A Safe Place for Gort

Here it is mid-September and I’m missing normality more than ever. Normally, I’d be deep into Halloween preparations. Actually, I would have started the effort a couple of months ago. Last year the theme of my display was Aliens from outer space. The most complicated new prop from last year was “Gord.” He’s a bit of a mashup of a Halloween Pumpkin and a silver robot from the movie The Day the Earth Stood Still. He was the star in a scene which included a UFO and a couple of Pumpkin Aliens. I got the idea for the Pumpkin Aliens from the Hallmark Channel before I decided to build “Gord.”

I probably wrote about “Gord” and the display last year. However, He came back in my life recently because he needed repair. His “kill” light lost a few LEDs and I thought I might do a better job on the visor that comes up during operation. All the Halloween stuff that I’ve built over the years has been building up as you might guess. It’s becoming a bit of a problem and you can look at “Gord” and tell that he takes up a lot of space and difficult to store. After putting forth all the effort to make him serviceable again, I didn’t want to throw his pumpkin carcass loose into the storage area. I must pack him on the top and then he becomes a challenge to work around when I have to get other stuff out of storage. Therefore, he needed a place out of the way where he’d be well protected, and I won’t have to constantly work around him. Thus, the high shelf in the workshop.

Yesterday, I posted to this blog. It was the first one since May. It didn’t go very smoothly. The WordPress and Word connection no longer worked. Hopefully, this one will go through without a hitch…well, I guess if you’re reading this, it did.

I was in a bit of a rut lately. It seems that everything I touched broke and fought off the repair effort. I thought that fixing “Gord” would break the spell. Apparently, it didn’t but now with a successful noneventful construction of a high shelf, perhaps my luck will change.

Regular readers, all two of you, will probably be wondering what I’m going to be doing for my favorite holiday this year. We won’t be having the normal party on the day before. It would have been great too since it would have been on a Friday. I’m not sure that there will be any kids out Trick-or-Treating, but I still plan on building a few new props, dragging out the old ones and decorating the outside of the house. I had a theme, and it this had been a “normal” year, I would have used it. I guess it will have to wait until next year.

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I was watching Adam Savage on YouTube. He, like the rest of us reasonable people, is on self-induced lockdown. On the bright side, he can spend a lot more quality time with his tools in his “cave.” By himself, he has been posting “one day builds” and other maker type videos. He records his videos on his phone. So what? Well…it got me remembering about stuff from long ago.

In 1965 or so when I was very much younger than I am now, I used to watch television. I remember watching an afternoon talk show with television personalities discussing the news of interest. One segment was on a young boy, not much older than I was at the time. My guess is that he was 11 or 12 years old. He had created something amazing. He built his own television camera. It was in a box about the size of a bread box. Err…there I go again, geezering. In case you’ve never seen a bread box, it was a box about 16 inches wide by 8 to 9 inches high and deep, a little bigger than an “E1” Amazon box. It was probably build around a “Vidcon” tube. During the segment, they switched the video feed from the studio camera to his camera. The picture was good, and he was able to flip the image upside down. They discussed how much it cost him to make. Turns out his camera cost about one tenth the cost of the studio camera (which was also contained in a rather large box).

Fast forward 55 years…Now millions of people carry more capable television cameras in their pockets. During this lockdown, there were a few programs shot on cell phones. For example, Samantha Bee went from a crew of 70 to her husband filming the “Full Frontal Show” on his iPhone.

Well that’s probably enough “Geezering” for today…

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Holiday from Danger

“Holiday from Danger” was the name given to the base picnic when I was 7 and growing up at the Air Force Academy. It was quite an affair as I remember it. That was 60 years ago. My father was stationed at the Air Force Academy when it was at Lowry AFB. My very first memories date back to living in Denver. We moved to Palmer Lake Colorado when the academy cadets moved to the campus near Colorado Springs. Our house in Palmer Lake was at the top of a hill, and our 55 Ford red and white convertible wasn’t good on hills. Dad bought a 57 Chevrolet Townsman station wagon with a 283 V-8 Power Pack. I believe it was his all-time favorite car. He loved kicking it down into passing gear on the highway. We drove it all over Colorado Springs including a trip or two up Pike’s Peak.

