Building IT Halloween Prop III

The IT build continues. I spent some quality time in my workshop today and got to fiddle a bit with my newest Halloween prop. It is usual for these types of projects to break things first and I had to tear up my new clown decoration. It was necessary to remove his “bones” so that the arms would collapse when sinking into the toilet. It took a bit of work but I got it to function. It’s going to take some finishing work but at least now I know that what I’m trying to do is at least possible.

I had to counter balance the toilet lid. The automotive power antenna that I’m using to raise the clown isn’t very strong. The clown’s head will push the lid open. A cord attached to the clown’s neck will make the lid close down when the antenna retracts. It would have been easy to use the clown decoration as it came out of the store if I didn’t require it to pass through a toilet seat but the seat was available and my builds are more fun if I upcycle or at least save material from going to the landfill. Besides, I think the toilet seat adds to the idea that the clown resides in the sewers.

The normal (starting) position of the clown will be standing in the toilet. Once triggered, the clown will drop down and make room for the jumping spider to slide over the toilet seat. It will then jump at the observer. You can see a video of the clown sinking and rising HERE.

In 2015, I did a similar rework on a jumping dog prop from the Spirit store. It also used an automotive power antenna, motion sensor, and an Arduino program to make it all work. You can see it in action HERE.

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Building It Halloween Prop (Part II)

It looks a bit like I’m building an outhouse. I had a good building day. It started with drawing up plans—the best laid plans of mice and men…as they say.

The first priority was to get an overall size for the box. The prop will contain a clown that ducks down in a toilet seat. It will also include a jumping spider that I bought from the Spirit store. The front of the prop will have the toilet seat and clown. The rear will have the jumping spider. The height of the box was determined by the dimensions of the linear actuator that will lift the clown and toilet lid. The width is determined by the size of the jumping spider’s base and the length is determined by the distance that the spider will move forward before it jumps at the viewer.

The next step was a trip to the hardware store for the 2×2 lumber. I bought four 8 foot lengths, brought them home and commenced to cutting. The compound miter saw I bought for previous Halloween builds sure came in handy. The build was easy using simple butt joints along with 3 inch dry wall screws, and glue.

I had enough 1×4 lumber on hand to build the frame like structure that will hold the toilet seat. Once again the compound miter saw came in handy along with the biscuit joiner. I applied glue and went out to do other things.

Everything was going so well up to this point but it was time to prove out the old adage about “best laid plans.” Adjustments will have to be made. Originally, I was going to have the spider come out of the rear of the prop at an angle but trial fitting the remaining components and considering the strength of the automotive radio aerial that I’m using as a linear actuator, caused me to revisit the plan. It’s not unusual, of course. Also, I know with confidence that I can make a Spirit prop move horizontally since I built a doghouse for a jumping dog prop that I bought from the Spirit store in 2015. Besides, it will make the build simpler.

I have to wait for the drawer rails to arrive before I build the moving tray for the spider. However, I’m ready. I’m going to skin the project with the political signs that I picked up after the last election. The culvert structure on the back of the prop will be covered with silver insulation material that I happen to have on hand from another project. The tracking data says I won’t have to wait long.

The final steps will involve automating the prop after all the parts are assembled and manually tested.

*Spoiler Alert* the way the prop will function:

A small clown holding a red balloon will be standing up in the toilet seat. The clown will say “They all float down here” and start to descend when someone approaches. A bright light will come from the inside of the culvert on the back of the prop when the clown finishes sinking into toilet and the seat closes over the top. Next, the spider will slide over the top of the toilet seat and pop up when it reaches the end.

Finally, the spider will retract, slide back into the culvert, the light goes off, and the clown will once again rise out of the toilet and wait for the next activation.

Stay tuned!

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It’s Never Too Early for Halloween!

In summary, I get frustrated with expensive household appliances (1, 2, 3); I love being a Maker; I hate litter(2); I’m not fond of Trump (1,2); I support the International Aerial Robotics Competition (1,2); I love Camp Quest (1,2,3,4…); Most of all, I enjoy being retired and Halloween (1,2,3)!

