Tag Archives: The Lovely and Talented Mrs. Zheng3

Yaaar! Here there be décolletage.

So, to recap for those among you who don’t breathlessly follow the twists and turns here at the blog, I’ve been working feverishly on finishing parts of pirate costumes for myself and for the lovely and talented Mrs. Zheng3. Here’s the latest: it’s a Arduino-enabled pirate pendant.

Heads up for readers under the age of 18: this post is rated arrrrrrrrr.

pendant

hurrr durrr heavin bazooms

You can Grab the model and the code from The Forge if you want to give this a go on your own. You’ll need a few other things gathered from around the Internet:

Casting the skull in resin

This pendant presented an opportunity to demonstrate once again that Everything’s Better With Skulls. In hindsight the better solution to this would have been to purchase some transparent PLA and charge forward with a 3D printed skull, but I’d been wanting to try some molding and casting after a couple months’ worth of nonstop 3D printing with Kickstarter backer rewards fulfillment.

(Pro tip: There is no surer way to suck the pleasure of experimentation out of 3D printing than to turn your basement into a production facility with hard deadlines.)

Print the skull as a positive, glue it to a piece of cardboard, and use some Oomoo and a plastic cup to create the mold. The white cruft on the positive is regular old silicone caulk used to smooth out the 3D printing lines before casting.

skull

A few hours of curing later and the mold’s ready.

3dprint and mold

Like all good projects this pendant has been a series of compromises, trying to cram lots of objects into a small, wearable volume. To that end, the skull’s got a fairly low profile, and fitting a pair of LED’s into the space behind the eyesockets requires a little bit of finagling. You can file down the tips of LED’s and they still work just fine. Don’t breathe in the dust, though.

file down LED

Once the LED’s are soldered together in series they can be suspended in liquid epoxy. Mixing up epoxy resin is generally an easy-peasy 1:1 operation but it might take a couple of tries to get the dye proportions correct. Too little dye results in anemic color. Too much and your resin never cures past the cold maple syrup stage.

LEDs in mold

cast skull

Stealing and modifying code

The entire casting process takes a day or two to finish, but it’s mostly sit-around-and-wait-for-things-to-harden time. So while chemical reactions be combobulatin’ in the basement there’s plenty of time to print the pendant body and program the Trinket. Nothing fancy here, just some basic PWM on pin 0. The exact values require some tweaking to get a suitably menacing fade in/fade out of the LED’s.

The code is in the zip file along with the 3D model if you came here looking for info on PWM in general.

pwm test

Charging the battery

First, go grab yourself a Micro LiPo Charger from Adafruit.

warningJST connectors can be difficult to plug and unplug, so I homebrewed a male-female connector out of some headers I had kicking around in the toolbox. BE CAREFUL WITH THIS, especially with LiPo batteries. You do not want to accidentally swap your polarity, overheat the battery, start a fire, and incinerate your family and pets.

lipo charger

Or maybe you do. You monster.

seriously brah you should probably just go read this LiPo safety guide right now.

Again, we want to keep the profile as low as possible so rather than solder a female header directly to the Trinket the headers are soldered to wire and then attached to the board. This allows connections to be moved off to the side when vertical space is at a premium.

crammed

It all fits in there– the battery’s tucked underneath the Trinket. Be careful that you don’t puncture the battery casing with a solder joint when you press everything together. Punctured LiPo==bad gnus. (You read the safety guide, right?)

The back of the pendant press-fits onto the body, but unfortunately I didn’t have the foresight to include an off switch. You’ve got to plug and unplug the battery directly. Next time, maybe.

On the plus side, the battery will run for hours and hours on a full charge. The exact runtime is left as an exercise for the reader.

