Milling Planetary Position Jewelry

For Valentine’s Day 2020, I made my wife a necklace with three CNC-milled charms, each with a representation of the positions of the planets on specific important days: the day we started dating, and the birthdays of our two children.

Generating Artwork

First, I developed some Python code to generate the images I needed. Since it was graphical and I knew I’d have to play around, I created a Jupyter notebook. (You can play around with my code, too! Change the date and make your own with Binder or Colab!)

You can click through on the Python, but I use sunpy to get coordinates of the planets at a specific time.

After I played around with the data, I created a ray for each planet, starting from the sun, aimed at the planet.

I then saved an SVG for each of the dates for import into my CAD/CAM tool.

CAD/CAM; or “transforming the artwork to something millable”

Once I had the SVG, I created a Fusion 360 project. I made a sketch with three circles, imported the SVGS, and added little holes for the jump rings. An extrusion later, and tada!

The charms in Fusion 360

In the Fusion 360 CAM view, I set up a trace operation with an engraving bit, and then a 2D Pocket and 2D Contour operation with a 1/16″ flat end mill.


I loaded up an anodized aluminum wallet card (which also lasers really really well, by the way!) into my Othermill V2, and a few minutes later, the charms were ready.

The mill right before it engraved the line art into the anodized aluminum card.
I took a video of the mill cutting the charms out.

After loading the first set onto jump rings and then onto a necklace chain, the charms seemed too big, so I went back to Fusion 360 and shrunk the charms down, recut, and a few minutes later, I was finished.

The larger charms, before having their edges buffed.


I think this project turned out quite well. Using a Jupyter Notebook was a huge win, although PyCharm in late 2019 tends to freeze when using it. I really like that using Colab or Binder, folks can open a webpage and use my code–without me having to think about it being a web service when rigging code together. I love laser cutters and 3D printers, but sometimes milling is such a perfect fit for a project.

(This project (1, 2) is also on Instagram.)


Laser-cut “Jigsaw” Puzzle

My son had a Kindergarten assignment–to bring in 100 of something, for a celebration of 100 days of school.

The finished puzzle
“100th day 2-20-20” (I guess I’ll have to teach him about ISO 8601.)

He decided he’d make a puzzle. I took him to my workshop to laser-cut a 100 piece puzzle out of 1/8th inch Baltic birch.

He was incredibly patient and simply delighted by how awesome laser cutting is.

We used an online jigsaw puzzle generator to make the design. It worked well enough, but the pieces weren’t really distinct enough with the settings that I used.

It was really fast!

Next time, I would tape the puzzle together after it had been cut. Solving a blank two-sided puzzle of “wood grain” was not fast!

After we solved it, my son colored it with markers. It turned out great!

(This (1, 2) is on Instagram, too, if that’s your thing.)

Projects Thinking hard, or hardly thinking?

“Art in Space”

On a cold, dark, Minnesota November evening, after what was, for me, a long week, and for the students, months of work, we shipped Blue Origin two payloads: art, for space.

In November 2019, I was contacted by the kind folks at Playful Learning Lab.

They had conducted a contest with OK Go where middle schoolers and high schoolers could dream up some art that could only happen in space. Two teams were selected, one focused on paint splatters and music, and the other focused on suspended magnets and whirling particle vortexes. The undergraduate team at the Playful Learning Lab worked with the winning student teams and also the engineers at Blue Origin.

Once these payloads were created, they’d be launched on Blue Origin’s New Shepard for an 11-minute suborbital flight into space. Actually, that’s not true! As you may suspect, putting things into space tends to have strict deadlines (and mass requirements!), and the team needed some help getting everything ready in time.

They knew I was handy with microcontrollers and electronics and making solid one-off interactives and worked well under pressure, and wanted to know if I was interested.

WAS I INTERESTED?! Rewind a few years to an interview of mine by Mark Fraunfelder.

Mark asked me what sorts of things I dream of making, and I spouted off a few things, and ended with "I'd love to build something that goes into space."

Long story short, it was like a heist movie and Apollo 13 combined. There was the “gathering the team” intro. I brought in folks I’ve spent a decade or more working with, like Matthew Beckler (with whom I have a set of informal Hardy-Littlewood rules) and some of the folks from Kidzibits (who are great at thinking creatively while creating robust, rock-solid fabrications).

We spent a week or so of long days and nights working with a truly extraordinary team of engineering undergraduate students, covering massive whiteboards with diagrams and frequently dumping everything we had onto a table and saying “We gotta remove off 100 grams from this subassembly.” (100 grams here, 100 grams there, when you only have 500 grams per payload, it really adds up!)

474 grams, or 26 grams under the limit! (Photo credit: Maria Baklund)

There were two projects. Cosmic Song had a paint chamber with sticky paper and bright powder pigment, and what I can’t describe any other way than “a space guitar”, with three strings strung across some aluminum, struck by little solenoids. They were driven in a random way, driven by a procedural combination of the telemetry data from the rocket and a little chamber with a proximity sensor and a ball in it. Once it reached space, the powder chambers opened, the powder vibrated out of the boxes and onto the sticky paper, while the space guitar’s strings get tapped by solenoids. Dark Origin had a series of magnets suspended in the middle of the payload, various types of magnetic debris in chambers, and powerful fans blowing a whirlwind. When it reached space, the chambers opened, the fans blew, and the particles swirled and interacted and coalesced upon the strong suspended magnets.

Art in space.