Eventually, our base housing was finished in Douglass Valley on the Air Academy grounds, and it was there that I started to appreciate living in the “Air Force Community.” Our house was one half of a duplex—4601E. All the houses were similar. They all had hardwood floors and a flat roof with a carport. Some houses had more bedrooms ours had three. We also had unfinished basements which I enjoyed very much. Each house had a lawn and every “cluster” of houses had a common area with grass. The highest-ranking airman became the “cluster chief” and responsible for the maintenance of the common area. Normally, that involved scheduling the watering and grass cutting.

Living in the “Air Force Community” was great. Douglass Valley Elementary School was will within walking distance. All the facilities were there on base. At that time, Colorado Springs was about ten miles away, but we seldom needed to go into town. The Base Exchange and the Commissary were close. There was a recreation center and an in-door swimming pool. My father did all his maintenance work on the Chevy at the Auto Hobby Shop on base.

Memorial Day got me thinking about the “Holiday from Danger” carnival. It was held on the Picnic Grounds on base. The Air Force Academy is nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and the picnic grounds was a wide open wild grassy area surrounded by Ponderosa Pine trees. The base went all-out for the Memorial Day picnic. It started early. There were games for the kids: sack races, three legged races, and a “greased pig” contest. I did poorly, but I have vivid memories of those events. A dealership from Colorado Springs brought out some cars and had a timed obstacle course for the adults. There was a small miniature golf course set up by the Civil Engineering Squadron. (Some of the obstacles were there for years after the picnic). There were booths and prizes. I remember hearing some radios tuned in to the Indianapolis 500 race. Mostly, I remember a great time in the high dry altitude. Throwing spear grass. Drinking from the canvas water containers hanging from the trees…and how much my father and his friends enjoyed the free-flowing beer.

During the day, I asked my father why the event was called “Holiday from Danger.” He told me that Memorial Day was the start of the summer, and the party is an effort to keep as many people as possible from leaving the base and getting into accidents.

I spent my entire life in the Air Force and the “Holiday from Danger” picnic stands out as one of the greatest memories of living in the “community.”

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The Robot Marionette

Today was a surprisingly good day for me under self-imposed lockdown restriction. I slept in a bit longer than usual. The morning scale reading was not higher than expected and there was a new GeoCache within a half mile from the house. The temperature was only 84, and I felt good. My normal routine now is to get my pills, eat a hard-boiled egg, load up with water, and head out the door for a five-mile walk. I decided to go after the new GeoCache instead of walking on the section of the Tucson bike loop that is near my house. It’s Sunday, and there were probably a good number of people on the “Loop.” Besides, the GeoCache was new and there was an outside chance that I’d get a “First to Find.” I didn’t PhilBeer beat me to it, but that didn’t make the activity any less fun. After swapping swag and marking the log in the GeoCache, I still had some distance to go to get to my normal 5-mile distance. I headed out to find a few more local caches that were nearby. Luck was with me throughout the hunt and not a single DNF (Did Not Find). I got all five of them without bleeding a bit which is quite a feat given our kind of vegetation. I did get a thorn through the shoe, but that only held me up for a bit to remove it. No blood involved.

The rest of the day went normally. I made a new batch of T.J. Miracle Soup and watched some YouTube videos. Dinner was good. We finished watching Briarpatch. (I love it when gets cancelled and I get to see it finish up.) In all, a good day. I handed over the remote control to my wife, grabbed a Blue Moon, and headed to the computer room to finish out the waking part of the day. Did I mention that it was a good day?

The bottle cap jar on the bar was full and I had to empty it out. I have a friend that makes Beer Pong tables that use bottle caps, so I needed to bag up the contents and store them away. That’s when a 59-year-old memory surfaced…It was a memory about a time when I ran into a shortage of bottle caps.