Adding surface detail

Again with the caulk, smoothing out all the cracks and joins in the multi-part print.

caulk

We can’t very well have the lovely and talented Mrs. Zheng3 wearing a caulked-up bright blue pirate pendant with the rest of her Halloween costume, so we bust out the gold leaf and an hour later we’ve got this:

gold leaf

The shiny gold’s juuuuuuuust a little too fancy for our pirate lass, so quick wash with some diluted black acrylic paint is in order, and we’re done here.

distressed

The Trinket has about a half dozen more free pins than this project requires, so if we ever get around to designing version 2.0 we can put some sensors in and turn this pendant into jewelry that reacts to its environment. I’ve been having some fun driving servo rotation with multiple-microphone input for Plutarch the pirate parrot, so #staytuned for something along those lines.

Lao Zheng out.

Plutarch 1.0: finished, still not a robot

After this stability test it’s pretty safe to say that Plutarch is 97% ready to make his debut at J’s Halloween party later this year.

So how did we get here? When last we left our hero he was a naked 3d printed shell enclosing a buggy and unstable collection of wires and electronics.

Rubber cementing the feathers to the body was strikingly straightforward, the only caveat being that one needs to layer the plumage and make sure that none of it gets into the spaces between moving parts.

fledging collar

I ran out of feathers during the fledging process so he’s still got three percent’s worth of bald spots to fix during the 138 days before Halloween.

Epoxying the googly eyes is simple enough. Next time I’ll include 3D printed eye socket markers so I can be sure that Plutarch isn’t walleyed.

googly eyes

Here’s the thing about googly eyes. You can’t buy just two. You have to get a whole mess of them.

Epoxy is enlisted once again to affix the wing feathers to the body, as they’re too heavy to attach with rubber cement alone.

fledging wings

A clever designer would have included tail feather mounting holes in the original 3D printed body, but unfortunately no clever designers showed up to work on body design day. So Plutarch got a few aftermarket holes drilled in his rump.

drill

You may feel some slight pressure, Mr. Plutarch. Please try to relax.

OK! So! Forty-five minutes of fledging and butt-drilling hence, Plutarch’s ready for his big reveal to the family.

too sexy

Possibly too sexy for your cat.

You can see an original Pirate Parrot Accessory in the background of the photo above– one of his duplicates was cannibalized to provide most of Plutarch’s feathers. I bought a bag of blue turkey flats to compensate for the feather shortfall and still didn’t have enough.

The kids (and, of course the Lovely and Talented Mrs. Zheng3) have been watching Plutarch’s progress in bits and bites for the last few months, and they’re assembled in the kitchen for Opening Night. Plutarch is perched, powered up, and ready to go. I hit the button on his remote that makes him shake his head and… BAM.

broken

To everyone’s horror (except the cat, who gives approximately zero f*cks) Plutarch torqued himself off my shoulder, broke a foot, and snapped his battery cables.

Gah. I pinned the broken foot with a couple of epoxy-coated finishing nails and set the patient aside.

Another setback. We were so close.

The epoxy cure delay allows for a few hours of self-reflection. Why am I doing this? Is making an animatronic parrot really best way for me to spend my limited time on earth? How do magnets work, anyway?

Magnets. We need moar magnets. Better-positioned ones, too.

The original perch design put the magnets on the underside of a steel can lid, relying on luck to link up with the magnets embedded in Plutarch’s toes. Fearful of another catastrophic and embarrassing fall, I moved the magnets to the top of the lid and made sure they’re aligned as closely as possible with their mates above.

magnets

The video at the top of the post proves that this time Plutarch stayed put.

But. BUT! Even after all this improvement, Plutarch, while ready for primetime performance, is still not a robot. He’s best described as an animatronic parrot. Roboticization– the addition of sensors and the ability to respond to an environment– shall have to wait until Halloween 2017.

So here’s what I’ve got planned for Plutarch’s next year:

  • improved internal accessibility
  • 2-axis head movement
  • articulated beak
  • audio
  • some kind of sensor ability, for crissakes

#staytuned.

Tales of Plutarch’s earlier incarnations can be enjoyed here and here.

Lao Zheng out.

