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Ask Slashdot: a Good Geek Project For My Arthritic Grandfather? 122

An anonymous reader writes "My grandfather is a retired electrician whom I've been trying to keep mentally busy. Together we've gotten an Arduino kit and have been working on some simple projects. He does the wiring and I've been writing the code. Recently his arthritis has been getting worse and he's been unable to work with the tiny components that the Arduino projects require. Does anyone have a recommendation for something similar we could work on together that would be easier for someone with his compromised manual dexterity?"
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Ask Slashdot: a Good Geek Project For My Arthritic Grandfather?

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  • As an early 40s person who already experiences some of these problems due to 3 decades of arthritis and worsening hand tremors, I'm also interested in geek projects folks can recommend the asker. Especially if they are things I could also work on with my pre-teen sons.

    • by JoeMerchant ( 803320 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @09:17AM (#40384059)

      Virtual designs - software - FPGAs, get frustrated by the build environments instead of your soldering iron.

      • by trum4n ( 982031 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @09:24AM (#40384123)
        Build a damn tube amp. Build lots of them. You can make a killing selling them to audiophiles and guitar players.
        • by PCM2 ( 4486 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @09:28AM (#40384171) Homepage

          Build a damn tube amp. Build lots of them. You can make a killing selling them to audiophiles and guitar players.

          This is totally true. Musicians love kit that's not off the shelf from Guitar Center. A friend of mine plays in a couple death metal bands and he's constantly amazing me with the home electronics projects he posts to Facebook: fixing up old amps, modifying pedals, etc. He gets tons of requests.

        • by vlm ( 69642 )

          Build a damn tube amp. Build lots of them. You can make a killing selling them to audiophiles and guitar players.

          Need to define "unable to work with the tiny component" first.

          Lets say the problem is agonizing joint pain aka arthritis when snipping thru thin 22 gauge interconnect wire and thru-hole components. I'm guessing that agonizing pain will increase about a hundred fold if he has to snip thru 16 gauge filament wires.

          On the other hand, lots of people weirdly confuse Parkinsons-style jitters with arthritic joint pain. In that scenario it doesn't matter that it requires more strength and force, the important thin

          • by trum4n ( 982031 )
            I also hand solder SMD's, but for an older person, something he is more experienced with might come easier. Working with larger wires, and far less breakable parts, he might feel more comfortable. And soldering a 5watt resistor to some posts is a LOT more forgiving than soldering a 1/10 watt SMD on a PCB. Lifted pads suck. Personally, i like doing point to point style wiring because i can use a soldering gun over a pencil. They are off when your not using them, they only take a few seconds to reach operatin
            • by trum4n ( 982031 )
              Also, forgot in parent post. Get some good Klein tools. My clippers cut 0/4 AWG like its 10 AWG. Cutting anything under 12 AWG is like paper. Good tools make the work for your hands easier, less impacting.
            • by vlm ( 69642 )

              Lifted pads suck.

              I think PCB tech has changed over the years. As a kid I was lifting pads all the time in the 80s, to my considerable annoyance, but I haven't lifted a pad on a new PCB in probably 15 or 20 years. Maybe they use super glue instead of elmers glue now to laminate the copper to the fiberglass. I bought a decent digital hakko iron (such that it never overtemps) a couple years back and I've never lifted a pad with that iron. I can't believe I spend my first quarter century of electronic foolishness with cheap

        • Nuh-uh. I'm a 50-something who owns a lot of collectible tube gear -- Quad II's, ST-70s, etc. -- and although my brain still works fine, my hands have gotten too shaky to manage a soldering iron in close quarters. Given the fact that tube amps usually comprise far higher voltages than solid-state models, tubes are not the right solution for someone with impaired manual functionality. In fact, I did blow up one nice amp last year b/c I couldn't solder in some caps that would have been easy to work with 20
    • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @09:27AM (#40384161) Journal

      What about a tesla coil? Those should have big enough parts and will be really impressive to an 11 year old boy.

    • by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @09:35AM (#40384247) Homepage

      LEDs come in Jumbo sizes [google.com].

    • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @09:59AM (#40384563) Journal

      I have arthritis in my hands that has altered a lot of things for me, the best "geek" project I've found has been learning to play jazz on the chromatic harmonica. Now, I've been a musician since very young, but the chromatic harmonica was the only instrument I have found that does not require a lot of digital dexterity. There's one button on the side, that's it, and it can be pressed in lots of ways - with the tip of the finger, at the joint, even the side of the finger.

