“Objectified” Movie Review

Some of us at Pocobor went to see Objectified on Sunday (playing at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts throughout most of July here in San Francisco). Objectified is a documentary on industrial and product design by Gary Hustwit (the same person who produced/directed the documentary Helvetica). I really enjoyed the film. The film meanders through the different aspects of design (what is design, what makes good design, what are the goals of good design, and where is design heading). Along the way it interviews many of the heavy hitters in the design community, from the lead industrial designer at Apple to the founders of IDEO.

I found the film to be very inspirational because it reconfirmed my views of the importance of good design, and in a kind of self congratulatory slap on the back, it made me feel proud that we here at Pocobor are part of this growing design movement.

Although there were many interesting points in the film, there was one in particular that stuck with me: most companies know the average life span of their products, whether it is a mobile phone that will probably be used for 15 months, or a toothbrush that will probably last 2 months. But despite this short lifespan, almost all products are made with materials that will last thousands of years. Karim Rashid, who brought up this point, mentioned that if he will only keep his cell phone for 11 months, it might as well be made of cardboard that can more easily be recycled.


Cardboard Mobile Phones: Coming to Apple Stores Soon?

While his statement was hyperbole, it got me thinking about the idea of making products with materials that will start to biodegrade almost immediately after their use is done. I don’t have any immediate thoughts or solutions, but I find it a very interesting concept.

Gold at Robogames!

Podium Moment Reenactment (No Flowers? How about Bamboo?)

We are proud to announce “Passage for Peace” received a gold medal in the Art Bot Competition this weekend at Robogames!

Our initial interest in participating was just to share the concept, but we are ecstatic that the judges appreciated the piece. We were extremely encouraged by the strong positive feedback from Robogames guests as well. Guests jumped, especially the kids, at the opportunity for a “Touch Exhibit” they could actually interact with instead of just admire with their eyes. I even saw numerous people circle back with friends to show off our piece and interact with each other through our exhibit from across the room.

Although the two installations were located next to each other at Robogames, guests grasped and endorsed the larger concept of installing and connecting two or more exhibits in different countries around the world. The distributed exhibits would connect people through touch, sound, and warmth across physical, cultural, and language barriers to promote Peace. Learn more at the project url: www.passageforpeace.org.

If you missed Robogames, we are continuing to show the exhibit as much as possible to get the community interested. We’ll keep you informed about the next showing, so keep an eye on this blog!

Finally, we’d like to give a special thanks to Marnia Johnston who curated the Art Bot portion of Robogames as well as David Calkins and Simone Davalos for organizing such an awesome event. Thanks!




Exploding Capacitors

DISCLAIMER: This experiment was conducted in a controlled laboratory environment with the appropriate safety equipment and considerations. DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME!

It is often said that failure is the fastest way to success.  If you’ve ever mistakenly hooked up a capacitor backwards or exceeded the operational voltage, you’ll do your best to never do it again! With this in mind, I thought it would be interesting to intentionally trigger and document the failure of capacitors, an electronic component that we use every day at Pocobor.  I have chosen to focus on one very dramatic failure mode: explosion.  Capacitors don’t often explode, but when they do it is a remarkable event.  Capacitors all have a voltage rating that should not be exceeded (unless you want them to explode), and some capacitors, known as electrolytic capacitors, also have a preferred polarity  (one side is “+” and one side is “-“).  Reversing the polarity of these caps is an easy mistake to make and an easy way to produce an explosion. In this case it’s no mistake, but the result is the same.

In the video, I have intentionally connected two electrolytic capacitors in reverse polarity to induce an explosion.  As I slowly turn up the voltage (off camera), current starts to flow through the capacitor and heat up the interior.  DC current is not supposed to flow through capacitors, a sign of reverse polarity and looming failure.  As the heating causes pressure to build inside the capacitor, the capacitor’s end plug is pushed out of the housing, and it’s only a matter of time before the entire capacitor explodes.

Big takeaways:

  • Care must be taken to stay within a capacitor’s voltage rating  (both positive and negative)
  • Be careful to connect polar capacitors with the correct polarity
  • If care isn’t taken when using capacitors, they have the potential to be very dangerous
  • In the electronics world, capacitors are referred to as “passives”  (along with resistors, inductors, and the up-and-coming memristor), but there is nothing passive about these explosions.  Some very passive aggressive, aggressive passives?