At age 8, I was a Boy Scout and my mother was one of the leaders—a Den Mother. A den consisted of around 8 boys. The den met once a week. On meeting days, we wore our uniforms to school. Our mission in life was to gain rank, earn arrowhead patches, and work on crafts. The Boy Scouts of America had leader guides that suggested projects. The den mothers found interesting crafts for us to do. I enjoyed the craft portion of the program more than the other parts.

At this point, I need to thank my mother and other den leaders for picking this project. For any of my friends and others that read this blog, this might answer a few questions you have about me. This Robot Marionette craft project set the stage for my entire life.

The first part of the project involved collecting cans and bottle caps. We needed a variety of specific cans that, at that time, most people used. As I remember, the body was made of a 3-pound coffee can. We needed 4 tall juice cans for the legs. Concentrated orange juice cans were necessary for the arms, and the head was a large fruit can. Tuna cans were used for the hands. The feet were sardine cans. The robot sported a boy scout hat and a paper neckerchief worn around the neck. All the cans were tied together with small pieces of twine. Strings were connected to the knees, elbows, top of the head, the hands, and the feet. Only a small quantity of the cans was required. However, the fingers of the hands required a boatload of bottle caps! No one had them. As I bagged the several hundred beer caps, I remembered how many of our tin can marionette robots went unfinished because all our dads drank their beer from cans.

So, my dear readers, do you now know how this project affected my life?

https://azatheist.com/2020/04/18/38-days-of-quarantine-another-robot-unboxed/, https://azatheist.com/2020/05/08/im-itching-to-build/, https://azatheist.com/2020/05/08/r2d2-build-first-day/, https://azatheist.com/2020/05/10/r2d2-build-final/, https://azatheist.com/2019/08/06/international-aerial-robotics-competition-mission-8/, https://azatheist.com/2019/06/10/camp-quest-arizona-2019/, https://azatheist.com/2018/07/24/camp-quest-az-2018-and-what-keeps-me-coming-back/

You get the idea: My interest in Robots, Youth Activity, and Upcycling all started back then in 1961.

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R2D2 Build: Final

The is a great project! It gets a little “fiddly” at times but it is one that starts with a box of parts on day one finishes with a complete illuminated model on the second day. It’s also dear to me because the high percentage of reused materials. Note in the picture to the left that the display case is also made of reused materials. A Christmas decoration came in the clear drum. The top is a spare sink stopper hot glued to the top. During my first build day, I cleaned and painted the materials. Vinyl decorations were cut out with a razor blade on plexiglass and applied. The arms were assembled from FireBall mini bottles and automotive air fresheners. I also painted the fabric softener dome top.

On the second day, the LEDs and current limiting resistors are mounted followed by mounting the dome on the top of the can with hot glue.

It made most sense to mount the push button on/off switch and the power socket before mounting the battery holder. Unlike the TARDIS, R2D2 is NOT bigger on the inside and it gets crowded quickly.

The 3 AA battery holder is mounted on a ¾” piece of plywood cut to 2″ square and sanded on one side to fit on the inside of the soup can. A belt sander makes this particularly easy since it can remove a lot of material quickly. I placed sticky hook and loop fasteners (Velcro) to the battery pack and the mounting platform and hot glued the assembly to the front of the robot. I may want to replace the batteries in the future and having the holder mounted on Velcro will allow me to remove the holder when required.

Having a battery operated R2D2 tin can robot is neat. It allows me to put it anywhere on display independent of the need for a wall socket. However, most of my displayed tin can robots are on a shelf and powered by an external power supply. Honestly, I don’t know where this one is going to end up so I added the capability to operate on an external power supply.

I bought D.C. power sockets and plugs in the past for previous projects, so I knew that they were available—somewhere. After a short search that felt longer than it was, I came up with the socket and plug combination. I also had an Apple USB charger adaptor that someone conveniently left for me on the side of my walking path. Finally, a quick rummage through the “wire box” and I had the needed USB wire. Once again, I had the pleasure of using materials that I had on hand.

