The Evolution of the Robot Trap Shop, 2020-ish to Today

I thought I’d take a quick detour from the ever more delayed 2022 van and robot content, and dive into where all of these activities were taking place. A lot of this stemmed from simply looking through my old photos to see in what arrangement I had things before the move. I realized then that my whole facility evolved through necessity and new acquisitions… mostly getting larger and larger… and so I felt it was another interesting ‘build log’ of sorts that people could find useful or entertaining.

Up until the Old Robot Trap House, I hadn’t really had a place to call “my” workspace or facility. Sure, I had the run of the place when it came to my years at MITERS, and subsequently at the lab then known as the International Design Center where I was the steward of the fabrication space. But it was always someone else’s space too, or I was doing it for someone else.

At “Marconi Motors“, it wandered even more towards a personal space between me and the bros, which was great until our consulting gigs and then the startup company had to take over all the resources. By 2019, when the company grew enough to move to a real building, my workspace consisted of one bench in the back of the loading dock area where all of our other “Co-founders’ Baggage” was kept. That was where the first Überclocker V5, or 30Haul, was spawned. At the same time, this was when I was renting a garage bay for the Vantruck rehab that summer, which luckily concluded as they found a real business tenant in lieu of my “Barely keeping the lights on” at-will tenancy.

What I didn’t like about that arrangement was the existence of a 3rd location I had to physically go to. Rents in the Boston area were already sky high (and they’re absurd now), and so I felt like I was getting a bad deal as I had to rent a garage to work on stuff as I had to rent an apartment for a not insignificant amount of money, an apartment that at times felt like I was only falling asleep in for a few hours a day. I honestly feel pretty lucky that the garage was around the corner from said apartment; if it were further away in the outer reaches of town, I probably wouldn’t have gone there nearly as often, and the Vantruck project would have drawn out much longer.

This ever-present feeling of living for the sake of someone else, at the mercy of someone else, was a major factor in leaving Boston in the first place. But it was also a chance to consolidate my operations. Instead of renting an apartment again ($1200-1500 for a worthwhile one at the time of early 2020) and then finding another shop space or makerspace (probably several hundred a month minimum with no guarantee I could even find one amenable to van activities), I would just accept that my Boston cost of living would be a baseline and I would see what I could find to house the entire operation.

Again, I was quite lucky to find the Old Robot Trap House because it wasn’t listed on any of the apartment finder websites, just on Craigslist, and I was also lucky enough to see it on Craigslist not long after it popped up, and happened to be making a trip down already for job interviews. The other options I had queued up were, let’s put it this way.. “real” houses in “real” neighborhoods, and I have a sneaking feeling almost none of the adventures of the past 3 years would have happened in such “real” communities. I, of course, use “real” with the largest airquotes you can buy on McMaster-Carr.

So let’s get to it. This is what the 2.5ish-car detached garage of the Old Robot Trap House looked like in the days after I dumped the U-Haul out. It was just boxes, totes, and stuff on carts. I went ahead and broke down all the shelves I came to own (through my MIT, Artisan’s Asylum, and company building moves) and brought them with me.

By mid January, the shelves had been reassembled and stuff was falling into place. The shop wasn’t really functional yet, as the tools didn’t have homes and I’d just plug stuff in as I needed.

Inside the house, I reserved what normal people would call the ‘living room’ as my 3D printing room, electronics lab, and Equals Zero merchandise warehouse. The goal was to avoid ‘dirty’ work inside and to keep it to the garage.

One of the January immediate activities as soon as I made space was either obtaining or making workbenches and tables. I ultimately decided to just pound some out instead of waiting for an industrial auction or Facebook Marketplace miracle. The thought of paying several hundred dollars each to Global Industrial or ULine was abhorrent to me, of course, for something that I’ll probably just beat senseless and drill holes into.

These benches were 8 feet by 30 inches, since I could arrange three of them across the back of the garage. Or at least that was the plan, until I figured I didn’t need that much bench space right away, and decided to make only two.

I also made a 4 by 8 foot rolling table for general integration and assembly work. The first target project for this facility was, of course, Overhaul 3 for BattleBots’ later-delayed 2020 season. At this point in January, I had most of it designed already and needed a landing spot for the parts I wanted to order.

