Easy Star Trek “Red Shirt” Costume

I always have the best of intentions. When getting invited to a costume party, I plan to put lots of time and effort into it to create an EPIC costume. Time after time, I put it off and come up with something at the last minute.

The great thing about a costume is that you DON’T have to spend lots of money on one. In fact, you can create a very good costume, just from clothing and props you already had.

Recently, a friend had been working on a Star Trek prop, which got me thinking about how simple a Star Fleet uniform would be to make. Not a perfect one full of detail, but something fun, simple, and cheap.

To start, I gathered together a red T-shirt, black pants and shoes. I didn’t have a long-sleeved shirt, so I just layered the red short-sleeved over a black long-sleeved T-shirt.

A Federation insignia or communicator badge is an important element to the costume, but is simple to make. I just went to the web and did an image search. When I found one I liked, I downloaded it, scaled to to about 2.5″ tall in my graphics software, and then printed it onto tag-board with my inkjet printer. I cut out the insignia, and put a piece of tape on back. A safety pin glued to the back would work great as well. From just a few feet away, it doesn’t look like paper at all, it just looks like the logo you expect to see on the uniform.

Of course no Star Fleet Officer on an away mission would be without a phaser. I had several to pick from: a TV remote, an infrared thermometer, or my cordless beard trimmer. Basically any dark plastic item that you can point threateningly can be a phaser. I chose a digital tire pressure gauge as my hand-weapon of choice.

Also handy would be a tri-corder. I DID spend a bit of money on this one – $.99 cents. Since I happened to have a smart phone, I downloaded a tri-corder app. It has lots of blinking lights and sound effects that add considerably to the outfit.

I also wanted to point out that I was NOT a main character. Nope, not Kirk or Picard or any of those guys – just a nameless red shirt that’s guaranteed to get killed by the alien/monster of the week. To do so, I created a “Hi, my name is:” badge from a computer-printable address label and a marker. I tried both “Red Shirt” and “Expendable” as name-tags. At the one costume party I went to, people got the joke and had a good chuckle – and then had an urge to kill me…. (Lion-O quickly took me out with the Sword of Omens.)

So, remember, a costume doesn’t have to cost a fortune in time and money – just recycle some clothes and other items into a simple and clever outfit anyone can appreciate.

-Ben

Roomba-Bot!

Today, I stopped in at the Makerspace with the plan to work on a small project for a Halloween party this Saturday.

The plan was to take a “Roomba” robot vacuum cleaner that I got for $1.00 at a rummage sale, and covert it into the robot base for a giant spider or some other scary creature that could wander around at a Halloween party.

I started pulling screws out of the bottom to figure out how to remove the brushes and vacuum blower. It took some tinkering to figure out what I could and couldn’t remove and not cause a fault. In the end, it didn’t look like I could remove the blower motor and still have the thing run, so I simply removed the fan blades from the blower.

By that time, I was now thinking about video cameras and how easy it would be to run a 1/4-20 bolt right through the plastic. A bolt and two nuts quickly made a camera mount.

In the other room were some ping-pong balls, and I had a black sharpie. A little hot glue and Roomba-cam has some personality.

Look for Roomba-cam running around the Milwaukee Makerspace and please treat Roomba-cam nice – he is watching you and WILL upload to YouTube!

-Ben Nelson

Hack-A-Lantern: DIY Salvaged Zombie-beatin’ Flashlight!

Recently, I was hanging out at the Milwaukee Makerspace, working on a simple project, when a fellow Maker offered me a used 5AH lead acid battery.

The project I was working on involved using landscaping lighting, and right there on the “Hack Rack” were some old computer power supplies. Hmmm. We also happened to be talking about Zombie movies and TV shows, when it all clicked – I have the skills and materials to build an electric lantern from scratch using just the materials that are right here!

The project started by taking apart a computer power supply. I snipped the wires from switch and power cord connection close to the circuit board, so that I would have plenty of wire still soldered to the switch. After removing the circuit board and cooling fan, I had a nice empty box to use as the case for the lantern.

Next, I snipped out the fan grate, to allow for the 12V 11watt landscaping light bulb. These things are designed to run on 12AC from a transformer, but nothing is stopping me from running it on a 12V battery instead!