This is hard to admit but wiring this little robot toy is terribly confusing, and it shouldn’t be. There are only a couple of components and a few connections. Even though this was my fourth one, I had to get out my pencil and paper and turn down the radio so that I could concentrate. I’ll include the diagram here but it’s hard to follow. The secret appears to be that the ground connection is the one that is switched. In my experience, it is usually the positive lead that is switched. In this case, the battery positive lead, the socket positive lead, and the LED positive lead are solidly connected without an interrupting switch. The pushbutton switch on the back of R2 interrupts the ground to the LEDs. One end is connected to the LEDs and other end is connected to the socket negative lead. On my socket there was a connection without a wire, a bare connection. I checked with an Ohmmeter and found that when the plug is not in the socket this bare connection and the ground connection are shorted. Once the plug is inserted, the bare connection and the socket ground connection are disconnected, and the ground provided to the LEDs is from the external power supply.

The allows the robot to operate on batteries when the plug is not in the socket. TA DA!

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R2D2 Build: First Day

The first step in building the R2D2 tin can robot is collecting a few things. This is my fourth one so I’m familiar with what I need for materials. The one luxury that we have these days is plenty of time. I’m not in a hurry. I have no deadline to meet. I’m going to enjoy every part of the build.

Before I get started, I want to share something with you:

I am a maker. Heaven on earth is noodling around in the workshop and casually working on my latest project. Time means nothing and there are no pressing concerns. I’m not in a hurry, and I’m “in the zone.” My workshop is my world. I am my own boss. There is a clock on the wall, but I don’t look at it. The enjoyment is in the doing.

I love CampQuestAZ. It gives me the chance to share the “maker” experience with the young campers. My R2D2 was only an example. They had to come up with their own design made from the parts I brought to camp. Check out the imaginative and creative robots they built!

Unlike their effort, I have a plan and the experience of building 3 previous R2D2s. So during my build today, I skipped around a bit. After collecting all of the necessary materials and tools, I cleaned and painted the can, the dome, the tiny liquor bottles, the air fresheners, and the dental floss container. All of the parts require a multiple coats. The base coat is black.

Next, I painted the can and the dome metallic silver. Finally, I masked a couple of small areas on the can and painted the can and the “arms” an off-white (ivory). The masked areas become the vents on the front of R2. The blue highlights are made of vinyl tape applied to a piece of plexiglass and cut out using an Exacto blade.

R2 is starting to take shape! All that remains is to add the wiring and electronics. They are amazingly simple. The model uses only 3 LED bulbs, 3 AA batteries, and a switch. Since the LEDs are different colors, each one will require its own current limiting resistor. The blue LED has a forward voltage drop of 2.8 V; the red LED drops 2.0V, and the “Rainbow” LED drops 2.5V. I calculated the resistance values needed to provide 20 mA through each of the LED (assuming a nominal power supply voltage of 4.5 V). The values only have to be in “the neighborhood. I chose an 85 Ohm resistor for the blue LED, a 100 Ohm resistor for the “Rainbow” LED, and a 125 Ohm resistor for the red LED. If you’re interested in how these calculations are done, leave me a comment.

Tomorrow, I’ll mount the three LEDs, install the battery holder and switch, and add a jack so that R2 can run from a USB converter instead of batteries.

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I’m Itching to Build

You may recognize this picture. Especially, if you are a long-time reader of this blog. It is a model of the Star Wars robot R2D2. It has LEDs that light up; it is crude. Most importantly, it is something made almost entirely out of recycled materials. The main body is a Healthy Choice soup can. The dome is from the top of a fabric softener bottle. The arms are made of small liquor bottles. The front foot came from my dentist. It had a small amount of dental floss in it originally, and the main feet are automobile deodorizers that I found on the side of the road. There are parts that I had to purchase, however. I used hot glue, two hex head bolts with matching nuts, multiple colors of spray paint, some vinyl tape, light emitting diodes, a few resistors, a battery holder, 3 AA batteries, and a switch.