      And if you've ever heard the music of Toots Thielemans or Gregoire Maret or Larry Adler (or even Stevie Wonder) you know that you can make some extremely sophisticated music with the chromatic harp. Personally, I play jazz, standards, ballads, but I know players who are into classical, blues, Brazilian music. It's easy to start, but you can spend a lifetime learning it, and there's nothing like learning some music to extend the useful life of the brain. The intellectual part of learning music engages like few other things. It's like mathematics, except you can dance to it.

      And chicks dig musicians. No matter how old your grandpa is, that's always a bonus.

    • I assume the problem he is having is soldering the components. If so: get a 3D printer of some sort, and start printing out 3D circuit boards. You can make these boards so that they are solder-free and the components just plug in.

      Bonus geek points if you also build a reprap from scratch - although that may not be possible if the arthritis is getting bad.
      • My larger dog (~90 Lbs), has severe arthritis in his hip and back knees. He used to require regular doses of Duramax just to walk around. We started him on ~1500mg of glucosamine w/ MSM. He's now up to 4500mg twice a day, and hasn't needed a Duramax in months. (Once we ran out of the glucosamine, and within a day, we was in pain again) We have to crush the pills over his food to get him to take it.

        Is there a placebo effect in dogs?

        *Note. This are much, much larger doses than any of the glocosam
      • Try cutting out wheat and/or nightshades (potato, tomato, peppers, etc) from you diet. I've seen HUGE improvements.

        • Same with my wife. I don't think it works for everyone, but she definitely notices, within minutes or hours, when she has a nightshade... especially paprika, which is in a lot of things like mustards or hot dogs.

    • by dmbasso ( 1052166 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @10:18AM (#40384791)

      The obvious geek project: a gripper/manipulator that discards jitter in its input. I believe I read something about robotic surgical tools using this strategy. It has the added benefit of enabling scaled-down control, so you could e.g. write something on a grain of rice.

      If I had the time I'd do it myself!

    • Little Bits: Modular electronics that snap together with magnets http://littlebits.cc/ [littlebits.cc]
  • something that doesn't require the use of his hands?

    • by vlm ( 69642 )

      something that doesn't require the use of his hands?

      That's the problem with "find something geeky" being a little too vague. What, like watch Star Trek reruns? Play RPGs like pathfinder or DnD? If he means "something geeky thats electronic related", maybe amateur radio?

  • by f3rret ( 1776822 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @09:16AM (#40384029)

    While I freely admit to knowing next to nothing about it, maybe an electromechanical computer of some sort? There are a bunch of them around, some of them are quite famous too, maybe that?

  • Switch (Score:5, Informative)

    by Newander ( 255463 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @09:16AM (#40384031)

    Depending on how bad his arthritis is, you could take over the wiring and he could start writing the code.

    • Re:Switch (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @09:30AM (#40384185)

      That's not the American way. Outsource! A small Chinese boy can be purchased for cheap. With his tiny fingers he can manipulate even the smallest components.

      • Re:Switch (Score:5, Funny)

        by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @10:11AM (#40384715)

        That's not the American way. Outsource! A small Chinese boy can be purchased for cheap. With his tiny fingers he can manipulate even the smallest components.

        That's true, but hand transplants aren't that advanced yet, dexterity-wise, and even once they will be, it will be quite a hefty medical bill to pay.

    • Re:Switch (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DdJ ( 10790 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @09:49AM (#40384415) Homepage Journal

      Depending on how bad his arthritis is, you could take over the wiring and he could start writing the code.

      You beat me to it! Let me elaborate on this by suggesting that each of you should spend time teaching the other the missing specialty. Don't just take over the wiring, have him teach you how to do it right, while you teach him to code.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @09:17AM (#40384041)

    My pain in the arse grandson has been hassling me me pointless electronics projects that are wasting away the precious few years I have left. How can I get out of them without causing offense?

    Tell him your arthritis got worse and you can no longer handle the small components.

    • Re:Dear Slashdot (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ari_j ( 90255 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @11:27AM (#40385749)
      All joking aside, the answer is to find out if your grandfather is working on these projects because he wants to wire arduino boards or because he enjoys spending time with his grandson. It's probably the latter. Now, if you don't have other things to do together, then keep at it and maybe take others' suggestions to work with tube electronics or something else with relatively large components (warning, though: tube sockets can be just as tedious to wire and solder as IC sockets). But if you do, then try those things instead.
  • LittleBits (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @09:19AM (#40384071)


    Saw these on a TED talk, looked pretty neat. (They are very expensive, though)

    • These look neat. Might have to pick one up. Would make a good winter time "man cave" activity :)
  • If he can use a keyboard/mouse for a while, he could build things, but also work on circuit design (redstone) as well.