I crimped on a couple of spade connectors onto the wires from the switch to go to the battery and the bulb. I also wired the power port so that it was unswitched (always connects to the battery) that way, I could use it to recharge the battery without having to open the case. I would just clip the external battery charger that I already had to the two pins of the port.

Once the wiring was done, I checked the connections, turned it on and off a couple of time, and then glued the bulb in place with silicon.

A key feature of a lantern (as opposed to a flashlight) is that it has a distinct handle on the top, which the lantern hangs from. When I’ve made handles before, I’ve usually used a pair of bolts with spacers and some sort of cross-piece of wood or metal. However, I didn’t have anything like that handy, and it didn’t seem to fit the theme of the lantern either.

I DID have all the extra wiring from inside the power supply. The main bit of it was already bundled and had a nice connector on the end. I drilled two 1/2″ holes in the case cover and ran the cable through it, then back through the other hole, and pinned it in place with a few zip-ties.

I also glued two bits of foam on the inside of the case to cushion and help hold in place the battery. With that I put the cover back on and reinstalled the four cover screws.

There ya go! A lantern made completely from repurposed, recycled, and salvaged materials! Whether you like tinkering, being ready for the zombies, or just like being prepared, the Hack-A-Lantern is for you. Why don’t you try making one and see what you come up with!

More DIY Eco-Projects at http://ecoprojecteer.net

Toddler Swing from a 5-Gallon Bucket!

So how exactly DO you make an 18-month-old girl happy? Well, it doesn’t take any money or a trip to Wal-Mart. In fact, some rope and an old 5-gallon bucket are more than enough for a fun springtime afternoon!

Last weekend, my wife, young daughter and I went over to my parent’s house. My Dad had recently been over to the store to get chicken wire for the next chicken coop he’s working on, and looked at some playground equipment while there. (They have EVERYTHING at the farm store!) He mentioned how the toddler swing-set they had seemed “too-safe”. That is that it was all blow-molded plastic, had straps and safety belts in all directions, and looked like it would take longer to get the child in and out of the swing then she would actually spend playing in it!

It seemed like it would be simpler just to build something ourselves. We had a 5-gallon bucket and some rope, along with a drill and a jig-saw. Thus, the 5-GALLON BUCKET SWING was born!

Construction was pretty simple. We just pulled off the bucket handle, and then cut two “mouse-holes” for the legs in the front of the bucket. Matching cut-outs were made in the BOTTOM of the bucket, because toddlers legs are so short. We cut down the total height of the bucket, and made it swoop very low in front, high on the two sides, low again, and then high for a back-rest. Four holes were drilled (3/4″) to pass the rope through. Rope goes down from the top, loops through the holes, then back up and out the other side. That way, we only needed one piece of rope, instead of two, and it makes it a little easier to adjust for height.

We didn’t even have a good tree to hang the swing on, but there were two great pines (which provide shade.) We ran a length of sturdy steel pipe between the trees as a cross-member to hang the swing from. Once tied in place, the swing was ready to go.

She swung on it for nearly an hour and a half – this from a little girl who usually spends no more than ten minutes on the swing at the public park. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me, nor could I really document building the swing, as we were making it up as we went. However, my brother had his cell-phone camera with and grabbed a pair of photos of the first use of the swing.

Being made from plastic, the bucket swing is weather resistant and should last a long time. It wasn’t made in China. It didn’t have any packaging, and it was plenty of fun to make and use. Not bad for a weekend afternoon.

But what’s that? YOU want to make your own 5-gallon bucket swing? Sounds great! Go for it. Here’s some general directions for you.

First, get a bucket. You probably already have one around, but if not, you can buy one at the home improvement store. Better yet, just ask for one at your favorite local restaurant. Pickles and all sorts of industrial-sized food goods often come in 5-gallon buckets.

Next, remove the handle.

You don’t HAVE to take it off, but it will just get in your way otherwise while you are working on the project. Look where the handle connects to the bucket and you will be able to see which way you have to bend the handle to be able to just pull it out by hand.