The Agony of The Feet

plutarch on rail

If, bit by bit, you replace the parts of a store-bought pirate parrot with 3D printed components and electronics, is it still the same parrot in five years?

Another Halloween has come and gone, and no, I did not festoon the house with an Arduino-controlled lightshow as I had planned to do in July.

Nor did I design and print that glowing Riddler sword cane I’ve been wanting to get to, and I also failed to make any headway on that EL wire and fog-machine witches’ cauldron I was so pumped up about two years ago.

What I did manage to do was stay married to the lovely and talented Mrs. Zheng3, who in addition to being lovely and talented also had the foresight to order us up a couple of relatively inexpensive pirate costumes from some online retailer.

See, here’s the thing about Halloween costumes. A store-bought costume is all well and good, but I gots ideas, man. Next time you and I are having a beer ask me about my plans for a two-person piñata donkey costume. If you whack us with a stick we’ll drop a bunch of candy out through a trapdoor in the belly. It’s-a-gonna-be-awesome.

pinata

Of course, I don’t have the time to make this. I also must make peace with the idea that I will never, ever, learn how to do DIY vacuum forming and craft myself a suit of Dr. Doom armor. The probability of my constructing an animatronic tarantula the size of a Great Dane approaches zero. Halloween’s an annual exercise in abandoning fun projects before they get started.

But you’ve gotta have a costume, right? Especially since we annually attend a spectacular haunted house/halloween party thrown by good friends of ours out in the boondocks of Hortonville, Wisconsin. Can’t show up there wearing my usual costume of cargo pants and free trade show T-shirts.

As she’s done so many times in the past, the lovely and talented Mrs. Zheng3 pulled my bacon out of the fire with an assist from Amazon prime and MasterCard, and now we’ve got pirate gear aplenty.

But what about next year? And the year after that? We’ve decided that our best option is to commit to the pirate life completely and upgrade our costumes by degrees. This year’s our baseline, and at some point in the next twelve months I’ll buy a nice set of leather boots to replace the cheap vinyl boot-tops that go over my dress shoes.

(The costume has a little tag on the inside that says, I kid you not, DO NOT WASH. Need to replace the shirt ASAP.)

do not wash

Maybe next year I’ll find a flouncy pirate shirt that can do double duty at the renaissance faire. And the year after that I can fall off my wallet and get a nice steel cutlass. And so on and so forth and in five years I’ll have a really great pirate costume just hanging in the closet.

We also bought a polystyrene parrot accessory. He doesn’t look too bad for $10 but the UX could use some love. At the most basic level, it’d be nice if I didn’t have to worry about my bird falling off to join the choir invisible every time I reach for the guacamole.

Plutarch’s original feet have two problems. First, they look nothing like actual parrot feet. Parrot feet are weird, and these are clearly sparrow feet repurposed by an overworked factory manager in Guangzhou.

original feet

Second, the feet don’t ship with a convenient way to attach to the wearer. Plutarch ships with a shoelace-like strap that’s halfheartedly hot-glued to his sole, intended to loop under his owner’s armpit. You’ll see from the Amazon reviews that this is a less-than-optimal solution.

Magnets are my go-to solution for holding things together. A while ago I bought a passel of tiny neodymium magnets for some long-forgotten purpose, and I still have about fifty of them left. A few minutes tweaking a cube in Maya gets me a pair of parrot feet with little sockets for the magnets. The magnets are friction-fit, but being a belt-and-suspenders type of hominid I’ve super glued them in.

feet magnets

A steel tuna fish can lid, easily hand-bent to be convex, hides under my clothing. I’ve covered the lid in athletic tape because it’ll be under a white shirt eventually and I don’t want it to show through.

feet pauldron

Besides, I’m nursing a rotator cuff injury, again, and have no other use for my athletic tape for at least a month. Feh.

Also, Coco gives approximately 6.02×10-23 f_cks about this parrot.

