Retired and a Maker: Another Day in the Life.

There are times when my daily walks are more rewarding than others. Yesterday, I picked up a discarded knife on the trail. It didn’t look like much. In fact, it looked like a bit of trash. It was covered with sand and the scales were broken. However, it looked as if it could be salvaged. A new one looks like this:

I could have thrown it away or added it to my growing display of found objects, but I decided to see if I could make it useful again even though I really don’t need another knife. Knives are cool, don’t you think?

If I did need a new knife, I could get one from Amazon in a day for a bit less than $18. What’s the fun in that? I have a workshop, tools, and time.

It’s particularly cool looking with its tanto tipped/serrated blade. Functionally, it is defined as “ball bearing assisted.” That means that it unfolds very easily and can be opened with one hand, when it’s not full of sand. Amazon customers (173) gave it 4.8 stars, out of 5. The only complaint I could find is that the blade might deploy “too easily” and cause an accident.

Spoiler alert, as if the picture wasn’t spoiler enough. I was able to fix it up. It now joins my ever-increasing collection.

The first step was to disassemble and clean it. It used the smallest Torx screws I’ve ever seen to hold on the side pieces (the “scales”). They were also worn down as if scraped on the asphalt. Luckily, I was able to remove them. Mostly, the way I got them off was to obliterate the remaining scales and grab the screw heads with needle-nosed pliers. I didn’t worry about ruining them because I wasn’t going to be using them for the reassembly in any case. The pivot hardware was another story. I had to use it later. Luckily, the screw heads were more robust, and I was able to get them off without destroying them.

I collected all the parts that I was going to reuse, dusted off my jewelry ultrasonic cleaner, and gave them a bath in cleaning solution.

There were a couple of small screws that needed to be replaced. Luckily, I used to build and fly model airplanes, so I had small stuff available. Turns out, the screws I needed were metric (sized 2). The ones I had were cap headed and 16mm long, a bit too long. I cut the screws with a Dremel cut-off-disk and I was all set except for the scales.

My first thought was to make the scales out of Plexi-glass. I made a pair, carved them to shape, but when I drilled the holes, they shattered. My second thought was to get material that wouldn’t shatter when drilled. I went to Amazon and found some scale material made of G10 fiberglass. Great! There was only one problem. How am I to justify buying $15 worth of material to repair and $18 knife that I found in the street? So, it was back to the workshop to see if I didn’t have something on hand that would do the job. Of course, I could always use plywood, but I thought about how that would look and wear. Then, I thought about the pile of cutting boards that I have left over from CampQuest projects. The material in a plastic cutting board is HDPE (High Density Polyethylene). It’s tough. Some of its characteristics include good looks, long wearing, easily workable, and most importantly, I have a bunch of it. A short time with my bandsaw, a belt sander, and a drill press, and I had my new scales.

Reassembly when well. It was a good thing too. Before I was finished, I had to take the knife apart 3 different times. The job wasn’t going to be done until it worked like new. That took some tweeking.

The final step was to hit the completed knife with a small blow torch to raise the texture of the HDPE scales and knock off the sharp edges.

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A Eureka Moment at Camp Quest Arizona 2022

Introducing STEM activities at a summer camp is particularly challenging. Especially when there is a wide variety of ages and interests. Particularly difficult is finding projects. The projects must appeal to the wide age range. Also, they must be “doable.” This year, we made “Joust Bots.” I started with a beam following robot and added a “rider” and lance. Development of the kits took some time. Fortunately, I had plenty of time over the past two years during the pandemic. I got a 3D printer, and it was used extensively in the development of the JoustBot.

It’s not enough that the machine works and it’s not enough that it is buildable, but it must be built safely. That is why this robot uses a breadboard instead of soldering the components to a circuit board. Using soldering irons open the possibility of burns. It is also easier to trouble shoot a mis wired bread board. There was only one “wire-to-wire” connection left in the design and I chose to use a “button splice” to accomplish that connection. The button splice only required a firm squeeze with a pair of pliers instead of soldering iron. It also made the build go faster.