Next step is to cut a pair of “mouse-holes” for the child’s legs. In these photos, I’m using a black marker to show where I’ll being cutting. When you do this, either cut around the OUTSIDE of your black markings, so there’s no marks done on your finished swing, or just eye-ball it. The leg holes are cut in both the front AND the bottom of the bucket, so the child’s thighs sit on the bottom of the bucket, but from the knee on down hangs straight downward through the bucket.

You can cut the bucket with almost anything, a handsaw, a Dremel tool, a jigsaw, or reciprocating saw. I think a jigsaw is the easiest and most straight-forward for this.

Try to make all the cuts on the project nice swooping curves. Once all the cuts are made, you can sand the edges as well.

Next thing to do is mark the lines for the main cut. Essentially, you are cutting really low across the front, above the leg holes, and then high on either side, near where the bucket handle originally connect, swoop low again for where the kid’s armpits are going to be, and high on the back for a back-rest. That may sound complicated, but a couple pictures are worth a few thousand words.

You’ll also need to drill four holes. Two are the main “hanging holes” which will be located directly below the original bailing handle connection points. The other two are roughly below where the child’s armpits will be, and allow for the rope to go through to the back of the swing, around the outside of the bucket. That way, the rope acts as part of the back-rest, and prevents backward tipping, but is not between the child and the back-rest. You probably want to drill the holes BEFORE cutting the bucket in half, as it will have more strength and is easier to handle in its original bucket form.

Once those holes are drilled, cut that swooping line to make the bucket into two halves.

Frankly, I’m not sure what to do with the top half of the bucket that got cut off. If you have a good idea of how to make use of this “waste”, please let me know!

By now, the bottom half of the bucket should be starting to look like something you might see at the park.

Next, get yourself some rope that’s at least twice as long from your favorite tree-branch to the ground. Thread one end of the rope DOWN through the outside of one of the ears, out through the next hole, around the outside of the back-rest, back IN the next hole, the up and out the other ear. Again, it makes more sense if you look at the photos.

Also, please note that on this particular bucket swing, the back-rest is a little low. It should really come up nearly as tall as the side ears. When we worked on the first one at my Dad’s the little girl was right there. She cooperated well in that she was happy to sit in the bucket while we marked the positions and distances of the various parts of the swing. (The little girl was not around while I was working on this particular bucket. I highly suggest using your toddler as a template for your project!)

Next, you just have to hang it. Tie one end of the rope to the tree branch. Make sure the swing is facing the direction you would like it to face. Slide the swing on the rope until it is at the height you would like it to be at. That’s usually between the height of an adult’s waist and knee – a good pushing height once the swing is drawn back.

Most likely, you will want to use an outdoor-rated, UV-resistant, artificial fiber rope. Otherwise, you could also chain or cable, but rope is simple, easy to work with, and doesn’t pinch little fingers.

The proof is in the pudding. After checking that the swing is tied securely, at the right height and level, put your little darling in there and give him or her a push!

If all has gone well, you have a smiling child swinging away on your aren’t-you-proud-you-made-it-yourself swing-set!

Once the tot is in there, you might want to confirm that the leg holes are the right size, and that there’s no chafing or rubbing. In the photo above, it looks like the left leg hole (her right leg) could be a little bigger.

If you, like me, enjoy irony, you might want to design your bucket so that it keeps the “THIS IS NOT A TOY” warning on the side.

Here’s a couple of views of the back. In these photos her shirt is covering part of the back-rest, but it’s still a little low. In the next bucket swing, I am going to make sure the back-rest is higher, nearly as tall as the side ears. Make sure that there are still the downward swoops for the armpit area. This allows the child to have comfortable arm position, NOT rubbing on the bucket, and still easily reaching up to grab the rope.

That’s about it! It’s a simple project, inexpensive, fun to make, and fun for the kids to use!

Here’s a video quickly showing all the steps as well!

Do you have any ideas for improving this design? Have you made one? Let me know! Leave a comment or post a photo!

One last treat for you – I created a one-page PDF file for you that has step-by-step directions for how to build the swing. Click the link , then print out the file and take it to your workshop with you!

Lastly, HAVE FUN!

Fun with Lasers!

Just about the only thing I don’t love about the Open ReVolt motor controller is the case.