Taken some time in February 2020, this is the first iteration of the Robot Trap Shop. Looking pretty nice, right? By this point, I’d managed to accrue a lot more tools on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist. Besides the tinylathe, I got the Craftsman floor bandsaw in the back for a song and dance. It needed some love, but wasn’t anything I considered difficult (but to the normie, it might as well be a writeoff). The arbor press off to the left also came from Craigslist.

Enjoy this photo, because this was literally the last time the place looked this good!

The living room now contained this very cozy EE corner and 3D printing row. Behind me was the Equals Zero stock shelves, as well as some more shelves and racks for electronic parts and projects. The small workbench to the right came with the house (it was sitting in the basement when I moved in), and is a very interesting little stainless steel framed table with a neglected/abused butcher-block top which I sanded a little and oiled. Hey, a table’s a table.

It’s some time in early 2021 now, and the garage is starting to get….. tragic. I’ve accrued another tool chest, which became dedicated to the lathe and mill as a tooling cabinet. I grabbed Overhaul 1 back from the company shop as well, and there was even an Overhaul 3 and all of its parts to contend with (foreground). The air compressor that I half-bought, half-built in the back half of 2020 is also visible here.

Notice, too, that the shelves have all been shuffled to one side. This was done to arrange the bandsaws in a more useful fashion and put up a stock rack of sorts on the back wall. Yes, bandsaws – months earlier, I accrued a 8″ horizontal bandsaw as well, which has featured many times here.

I set up a bunch of shelves in the unfinished half-basement and transferred as many of the van parts as I could down there instead, along with electronics cruft that was on the garage shelves. The basement had climate control but wasn’t particularly insulated, which was fine for storing stuff that I’d prefer not get humidity cycled like the outbuilding.

The next addition came in Late ’21 into early ’22. I had found a local discount store (the kind that sells Amazon, eBay, etc. returned goods or damaged stuff in big bins) which miraculously had some serious hardware come through, including this laser cutter. It had a big dent in one corner and the tube was broken on the inside, so it was scrap to everyone but me. I made a too-low-to-advertise offer with a snide comment that I’d likely be the only person to buy it, so you might as well.

A replacement tube and dialing in the mirrors later and I had a K40-type 18×18 60 watt laser cutter. Oh boy!

This thing needed its own facility since it needed cooling water and an air compressor. I built another rolling bench in the usual fashion (same height and wheels as the big 4 x 8 foot one) but equipped it with a 1 inch thick MDF top for smoothness and a lower shelf deck. All of this effort… and I ran it from a bucket of water. Oh well…

The 3D printer cohort changed towards the end of 2022. I gave away the old trustworthy and working Fakerbot to a former student/mentee who wanted to start doing stuff on their own. The orange Up Plus printer which is now 12 years old became my private office 3D printer because the lab printers were always backed up.

I became a Creality Household when, in January of 2022, at the same junk store I found a returned Ender 3 V2 printer that was missing the Z axis towers and some other parts. Same story: Who else you gonna sell this to bud? Simply buy 400mm Z axis lift kit on Amazon and suddenly, new small portable workhorse printer.

Some time later, a co-worker was getting rid of an Ender 5 Plus. Its huge print volume (350mm cube) appealed to me greatly, despite the more primitive hardware in that product line. In the most inopportune of coincidences, the coworker’s friend actually had contacts at Micro Center who told me that there was an open-box Ender 5 Plus at my local store. TWO Ender 5 Plussen in the SAME WEEKEND? More likely than you think. In fact, as I took this photo, one of them was printing something.

I was 3D printer’d out, but also out of tables to put them on. So I decided to fully refactor the “Living” “Room” with 3D printers on this wall!

These Ikea Linnmon tables are nice and portable, but what I found was when you put tools and equipment on them, they sag over time. All of my original 2020 3D printer tables had acquired a roughly 1/4″ sag in the middle, with the Markforged Mark Twos being heaviest and causing the most sag.

To remedy this, I turned them upside down, sanded them gently down the center of the underside ( to get rid of the waxy coating they come with as a byproduct of manufacturing), and glued a 2×4 down the middle. Because the tables had sagged, I propped them up and put a bunch of weight on each one to make sure the wood glue sets with them straightened out.

