We’ve been doing a bit of work on the maker space lately, and this website too!

For the last several years, our website has been hosted on a VPS provided by Blair (thanks so much!) Now that we’ve got a reliable Internet connection at the makerspace though, we’re able to host the site from an on-site computer that’s already hosting the Valley Workspace, Dunedin Electric Bikes, and Quarantine Island sites, and some makerspace affiliated projects like Dunedin food truck tracker If you’re interested in how the Internet works, want to host a site, or have fun ideas for things to connect to the machine, just say the word!

As part of the website move, I’ve upgraded the WordPress install, and am planning to embark on a clean out of the Users (we’ve apparently got ~45k) and Comments databases. I’ll try to keep from deleting legitimate accounts, but if your dspace account disappears, just let me know and I can restore it.

Finally, some donated lights were installed last weekend, in the room adjoining the bike workshop, to light up that web server!


3D printing in commercial products

I was recently tinkering with a thing at work, and was surprised to find that a couple internal parts of this thing are 3D printed using a printer of the same type we’ve got at the makerspace!

This is a Thinklabs One digital stethoscope, available for sale online through mainstream retailers for about $500USD. Check out the grey plastic ring around the blue part.


Using the inductor tester

inductor tester
The inductor tester, and inductors used for examples below

A few weeks back, we had a talk on KiCad (presentation available at ) where we ordered some PCBs to make an inductor tester (Henryometer?) from dirty PCBs. Those boards came in this week, and a few folks have already put theirs together. This post aims to be a quick guide to the usage of the tester; if you’d like to build one yourself just let Ian know, parts cost is $15. You’ll need an oscilloscope and a current-limited DC power supply to make use of it.

Continue reading “Using the inductor tester”

Debugging AVRs (without Atmel Studio)

This post is somewhere between a guide and a collection of notes, aimed at debugging programs for AVR microcontrollers (like the ones in most Arduinos) “on target”. We’ll be using an AVR Dragon connected to the target micro via the normal 6-pin programming header, with a Mac or Linux PC as the host.

Although this is a bit more advanced than most of our other projects, it’s really quite approachable and is a very powerful technique for fixing AVR software problems.

From a high level; we’ll use a debugging program on a Mac (or Linux, Windows, etc) “host” computer, which communicates with a Dragon “In Circuit Emulator” (ICE) via USB to debug a buggy program running on the “target” AVR, which is presumably running in some circuit we’re interested in. Small variations might apply for Windows hosts, using JTAG instead of DebugWIRE, other debugger tools (Atmel JTAGICE mkII for example), etc.

Continue reading “Debugging AVRs (without Atmel Studio)”

What’s been happening at the makerspace?

After a hiatus over the Christmas/New Years break and a slow start to the year, the Makerspace has been bustling with activity recently. Brian Paavo talked about the underwater scanner project the Makerspace is collectively working on, and work has been progressing on that (there will be a post about that soon). Paul Campbell held a soldering workshop, and about a dozen people made LED sculptures. One of the highlights on Saturday was William George’s project of converting  chrome-plated toaster into an audio CD player. And when you come into the Makerspace now, you’ll notice that the room has been re-organised to be better, easier to working in, and more inviting (with special thanks to Chris Baxter and Brian Paavo).

Photos from the soldering workshop:

Paul shows a simple LED circuit diagram
Chris and Paul burn out an LED on purpose
James gets started on soldering
We have an extensive collection of resistors

Working on the underwater scanner project:

Micheal discovers a possible issue on the main circuit board design

William’s converted toaster:

The shiniest CD player ever
This toaster is powered by an Arduino

Talk: OpenWRT

OpenWRT: thats an odd name…

The story starts late 2002 when Linksys released a wireless router called the WRT54G.

Andrew Miklas noticed (from the visible names used in the internal filesystem, amongst other things) that it was using Linux, without in any way acknowledging this or making the source available. They had obvioulsy modified Linux to get it to run on their hardware. This is a violation of the Linux license, the GPL. He tried contacting Linksys who weren’t immediately co-operative, so he posted to the Linux Kernel mailing list and Linksys came under considerable pressure to release their source. Linksys then released the source, and people started rebuilding and fiddling with it. They actually had started patching the binary firmware before Linksys did this.

A number of different projects appeared, one was OpenWRT which is first named as such in Jan 2004. So its 7-8 years old.