More details leading up to the “Eureka Moment” …

Connections to the breadboard are made by pushing wires into the holes. The wire is a bit “wimpy” on its own. To make them stiff enough to easily be inserted, I tinned all the bare wires. This works well. The jumper wires are DuPont connectors that end in small metal pins specially designed to plug into breadboards. I packed a few extra. Unfortunately, if a tinned wire gets bent, it needs to be re-tinned. Anticipating that might be an issue, I packed a soldering iron that I could use to re-tin damaged wires. Unfortunately, I left the solder and flux on my workbench at home. With three hours into the four-hour project and only one day left, I was anticipating that many of the campers wouldn’t have working robots at the end of camp. That thought was depressing.

However, Eureka! An idea occurred to me in the middle of the night and woke me up early in the morning. I could make it work with the button splices and the spare DuPont connectors. I raced to the craft patio where the robots were stored. One by one I removed them from the box, found the broken leads, and spliced in the DuPont connectors. Then I tested each one for functionality. Every single unit worked…then I went to breakfast…

Since all the robots were in working order when the last hour of the project began, the campers were able to spend their time testing their skills and machines against other campers. Mission accomplished…whew!

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The performance of more than one task at the same time.

This morning I got up early…well…early for me. I decided to not waste the cooler morning temperatures and take my daily walk. I walk at least 4.3 miles per day which is about 10K steps for me. Before I start, I run a checklist to get out of the garage. I need my hat, sunscreen, grocery bags, and my 36″ pickup and reach tool. I must log my breakfast which includes one hardboiled egg, one Ultra Sunrise Monster Energy Drink (I no longer drink coffee in the morning since COVID changed my taste for it.), and dog treats. Finally, I start the Walkmeter App on my iPhone.

The first thing I do is visit the neighbor’s dogs—a white Labrador and black Labrador named Malibu and Leo. They love to see me. They don’t bark or try and scare me away. At least, not anymore. I started giving them dog treats. They wag their tails and lick the air. Nancy and I don’t have a dog, but for the time it takes for them to enjoy their morning beefy treats, I have two very attentive best friends. They may look a bit tired today. It is July 5th and I’m sure they had a stressful night.

They’re right across the street. My first stop. Now my multitasking can begin in earnest. I start listening to one of my podcasts. There are several I subscribe to: NPR News Now, Stuff You Should Know, The Moth, Hidden Brain, This American Life, TED Talks Daily, TED Tech, Radiolab, Penn’s Sunday School, Today Explained, Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know, Stuff To Blow Your Mind, Godless Rebellution, Ron BurBurgundy, Brave New Planet, Stuff You Should Know, NPR Politics, Rachel Maddow, The Daily, Big Picture Science, Cognitive Dissonance, Monster Talk, OH NO Ross & Carrie, and You Are Not So Smart, Scathing Atheist, Opening Arguments, and a few others. I listen to all of them at 1.75X speed. If I run out of talking podcasts, I switch to music podcasts, usually Oldies or Classic Rock, at 1.0X speed.

It’s not difficult to listen to podcasts on headphones while walking. So, it’s not difficult to also pick up trash along the trail. Today, I added a fourth task—fixing things. I fixed a small flag display and repaired the “Rock Tree” at my turn-around point.

The little flags are getting weatherworn and sometimes the top or the bottom come off the stick. It is an easy fix. I carry 28-gauge annealed specialty wire and my Leatherman multitool. It takes a couple of minutes to poke the wire through the cloth and wrap it around the stick. The hardest part is getting up off the ground when the job is completed.

The “Rock Tree” is about 2.2 miles from my garage door. It is located where I turn around every day. It’s really the stump of a Palo Verde Tree that was growing next to a small Saguaro Cactus. Some time ago I would place small quartz rocks that I would find on the trail on the tree. Then I got the idea to attach other things that I find along the way. There are small glass bead and a wide variety of shiny chrome bicycle parts and reflectors. The last thing I added to the tree was a bundle of streamers the I picked up next to an elementary school. The streamers are easy to see because they glint in the sun. I think they work better on my hat and on the tree than on the ground…don’t you?

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Back Home from Camp Quest Arizona 2022

I’m back, and I’m beat. I don’t know if it was harder this year, or if it simply the fact that I’m 3 years older than the last time I went to camp. The good news is that I didn’t gain any weight. Also, I didn’t leave too much behind. In addition, every program I ran was a total success. All the campers created Beverage Can robots that worked and most of them took them home. All the campers that took the Joust Robot elective ended up with a working robot and had an opportunity to drive them around on the recreational room’s floor for almost a full 45 minutes. Some campers decorated clock faces that they can take home to remind them of their Camp Quest Arizona experience. Finally, Karaoke was a success once again. What the campers lacked in singing skill, they more than made up with enthusiasm. We conducted it outside this year. BTW, the counselor that teaches wilderness survival skills ran a test to see how far the human voice can be heard. He determined that the distance is 825 meters (0.51 miles). I’m sure that any native creatures within that radius are glad that we’re done for another year. (Sorry about that wildlife.)