I picked up a few new Ikea Linnmon tables and pre-emptively did this same operation to them for the updated EE row:

A lot more space for activities! Notice, too, that I added a magical 5th leg to these extra long Linnmon tables. These were the extra long 59 or 65 inch model and I’m not sure what you’re supposed to put on these in real life without them bending. The parts and project storage was consolidated to where the Equals Zero stock racks were, as by this time I’d basically stopped selling anything.

This was the final state of the “Living” “Room” and garage right up until the day I started packing things up.

That leads to the present (ish) day.

Taking the lessons learned from the past three years of ops, I decided I wanted the following out of the New Robot Trap Shop.

  • Having all of my tools out in the garage but my EE/wiring inside meant I often walked in and out of the house just to get something. Besides being real cold in the winter, it meant more dirt and grunge was tracked inside the house than needed. With a full size basement now, I wanted to consolidate most light fabrication work and electronics work indoors.
  • Keeping van bits with vans, now made possible by the hangar. Avoiding bringing greasy van paraphernalia inside the house and polluting all the Generic Cheap-ass Renovation White walls!
  • Consolidate my cruft and project storage into one spot instead of three (side of garage, basement, “Living” “Room”

Here’s how that’s shaping up!

This room is adjacent to the hangar and will become what I call the “Minishop”. The toy machine tools will live here, along with my benchtop drill press, cordless tools, and other light fab stuff. For doing small mechanical work, this would be pretty much it. Eventually I’ll be building up the “heavy” shop in the hangar bay, probably with a full size mill and lathe. All of the welding and obnoxious grinding/sanding will also be out there, though I’ll keep my small belt sander inside here. There’s a cubby off to the right which I’ll set up as the nut and bolt repository.

This was allegedly a basement bedroom, according to the old faded labels on the circuit breaker panel. Like many of these older construction homes, it’s basically an entire second house downstairs with a (former) kitchen and two bathrooms with a central living room.

The Minishop a few days after the first photo and from the opposite direction. The bench against the machiner-ing accessories toolbox was a new construction, and I built it extra heavy because it’ll eventually support a “midi-mill” like a 7×27 size Grizzly or Precision-Matthews.

What I found was that the bench I put tinylathe and the BenchMaster, Master of Benches upon began sagging over a year or so because of its lightweight build. This is why the long bench above had sprouted an extra middle leg. I also paved over their tops with 1/8″ hardboard since the exposed OSB had deteriorated (and I had drilled, cut, sanded, hammered, screwed, and ground into them anyway). Coincidentally, these tops were cut from the very hardboard I bought to act as moving sidewalks.

These familiar looking shelves are being populated into “Basement Bedroom 2”, which is I suppose the basement master suite because there is a bathroom off to the left here. It’s very long and rectangular, which is odd for a master bedroom in my experience, but it lets me line up a bunch of shelves together. I plan to order two more 4 x 2 foot wheel shelves like these, and that should be more than enough cruft storage volume. There’s also a walk-in closet off to the right which I’ll fit with built-in shelves some time for even more cruft storage volume. What, are you supposed to put your family in a house like this or something?

In the main “Living” “Room” I’m back to my old antics. This 450-ish square foot room is going to be the EE/3d printing/cosplay/whatever headquarters. To this end, I went ahead and built some more tables (my life for the past two months has contained a lot of woodmongering), once again because I couldn’t find what I liked on the secondhand informal market.

Except these are much much more serious. They’re 8 foot by 3 foot deep and have 1.5″ thick laminate tops. They’re too large to ever fit through the basement door in any orientation. Each leg has a leverller on the bottom and I actually leveled them together. Like the old pit ponies of First Industrial Revolution coal mining; they were born, will serve, and will die underground.

I simply do not believe in soldering on a table you can wiggle by hand.

The EE bench row temporarily dressed out. In this state, it’s functional, but I’d like to move my tools out of the plastic cubbies into a real dedicated tool chest. I also will eventually put shelf rails on this wall, since some of the equipment could live on a second deck instead of occupying table space (plus, more space for cruft). The reason I made these a full 36″ deep was so I could lay out bench tools like the power supplies, meters, and scopes and still have space to fondle boards.

Some time in the near future, when I feel like doing more woodworking, I’ll make one more 8 x 3 foot table to span the two columns present in this room since they are otherwise just in the way. I figure integrating them into a bench will make it seem like it was always meant to be that way!