    • If he can use a keyboard/mouse for a while, he could build things, but also work on circuit design (redstone) as well.

      Actually, I was thinking more along the lines of an electronics simulator, like Circuitlab or SPICE. That way, Grandpa can build a virtual circuit using a mouse and keyboard. He can completely test and debug it. Then, when all is ready, the circuit can be emailed to a company that will print/etch the circuit board and solder on all the components.

  • Was there not a recent article about building a Turing machine out of Legos? I would think the big block version would be something he could handle...

  • I'm not sure what level of arthritis we're dealing with here but I'm guessing he can't use a keyboard for extended lengths of time. I've seen companies that make devices that all the user to put a headband on that has a reflective dot on it (you can google for it, I'm not going to plug a product). This, in turn is watched by a camera mounted on or near the monitor and the user can then direct the mouse using the direction of their head. So, decide which of these has the best support for your needs and tr
  • mobility (Score:4, Funny)

    by Smivs ( 1197859 ) <smivs@smivsonline.co.uk> on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @09:35AM (#40384241) Homepage Journal
    Help him to build an electro-mechanical exoskeleton!
  • by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @09:42AM (#40384293)

    Pinball games have bigger parts

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Using them to build a nuclear bomb would be a neat project.

  • My mom healed her artritis with homeopathy. ... Ok, ok, hear me out!

    Yeah, yeah, I know. Magic, unscientific nonsense, jada-jada.

    The fact is: You could *watch* my mothers joints move back into normal position and the build-up disapear once she had found the 'right substance' ( ... don't ask, it's this crazy homeopathy thing).

    Placebo effect or whatever, it worked. She's 72 now and does regular garden work. She says without homeopathy and - probably more importantly, her homeopath - she'd be dead by now, and I

  • by vlm ( 69642 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @09:49AM (#40384425)

    grandfather is a retired electrician

    Almost painfully obvious answer is "teach grandson how to do home electrical work".

    Attention to detail is kind of important in this line of work, and a second set of highly experienced eyes is probably very helpful.

    A noob can't do a worse job than the average illegal alien construction worker, so doing it yourself is not going to be any more dangerous than your average new McMansion subdivision. No time constraint and no need to nickel and dime to make the boss more profit means you can methodically make it right.

    Obviously if you live in a nanny state where you require endless licenses and union membership to plug in an extension cord, this doesn't work so well, but in a free area its not too unreasonable.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Thirty years ago when I was a child I helped my Dad, a lawyer in the UK, to wire and plumb our house. He paid to have it all tested by the electricity and gas boards, and everything was good.

      I recently moved into a new house and the experienced electrician (he looked to be in his fifties) had fucked up the strappers (one light with two switches). Nowadays it would be illegal to fix it myself. The law is bullshit.

  • Model rockets are a lot of fun, and there are larger kits now that use "D" and "E" engines from Estes, and are capable of using much more powerful engines from Aerotech. The bigger the kit, the less tiny manipulation. You can assemble the motor mount, he can trim and shape the fins, glue the fins, and give a fine coat of paint to the rocket. You assemble the parachute assembly. He helps steady the rocket body while you place the internal components.

    IF you're really feeling fancy, get a ham radio lice
  • by david.emery ( 127135 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @09:50AM (#40384435)

    Seriously... There's a lot of cool things to build and the bricks would probably be a lot easier to handle.

  • by meowris ( 1988866 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @09:51AM (#40384443)
    You're a good grandson.
    • Wish I had some mod points: +1

    • Totally relevant. And he is a great grandson, this shows great character. It is very rewarding to work together on something you love doing.

      Also, it's heartwarming to see some true love and care instead of the sea of self-serving irony/cynicism that oftentimes dominates comments on /.

  • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @09:52AM (#40384453) Journal
    Arduino Grande [geekosystem.com]
    Enormous components [hackaday.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Since your grandfather's dexterity is compromised, how about an X-10 or Insteon home automation project so that he might control his home using an Android tablet or iPad?

    • by plover ( 150551 ) *

      Since your grandfather's dexterity is compromised, how about an X-10 or Insteon home automation project so that he might control his home using an Android tablet or iPad?