This is the first one that I built to use as an example for a Camp Quest AZ activity called “Tin Can Robots.” In all I built 5 examples: A Dr. Who Dalek, this R2D2, Rosie the Robot from the Jetsons cartoon show, Rocket Man, and Robby the Robot from the movie Forbidden Planet.

I’ve built 2 other R2D2 models: One I donated to a charity auction and the other I gave to the Bay Area R2D2 Builders when I went there for a Maker Faire. I can say that this one, the original, is the worst of the lot. It was my first one and I had to figure things out while it was under construction.

I decided to build a fourth one. As you can see, I’ve collected all the necessary parts. I intend to build it and report on the build here on my blog. It will keep me busy for a couple of day, and if you want to follow along, it can keep you busy for a couple of days too. You can ask me questions about the build in the comments. I’ll do my best to be as descriptive as possible, but I may miss a few details that need clarification.

This should be fun. We’ll start tomorrow with cleaning up the parts…

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45 Days After Lockdown and Feeling a Bit Guilty

Yes, it’s another unboxing blog. I’m feeling guilty because perhaps I shouldn’t be having so much fun while on lockdown when others aren’t so lucky.

Every day starts out with a 5 mile walk on the portion of “The Loop” that is close to my house. It’s starting to get warmer now. Eighty-four degrees this morning when I started. I’m sure it was a bit warmer when I got home. I don’t think I could do it without my headphones and a healthy backlog of podcasts. Most people out on the loop are there to get exercise same as me. I usually wave with my palm open and my 2nd and 3rd fingers spread a bit like Mr. Spock in Star Trek. I say, “good morning” and most respond back. A couple of days back I decided to mix it up a bit and said, “Nanu nanu.” The responses were varied. Some knew the reference and smiled a bit broader. Some just waved. Some looked puzzled. Just like most days, there were the few dedicated, serious peddlers that rode past with that scowl that says, “Don’t bother me I’m doing something really important here!” I get that I guess. People are different. I personally enjoy a “howdy do” during these times of isolation but I understand how others may not. What I don’t understand are the bikers that come from behind and pass at break-neck speed as close possible. There have been times when I step off the trail to let large groups go by. I’m a bit reluctant to do that now because we have some non-human company sharing the path these days.

Normally, these guys don’t bother me much, but “The Loop” is rather busy, and they appear to be rather nervous and noisy. They’re easy to spot on the paved path, but their camouflage is very well matched to the desert on each side. They disappear. On the positive side, I think I get more out of my exercise when I hear the rattle. I’m sure my heart rate goes up a bit. Lately, I’ve seeing two or three every day.

I like to take a few of those plastic grocery bags with me when I walk. They don’t weigh much and don’t take up much space, but they’re handy for collecting the trash along the way. I prefer the path to be clean and it doesn’t hurt to take a few minutes to pick up things along the way that shouldn’t be there. There are three trash barrels along the section that I use. Sometimes, I find things that I want to take home. Some items find their way into reuse projects. Pictured is a shelf completely covered with reuse projects. I have to say that this shelf is not universally appreciated but I still get away with it. Just today I picked up the little green bottle sitting between Rosie and R2D2. It came in handy when I needed a small light weight object to move with my new robotic arm.

By the way, I should end this here. I’ve reached 500 words and came full circle. The box of parts in the beginning is now a working robotic arm capable of holding something that I found on my walk. Nanu nanu!

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38 Days of Quarantine: Another Robot Unboxed

I bought a few robot kits late last year and early this year. I also bought some robot associated kits. For example, I bought a robotic arm driven by hydraulics. I buy these things for evaluation and get ideas for a robotics program at Camp Quest Arizona. Camp Quest Arizona was scheduled for the end of June, but it is cancelled for this year.