Behind the vantage point in the previous photo is the 3D printing wall, basically transposed from the Old Robot Trap House. This gallery of misfits was actually more of a pain to set up than it might seem and in fact led directly to the rest of the space being laid out the way it is.

So whoever did this basement patch-up job went ahead and wired the entire back wall of the living room and “Basement Bedroom 2” on a single circuit. Not only that, it’s regular 14 gauge Romex cable but being fed by a 20 amp breaker. That’s neither up to code nor is it even a good idea (like, if you must throw the NEC out the window, at least do a funny or out of the ordinary thing, right?). Therefore, my original plans of putting the EE Lab in “Basement Bedroom 2” and the 3D printers along where my big EE benches are now…. were foiled. I can’t have that many bed heaters and soldering irons and hot plates sharing a single circuit.

This led to a brief game of chase-the-circuit and find-the-breaker. I decided that this wall was the only plausible spot for 3D printers. It was served already by the basement kitchen GCFI loop (three outlets, one circuit). But right next to it was another circuit going towards the second basement bathroom. Well, I don’t have plans of making the bathroom a heated build chamber or theater or something, so its power needs are very light (literally… just lights). I forked that circuit to the 3D printer row, so now it’s served by two 15 amp circuits. The computer and Enders are one, and the Markforged machines (plus future undetermined printers, maybe finally my own resin printer) will occupy the other.

So that’s where I stand as of 2 or 3 weeks ago. Like the Old Robot Trap Shop, the New Robot Trap Shop is probably going to be a work in progress for quite a while to come! As of this point in time, I can hammer out a beetle if I need to (which I will, for Motorama!). The hangar is still a disaster area of half-unpacked totes and dangerously teetering shelves full of van kibbles. I risk tripping and impaling myself on one of several Overhauls every time I walk in. My life is full of very unique Charles-related problems.

This is an Equals Zero Breaking News Alert: Welcome to the New Robot Trap House

We’re doing this again, huh!? Well, the thing happened.

All are welcome at the New Robot Trap House…. once I unpack and organize everything. Pardon Our Mess while I figure out why my life was about twice as heavy as I thought it was.

This fine location was chosen not for its redeeming characteristics such as a quiet neighborhood, good schools, proximity to recreation, excellent services, or anything a normal adult would care about.

Nah, I saw the 4-wide hangar bay, two driveways, entire finished basement, and wide open yard… and decided to encroach.

Anyhow… yes, I am now part of the landed gentry, or at least the portion who is leashed to our shadowy mortgage-backed securities industry for an indeterminate amount of time. Amazing what not doing a BattleBots season can get you, huh?

(subliminal message: Go to Destruct-a-Thon)

Here’s how this series of unfortunate events went down over the course of the year.

It started back in January, after I had Vantruck disassembled in preparation for the replacement fuel system. One morning. I received a panicked message from the landlord with this photo attached:

Uh oh. You saw it here first: You’ve been hit by a smooth… code violation. The city was complaining to him about the “disassembled and/or inoperable vehicles” on the property. I kind of figured this day was coming as the van flock grew and gradually became harder to hide in the back yard (besides, the back yard itself was plainly visible from the adjoining state road).

Not only that, I was most definitely too egregious with Vantruck having sat disassembled in that state for several weeks while I was 1. waiting on parts, and 2. not wanting to go outside in the winter cold. Basically, I got too relaxed and complacent, and that’s not allowed. In fact, I had thought that, if anything, having Snekvan knocked down in the driveway for longer was going to be the tipping point! Ultimately it’s just whenever the spooks come by, I guess.

(I’d like to point out that everything except for Vantruck was fully driveable, plated, and operational at the time of the citation, you dirty anti-American pricks. I thought we believed in freedom here)

Whatever the case, I needed the kick in the ass to reassess my priorities. Ol’ landy got the city to back off for 30 days instead of 7, allowing me time to sell some of the yard potatoes without the threat of fines. I’ll push back against normcore bureaucrats any day, but to ask someone else to do it on my behalf? That, I believed, was unfair, when it should be my battle to fight.

As a result, I expedited Vantruck’s reassembly. A weekend strike team, coalesced from friends and labmates, managed to get Vantruck into “visual completion” – at least with the bed back on and plates visible, even if it didn’t actually move anywhere. I then spent the majority of February, March, and April pushing Operation IDIocracy, getting Vantruck into a nominally driveable state such that if all hell broke loose I can evacuate it. It wasn’t gonna be good – and you’ll see it all right here – but it’ll putter itself across town.