As cool as an Open Source Motor Controller is, it’s just not shown off with a basic metal cover. In fact, I actually drilled through the original cover (and put clear packaging tape over the holes!) to see the power and troubleshooting LEDs through the lid.

Recently, the Milwaukee Makerspace got itself a laser cutter. It’s not all that powerful, but more than capable for cutting plastics. One of the Makers posted a blog entry about making a wood box on the laser. He used a program called BOXMAKER which helps you layout the size of your box, including overlapping cut edges to put the whole thing together.

This got me started on the idea of building a clear plastic case for my 500 amp Open ReVolt controller. But I had never even used the laser before. I sat down with the member who owns the laser, and he took me through the basics of importing files, exporting to the laser, and modifying power and speed settings. With that, I was able to start making a few test items on the laser. I figured that since I already had the Open ReVolt logo as a vector file, it couldn’t be easier to try out etching some plastic with it.

I used the laser to make a few small test pieces on various materials. The two logos turned out pretty well. They were both etched AND cut out with the laser. On the orange medallion, I mirrored the image, so it would be a design on the “back” of the piece. That keeps the upside nice and shiny and clean.

Plastics cut on the laser

 

After practicing a bit on the laser, I started wondering what else I could cut, mark, or etch with the laser. Last night, I forgot something at the Makerspace, so I had to return there this morning to retrieve it. And I am NOT a morning person, so I had my trusty travel coffee mug with me. It’s stainless steel with an anodized dark gun metal finish to it. “I bet that would laser engrave nice!” I though to myself. Sure enough, it only took a little tinkering to figure out how to keep the mug from rolling sideways inside the laser before I could engrave it.

Also, when I came in this morning, all the lights were off, except for one – Tom’s LED lit plexiglass desk drawer. I asked him for some advice last night about how to engrave and then edge-light in clear plastic. He plugged in his project to show me a sample, and had left it on. It was eerily awesome to see the Makerspace lab lit up by green LED power! It’s a good example of how I would like to engrave the top of the controller case and light it up.

Well, that’s it for now. Next, I’ll have to take careful measurements of the controller, lay out the box, find some material to work with, and figure out where and how big the cuts in the end plates will need to be for the bus bars.

PWM Disco Ball

 

At home, I have a small LED light that is designed for use under cabinets. I use it mostly to illuminate one side of my aquarium, and I occasionally pull it out to use it as a light for filming video.

The problem is that it is quite a bit brighter than the other LED light I have on my aquarium, and for video use, it would be nice to be able to adjust the brightness of the light as well.

However, LEDs just CAN NOT be dimmed with a regular old light switch dimmer the way an incandescent bulb can. I had heard that they can be dimmed through PWM – pulse width modulation. I was already familiar with the term, as that’s the same technique used to control the speed on the motor of my homebuilt electric car.

So, when I was in at the MILWAUKEE MAKERSPACE I asked Tom G if he had any suggestions for me to start learning electronics by building a simple PWM dimmer for my fish tank LED light. As a hobby, he has built a fair number of robots, and pointed me to the Dallas Personal Robotics Group web page, where they had a number of tutorials posted. Sure enough, they had atutorial on building a simple motor speed controller, using a 555 timer chip. It also included a very nice explanation of Pulse Width Modulation. It’s really a simple thing that is sometimes hard to describe. I don’t think I have ever heard it explained so clearly as in the DPRG tutorial.

Part of the fun of the Milwaukee Makerspace is just having lots of odds and ends around handy, instead of having to take a trip out to the hardware store or electronics warehouse. A 555 timer, a few resistors and capacitors, and a bread-board were I all right there, ready for me to prototype this simple circuit. Even with nearly no electronics experience, it was pretty easy for me to follow the tutorial and connect up the 555 and other components into a working circuit.

After some playing around with it, I found that this circuit could not only control the speed of a DC motor, or dim an LED light, but somebody else suggested I hook a speaker up to it. Sure enough, I could generate various frequencies of sound as well! (Although since it’s a square-wave, none of them sounded very nice!)

So, the next time I was going past Radio Shack, I stopped in and picked up some “Perf-Board”. It’s sort of the step between a breadboard and a custom circuit board – just a board with a bunch of holes in it, all evenly spaced, ready for you to insert electronic components and solder them together.