I’ll be posting more information about this year’s camp and the individual programs soon. I may flesh out the program plans into a full DIY (Do It Yourself) article. That may be the pain medication talking now. Give me a couple of days.

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CQAZ—Camp Quest 2022! It’s Going to Happen.

It’s time again to head up to camp, collect beads, and build robots. Of course, that’s just how I see it. The last time that we had a Camp Quest sleep away camp was the summer of 2019. I was getting ready for CQAZ 2020 in March of that year. Then came COVID 19, and everything was cancelled, and preparations were put on hold. There was a day camp and some hikes in 2021 but the weeklong sleep over camp didn’t happen that year either. So…after a 2-year hiatus, CQAZ will happen. It begins on the 25th of June and ends on the 2nd of July.

Early this year, I dusted off the previous preparations and picked up where I left off.

I had all the components for the “BevBot” pictured here. It’s a robot that moves and wobbles. It starts out as a beverage can. Amazon sells a similar “Tin Can Robot.” It costs about $10 but it has a lot of little, tiny parts. Also, it may take more than an hour to assemble. The cost isn’t a big issue, but I planned on every camper to build one. That means, I’d be buying about 50 of them. It pays to assemble my own kits. The tiny parts are a problem because our craft area, where all the “making” happens, is a wooden deck complete with narrow slots. Over the years, we’ve lost a lot of hardware through those slots. The campers have an hour to assemble and test out their robots. The resulting kit has only a few parts, no tiny ones, and builds fast.

My second robot build for this year’s camp I call “JoustBot”. Before camp was cancelled in 2020, I had started thinking about the more involved, elective activity. Campers choose 2 electives out of 8 or so that are available. The electives include normal summer camp activities such as archery and wilderness survival skills or they can choose fishing, drama, self-defense, or the national award winning “Mythical Creatures” activity. Since they can only pick 2 and there are many to choose from, I’m safe in assuming that I won’t get half of the campers. With that logic, I prepared 21 kits. The time allotted to an elective is 4 hours which consists of 4 one-hour sessions. More time allows a “maker” activity, such as JoustBots or Mythical Creatures, to be a little more demanding of the campers.

JoustBot started out as a simple beam-following robot. Shine a light on the robot and it will move toward the light. As before, I pulled inspiration from what was available online. I bought the BlueBot to evaluate. The robot has all the materials to perform line following, beam following, obstacle avoidance, or motion sensing. Of the four, the most interesting to me was the beam following (light-tracking mode.) The robot used breadboard which allowed circuit assembly without soldering. The circuit also had very few components. I discovered that it worked as advertised but I didn’t need the full capability of the BlueBot and, more importantly, I didn’t need to spend $100 for each kit. I bought a chassis kit and all the electronic components in bulk. I did all this right before March 2020 when it was announced that we wouldn’t be having CQ 2020.

Summer of 2020 came and went as did 2021. However, 2022 is not going to pass without a week-long, sleep over, Camp Quest summer camp. I wasn’t totally ready, but I was most of the way there. I could have run the events planned for 2020 but I made the BevBot a bit simpler and changed the Beam Following robot into one designed to joust.

The rider on the JoustBot is sits on top of the sensor pedestal and is held in place with a magnet in the base. The lance is held in place by a 3D printed mount to the right of the rider. The campers can joust with other campers while at camp. After camp, the robot doesn’t need to joust. It can still be used as a beam following robot.

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2021 Halloween Is Over

“I’m the Ghost Rider…My job is taking souls to hell…Don’t get no vaccinations shots…I need the work!”

Of course, it’s never really over here at the Lacey’s. The only thing that changes is that the projects don’t have the same sense of urgency as those days right before Halloween and the party on the day before. I now have a list of projects that need to be accomplished before next year. Luckily, this year most of the props operated flawlessly and only need to be packed away. I do have a few things that I’ll have to look at, however.