Great all-arounder, but the deck was caving in and the garage roofs were imploding.

In the mean time, during the spring and early summer, I was casually snooping houses for sale. I had given some thought about this as early as mid-2022, and obviously beforehand as well.

Here’s the thing though: If all you see in the news and think-pieces online is “Housing prices are higher than ever!! Who can ever afford to buy anything!? Millennials and zoomers are so screwed on all fronts!!!” then that is what you’ll just passively believe. I never took the real estate market seriously because for years and years, that’s the only message I’ve gotten. One look at the Boston metro market definitely reinforced that belief.

Great flat lot and renovated house, but within City of Atlanta boundaries, so what I could build here in the back yard was quite limited in comparison.

Even back in Atlanta again, I’ve never run the numbers, talked to anyone, or took any other action because Well obviously I can’t afford this for a good long time if ever anyways so let’s buy these funny motors instead.

This may not be as true as you think. If there is one important takeaway from this post, it’s go find out. Working with an agent that was the spouse of a good friend and coworker also helped – I got a very objective (I thought, anyway) look at the state of the market and the ingredients that go into the process. All of a sudden it was far from insurmountable.

Literally perfection but gone by the time I got there. A 25 x 40 foot 1.5 storey garage and a 2,000 square foot modular, on 3 acres of woods. Maybe some day…

What it was, however, was about 1.0 asstons of paperwork.

As I said above, I needed this kick in the ass too in order to get some adult™ finances™ sorted out with regards to debt, savings, retirement, taxes… everything. Things I had barely paid attention to or put on autopilot I suddenly had to get a handle and understanding on so I could explain why it was a good idea to lend me about 15 BattleBots seasons of money. That’s a LOT of RageBridges, guys.

The major selling point of this place? 5 minutes from McMaster-Carr, and a large lot with Residential-Agricultural zoning allowing me to build or farm about anything. But I’d have had to get a shop building installed in its entirety, since it had virtually no basement.

Globally speaking, my takeaway is that many avenues exist to funnel people towards homeownership. This is broadly good for the economy, so both the government and private finance industries really would like you to buy – perhaps some times too enthusiastically. Let’s be real here though – it still is very expensive compared to a few years ago and historic trends. Many confounding economic factors continue to keep homeownership out of reach for a lot of people, without a sign of political willpower to effect changes. I’m not implying the situation isn’t dire across the board, just that I learned it was barely not dire enough for me!

I seriously, SERIOUSLY liked this one, but it was barely over what I should sensibly afford. This large addition to the original house would have been an incredible lab space.

The process is opaque not because of some kind of wizardry but because of the sheer quantity of paperwork and 3rd party involvement, necessitated by the number of intertwining laws and regulations of various states and locales as well as the federal government.

Looked great from the street, large yard, but sadly a hill in its entirety behind the house.

I ended up touring about 15 properties, some of which are shown above. If you notice, they all have some… common features.

Namely, the house itself is rarely that impressive, yet all either have big shops/garages or are on a piece of land big enough that I could put one up. Many were in questionable shape, as they were generally older construction which had or hadn’t been renovated, in more working class or previous-generation middle-class parts of town (For you Atlantese, I was mostly looking on the near West side stretching from Douglasville up to Acworth).

My realtor at one point asked me exasperatedly… “How do you keep finding these places?” That’s how I know I’m doing it right: searching for houses the same way I search for shitty vans.

My requirements were relatively simple. It can’t be in an HOA area, because duh. Ideally it had between 0.5 and “A few” acres of land. I knew, from the (now old) Robot Trap House that my entire existence was possible on 0.5 acres with one garage and one basement, so a replacement must exceed that in functionality. I didn’t care so much about the aforementioned schools, parks, churches, and what-have-you. With the way the Atlanta metro is growing and changing, I’m sure things on that front will improve by the time I care about them.

At the same time, I was not out to buy the farm (unless for some reason it was very lucrative). I decided, after a lot of self-conversing, that a combination of my tech-centric skills and daily life wants and needs necessitated staying closer into the city. Yeah, sure, I could have afforded the 5 acre estate 50 minutes out of the Perimeter, above the lake, which already had the double high-bay workshop.