The “space guitar” (Photo credit: Maria Baklund)

(This showed up on Instagram, but I didn’t want to spill any beans.)


“Radicalized” by Cory Doctorow

Radicalized, by Cory Doctorow, is a collection of four independent stories set just a moment in the future.  If you want four Black Mirror episodes filtered through Boing Boing, you’ll absolutely love Radicalized.

There’s an intensity, a purity in these stories, that really keeps you reading.   They are moral, they’re cutting, they’re biting.  They’re about otherness and othering.  These are stories written by an immigrant, the son of an asylum-seeker, and someone who has spent his life fighting for our digital rights. They’re not going to make you feel good.

The first story, Unauthorized Bread, is about a refugee who gets a spot on one of the “poor floors” of a posh high-rise, living in a Silicon Valley dream Internet of Crap dystopia, who learns to jailbreak her things.

There’s a story, Model Minority, about a Superman-alike who witnesses some senseless police brutality, steps in, and has to deal with the consequences.  Superman realizes Black Lives Matter but then struggles because he can’t punch police brutality in the face, and learns how quickly otherness can happen.  I loved the interplay between the Superman-alike and the Batman-alike.

The third story, Radicalized, was quite difficult for me to read.  It’s about a man who joins an online support group for folks dealing with terminal cancer in their loved ones, and their health insurances refuse to authorize their treatments.  The support group becomes more and more extreme, and he just can’t tear himself away.  It’s easy, too easy, to dismiss angry alt-right 20 somethings in chat rooms, but what’s it look like when that same rage is focused on health insurers?

The fourth story, Masque of the Red Death, is from the point of view of a rich financial trader, Martin, who has created his own “Fort Doom” and picked thirty lucky folks who will shelter out the apocalypse with him.  Doctorow has talked a few times about the choices we have when “it hits the fan”.  When your neighbor comes over for help, do you work together, or do you point a gun at him?  We’ve seen what working together looks like in Walkaway.  Doctorow shows his increasing skill in this story with point of view and word choice. Every moment we see the world from outside of Martin’s POV is simultaneously great and heartbreaking.

I know there will be a lot of people turned off by this book, who will get a whiff of it, feel feelings for things that they don’t want to have, and dismiss it as “propaganda”.  Midway through the first story, Unauthorized Bread, I had a different worry—are these all going to be Electronic Frontier Foundation fiction think pieces? I *love* the EFF, don’t get me wrong, but I do not need to read a novel yelling at me about the evils of DMCA and DRM and the Internet of Crap.  However, these worries were unfounded. Radicalized quickly digresses into dark glimpses of the world we’re creating for ourselves.

I received this book at no cost from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids by Jancee Dunn


I really enjoyed this book, and I’m putting much of it to good use. It’s a relatively quick read. In each section, she introduces a problem, tells some stories, and then talks to different experts before breaking it down into advice.

I’ve been recommending to basically every other dad I talk to.


“A Long Day in Lychford”

A Long Day in Lychford is the third in Paul Cornell’s Witches of Lychford series. They’re nice and short, and I really really like them.

This entry is in a post-Brexit Lychford. Autumn is basically the only person of color in Lychford, and takes Brexit hard, and Judith is Judith about it, and then they spend the rest of the story cleaning up after their mistakes.

Pros: More Judith!
Cons: I fear the next story will not be good for our witches or the inhabitants of Lychford.


“Burned” (Alex Verus #7)

I recently read the seventh Alex Verus book, Burned. There’s somewhat of a tradition in Urban Fantasy for a somewhat cocky main character to really get in a rough situation a handful of books in, something that takes more than a few chapters–maybe even more than a few books–to get out of.

I absolutely love his power, and I’m glad I’m not sick of it seven books in.

This is the start of Alex’s. I read this pretty quickly, over a few days, and I’m really glad the next one is already out. I’ll definitely be starting it this weekend!


Ramen Salad

Here in the Midwest, pretty much everyone’s Mom makes the same “Asian ramen salad”. It’s cabbage and carrots and green onion and toasted smashed-up ramen noodles, some almonds and maybe some sunflower seeds, covered in a goopy oil-sugar-vinegar dressing.

It’s delicious, but we recently found
an upgrade. Add peanut butter, and cut out a lot of the sugar. The dressing is creamy and peanutty and … I’m going to go see if we any leftovers.


“A Winter Tide” by Ruthanna Emrys

Another entry in the woke Lovecraft pastiche. I liked this one quite a lot. It’s quite slow, but that’s part of the charm.

After “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”, the government raided Innsmouth and put everyone in an internment camp. Only two survived, the main character and her brother. She’s trying to figure out how to be an adult, and how to properly learn magic, and the FBI swoops in and “asks” for her help.

I really, really liked this.

There’s a prequel short story, “The Litany of Earth”. I didn’t read it until after I had read the novel, and everything worked fine for me. If you read “The Litany of Earth”, make sure to read Ada Palmer’s response when you’ve finished.


“A Closed and Common Orbit”

This was a surprise! This is the second Wayfarers book, after The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. I thought The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet was OK–good even, but not super wonderful.

This book, however, I absolutely loved. I am so pleasantly surprised by how great it was. It’s a standalone story about an AI put into a robot body that can pass for human. This is very illegal. She has a relatively hard time adjusting, and the story is interwoven with another story about a little girl who escapes from a scrap harvesting factory.

I don’t really want to describe it more–just go read it.