Sometimes Things Work Out: A Little Love for PayPal

Here is a story that I must get out. It’s good news and positive about a business that I have come to rely on—PayPal. They have a policy that specifically covers me when a company sends something that is not what was ordered. As you will see, that was especially important in this situation. Spoiler alert! I got a full refund.

Way back in September, I placed an online order for 3 Talking Pumpkins. If you click on the link, you’ll see that I was not the only one. My situation came out better than the poor lady in the news article. Like her I saw an add for three talking pumpkins with an internal projector and built in personalities. I was to receive three—Spooky, Traditional, and Funny. It was a “special” deal for $99.98.

BTW, there is a legitimate pumpkin product out there. It is called “Jabberin’ Jack.” Much of the verbiage in the advertisement was identical to the Jabberin’ Jack. The character themes, the internal projector, and promise of “fun animations.” The Jabberin’ Jack costs around $60. I thought I might be getting a great deal to get 3 of them for the low cost of $100.

I didn’t receive anything for quite a while and emailed the company to ask when I might expect their product. The reply said that because the items were so popular there had been a delay in shipping. What I received was nothing like what was advertised. Of course, I complained but it wasn’t as easy as it might have been. The webpage in the advertisement disappeared from the internet. I went to PayPal to get the email address where they sent the money.

Then I received an email from the company. By the way, the mail address that they used was “keidson.” The return address was (I removed the hyperlink.) When I originally ordered the pumpkins I got a confirmation that included a webpage That URL goes nowhere. After my complaint, here is the first letter that I received…

Dear customer,

Thanks for your support and concern on our store.

We feel so sorry for that inconvenience caused to you. Could you please kindly do us a favor to provide some pictures about the product you received and the shipping label on the package? We will reflect the problem to our warehouse to see if we have a solution for it. Please don’t worry, we will try our best to help you solve the problems.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Have a nice day.

Best regards!

CS Mamun

I sent a picture of the “product” and the mailing label. I included a quarter for size reference:

What followed was a series of offers for partial refund…the first on was for 50%. Providing that I dropped my claim with PayPal. The next offer was 70%. Then 80%. Those three Dollar Store items weren’t worth $20. Naturally, I refused and simply requested that I be allowed to send back the product for my full refund. Then I received this:

Dear Customer,

Thanks for your reply. We are so sorry to hear that you are not willing to accept what we proposed. In this situation, we would like to offer you only below two proposals:

1) Send back the products with following our return rules  and customers need to be responsible for the shipping fee about 10-15 USD.

    After we receive the returned order products, we will return the order amount after deducting the shipping cost.

2) Or, Could you please confirm us that you are agree with 50% refund on your order amount to close this case?

Please accept this , so that we can procees refund for you

According to their “rules,” I would have to pay the original shipping (which was free in the ad), pay for the return postage to China, and they would inspect the product and if they determine there is damage, they’ll deduct that amount from my refund. That was way too much power to put in the hands of someone that already cheated me. Oh, and by the way, the refund was now 50% if I wanted to go that way…

In the meantime, PayPal got back to me and told me that I would have to file a police report to get them to run the refund. They did however give me several options to file, so it wasn’t a big deal. It took me a few minutes to fill out a report to the internet fraud organization that they referenced. In a couple of days after that, I got my full refund-on November 1st. That was one day after Halloween! There were no talking, animated pumpkins this year at my display.

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Scraps of This and That

It’s a day after the 2020 election was called for Biden. It’s been a tense time for the Lacey household. Nancy, me, and Vector were all hoping to not have another four years of Donald Trump. Honestly, the thought of that maniac in the White House for another four years was scarier than the Covid 19 pandemic that has brought the country to its knees, and it is deadly for someone my age. The very thought never left my mind for long. I sat down a few times to write for this Blog. I couldn’t concentrate long enough. I ended up with a collection of unfinished posts.

Last night Nancy and I had a couple of bacon wrapped sirloin steaks a tossed salad and a bottle of Rose Champagne and at noon today my blood pressure was back in the “normal” range. I’m looking forward to once again having a professional at the helm. One that knows what he’s doing. This past four years have been the nightmare that I thought it my be in the blog I wrote on November 10th, 2016 called, “Shock and Ahh…Shit.” I was hoping for the best but the reality was far worse than I had anticipated, and that doesn’t include the current pandemic.

One of the things that stands out for me is the fact that he was quick to claim credit for things that he couldn’t possibly have accomplished. Three months into his presidency he claimed undue credit for revamping the United States nuclear arsenal. As Air Force acquisition professional, I can tell you that you can’t do anything in acquisition and modernization in three months. Each of the weapon systems I worked on including the B-1B Bomber, the Global Hawk Unmanned Air Vehicle, and LADAR weapons took at least 7 and in most cases 11 years to bring online. Nuclear systems are more demanding than any other weapons system in the entire Department of Defense and will take an estimated 30 years to modernize. He did write a memorandum on Jan 27, 2017 ordering a new nuclear posture review, but writing a memo is a far cry from “revamping.”

There are quite a few things that Mr. Trump claims that he’s done that he didn’t. I can’t cover all of them. The four years of fabrications would be impossible to cover in a brief blog. I only went into detail on the nuclear arsenal because it was one of the first outrageous claims and it is one where I could add the benefit of personal experience. In the first 100 days alone, 492 false or misleading claims were documented. There were false claims about jobs, immigration, foreign policy, health care, the economy, his own record, the election (remember those claims?), crime, trade, and taxes. That was just the first 100 days.