But as I verbalized it to folks, I wasn’t Married Dad of Three or Retired Enough to leverage such a situation. Being “out there” is great once you have the family or no longer depend on a steady stream of Asian snacks. My preferred Chinese/Korean/Japanese haunts would become over a 1.5 hour drive, and you could barely get me to stop complaining about my 30 minute commute to the lab.

So I went in with the acknowledgement that I am far from the Final Robot Trap House, and that this place should be a reasonable next step with the dominant goal of getting my foot in the door. Again – adulting conversations I couldn’t have thought I’d be having as recently as a year and some ago, which in my life seems to be several entire geologic cycles.

And so that’s how I found myself sitting at the closing table with Dramatically Oversized 3D-Printed Miku (look, I’m throwing down so much money that I alone will dictate what is in the room) signing the veritable stack of papers.

The NRTH actually came about late one night when I was clicking through areas I thought I already canvassed. Because, another thing I learned is that real estate listings have immense quality variations and often straight out errors. I forgot what slider I moved, maybe by accident, but it showed up as a relatively recent (2 or 3 week) old listing. Obviously I was drawn to the giant quad hangar and basement right away.

I asked my agent to investigate, upon which we found it had an offer pending already. I went to tour it anyways and decided it was the make-or-break for this year – I was getting pretty exhausted by that point in July and should it have not panned out, would have put the vans away for the rest of the year, cleaned up the yard, and revisited the search in 2024.

So I submitted a backup offer and went about tidying up the remnants of Operation IDIocracy and cataloguing robot parts I wanted to sell (spoiler: I sold none. I had to lug them all over.)

Magically, a week later, I was informed my backup offer was now primary.

Oh – final lesson? The snowball falls off the mountain VERY FAST. I was making or taking phone calls daily with the mortgage officers, inspectors, contractors and service providers, and so on. End to end, from the contract signing to closing, was less than three weeks. Months and months of planning effort could come down to this sudden rollout. I see why this process causes divorces.

Surprise! I have NOBODY to divorce! You can’t get me, capitalists.

As I got green light after green light, the magnitude of trouble I was in began dawning upon me.

Luckily, I’ve been a stickler for organization and mobility for a very long time, since my MIT shop days. Much of my existence was already on a shelf, rack, dolly, or in a tote. I bought a few more wheel shelves and plastic totes and began filling them up with loose items. When I had the items kinda evenly distributed, each one was wrapped up with a few layers of pallet shrink wrapping to keep all the goods in place. Leftover suitcases became packaging for the more mundane electronics and household cables.

This is basically the entire EE lab/3d printer room (what you normal people might call a living room) packed up here. By the first week of August, when seemingly nothing remained in the way of closing day, I’d managed to get down to “Living like I was in a hotel but with many heavy things I needed help to push around”. Really, I don’t own that much “life stuff” as I called it, just a lot of project detritus.

As soon as I had the keys, I began trickling over the easy hand-carryables almost daily (work, drop off stuff, return).

Two weekends before Dragon Con 2023 was what I called the “Heavy Move”, which was an operation involving 8 different friends and two days. The plan was to evacuate the tools and parts from the basement and inside the house, as well as get as much of the garage shelves as we could.

The threshold was all shelves, workbenches, and machine tools moved; everything else I could conceivably just keep trickling by myself if I could borrow no more help. The objective tier was of course to do as much as we could, including the robot crate, Overhaul family, and my other large car part stashes.

I rented a full size box truck with a liftgate so we could roll the wheel shelves into the truck with minimal disruption. That said, no matter how many pounds these things advertise, the wheels are definitely sized with smooth institutional floors in mind, not rolling over random sheets of plywood and rough concrete. No matter how gentle we took it, there were still 5 or 6 shelf casualties where a wheel just up and broke off or bent beyond usefulness. These were recovered with handtrucks and gentle massaging.

My master plan of putting everything on wheeled shelves was so successful that we managed to reach the threshold before noon after starting around 9:30! I actually had to invent more things to do on the spot.