This year, I had a new prop in the “center stage.” It was my rendition of the “Ghost Rider.” All the regulars returned, though. There was the “dog”, “baby-the giant skull”, “the flying crank ghost”, “the tomb lifter”, “the gassy ghoul”, “the popup ghoul”, “Jack-in-box”, “Naomi-the witch”, “the three sisters”, and “It-the clown in the sewers.” Let’s not forget about the “talking pumpkin”, “Harvey wall breaker”, “the striking snake”, and “the popup mourner.”

Next year, the “Ghost Rider” won’t return but the mannequin will return as “The Devil.” For the Ghost Rider Instead of programming an Arduino microprocessor, I used a prop controller from Frightprops called the PicoBoo MP3. It made the job easier, but I had some limitations on what I could program into the “show.”

It was a great show. My guests for the day before party were impressed and the neighborhood kids seemed to enjoy their Halloween Trick-or-Treat visits. You can take a virtual tour of the whole display HERE.

This year exposed what might be a major problem moving forward. What the hell am I going to do with all this stuff when I run out of storage room? I keep packing things tighter and tighter, but space is getting critical. Right now, I feel that I’m a single cardboard box from being a hoarder. The fact that I build many of my props requires that I maintain a stock of “useful” stuff at the ready for my next project. I try and keep things as organizes as possible, but I feel that I’m reaching a point where I need to shuck a bunch of stuff, I’ll not use in the time I have left.

Every year it gets a bit harder to set up, but I think I’ll keep doing it as long as I can and as long as people appreciate the effort.

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It’s About Time…

…for an update.

A lot has happened since I last wrote in this blog. The last posting was way back in June. It was all about how I improved my “Invader Zim,” a Halloween prop from 2019. At that time, I had no plans to ever use him again, but it was a fun way to use my 3D printer. As it turns out, I DID get to use him again along with my pumpkin aliens, and a quickly assembled flying saucer. This year, I participated in the Oracle Glow event.

I also got a chance to display my “The Day the Earth Stood Still” inspired silver pumpkin robot. (I call him GORD.)

Quoting from the website:

‘GLOW! a nighttime art experience’ is an illuminated, out-of-the-ordinary, magical wonderland. Inspired by the mysterious full moon and alluring starlit sky, one is transported to another galaxy while transversing the 10 acres of outdoor trails – with plenty of room to roam. GLOWing artwork, multi-media installations, theatrical performances, projections and live music color the Sculpture Park, offering surprises with each step. Be engaged by the plethora of creative expression and community. GLOW! is an avant-garde art adventure where one can always expect the unexpected.

My display was call “Hey, Mister Spaceman,” and it was located right at the entrance. All of the art exhibits are displayed along trails, and most are illuminated. Some are interactive like mine. Of course, they look a bit different at night.

It was fun and I’m looking forward to the sold-out event on the 23rd of October. The guys were not designed to be outside, but they are holding up well. This year, my Halloween will have another central theme—Ghost Rider. More to come…

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3D Meets Invader Zim

Are you feeling it yet? Things are starting to get back to normal after the pandemic. Frequent readers of this blog will know that this means I’ll be getting ready for Halloween six months ahead of time. However, before I can properly prepare for the next Halloween event, I must take care of a few things. The theme for the Lacey’s Haunted Graveyard for 2019 was “Aliens from Outer Space.” (If you watch the highlighted video, you need to skip to the 4:30 mark to see the start of the UFO themed display.) In the interim, the displays were all packed into a very crowded storage shed. Invader Zim was packed on top and had to be moved out to get to other stuff in the shed. In the process, he was moved to the back porch. The wind and the weather did a number on poor old Invader Zim and he ended up looking a bit like a Picasso drawing. One of his big red eyes fell out. Somehow, one of his arms ended up sticking out of the socket. His head fell off too. Some of the hot glue joints let loose. In short, he became a pile of unrecognizable pieces and parts. However, when I plugged in his electronics, he could be heard saying, “My tallest, my tallest, my tallest…” I had to decide—Should I toss him or fix him? The 2021 Halloween theme will not involve UFOs or aliens but still…he has a special place in my heart. He came out of the fact that I found an abandoned slightly damage motorcycle faring on a dirt path during a Geocaching adventure. I love turning other people’s trash into useful items. Invader Zim is a fine example of upcycling. Before I can start preparing for the new 2021 theme, I decided to take care of him. Perhaps someone else will want him for their display.

