Kansas-based software engineer and maker Jason Coon has been delighting the twitterverse with his laser-etched, slate-based beverage coasters done in the styling of classic and modern computer chips. He calls them “macrochips.” We reached out for more details.
Make: What gave you the idea to do these?
Jason: I first got the idea after I saw a tweet by arturo182. I knew I had to have one, and I already had everything I needed on hand: a Flux3D Beamo 30W laser cutter, some slate coasters, GIMP, and Inkscape.
— arturo182 (@arturo182) February 3, 2021
How many have you made into coasters so far?
I’ve made 12 different microchips into macrochip coasters so far: the ones listed on my site.
What’s your process like?
So, I start by trying to find a good reference image online. Google image search, Wikipedia, etc have been great resources so far. Most images at least need cleaning up before etching/engraving with the laser. I use GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) to clean them up as much as I can. If they’re still not clean enough, I’ll use Inkscape to draw over the raster image with vector graphics. Then I’ll export it to an SVG file, import that into Beam Studio, the control software for my laser cutter. The engraving can take 5–10 minutes for each tile. I engrave at 50% power, 80mm/s speed.
What surprises have come up from making them?
What has surprised me most was just how popular they were. I think my two most popular tweets ever were these two macrochip tweets:
That one even got retweeted by Eben Upton! :)
Any thoughts on why these seem to be so popular with people?
I definitely share the nostalgia for some of the classic chips. Some of the people I’ve sent coasters to actually worked on the chip design, or for the company.
The chips that have since changed ownership (Atmel, Sun, etc) seem to be really popular.
Most everyone drinks coffee, needs a coaster, and has a favorite microchip or two.
The RP2040 chip is hard to find in stock anywhere, so a coaster can help fill the desire, I guess? Smiling face with open mouth and tightly-closed eyes
I’ve made several for people who’ve used the chip extensively, designed products with or around them, or as gifts for friends who have.
Are you selling them?
I’m not selling them, because most of them have companies’ registered trademarks on them. I am making and sending them to people who’ve asked for them. Most are sending me coffee/beer money in return. :) I’ve also exchanged with some people for electronics projects/products of theirs, stickers, etc.
Why do you have so much slate!
I have actually run out of slate now. I’m waiting on more.
I just happened to have a set of ~24 on hand from a previous project, engraving slate coasters with the logo of the company I work for, as corporate holiday gifts.
Tell me about yourself.
I am a full-time senior software engineer, working mostly in Node.js, React, AWS, serverless, etc. I have an electronic engineering background. I took four years of electronics in high school, and started out to get my bachelor’s in electronic engineering before switching to computer science. I only really got back into electronics 5 or 6 years ago, starting with Arduino, Adafruit, NeoPixels, etc. I have since worked with Louis Beaudoin of Pixelmatix on his SmartMatrix RGB LED matrix shields. And started my own electronics hobby store, Evil Genius Labs, on Tindie. I’m currently designing and selling a series of PCBs with addressable RGB LEDs arranged in Fibonacci distributions.