These feet are printed flat in ColorFabb signal yellow PLA/PHA, which is easy enough to deform post-print with a little bit of heat. A few months ago I bought this great little heat gun for heat-shrink tubing and it does a fine job helping me mold Plutarch’s toes to my shoulder.

plutarch shoulder

In the long term I’d like to put some motor control into Plutarch’s head so that he can swivel to look at stuff. And a webcam. And a speaker. And wireless control so that I can control the parrot from across the room.

I’ve already got a wee servo on order from Adafruit, so that’ll be next weekend’s project.

Like I said, I gots ideas. Check back in a year and we’ll see how far I’ve gotten.

Why Plutarch? Ship of Theseus, grandfather’s axe, and all that.

Lao Zheng out.

Finding Sparky’s Voice

In early February I debated whether to make a promotional video for my Kickstarter. The 3D modeling was done, the armor was printing reliably, and I figured the concept of 3D printed medieval armor for Barbie dolls would just about sell itself to the right crowd of people. Did I really need to invest the time in making a video?

SPOILER: I ended up making the video.

I dithered and hemmed and hawed for a day or two while I weighed the pros and cons of investing even more time in the Kickstarter. Eventually the creative itch won out over the practical hurdles of lighting, shooting, and editing with less-than-professional tools (my vendetta against Apple Motion 5 continues unabated) and after much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments I released this to the world:

I’m glad I did because people really seem to enjoy it. It’s also on Youtube and Vimeo now, BTW.

Acquiring scenery and minifigs for the video wasn’t a problem, but I clearly needed a Big Bad. I rooted though every bookshelf and toybox in the house and came up empty. The Zhengspawn are growing up quickly, and are more interested in playing with software than they are with plastic. Clutter is the enemy, so only the most cherished or useful toys remain in the house.

Candy Crush is also the enemy, but no matter how many stakes, silver bullets, DDT, UV, and Slim Whitman Indian Love Calls I use, I can’t seem to rid Zheng Labs of that particular infestation.

Last year’s purge resulted in an unfortunate paucity of plastic dinosaurs in the storage tubs, just when I needed one the most.

Ever supportive, the Lovely and Talented Mrs. Zheng3 dropped by the local thrift store, popped some tags, and returned with Sparky. She found him in the discount bin for a dollar, on account of his non-functional pushbutton speaker.

Sparky is a generic-looking therapod carnivore with very broad feet. Artistic compromises were clearly made during his design, but I think the size of his forearms pegs him as a reasonable attempt at an Allosaurus, with a little pre-1990’s tail anatomy thrown in for stability’s sake.

sparky full

I’ve spent a lot of time with Sparky, and now I’m curious about his origins. Somewhere on the Internets there’s an expert on cheap plastic dinosaurs who can take one look at Sparky and identify him immediately. Until that person surfaces, our only clue is a “MADE IN CHINA” stamp between his legs, which narrows his origin not at all.

The wear patterns on Sparky’s maw, brow, and toes suggest that he was extensively played with in the past. He’s definitely attacked his fair share of villages. Sparky, at some point in his life, was loved. The discount bin would be too ignominious an end for such a loyal toy.

wear pattern

To the workbench with you, my Jurassic friend.

Whoever sculpted Sparky did some nice work, especially with the reticulated scale patterns on his skin, but the person or people who inserted his speaker botched the job a bit; I think a hole saw was used to access his chest cavity but the opening was messily enlarged with a knife at some point before the speaker was jammed inside.

sparky hole

With some prying and pulling I’m able to extract the speaker assembly, hopelessly mangling it in the process. It uses two LR41 batteries, which are easy enough to come by, if redonkulously expensive when purchased as singletons.

Sparky’s noisemaker is a simple affair. A speaker is connected to a small circuit board, activated by a (gray) plastic plunger that completes the circuit by touching that solder squiggle in the middle.

But wait, you say? How does nonconductive plastic complete a circuit? There’s a circular swatch of black, conductive somethingorother glued to the bottom of the plunger. Any EE’s who swing by, please tell me what this stuff is called, for curiosity’s sake.