This is my second kit from RoboBloq. It’s called Qoopers. .” This high-quality kit costs about $150 (from Amazon). In the kit, there are parts for 6 different configurations. The one pictured and the one I built is called “Captain Alloy I also had the option of building a two wheeled “Scorpoid” version, an obstacle avoiding “The Voyager” version, the “Li’l Guardian” version, “The Dozer”, and “The Cavalier” version. An unboxing video can be found here.

It took me about an hour to assemble and since I previously downloaded the RoboBloq application on my iPhone, it took me no time to start driving it around my living room. Previously, I built the Q-Scout from the same company (RoboBloq) which costs half as much. The Q-Scout and the Qoopers are remarkably similar. The Q-Scout was a bit easier to assemble probably due to the fact there was only one option whereas the Qoopers can make six different robots. There are many more fasteners required on the Qoopers and most of them need back up nuts. The Q-Scout had fewer fasteners and almost no nuts because the threads were cut into the metallic parts. The Q-Scout has two powered wheels while the Qoopers has a pair of tank treads. The motors on the Qoopers are also more powerful.

The parts and fasteners reminded me of my Erector Sets that I had when I was a boy except these were high quality. My Erector Sets also did not have a brain module either. I enjoyed building these two robots and it was great to have the opportunity to play with them a bit. So far, I’ve been using my iPhone to control and program them, but Nancy is giving me her old iPad which should make the programming a bit easier. I don’t think I can build a Camp Quest Arizona program around them. While at camp we discourage the use of iPhones and iPads. In order to operate the robots, you’ll need one or the other. However, I might have a short “free-for-all” robotic activity where these guys will be participants and the campers will be able to interact with them for fun and the experience of interacting with robotic devices.

Stay tuned! I’ve got quite a few robotic items in storage and there seems to be no better time than now to break them out.

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20 Days In (XX)

Last May, Nancy and I brought home a beautiful new truck—a 2019 Super Cab Ranger 4×4 with the top-of-line trim and all the goodies. A couple of days ago, my “connected” vehicle sent me a message:

“Your Vehicle is in Deep Sleep mode and connectivity is temporarily unavailable. Manually turn on your vehicle to deactivate this mode.”

In other words, the truck is feeling ignored.

For us, it has been 20 days since we started practicing “social distancing.” We made the decision to go into self-imposed isolation on March 12th right after Nancy’s birthday party on the 11th. Not much changed for us, however. Mainly, we stopped going to the weekly Sabino Canyon 7 O’clock evening stroll and I stopped going to “drinking godlessly” every other week and hosting the monthly Tucson Atheists Meetup at Denny’s. I’m beginning to realize how important those small breaks and socialization events are.

We went to the Safeway today. The Safeway store is right at ½ mile from our front door, so the trip added 1 mile to our step count. Nancy and I needed the steps, so we didn’t drive. I needed vegetables for my “miracle soup.” I make a couple of weeks’ worth at a time and have a cup every morning. This morning I ran out. Nancy sat down and sewed some surgical type masks out of two layers of dense pillowcase material. We put them on when entering the store and made note of all the changes that are designed to keep people 6 feet apart. The masks seemed to work even though they were a little hot to wear. No one seemed to mind. I paid the bill with a credit card to avoid using money and the only thing I touched that was recently touched by another human was the register receipt and 3 Monopoly game pieces. When we got home, we washed our hands with soap.

It looks like this is going to be our new “normal.” I have been walking 4 to 5 miles on the “Tucson Loop” every day and picking up trash when I see it. I probably need to drive the vehicles around the block from time to time. It would be easy for me to spend the day snacking on junk and watching television, but I’m determined not to do that. I have many unfinished projects, and nothing is more satisfying to me than getting in the “zone” while working on a new robot or model airplane. I have a couple of motorcycles that haven’t been started in years. Maybe it is time to get them tuned and prepped for sale to someone that will appreciate them.

I hope your self-imposed isolation is going as well and thank you for reading this. Check in from time to time and if you’d have any questions or concerns, feel free to leave a comment.

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