Will try to leave the extraneous details out so that this actually gets posted.
The Steel Sandwich hasn’t been touched since December, but a test at 450°F, wrench-tightened, for 30 minutes gave the best transfer yet—except that the copper was so oxidized as to be purple. But I didn’t try to etch it. It might have still worked. Will pick that one up at some point.
I got a credit for the Dangerous Prototypes free PCB drawer and snagged a bare Bus Pirate 3.8 board. If you haven’t heard of the Bus Pirate, look it up—it’s a fine digital exploration, analysis, and prototyping tool.
I have an order in for all of the parts, plus a couple of hand tools I needed and some parts that I think will be useful for the universal PIC ICSP adapter thing I keep touching on here. I hope I can keep my hand steady enough to solder all of those surface-mount parts.
I’ve also ordered a few of the PIC16F527, a relatively recent addition to the PIC 12-bit line, which is only a small amount more expensive than the PIC16F57 (the current cheapest 16F) and has more I/O pins and an onboard precision 8MHz oscillator. That last bit means saving a couple of cents from omitting the external RC, improving the viability in timing-sensitive applications, and simplifying PCB layout. The additional I/O also means that, in some cases, a shift register (like 74HC595) or port expander can be eliminated. Overall, probably worth the extra 19 cents.
Finally, for Valentine’s Day, my wife initiated my membership to Club Cyberia, the only hackerspace I’ve ever heard of in this vicinity. I’m interested to see what difficulties this might help alleviate.