This is the culmination of the moving effort for that weekend: the entire garage was evacuated, the robot crate had been knocked down and sorted into totes and shelves, and the house was completely clear of tools and equipment. Only regular people furniture remained, which I hired an actual moving company to handle (I wasn’t about to trust randos with my equipment and shoddy shelf casters)

I next turned my attention to transferring the van fleet. Spool Bus was filled up to the gills with loose robot and van parts. I then rented a U-Haul utility trailer for it to move crabmower over with.

This was when I discovered that Spool Bus wasn’t spooling too good no more – it was down on power and tended to run hot, and I also didn’t really detect any spool sounds. I haven’t taken it apart to inspect the turbo or anything yet, but it’s on the docket for when I straighten my tools and parts out.

In the mean time, the hero of our story was used to pick up appliances. I have the pleasure to disclose that Operation IDIocracy reached criticality in May; throughout June and July, I took Vantruck around to a bunch of local meetups (as well to work and back a lot) to put miles and cycles on it. There are improvements and patches I’d like to make, again later on in the fall when I have the shop sorted out. For now, it exists as “An Thing”.

All of the problem children were moved over one weekend under the cover of darkness (Okay, full disclosure: Nobody has working air conditioning at the moment and I literally picked the hottest month in recorded human history to move).

I finished unloading… not unpacking, just unloading… the day before Dragon Con was supposed to start. All of the remaining loose van and robot kibbles were stuffed into remaining open corners.

Mikuvan always parks inside or under cover, so I reserved one of the hangar bays for it. It occupies the garage closest to the basement door, since it’s also the only thing that can cut the turn to get into it. The vantrucks will eventually get a double-wide carport awning installed over the primary driveway, and I’ve yet to decide its precise location and style.

On the last day of August, I bid farewell to the (now Old) Robot Trap House. I was quite lucky to find this place as well, when I first moved back. It wasn’t the most glorious looking thing to come back to every day, but it showed me what was possible. And, for the past three and some years, it gave me a taste of what having my own ops base is like. Despite me swearing up and down that I’ll learn to take life easy and stop working on stuff all the time (we knew how much of a folly this belief is), two more BattleBots seasons, several 30hauls and small bots, a few drones and random small EVs, plus like a half dozen terrible vans all rolled through here… on top of the engine swap I swore I’d never do.

I’d always wanted to make this change or add that facility, but drilling holes in someone else’s foundation was just… not worth it. But now, that fight is mine!

…along with all of the maintenance and repairs. Uh oh.

This photo above was taken on December 9th, 2019, the afternoon I arrived from Boston. As I often say to people, I have yet to feel the Adult Dilation of Time that seems to make one feel older and older. “Where did the time go?” isn’t a feeling that resonates with me quite yet, and I’m extremely grateful for that. I attribute this to the aforementioned “Always working on or fiddling with something” which keeps the days and years different in the psyche.

This photo feels like a lifetime ago, but was only less than four years. If we just shift the time band back to the old MIT days, mid-December to the last day of August is basically the same as September to mid May. It’s a little poetic to me that my stay here was essentially one undergraduate tenure in length. Enough to get into a lot of trouble that I had to figure out how to get myself out of, and to know more about what I do and do not want.

What’s next for the New Robot Trap House?

So I probably won’t be documenting all of my random home improvement adventures here. The exception will be if I plan or execute something in a completely irreverent and misinformed fashion and follow through with it – like I do with everything else.

I feel lucky the place didn’t need any major renovation or significant, tear-out-the-everything repair. There are random things I need to do, like tame the yard (quite overgrown in spots), add lights and outlets to the garage bays, repair/restore the outdoor lighting mounted to the eaves, and so on. I already replaced some breakers and wiring (open circuit, sparkly, terrible looking), repaired the garage door openers (stuck/seized), fixed some random drainage issues, and replaced the locks. Lots of things I’ll pick at for the next possibly few months.

First order of business is of course making the place decently liveable on the first floor, working through unpacking everything. My pledge is to separate living space from workspace: no 3D printers or soldering irons and stuff upstairs! Electronics, 3D printing, and other “clean” work will remain in the basement. The hangar will have one bay dedicated to a machine shop and welding area. I intend to put up a 2-post lift (FINALLY!) in the second, and keep the third as a designated integration space/open workspace.

I don’t have a grand plan for the place because I have barely even figured out where I want to put my computers and bookshelves. That will all condense in due time. But I’ll just say the back yard is very open compared to the Old Robot Trap House and is surrounded by trees and a grove of bamboo…