What’s Next? Building IT Part V

I finished the last installment of “Building IT” with “what’s next?” What was next was to wire the circuit boards and test their functions. The picture here doesn’t look very different from yesterday but that’s the nature of projects. In the beginning, change is obvious. First there is nothing then there is something. In the middle of the project very little seems to change. It’s like the project absorbs work.

In spite of that apparent effect, I accomplished a lot today. Notice that the two boards are now joined and there are wires connecting all the components. The small board on the workbench is simply for testing. Lights on the board indicate what is happening. The lights will be replaced with other components such as linear actuators and a motion sensor. One of the wires will activate a store purchased jumping spider. I’m hoping that that will be easy but I’m not holding my breath.

Everything works and the next step is to place the circuitry in a weather proof container and mount it to the prop. Then the prop components can be connected to the terminal strip on the outside of the container. With the exception of one last remaining hard
thing to do, the rest of the build should be easy. The hard thing is mating the homemade portion of the prop with the store bought jumping spider. I expect challenges. The linear actuator motors sometimes interfere with the Chinese circuitry in Halloween decorations. I may have to apply power to the spider only when I want it to be active. I’m hoping that that won’t be necessary but I’m prepared to if needed.


  • Mount the circuit boards
  • Connect the actuators, lights, motion sensor, and spider
  • Decorate
  • Fine adjust and play

Stay tuned!

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Do the Hard Stuff First: Building IT IV

Greetings! In the 11 days since the last installment of “Building IT” a lot has happened but that doesn’t mean that the work has stopped. Building IT is quite a project. almost to the same level as the first pneumatic clown prop that I built. In some ways IT is a step back. When I retired in 2008, I thought that Halloween was going to be great but it wasn’t. I had “Jack” but the clown prop that I built was a horrible failure. For one thing, I started too late. The clown was supposed to come out of a box. It used and electric actuator that didn’t work well. He was slow and boring. Even so, the Halloween was still fun. I still had my trustworthy “Jack.”

I would put “Jack” the talking pumpkin out every year.

Jack was easy to set up and store. He consisted of foam and plastic pumpkin, a speaker, a microphone, and a 100 Watt voice modulated light bulb. On Halloween day I would pull out a single cardboard box and find my PA amp. I covered a tall speaker with an old moth eaten tablecloth so it could double as Jack’s stand. Jack would sit on his speaker by the door and I would talk to the trick-or-treaters thought he PA system. I could see them through a darkened window and a microphone placed near Jack allowed me to hear them. Some kids would come back after Trick-or-treating just to talk. Jack has been with us since the seventies. We moved to Tucson in 2000 and Jack came with us. The kids that used to talk with Jack on Halloween night in the early 2000’s are now bringing their kids but it’s not just Jack anymore. Jack has friends now!

Building IT is quite a project and projects need to be divided into individual tasks. Some tasks are easy or familiar because I’ve done them before. Some tasks are unfamiliar and challenging. These are the “hard stuff.” On the other hand, there are familiar tasks that must be accomplished first. For example, I’ve built props in the past and building a box is something that might be considered easy or familiar. However I can’t mount the linear actuator which is rather challenging without the box to mount it to.

Today’s hard stuff is adding a voice to IT which involves using a couple of circuit modules that I’ve never used before. ***work***work***…I’m back and it wasn’t as tough as it could have been. The Adafruit Audio FX sound board and the audio amplifier worked just as advertised. What’s next?

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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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