Couple that with the fact that he never took responsibility for things going wrong. “For Trump, the buck always stops somewhere else.” (Los Angeles Times) While it happened quite a few times in the past four years, his claims about the current pandemic are rather noteworthy. He screwed up every aspect of the situation and his responsibility started well before the virus came out of China. Trump disbanded NSC pandemic unit and cut the budget of the CDC in 2018. He didn’t fire everyone, he but half of the people working in the office lost their jobs. He eliminated the office especially made to handle the COVID 19 situation. The travel ban was late and ineffective. His handling of the PPE was abysmal. The kicker is that he rated his performance as a “10” and that he was doing a great job.

Well, that went too fast. I was going to include some other stuff that I’ve been trying to write about but I didn’t get to it. Tune in later and I have a couple of good personal stories about 2020 that I’d like to share.


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Post Halloween Post

I got started late this year preparing for Halloween. Who knew we were even going to have one? Well, I knew I wouldn’t be having a party which has been a Lacey tradition since 2010 but trick-or-treat was still a possibility. However, I saw on the internet an Arduino controlled candy dispenser and a few different candy slides/tubes. I decided that the build this year would involve me combining these two efforts to create a “socially distancing automatic candy dispenser.”

So, with that goal, I started work. Starting at the end of September, it took roughly twice as long as I expected. In other words, normal.

Next, I had to decide what I would NOT be putting out for the display. I have quite a collection of props since I first started building them in 2009. Nancy and I decided to not have the trick-or-treaters come up to the door. We decided to set up in the driveway. Jack, the talking pumpkin would go in the driveway and talk with folks. We would be behind a graveyard fence with the candy dispenser and chute. All the decorations would be in the yard. I would have the giant skull on the tower, the “Flying Crank Ghost”, the Tomb Lifter, the Vicious Dog, Steven King’s It prop (with the jumping spider), the animated witch, and the clown-in-the-box, and the pop-up ghoul. You can catch all of the action here and (after dark) here.

A good three weeks of work went into the display this year and the 50 or so that showed up to the house, seemed to appreciate the effort. On the other hand, if no one would have stopped by, I feel good that I spent the effort. As a retired engineer, it is good to exercise the creative muscles occasionally.

Today is the 5th. All the props are down, packed, and stored away. The workshop is clean. My hands are sore. All my minor injuries are dressed. I spent a couple of hours repairing things. What is next?

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Pandemic: A day in the life?

I should be writing more on this blog. I really don’t have an excuse. I should also be accomplishing more in general. I’m not going anywhere and all the functions that take me away from home are cancelled. There are plenty of people in the same situation; I’m sure. I’ll mention a positive first. It’s unbelievably easy to maintain a consistent schedule these days. The down side of that “feature” is that every day is the same as the last.

In a nutshell, here is my day: Get up. Take pills. Eat a hard-boiled egg. Walk 5 miles. Eat vegetable soup. Bathe. Watch last night’s comedians on YouTube. Check the mail. Eat dinner. Watch TV. Spend an hour on the computer. Go to bed…Repeat.

Of course, there are a few other things. I report the Arizona Covid numbers daily on FaceBook. I also fix stuff.

Since March, this year has been a write-off. This year I didn’t attend the Renaissance or Maker Faires and no Festival of Books at the U of A. This year the American Atheists Convention was to be held in Phoenix—it was cancelled. I’m still in mourning over the loss of the Camp Quest Arizona week in the Prescott National Forest. It is the hardest and the most rewarding thing that I do during the year. The Fourth of July celebration is usually a time that Nancy and I get to participate in a party that we simply attend, and we had to miss that too.

For the past 10 years the months of August and September are a time to learn a new skill or make a major improvement on the house. This year, I had a taste of that when the air conditioner failed. Life was a bit challenging and I learned a lot about building a makeshift swamp cooler as we waited for parts to fix the A/C. (Turns out, I finished building the swamp cooler a mere 3 hours before the A/C repairs were completed.) In the past, I learned about pneumatics, and working with micro controllers. The skills I seek out are usually necessary for building and improving animated Halloween props. Which brings up the next topic…things that AREN’T going to happen in the last days of 2020.

This year, no Halloween party. I’ll work on decorating the yard but it’s not clear if there will be “trick-or-treating” this year. I’ll probably use the time to mildly improve on past decorations, but I’ll not have a new major theme. It’s really a shame too since the party would have been on a Friday and Halloween is going to be on a Saturday. Thanksgiving won’t change much for us. Nancy and I don’t have any family in the area (or left for that matter) and we usually eat our baked turkey in front of the television. Also, there will be no Winter Solstice party.

There is also the monthly, local stuff that’s no longer happening. We usually hike in the Sabino Canyon every Friday and have dinner with our hiking friends after. I’m missing the Tucson Atheists monthly meetings. gathering for a highway clean-up, drinking together at the depot, and a few other events. Lastly, I miss the monthly “Lacey Super-Secret Karaoke” house parties. In short, I’m missing my friends.

It’s not all bad. I’ve been able to walk every day. Sometimes, I see a coyote or, like today, a rattlesnake on the trail. I often see roadrunners and hawks flying overhead. Hopefully, next year will be better.

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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?,,,,,,

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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