I gather supplies all year long. Upcycling is also an interest of mine so I pick up things of interest. We’ve had a theme for the last three years. We did pirates, then witches, and last year we did zombies. This year I decided to do clowns and the circus. I try and build something new every year. It’s best if I pick something that goes with the theme and a couple of days ago the light bulb illuminated above my head. It was so obvious.

This should be the first part of a series. Here are some of the items I’ve collected so far for the build:

There are a few parts still on order. Keep reading. If it comes out the way it appears in my mind, it’s going to be legendary!

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There are Days (Follow Up)

It’s been a couple of weeks since my Sears refrigerator has been repaired. Apparently, it’s going to work for a while. I bought a gauge from Walmart that is designed to display the temperature of a remote sensor along with the temperature of the base unit. It has been reflecting the set temperatures since its installation. That’s great news. The emergency is over and it looks like we’re back to normal.

Now I have to review the situation and make sure that all the rash things that I said when the failure first happened are fair. I’m a scientific Skeptic and would like to think that I judge things fairly. In my first “There are Days” blog article I said, “Don’t Buy Sears or LG Refrigerators.” The emergency is over and I want to review what I said. Do I mean it now that the storm has passed?

Yes and no. I’ll probably buy from Sears again. After all, it was their team that came through with the replacement parts when other appliance repair shops wouldn’t consider attempting a repair once they found out that the box came from LG. However, I’m going to be quite a bit more careful and look into the original manufacturer. I found out that there are two brands of refrigerators that should be avoided. They are LG and Samsung and both for the same reason. The information I read stated that while the boxes are not more likely to fail they are troublesome to repair because of the lack of an adequate infrastructure. In my sample of one, I had 100 percent failure but I can’t know for certain what the overall failure rate actually is because…well…I have a sample of one. One would have to know the total number of LG boxes sold by Sears and the percentage of those that failed to get any meaningful statistics on the matter. Perhaps Consumer’s Union has those numbers and used them to base their high recommendation. Perhaps, but I still will not base my future purchases of durable goods based solely on their recommendations. I’ll also look past their main article to the user comments. I neglected to do that and while I realize that the user comments are part of a self-selected data set of bad experiences, I might consider a high number of poor reviews as significant enough to consider the Consumer Unions positive recommendation.

By the way, Sears sells fancy refrigerators from other manufacturers and the repairmen I’ve talked to say that they see lots of LG and Samsung boxes but very few GEs but don’t take advice from a blog…

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Labor Day 2017

Today is Labor Day. It is the traditional end of summer and a chance to escape from reality, apparently. In Atlanta Georgia people attend Dragon Con and dress up in fictional characters. Then there is Burning Man. It is near the west coast in the desert of Nevada where another group of people create an art filed community. People barter and sometimes wear no clothes at all.

I missed both this year like I do every year. While both sound fun, I can’t seem to get up the motivation. Neither one is a perfect fit. I’m afraid I’d be odd man out most of the time. As far as Dragon Con is concerned, I enjoy science fiction but probably not as much as most of the attendees and the crowd at Burning Man is a bit younger. I might be getting too old to attend that event but as I write this, I’m reminded that I didn’t report on the one national event that I did attend—The Bay Area Maker Faire.

Currently, my best fit is the Maker Faire Community. Nancy and I traveled to the Maker Faire in San Mateo this year. We had a great time and I felt quite comfortable there. We met up with an old friend, saw amazing things, and had the opportunity to give away one of my tin can robots to the R2D2 builders group.

Of course my pathetic little R2 looked small compared to their highly detailed full sized models but they put it on display front and center.

We took an Amtrak train to San Jose and didn’t rent a car. We relied on public transportation the entire time we were there and managed to walk 54 miles in the week we spent there. We saw the Exploratorium in San Francisco, ate a Crab Louise in a restaurant overlooking Alcatraz, saw a movie, and visited my old home in Santa Clara.

Now it’s the end of summer. Labor Day is over and Halloween is 56 days away. It’s time to bring in the flag and make plans for the rest of the year.