    10uF Electrolytic Capacitor (Reverse Polarity)


    47uF Electrolytic Capacitor (Reverse Polarity)

    “Passage for Peace” at RoboGames

    We’ll be exhibiting the interactive art piece we’ve been working on with KnoEnd Designs (Passage for Peace) at RoboGames this Friday, Saturday and Sunday (June 12-14) at the Fort Mason Festival Pavilion in San Fransciso. We’re participating in the Art Bot portion of the show that will feature interactive and/or robotic art. Please come out to experience our exhibit first hand and enjoy a great event for anyone with an interest in robotics or smart products!

    “Passage for Peace” Website

    Our project “Passage for Peace” that we developed in collaboration with Knoend Design and that we exhibited at Milan Design Week 2009 now has a dedicated website: www.passageforpeace.org. Please take a look at the website to learn more about the project details and check back in from time to time to track further project development.

    Hand Soldering – Part 1


    I originally set out this week to put together a tutorial on hand soldering surface mount components. Then, I realized that there are some excellent resources already out there and decided instead to write a post supplementing one of the existing tutorials with some things I have found based on our experience at Pocobor. Accordingly, this post builds on some excellent tutorials from the Curious Inventor website:

  • Soldering Surface Mount Passives
  • Soldering a QFP and a Fine Pitch QFP
  • Soldering a QFN Package by Hand (to be covered in Hand Soldering –  Part 2)
  • Why Should You Care?

    If you aren’t familiar with how to hand solder surface mount components and you are reading this blog (which potentially indicates some level of interest in electronics), you should definitely think about trying it out. It is a very valuable skill for several reasons: (1) assembling your own board can be cheaper than outsourcing assembly (although it can also be fairly time-consuming), (2) being able to modify or rework a board is integral to the development process. Prototyping inherently involves some trial and error / experimentation and the ability to perform a little circuit board surgery can save a ton of time and money on new board iterations.


    I don’t have much to add to the Curious Inventor’s take on this – the two things I would just emphasize are that (1) I generally find that flux is unnecessary for components that are 0805 or larger, and (2) very little solder is needed on the pad to tack down the first side of the component (too much solder actually makes it harder to align the component and get a good joint). In addition, I would point out that I generally find that a very fine-tipped soldering iron is more effective for most operations than a blunt or dull tip.

    QFP Chips


    Quad Flat Pack (QFP) chips are the little chips with legs coming off the sides that look like little spiders or insects. I endorse most of the points made in the tutorial and have a few of my own to add:

  • Drag soldering is great in theory and can be effective in practice. However, it is very important to be gentle with your iron; otherwise, you can bend pins and destroy either the chip or the pads on the board. The leads are not strong in the transverse direction. For drag soldering, a fine-tipped iron that is small enough to get between adjacent leads is actually a detriment and a larger iron should be used that can be lightly dragged over top of the pins.
  • The adage about machining holds for soldering as well – spend 80% of your time fixturing and 20% of your time soldering (machining). Making sure that your component is correctly aligned and robustly fixed in place before you start soldering will save a ton of time in the long run.
  • One alternative method is to use a hot air / rework station with solder paste instead of a soldering iron. Lay down the solder paste using a syringe then align and fixture the chip. After this, heat the paste until molten and then clean up the joints with a soldering iron and flux as described in the tutorial. Note that the danger with this method is that the chip may be overheated and fried by the hot air (on the flip side of the equation is the fact that you are less likely to break any of the leads or pads).
  • Any time you are reworking or trying to reheat or re-flow solder, flux is invaluable. Use it fairly liberally but be careful with clean-up, especially if you are not using no-clean flux.
  • Personally, I do not recommend the flood and wick method – in fact, be careful anytime you use a solder wick. There is a tendency for the wick to remove more solder than you want, which can result in a bad connection (or, even worse, an intermittently bad connection, which is a nightmare to debug). A solder-sucker or vacuum based solder remover can be a useful alternative to a wick that tends to leave a more ideal amount of solder.
  • When you think you are done, make sure to perform a thorough visual inspection of the component with a loupe or ideally a microscope. Again, a little extra time verifying things early on can save a lot of debugging headaches later.
  • Happy Soldering!