Here is the faring I found in the field. I drug it home because I saw something alien in it. I didn’t know what though. I posted a picture on a Halloween DIY FaceBook page, and someone commented, “My tallest.” I didn’t know what the hell she was talking about, but my Google Fu was strong, and I soon found Invader Zim. As a boomer, I was not familiar with the cartoon. I watched a few episodes. There was an “Invader Zim” in there. I just had to bring him out into the world. I’ve told this story previously in a blog post back in September 2019. So, what is new? I bought a 3D printer in November 2020. Since then, I’ve found many things to make. I decided to make some 3D parts for him.

First, I cleaned him up and reassembled him. This required a bit of elbow grease but easily doable. His shoes were made of 1/8″ black foam, hot glue, and electrical tape. They didn’t survive the elements very well. He needed new boots. His hands (hands are hard) were made of foam covered with a black latex glove. I thought I might do better.

I started with TinkerCad and designed a new set of boots. These are better than the original pair and should last. Next, I found an upraised fist and manipulated it to fit the size I needed. It was a simple matter to mirror the right fist into a left fist and print them both out. Of course, 3D printing takes a while. It’s best to have the printer work while I sleep. I tend to watch the printer for too long when it’s working. The total time it took to do Zim’s “upgrade” was about a week, but most of it was done while I was sleeping.

He’s done now and ready for storage. Likely as not, he’ll not be used in a Halloween display in the future. I don’t know what’s going to become of him. Having an Invader Zim made from a discarded motorcycle faring is not the point. He served his time, though. I’m glad I made him. The point of fixing him up though was to meet the challenge of repairing him. Maybe I’ll bundle him up with a few other “Aliens from Outer Space” props and sell them locally to someone that would like to have their own “out of this world” display for the next Halloween.

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I Made Another Thing (or Two)

This pandemic has been a big pain, but it does have its upside. I have time to waste. I can do fun things too, and it doesn’t matter how efficient I am in doing them. Nancy wanted a container for elastic hair ties. So, I made a few. After all, I use elastic hair ties too. I made three. Each of them took almost 5 hours to print. Of course, I don’t have to watch the printer work the whole time. I mean, I don’t HAVE to. Honestly, I don’t watch the printer the whole time, but I make sure that it gets a good start. Watching a 3D printer is relaxing. Especially, when everything is moving as expected. It’s a good time to catch up on podcasts too.

After the elastics holder, I made a few trinket dishes to hold small items like pocket knives and toe clippers. Now, we have more of them than we need. After about the third one, I decided to try and make one out of ABS plastic. I’ve tried ABS before, but it never worked out. I couldn’t get the magic combination of setting to make it work. This time—no problem! I guess I’ve learned a bit about 3D printing since the last time I tried.

I just finished making a cable holder for the edge of my computer desk. This was particularly fun because I made it using some custom design made in TinkerCad combined with something borrowed from ThingiVerse. The result is something that I put to immediate use. It keeps my lightning and two versions of USB connectors readily available at the edge of my computer glass top desk.

I may miss these pandemic days. 

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Another Day in My Life as a Maker

Today, I received my Savage Industries workshop apron. It was on order for a couple of months and I bought it for my birthday a couple of weeks ago. I’ve never owned a workshop apron so I don’t know if I’ll get much use for it, but I had to make sure that it had a place in the shop that was readily available so I can use it and out of the way in case I don’t want to.

I know that it fits and is comfortable. Adam Savage has a fixed set of “doo dads” that he carries in his. I may have to develop a “standard” carry for mine as well. So far, I’ve loaded a single PaperMate Sharp Writer mechanical pencil. Apparently, it’s his favorite.

My workshop still has too much stuff in it and now I was trying something else. My thought process: a) It must hang; b) It must be handy; and c) It must be out of the way when I’m not using it.

  1. Hanging from the shoulder straps is a natural.
  2. Having in near the door is a great idea to keep it handy.
  3. Hanging it from the bottom of my “drill cabinet” would keep it out of the way.

So, it was off to TinkerCad and the 3D printer for the hanger. It was fun to design and didn’t take long to make. I used a short piece of 5/16″ Carbon Fiber rod for the cross bar. It’s times like these, that I wish I would have invested in my 3D printer sooner. I can’t believe how handy it is. Here are the results of today’s efforts:

Someday, this pandemic will be over, and I won’t be able to spend so much time in the workshop. On days like this, I wonder if I’m actually going to miss the pandemic!

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