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The Mother of All Bad Ideas

I took a stroll out on my favorite path yesterday. In an effort to keep myself fit (and sane) I try and walk four miles per day. Lately, I’ve settled on a path that runs around the whole of Tucson. It’s called The Loop. Mainly it is a bicycle path but it’s also for pedestrians. It has the advantage of being away from vehicular traffic. It is well maintained and I particularly like the fact that it has trash cans located along the path. Yesterday, I took my normal four mile walk…or I thought I’d take my normal walk along my favorite path when I found a bathroom Dixie cup rolling around on the trail. Then there was another, then another. I had to duck through a fence to fetch the errant cups. Some of the refuse had blown into the wash. Recently, my walks along my favorite path have involved very little trash. I carry a folded plastic bag in my cargo shorts that I normally don’t have to employ but that day it was obvious that the bag was needed. As I ducked and snatched the ever increasing items of litter along the way, I noticed that one of them had a tag. It said, “Take Me, You Found Free Art -Keep It – Pass it on -Leave it here.” There was an email attached: smithme@vailschooldistrict.org . Also a note said “This is a piece of found art – A gift for you. Please let us know where you found it by writing to:” then there was the email address. I collected all the crap along the trail and it filled a very large plastic bag. Some of the refuse had another email address: andersonch@vailschooldistrict.org. I wrote them a note telling them that encouraging littering was a very bad idea and that I’d be returning their “art” to the Mesquite Elementary School. The response I received was very unapologetic. In fact, the note I received was very close to insulting. The proper response should have been an apology and the promise not to do it again. Instead, I got something to the effect that they’d continue to teach their kids to be “kind and giving.”

WOW! Now please understand that I clean the paths around that school daily just because it’s the right thing to do. If there is anyone being kind and generous it is the retired guy that chooses to spend his time helping out the community by picking up litter in his neighborhood. The school teacher that goes by the name of “Daisy” owes me and the community an apology and she needs to stop encouraging her students to litter the pathways in my neighborhood.

Here is how she responded to me after I returned her “abandoned art:”

“Thank you for returning our art, even in the manner that you did. We have learned an important lesson though not the lesson you intended. I will continue to encourage the children to be kind and giving.”

Hey I have an idea, how about you encouraging the children to NOT LITTER?

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Halloween Prep: Sorbet to Cleanse the Palate

It’s back to the workshop and I couldn’t be happier. Years ago right after retirement, I drew up plans for a workshop. It is 12 x 24 feet, attached to the house, and finished so that it matches complete with cement tiles and stucco siding. There are French doors on both ends—one set opens to the front yard and the other opens to the back yard. There are no windows. Instead there are two 3×4 foot skylights. Sitting next to the holes in the ceiling are two 4 bulb high pressure fluorescent light fixtures that provide lighting when the skylights can’t. A large number of wall sockets are scattered around the workspace 4 foot from the floor. Most important for a Tucson based workshop is the 220V AC/Heat unit mounted high on the wall.

What a wonderful place for a Maker with only 62 days left until Halloween!

My first new props for this year’s Halloween display are six black owls. They came from Amazon a few days ago—cheap and ugly. The eyes were not much more that glass tacks. The beaks were black and smashed against the face. Some of the feet were loose and uneven. This would never do, of course. I transformed one with a couple of LEDs, painting and remounting the beaks and feet. My first prototype took some effort and time. The second went quicker and I was ready to batch process the remaining four.

Halloween is a holiday for Makers. Nothing works right out of the box and even if it did, what fun would that be? With a foam cutter, soldering iron, and glue gun warming up on the bench, it is incredibly easy to forget about everything else. The most pressing problem for a while becomes how to attach the third hand device so that the other two hands can make a durable solder joint.

The precious building time isn’t free however. Without proper preparation, building time can be interrupted by trips for supplies if they are available locally. Sometimes getting necessary supplies can take days especially if they must be ordered. Preparation begins early in the year. General supplies like LEDs or other electronic components are usually bought in bulk and on-sale. Surplus houses often have a wide variety of useful stuff but you can’t guarantee that it will be always readily available. So FedEx, USPS, and UPS trucks often visit my house throughout the year and stuff starts to stack up. Regular readers of this blog know that I built a storage rack for Camp Quest. It sure came in handy for all the raw materials but it got full. So…I made a second one. Problem solved!

Finally, I was able to sit down and concentrate. The resulting owls may be part of a computerized display or they may be placed in random locations. I haven’t decided yet but they’re cool and I’m ready to move on to more challenging builds.

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