Engineering Projects

From a young age, I've always loved taking things apart, seeing how they worked, and putting them back together. While most kids during their preschool and elementary years liked to read comic books or picture books, I instead enjoyed things like How Things Work. And while most kids that age spent much of their time watching Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, I spent my time watching How its Made on the Science Channel, or YouTube videos on how an air conditioning system works.

As the years went by, I immersed myself in more engineering and design projects. The first real one was when I took apart my mom's 2009 MacBook. I ended up breaking the fan, so the computer can only now work for about 10 minutes at a time, but as engineers say, you learn from your mistakes.

By the time I entered middle school and high school, I got involved in more real-world engineering and design projects in robotics, the TV studio, and other after school and summer programs.

Below are some of the major engineering/design projects that I have completed either on teams or by myself.

Robotics CAD/Design

January 2018 - Present

Here are some of the major mechanisms I have either primarily designed or worked closely with other teammates to design for my robotics team.

The top slideshow contains many of my CAD designs. These may look simple, but in reality they take tons of careful design, planning, and testing before they make it onto the final robot.

The bottom slideshow contains pictures of some of these designs on the final robot. Though I was involved in CAD more than the fabrication of my designs, I have also done some of the fabrication well.

The Videowall

July 2018 - Present

Ahhh yes. The Videowall.

So this started in the summer going into 10th grade. It was my first summer job, and my employer? Great Neck Public Schools. Or, more specifically, Mr. Zahn and crew at the middle school's TV Studio.

One day, these two huge boxes just arrived. And the next thing I knew, I was working with those two huge Samsung Digital Signage monitors for the next couple weeks.

The plan was to hang them up on the middle school hallway to play content across both screens. But even more so, the challenge was getting them to sync with each other so a movie could move across both screens, or be half-and-half, or any combination of fractions. Not only that, but we wanted to schedule content to play at certain times. So it was my job how to figure out how to get all this to work.

I thought it would be easy. But oh boy, far from easy it was. After hanging the monitors, I realized that I would need to connect to them within the school's network. Turns out, the school blocks all such connections. So away on the phone with IT I went.

Next was installing the software for the monitors — MagicInfo. This took DAYS to do, since I needed to install Bootcamp on a few Macs before I finally found one that would work (there were no PCs there and MagicInfo is only a PC app). Then, after installing, I realized I had installed the wrong version. Uninstalling and reinstalling did the trick.

After a week or so figuring all that out, it was time to figure out how to connect the screens to each other. We had numerous other firewall issues with this, and soon a licensing issue with the monitors as well, so I found myself on the phone with Samsung for hours for a few days straight. Finally though, everything was working. I then taught the other members of the TV studio how to actually work the thing.

School had started, and things went really well with the monitors.

Until just a month later when the monitors disconnected. Back to the studio I went, calling Samsung again, and realized that I needed to update the software once more. That took another day to do.

It was good for the year, but then broke again by the start of next summer. It didn't matter, because the studio had ordered TWO MORE huge monitors for me to add to the other two. The installation wasn't hard, but it was extremely hard to actually make them sync. Hours on the phone with Samsung, another software update, another licensing issue later, and finally things were working again.

But it didn't stop there. Numerous issues happened again when the school changed their firewall system. Now I needed to work with IT again to make it work, which ended up breaking other stuff meaning I had to do a full uninstall and reinstall AGAIN!

Since then, it's been great, thankfully. Honestly, the software and hardware is pretty bad, but it did make for some very fun tinkering around. It was cool to learn all about undertaking such a project — one which looks simple but ends up having many issues.

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The Synology Server

December 2017 - Present

I still remember the moment it happened. I was just about to get into the shower when I happened to look at the "Accessories" page on Apple's website and saw something called a Network Attached Storage. Intrigued at the new thing I had never seen before, I looked into it some more and realized that this was something useful for me.

Up until then, I stored everything I did on external hard drives. If I wanted to access something on another computer, I would have to close my work on one, unplug the hard drive, plug it into the other computer, and then resume work. This was a nightmare, and I soon realized that a NAS would be able to solve this problem for me.

So I went to work researching. After days of research, I came across a YouTube video from Lon.TV reviewing the WD My Cloud NAS product. I thought it was pretty cool and also not too expensive so I went ahead and bought one.

I initially liked it a lot, and found it quite useful. Yet, I soon began to come up with an idea: wouldn't it be nice to use this server for my robotics team to store our CAD files? Given that we couldn't work on them from home, I thought this was a brilliant idea.

So I loaded up the WD My Cloud app on the school computers to allow connection to my device, aannndddd...I needed an administrator to install.

I realized that wasn't going to work. After contacting the head of technology for the district to grant me permission and being denied, I looked for another way.

I remembered that in one of Lon.TV's videos he compared the WD My Cloud to something called a Synology NAS. He kept saying that the Synology was his favorite and that it had better features. So I went back to his channel to look for Synology videos, and sure enough, there were plenty.

Upon watching one of them, I discovered a feature called WebDAV. After some research, I realized that you could connect to this directly within the Windows file explorer and would be perfect for use at school since it would mean I wouldn't need to get admin permissions to install something.

But before I jumped ship from WD to Synology, I wanted to test the WebDAV capability out first. I went ahead and bought myself a little Apple AirPort Express wireless router and hooked it up to an old iMac that I configured macOS Server on (thanks to Todd Olthoff's videos on YouTube for helping me out with this). After days of getting that to work, I went to school for the moment of truth…and WebDAV worked!

So immediately I transferred everything on my WD to an external hard drive and set out to return it. Luckily I had bought it on Amazon during the period where they were giving extended return windows due to the holidays, so I just barely made it within 3 months by the end of February. After the return was successful, I bought my Synology DS 218j.

Setting it up wasn't too bad, and when I finally saw all the features it had, I realized why Lon had liked this so much. You could just do so much with it, from hosting a website to even hosting a chat room.

But here's where the hard part came — setting it up. This took weeks, and in those weeks I spent hours each day learning about domain names, SSL, HTTP protocols, DNS records, DDNS, port forwarding, IP Addresses, and so much more. But finally, in the end, I was able to connect server.reidf.net:8080 to WebDAV and get it to work on the school computers. The CAD server was finally working, and it was instantly a huge help for our team. We still use it to this day! I also began to use it for other things like hosting some websites as well as general NAS storage.

Overall, this whole experience was very challenging at times but also super fun, and I learned a lot just from doing it. There were countless problems I ran into along the way, but ultimately, it works great. It's been over two years since I did this from when I'm writing this now (8/13/20), and I couldn't be happier with it. I've also helped two of my friends set up Synologys of their very own!

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