I then recreated my original breadboarded circuit on the perf-board and soldered it all together.

I also grabbed a used plastic case from the Makerspace parts pile to use as an enclosure for the circuit-board. A bit more scrounging meant that I had a power connector for it that matched the power supply for the LED light. I’d be able to use the same power supply whether I was using the LED with or without the dimmer.

A bit more soldering (only ONE soldering iron burn!) and installing the board in it’s case, and I now officially had a PWM Light Dimmer for my aquarium!

But here’s where it gets more interesting. I really built this not so much out of need for a dimmer, but as a learning experience to find out where theory and practice come crashing together in the real world. After assembly, I already noticed a few ways to improve the final version of the device. (I’m still thinking of this as a proto-type or first run!)

Ideas for future improvements include:
1) A power indicator light. If the PWM is turned all the way down, it’s hard to tell if the device plugged into the dimmer is even on or not.
2) A volt-meter display. It’s pretty neat to be able to see that the perceived output voltage of the dimmer is. I have several 12V devices that I would like to run from a large 14.4V battery. With a volt-meter built in, I could set the dimmer to send exactly the correct output.
3) Battery Operation. The surplus case that I used as an enclosure already has a removable cover. It shouldn’t be tough to fit some AA batteries in there to make the whole thing run without requiring a power cord to the wall.

Recently, we through a birthday party for a friend of ours. She requested a Disco Ball at the party. My sister found a disco ball at the clearance table at a store, but no matching disco ball motor.

Aha! Here’s my chance to not only save a few bucks by not PURCHASING one, but also learn about motors and gear reduction! Next time I was in at the Makerspace, I dug through the bin of scrap motors on the “Hack Rack”. An AC motor? No that’s no good, it has to run on batteries.. Stepper motor? I have no idea how to run one of those…. Hmmm. What’s this? I eventually found not one, but two motors, both connected to to some gearing and a pair of tiny square drive axles. The motors were marked as 24V DC, and I knew that if I drove them at a lower voltage, they would still work, but not spin as fast. I tested them both with a benchtop power supply and saw that they worked. The one was geared to a much faster speed than the other.

I later tried running both directly from a 9V battery, as it is the simplest power supply I could think of. The one motor, through the gear reduction, would spin the driveshaft at exactly 2 revolutions per minute at nine volts. That’s almost PERFECT disco ball rotation speed!

I bent a paper clip through a connector on the end of the drive shaft to hold the ball, and added a carbineer to hold the motor to the ceiling. POW – top-notch disco ball rotation!

For the party, I let it run on just the 9V battery. It got left on overnight, and was still running the next afternoon. What a nice, efficient motor!

But what if I wanted to spin that ball a bit faster or slower? Either motor was designed to run up to 24 volts. My PWM “dimmer” was really a motor controller anyways after all. That was all set up for 12V. I connected the dimmer to the more quickly geared motor, hung it up, and strung the disco ball from it. Sure enough, by varying the potentiometer on the dimmer, I could make the ball spin from way too slow to nausea-inducing quick!

I even noticed that at very slow speeds, the motor made a little bit of a high-pitched whine. Remember how I said an audio speaker could be hooked up to generate a tone? At slow speeds, the pulses of the motor controller can actually be heard – the frequency is within the range of human hearing. The first time I ever heard a Chevy Volt, I noticed that it made a quiet, yet distinct noise right as it accelerated away from a dead stop. That’s the sound of the car’s electric motor controller picking up frequency as the car increases speed.

So there you have it. From dimming a light, to spinning a ball, to driving an electric car, Pulse Width Modulation is a simple, yet useful, trick that’s all around us. If you would like to build your own basic light dimmer/motor controller, check out the info at: http://www.dprg.org/tutorials/2005-11a/index.html

But why stop there? Once you have some mad soldering skills, what’s to stop you from building a bigger version of a motor controller, maybe something that can push a full size car around? Check out the Open Revolt controller – a motor controller anyone is welcome to build!
http://www.instructables.com/id/Homemade-100-HP-Motor-Controller-for-an-Electric-C/

If you are anything like me, you like to learn new things, and find it fascinating how various areas of industry and science are all related. It’s far more fun to build and design something yourself then it is to just purchase somebody else’s.