If you squint and turn up the contrast on your monitor you can see a dark circle in the southwest corner of the circuit board. That’s where the recording of Sparky’s voice is stored underneath a blob of epoxy. A little more on that later.

speaker

Two fresh batteries later, here’s what Sparky sounded like straight from the factory. Turn your speakers down, it’s a bit unpleasant.

Hmm. That roar sounds familiar. Here’s Godzilla, king of monsters:

Here’s the two of them, side-by-side with a little bit of audio cleanup in Audacity. Sparky is first, followed by Godzilla. Big G is sped up by 90% with an accompanying change in pitch to make Sparky.

waveforms

It appears to me, at least, that someone just ripped off Godzilla when Sparky was made. I’m offended.

A little research tells me that I won’t be able to hack Sparky’s audio chip and record my own roars. Apparently the audio is burned onto an IC at the factory and then covered with a little black blob of epoxy. “Flip-chip” technology, this sorcery is called, and working with it is beyond any magic I possess at Zheng Labs.

I’d love to be able to hack these chips because they show up everywhere, especially in Happy Meal toys.

I do have a toolbox full of electronics, and I might be able to cobble together a replacement roar for Sparky after the Kickstarter is finished. At the very least, I can print him a new bezel for his speaker today.

sparky fixed

Guy can’t be walking around with a nasty hole in his chest, now can he?

Also. All the time I’ve spent on TVTropes? It actually paid off: see how many tropes I managed to cram into one video, and post in the comments below:

I’ll give you the second one for free: Action Girl. Or is it Badass Princess? Reasonable people can disagree.

Five New(ish) Baubles!

A thousand pardons, my friends. I stepped over my personal Schwarzschild radius and fell into an art singularity over the last two weeks.

Some light has escaped; peer into the Scrying Pool to see what I’ve been working on, among other things. That particular opus is still gnawing the inner walls of it’s chrysalis, so #staytuned for another update, coming soon.

I’ve managed to zeldovich a few crumbs from beyond the event horizon and stuff them into the Baubles section of The Forge with the remainder of my 3d-modeled miscellany. They are, in no particular order:

The Tinkeriffic BB Bearing, cousin to the 40mm spool spindle and 32mm spindle, all of which use Tinkertoy rods and 4.5mm BB’s to provide a smooth ride for your filament spools.

Tinkeriffic BB Bearing Spool

Magnetic Pocket Gears! that use these magnets to freely rotate while sticking to clothing. I’ve got these fellas on Shapeways too, in case you’d like a set in stainless steel, gold, or silver.

Pocket Gears

And finally a Bonsai Gibbon, designed specifically for the Lovely and Talented Mrs. Zheng3’s winter hobby but made available to lovers of pines and primates everywhere.

Bonsai Gibbon

How do I get my pennies so shiny? Vinegar? Hells no. H2C2O4 FTW, y’all.

The blogging backlog is cleared, so watch this space for new models. I’ve got three or four new concepts in the hopper.

Toil and Trouble, Part I

So. Another Halloween has passed, and while the denizens of Casa de Zheng did manage to get some nice homemade costumes out the door, it’s been another year of postponing bigger Halloween projects because I’m Just Too Busy Right Now. For years I’ve wanted to make a classic black cauldron over which The Lovely and Talented Mrs. Zheng3 can stand on All Hallows’ Eve, dispensing hot cider to chilled trick-or-treaters with a cackle and a grin.

She does have an adorable cackle.

A fortnight past I was discussing Halloween projects with a friend and neighbor and I lamented my lack of time for such things. I’ve wanted to engineer monstrous spiderwebs and motion-sensing jump-scare zombie automatons for years but always get too caught up in Halloween costumes and daily minutae in the weeks before the big day to ever get to even starting any of these grand designs.

The hard truth is that there is never enough time for such opuses. Some meeting, some job, some illness, some obligation always interferes, and it’s just too easy to sleep in until 7am on a Satudray. And yet this cauldron must be made.