So what is it?
In hardware terms, OpenWRT systems are designed as Internet routers. They fall into the space between something like an Arduino (8/16 bit CPUs, battery powered, no or minimal OS) and a mini-ITX PC (32-bit CPU, 100W+ power supply). Or a netbook. They run on a plugpack/wall wart, have 4-8M of flash, 8-32M of RAM, and a ~200MHz 32-bit CPU. Can run on battery, but you need a big one and it won’t last very long. Just enough hardware to do a serious Internet connection, and they always have the hardware for that.

So what is it?
In software terms, OpenWRT is a very versatile system for making embedded Linux devices that can fit in 4-8Mbytes of flash. They are not confined to Linksys routers (although a descendant of the WRT54G that will run OpenWRT, the WRT54GL is still available today in NZ for $130). OpenWRT now runs on a *lot* of wireless routers. A list can be found at

Embedded Linux means not using standard gcc libraries. OpenWRT uses a much smaller library called ucLibC. It also means not including anything you don’t need. So OpenWRT has a very extensive set of customisation options.  Its filesystem is somewhat eccentric (as it has to be to run out of a small amount of flash). The kernel is compressed (twice) and written to raw flash, the rest goes into a combination of squashfs (read-only) and jffs2 (read-write). The result is a system that they were able to fit into 2Mbyte of flash but now usually needs 4Mbyte.

OpenWRT has a package managment system; almost everything is an opkg. If you don’t use it, you can leave it out to save space.
None of this is terribly unusual for a embedded Linux distribution, but OpenWRT takes things a bit further in the way it does it. Instead of distributing a kernel and libraries for all the different CPUs and options that they support, they don’t distribute source at all. OpenWRT is a set of patches and scripts that build OpenWRT binaries, a system called Buildroot.

You can use OpenWRT in a number of ways; they provide prebuilt binaries, an ImageBuilder tool, and the ability to build a custom binary. I adopted the latter because I wanted to make a remote camera system that could be used by others; I was able to use OpenWRT to make a turnkey binary that could be easily installed and used by anyone with an NSLU2 and a UVC camera.
See for an entrypoint into the OpenWRT documentation


OpenWRT is a bleeding-edge open-source project. Documentation can be out of date or missing, things don’t always work, and you need to be prepared to use Google to search for answers. If you really can’t find answers and have a focused question there are mailing lists and forums where you should be able to get answers, but they don’t like being used as a substitute for doing your own research. OpenWRT does not run on all hardware, you need to research before buying.

Can be used as
A pretty amazing wireless router; QoS, custom hotspot, OpenVPN. Web server.
Units with USB ports open up a huge range of other possibilities: file server, music player, camera server, print server, GPS, etc.

What I did
I built OpenWRT (kamikaze) for a device called an NSLU2, which was nominally a NAS device. It wasn’t a great NAS device, but OpenWRT got ported to it and then it could do all manner of things. It has two USB ports. I bought a good quality webcam and set up OpenWRT with a package called mjpg_streamer, which takes Linux video in and feeds it out to a web page or to a file. Got it to write periodically to a file on a USB flash drive; this produced time-lapse movies. The objective was to set it up at a remote crib where we have no electricity.
The second stage was to get it to shut down to reduce power consumption; I had to patch the Linux driver for the RTC chip and do a one-wire hardware mod to get a device that could turn its own power off, and get it turned back on some time later. I submitted patches back to the Linux rtc mailing list and in due course they were blessed by Linus and went into the kernel.

See my blog posts at and subsequently for more details.


Competition: Clothesline Racing

As announced at last night’s meeting we’re having a competition: Clothesline Racing

The basic idea is to build a device that will travel from one end of a clothesline to the other and back again – there will be (chocolate) fishy prizes. The clothesline will be strung outside, as level as we can and fairly taut – but will probably dip a little in the middle.

The rules we’ll be using will be the same as those listed below:

with some minor (largely metric) changes – we’ll have a 30m line (if we can find somewhere that we can set it up – so plan for 30m), it’s 3.5mm wire, the weight limit is 2kg and the volume limit is a 1/2m cube.

We’ll also have some contest categories for those still in school The contest will be held in 2 months – probably July 2nd weather permitting. In the mean time, so you can test out your entries, we’ve set up a short course in the Makerspace – it’s about 1/3 the length of the one we’ll use on the day and only has one end stop – hang your racer above the sink end send it across and back again. We ask that you don’t test here entries that will make a mess – that water rocket, the contraption with baking soda and vinegar, they’ll be OK outside on the day, but please not in the makerspace.

This is something for which everyone should be able to hack together an entry – for some ideas here are some things that others have tried.