 

Doctor Who Party

If you are having a party, nothing makes it unique quite like building your own props and costumes!

September 11th is my brother’s birthday, so we went all out on a Doctor Who theme party! It included props made my my brother-in-law and I, custom lighting, costumes, even a full-scale Tardis!

Lets start with the TARDIS, just ’cause it’s sooo cool. It’s based on four sheets of 4×8′ chip board. The boards were ripped narrower to get the proportions right, but left full length to otherwise maximize the TARDIS while still using standard size building materials. The windows are fluoresent light diffusion materials. The light on top is a standard bulb and socket, but with a flasher to blink the light on and off. A thick coat of blue paint hides most of the texture of the chip board. The signs and lettering on the TARDIS are just computer print-outs. Inside the TARDIS, a desk lamp lights the interior and backlights the windows.

TARDIS with chalk Time Vortex on the ground

TARDIS Windows

"This isn't the toilet!"

Interior roof of TARDIS

Sign on the TARDIS is simply an inkjet printout stapled to the door.

A Blue Box

 

OTHER PROPS:

For other props for the party, we had the Face of Boe in the Aquarium, a slideshow of Doctor Who images on an LCD monitor, a “Are You My Mummy” character, and a Video Camera Feedback loop to simulate the Tom Baker era show opening. Outside, some blacklights show off “BAD WOLF” graffiti painted on the fence with laundry detergent. Finally, a Cyber-Man’s head is a simple pinata made with paper-mache around a ballon, painted silver, with pipe cleaners and some paper details added.

Cyber-head Pinata

Ah, the magic of black-lights

"Are you my mummy?"

Show Opener Video Feedback Device

Doctor Who images slide show

The Face of Boe aquarium.

COSTUMES:

But what’s a theme party without costumes!?
Of course there were several doctors, as indicated by a trench coat, long scarf, glasses or bow tie, several Amy Ponds, a Dalek, a Cyberman, and even K-9 was there! My personal favorite was the paper bag OOOD. How many other costumes can you stay in character while drinking through a hose!?

Paper Bag "OOOD"

The Darkness springs forth!

Plunger + Egg Beater + Alcohol = Dalek

Cyber-Boy at night

Milk Jug + Tinker Toys + Boy = Cyber-Boy

"Blink" Angel

David Tennant

K-9

Tom Baker Doctor with K-9

 

FOOD & DRINK:
There was plenty of food and drink. The food table had chips, veggies, 3 types of fondue, and other typical party fare. Besides the indoor drink cart (with punch bowl full of “Sonic Screwdrivers”) there was also the “Wheelbarrow o’ Booze” outside. Adding some glow sticks and a waterproof LED flashlight into the ice gives a great night-time lighting effect. The birthday cake was Chocolate Dalek. It featured ice cream cone ears, Italian-style roll cookie arms and eye/nose, and Nilla Wafers.

Dalek-tibble and delicious

Flashlights and glowsticks turn ANY booze wheelbarrow into a Sci-Fi wheelbarrow of booze!

So there you have it! How to throw a Doctor Who Party! Of course there were more costumes and props than I showed here, but it’s hard to hold a drink, egg beater, toilet plunger AND a camera all at the same time! Next time, you’ll just have to show up. Or, better yet, you throw a themed party and invite me!

-Dalek Ben

Making the Gas Tank FIT!

Yesterday, I brought in my motorcycle gas tank and went to put it on the cycle. But IT DIDN’T FIT! The battery rack is exactly just a little too tall!

After talking with some of the other Makers at the space, it was decided the simple answer was just to trim a little off the bottom of the tank.

Since the gas tank is only really just a cover, mostly there for looks, no reason I can’t add dials and guages directly to the tank! Here’s the video:

EV Cycle Battery Rack – Part 3

Yesterday, I finished the upper mounts on the motorcycle battery rack. I actually ended up running out of angle iron for the top hold-downs, but the Makerspace is full of great salvaged materials. I used some of those computer tower case holders as the top brackets. They are sturdy metal and already painted black to boot!

Here’s some video of what I did.