this, I really feel I’m _not_ giving good service. It’s disappointing, and disheartening, and makes me sad and anxious.

I’m not blaming my suppliers of course, I’m sure they have their reasons for the delay, and assume they are just as invested in keeping me happy as I am in keeping you happy. The solution for me is unsurprising, and more frustrating because of that – just add a healthy margin of error onto expected shipping dates. That’s what I’ll do in future, again.

I’ve discovered that achieving consistency in a service is a much harder thing than achieving consistency with a pen, on a page. That’s something that I have a much clearer understanding of now, but it is surprising to me that having an understanding of the problems is only a very small part of providing solutions to those problems.

In other news, I have a big pile of _everything else_ sitting around, looking forlorn.  That is what passes for good news at this juncture.

Polargraphs, finally go again!

After a long wait, Polargraph machine are finally available for sale again!


I am pleased with the last batch of Polarshields I had made, so I’m waiting for a Big Batch coming in the next week or so, and I already have all the other stuff I think.  But in the meantime, I am taking orders – I find having the anxiety of holding onto peoples cash focusses the mind wonderfully.


New boards ho

Well that’s a nice surprise – the new v1.4 boards work!  I shouldn’t be surprised I guess, since they are just the 1.3 boards with less stuff on, but it’s always nice when something just works.


I had a thought when soldering this up though: Because the pins for motor A protrude through the board, they need to be filed down and insulated so that they don’t short against the housing of the USB-B connector on the arduino underneath (a blog about it).  This is a pain, and in principle (if not in practice), makes for a weaker connection.  This has never been a problem for building the full kit, because the arduino mega I use has a mini-USB connector, but for everyone else (and all the vitamin kit parts), it’s a glaring issue.

So I think I will swap motor A with motor C, so that by default, for polargraph, that filing doesn’t need to be done.  Will still be wise to put a bit of electrical tape on it because it could still contact, given the right pressure.

Motor C was added because I had the space, and also because I have a few plans for things that might like to have a third axis of control.  The parts for motor C will be unpopulated by default, for Polargraph products anyway.

So, I think I’m immediately going to revise this to swap A and C, but also I might try to move the servo and endstop pins, and add some more lights.  I’ve got all these LEDs to use up!

Another fortnight for v1.5.

Polarshield v1.4 ideas

The 2.2 inch screen that I use for the Polarshield is now unavailable, so I’m switching to the 2.4 inch screen instead.  Not much difference, but it does mean the PCB needs to be revisited so that it fits in the same footprint.  I only have a couple of the 2.2 inch panels left.

New sized screen for polargraph machines

The 2.4 inch screen has a higher resolution, so in principle it can fit more stuff on.  But in practice, I will keep the two designs aligned for as long as possible.

So I am planning to remove the XBee socket, and the hardware that goes with it.  I don’t think anybody uses it, and I’ll leave some pins open so that I can wire it up again in the future.

I would quite like to have space for a third stepper driver, for doing some like this lissograph drawing machine which I covet deeply.  If that happened it would be a mostly unpopulated blank, cos it’s a pretty niche idea.  It’s also true that a machine like that could easily fit into an arduino uno sized board, and there’s already plenty of multi-stepper shields out there to choose from.

Apart from that, I’m blank.  Does anybody have any feelings about the direction of the cables, locations of the sockets, or the types of connectors, things like that?  Drop me an email (sandy dot noble at gmail), or go on the forum.




Polargraph at the Edinburgh Mini Maker Faire

So I’m going to have a couple of machines running at the Edinburgh Mini Maker Faire, which is on on the 7th of April, 2013 at Summerhall in Edinburgh.  I hope to have one or two big slow machines that will be drawing all day, and a little, webcam-driven machine that will be drawing quick (ish) portraits for anybody who wants them.

If you’re in Edinburgh, please come along, and get a scribble that looks somewhat like you! Needless to say, there’s lots of other exciting things afoot at the Faire too, even if drawing machines don’t float your boat (what’s wrong with you?!).

I’m not exhibiting at the main Maker Faire in Newcastle at the end of April, but I will probably be attending, and am hoping to meet up with a few folks then.  If anyone is planning on being around, drop me a line.