If not me, then who? If not now, then when? Am I to wait until the youngest spawn has wriggled off to college, when I’ll finally, finally! have the time to pursue every creative project of which I can conceive, unhindered by the demands of short mutants who share slightly less than half of my DNA, when the dawn of retirement peeks over the horizon and the iPhone 9 announcement is nigh?

No. If it is to be, it is up to me to do this now. As important as getting the project done is instilling by example the creative process into my kids. To plan, to build, to fail, to learn, to feel finally feel the pride in a piece of art just-completed and yet never quite done.

The deadline: Full beta testing in September 2014. Public release date October 31, 2014.

The requirements, purposefully done in broad strokes:

Physical:

  • The cauldron’s got to be big enough to be impressive, even when it’s just sitting there doing nothing.
  • It must be light enough to be easily moveable, but strong enough to withstand some jostling in case a child bumps into it.
  • Must support a hot plate for cider mulling.
  • Must be non-flammable.
  • Non-toxic eerie smoke needs to pour from the top of the cauldron while it’s in use. Dry ice, maybe?
  • Drizzle-proof would be a nice touch.

Electronics:
The inside of the cauldron must glow.
Needs variable-intensity fake fire underneath.
Must run unattended in an idle mode, and also needs user input for choreographed performance.

Determining scale is the first order of business. We own a circular patio table that would make an excellent jig for bending the cauldron’s armature, so I’ll use that for reference when figuring out just how large this cauldron should be.

witch

Winter is coming (natch) so much of the construction will likely wait until spring, because I think this will be too big to fit through the doors on the house and it’ll have to live in the garage.

Goal for next week: get the mouth of the cauldron bent into shape. I can make a hoop in a week, right?

Home is Where the Art Is, Part II

2404

Casa de Zheng is getting some work done lately. Her old house numbers, milled from wood, had to come off so the underlying fascia could be painted. Brittle with age were the numbers, and unable to survive the removal process. Upon reflection we (by which I mean the lovely and talented Mrs. Zheng3 and I) didn’t care much for the early 80’s Facts of Life typography anyway, so replacements were in order.

broken wood

If one has a 3d printer every broken household object’s an opportunity to recoup another few bucks on one’s ridiculously impractical investment.

After choosing font that’s apropos for the house’s character, I plucked some newly ripened heirloom vertices from the south side garden boxes and set to work forging them into house numbers. A quick extrusion, a nip, a tuck, and some geometry welds later and I have some digits ready for printing.

the story of 0

There’s more sculpting here than meets the eye– Maya 2008’s text beveling tools are the very definition of execrable. This oversight was inexcusable in 2008 and even more grating in this day and age, but I’m stuck using M2008 on OSX 10.6.8 in a 32-bit update cycle until I can swing a huge hardware/software upgrade. We go to war with the army we have, not the army we might want or wish to have at a later time.

The numbers don’t have a lot of detail and won’t receive close scrutiny since they’re about 10 feet off the ground, so I print them at .3 layer height to save some time. They are going to have to be sturdy enough to withstand a bit of weather, so I add a second shell to my usual print settings. Infill at 10%.

printing 0

Most of the digits aren’t anything special, except for a couple of pilot holes baked into the 3d model. The number four is an exception; I’ve added a hollow compartment in the back of the model and printed a watertight lid, turning the otherwise innocuous digit into a potential time capsule.

capsule

Discussion with the family yields a few paragraphs about ourselves, the house, the painter, our pet, the neighborhood, and the current state of 3d printing. I print it out, roll up the paper, and put it into a Zheng3 Scroll Tube, which is in turn sealed within the printed number four for posterity. I hit the seams with some all-weather caulk because I’m a belt-and-suspenders kind of guy.

Our house painter gets the numbers primed and painted and nailed to the house in short order. I hope whoever finds the note fifty? a hundred? years hence has a good chuckle at the primitive technology involved in its creation, what with the dumb toner, 英文, and thermoplastics.

open me

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