      Brilliant! There are many levels of home automation you could get into. Replacing switches and light fixtures with Insteon or Z-Wave devices would certainly be something he's qualified to do, or to help teach you to do properly. Designing various automation scenes is also something you could work on together: turn the lights on at 6:00 AM if it's still dark out, turn them off at sunrise or at 7:00 AM when it's time to leave, doorbell cameras and monitors, home security, heating control, basement water m

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Restore a pinball machine. Mostly large components solenoids, motors, lights, mechanical components - lots of wiring - and quite often replacement of components on the motherboard etc. A very tangible project and very exciting if you like that kind of thing.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I will second the motion on pinball, especially older electro-mechanical (EM) games from 1977 or prior. These can be cheaply acquired and all wiring schematics and parts are generally available. The key here is that the parts are macro-sized and you are just dealing with large solenoid and relay coils. Soldering is done with a large 40-100W gun. You don't need the precision required with soldering thru-hole or surface mount components on a PCB. Better for the eyes and shaky hands.

      Being an electrician, the e

  • Cherry Juice. Get the good natural stuff that's not full of processed sugar and drink a glass each day. At our Chiropractic clinic a lot of senior patients have gotten really good results with reduced arthritis pain in their joints from this.

    Then there's also the geek project to solve the problem... build a small robot system together that he can use for soldering. Something that can tolerate slightly trembling hands while still offering solid and precise control. I imagine a simple robot arm that can a

  • I'm just a software guy who never could get his mom to use a mouse in part because of her arthritis. Maybe you could build a voice-command manipulator with a magnified viewer. You might need a helper to build the first one (see 'outsource' above), then just keep improving them. After a few generations you should be able to sell it to arthritic surgeons. With voic commands, what could possibly go wrong?
  • > Ask Slashdot: a Good Geek Project For My Arthritic Grandfather

    Pam: Auto-Jerk Hand! Auto-Jerk Hand! Auto-Jerk Hand!!!

    Jim: Good one.

  • by ZonkerWilliam ( 953437 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @10:44AM (#40385123) Journal
    A occupational therapist, they have all kinds of interesting ideas on what is best solution for your grandfather, since it really should be done by a professional who understands your grandfathers unique needs and not a bunch of youngsters who think their opinions are more important than any professionals.
  • Try Ham Radio. You no longer have to learn Morse Code to get a license. It allows some room for tinkering with equipment. I'm sure you can find local groups who can help you get started, and find cheap equipment on craigslist. Once you're started, you can hook up cheap used logic analyzers to look at signals and stuff. Hell... you can even spin the hobby toward radio astronomy. Need a further challenge? See who you can find on 5 watts or less... 1 watt or less!
  • I used to build electronics and intricate physical things when I was young. If computers had been available those years I would have written programs. These two crafts are similar in creativity and attention.
  • Both model rockets and HAM radio will not require too much dexterity. For myself, both hobbies also bring back memories of when I was young and just beginning to discover the world of science. Very nostalgic.
  • HAM radio. you can run a keyer easily with severe arthritis. Plus a lot of it is larger scale and not micro mini scale. There is a huge community around it and you get to actually talk to people.

  • Perhaps a solar panel or wind turbine for a consumer home. Nice large components, still techy.
  • Build a telescope. There are many links to plans, here's one: http://www.telescopemaking.org/ [telescopemaking.org]
    There are lots of opportunities for electronics with a telescope: motor mount, autoguider, goto integration, etc.
  • Get into something constructive that doesn't require the fine motor skills or dexterity that he is losing, but allows him to be creative. I was going to suggest pottery, forging, or knife making, but maybe those things require too much strength as well.

  • Depending on how your grandfather's arthritis treatments are going, this book might help him get the arthritis in check: The New Arthritis Breakthrough (book) [amazon.com]

    Arthritis sufferers that I have talked with have described rheumatologist reactions to AP (Antibiotic Protocol) ranging from "Couldn't hurt, might help" to actively hostile to the idea. In my family, the rheumatologist we're working with is (fortunately) in the former camp.

    I've done some research on this AP treatment and I don't see how it could hur

  • Why not build things that require big current / power stuff?

    Rail gun: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Railgun [wikipedia.org] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vP4pL2fZQBo&feature=related [youtube.com]

    Tesla Coil: http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-build-a-Tesla-Coil/ [instructables.com]

    Jacob's ladder: http://ffden-2.phys.uaf.edu/212_spring2005.web.dir/kenneth_sweet/ [uaf.edu]

    You could totally over-build the stuff so it looks awesome and lasts a few generations!

    Also, on a non-electrical note, these: http://www.en.boehm-stirling.com/ [boehm-stirling.com] are totally awesome and com

Thus spake the master programmer: "When a program is being tested, it is too late to make design changes." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"