Waldo WideThe organizers of the Waldo Waldo 5K just released a huge group photo of the event on their site. The event raise over $140K for disaster relief, trails and open space maintenance, which is not too shabby.

The picture on the left shows part of the crowd, and as you can see, I am clearly visible due to my stylish hat (and, for the hard of seeing, I also put in big green “I am here” circle). Anna is just barely visible to my left, recognizable by the very top of her hair, and her watch. If you can’t quite see, I recommend checking out the giant picture which has a very cool zoom feature. This was taken from the top of a cherry picker with, I suspect, a very expensive camera.

I think the guy in yellow might be an escaped convict who wandered into the event by mistake.

Adipose and VictimIt’s been a while, but we finally did a new costume! This is Adipose Rex, (very loosely) based on the Doctor Who episode Partners in Crime, where the Doctor and Donna are investigating a weight loss program where the “fat just walks away.”

In our stage presentation at Mile Hi Con 47, Anna follows the instructions by manipulating her necklace, at which point a small (normal-sized) Adipose is produced that giggles. She then wonders what will happen when she turns the necklace a bunch of times, at which point the “scary” Adipose Rex appears and charges towards her.

Yes, I know that this is another costume that relies on a pun – shocking. In fact, this relies on several different puns which, to my mind makes this even better! Puns are, of course, the highest form of humor! The judges apparently agreed, since we won a Judge’s choice award!

We first did this costume at Karvel Con, the mini-con run by our friend Rose. We did a little bit of work to improve the costume this time, including adding a bar to keep the base properly extended (which got caught on the stairs getting on to the stage).

Since someone brought a Tardis to the con, we figured a shot of Adipose Rex with the Tardis would be nice:

Adipose with Tardis


Headphone Holder with headphonesI recently found a 3D model on Thingiverse for an under-desk headphone holder. Unfortunately, it was for a 3/4″ desk, and my desk is 1″ thick, so I quickly threw together my own version in FreeCAD. I’ve uploaded it to Thingiverse if you would like to download the model.

This made a nice change from my usual designs because it is not round!

I am getting a bit more comfortable with using FreeCAD, although there are still definitely some things I need to learn (like how to hide non-independent faces). All in all, it took about 30 minutes to create the model, and then about 2 hours to print (fine quality in ABS).


If you are interested, here is a screen shot of the model in FreeCAD:

Headphone holder model


This actually brings up something that has been bothering me about models in general – the lack of parameterization–ideally, a model would have settings for items that might change (such as the desk height) and that could be specified before printing. I realize that this would make creating models much more complex, but it would also make them much more flexible. I guess I need to start researching the formats to see what might be possible (maybe via a pre-parse operation?).


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MHC+2015+color+shirtMileHiCon 47 is this weekend (October 23rd – 25, 2015) in Denver at the Hyatt Regency Hotel – Tech Center. MHC is a Sci Fi/Fantasy/Horror/Science/Literary convention, and is probably the best convention in Colorado. There are usually dozens of authors and other guests there, and there are panels on a ton of different subjects – writing, fandom, science, humor, games and more. There is also the Critter Crunch, where remote control robots attempt to destroy each other. This was an MHC event long before it was popular elsewhere.


I am on a handful of panels this year:

  • 3D Printing Demo/Roundtable (Friday @5:00pm) – We’ll be talking about the state of the technology and providing advice on getting started.
  • DASFA Turkey Readoff (Saturday @ 2:00pm) – A panel where we read from some of the worst writing ever published (it is usually snort-through-your-nose funny).
  • The Year in Science (Sunday @ Noon) – A panel that will look back at the past twelve months in science, research and applied technology.

Anna and I are also planning on entering the costume contest. Pictures from that will most likely show up next week.

Although this is definitely a convention aimed at adults, it is very kid-friendly, with a separate track of activities for kids. My sister Danyda is very involved in helping out with this.

Hope to see you there…

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Waldo CrowdYesterday (Saturday, October 18th, 2015) was the 2015 Waldo Canyon 5K run – a run to help fund recovery from the Waldo canyon fire of a few years ago.

As you can probably tell, the official uniform of the run was a Waldo costume – about 4000 Waldo-clad people entered this year, including myself, my wife, my sister, and a number of friends.

Although some of my friends actually “ran,” that is an activity in which I only engage when being chased by rabid dogs, so I walked, and finished in about 45 minutes.

The event was a lot of fun, and there were food trucks, games and various other forms of entertainment on hand. Below is a picture of our group:

Waldo Us

Although I wore the striped shirt, I felt like a boater was a better look than the standard bobble hat, since I felt like I should be punting down the Grand Canal in Venice. Alternatively, it sort of felt like a mass jail break. I have trouble telling people apart at the best of times, so with everyone dressed in red stripes, it became virtually impossible. Fortunately, my boater stood out well enough that people could find me.

There was a drone floating overhead, presumably taking pictures (or looking for the one actual escaped prisoner):

Waldo Drone Zoom

Having seen enough videos on how hard these things are to fly, I’m glad this one never accidentally dive-bombed the crowd! Sorry for the poor quality of the picture, but it was hard to catch with my iPhone.

Ghost alienSince Halloween is getting close, I figured I would blog about the ghost we made last year (and are putting back up this year). Actually, you could make an argument for this being more of an alien than a ghost, so I tend to refer to it as a ghost alien.

Each year we expand our (so far modest) Halloween display. We started with a skeleton in a rocking chair (that has lately been seen riding around in cars) and a few other store-bought items. Last year, we thought it would be nice to create something from scratch.

This was fairly easy to make. The idea came from an approach to making a custom dress dummy out of duct tape, that my wife mentioned she was considering. I think it turned out really well, and we got a lot of great comments from trick-or-treaters and family – almost as many as for our two Koi (Fishfingers and Custard) in the little pond by our front door.

If you want to make your own version of this, you only need a few things:

  • Plastic wrap (one roll should be plenty)
  • A few rolls of packing tape (No clue why this stuff is so expensive)
  • Transparent Fishing line
  • X-mas lights (we used blue flashing ones from Sam’s)
  • Washers
  • Scissors
  • A reasonably willing human victim volunteer
  • (Optional) A Styrofoam head or other head analog

Step 1 – Take your volunteer – in our case, my wife – and wrap her torso in plastic wrap. It helps if:

  • Your volunteer is wearing something relatively tight-fitting, although you might end up with some interesting effects if not.
  • You have an appropriately positive relationship with the wrappee, particularly if female.

You really only need one or two layers, but you need to make absolutely sure that you don’t miss any areas. It is better to extend the plastic wrap beyond the area that you want to cover. You should try to include the tops of the arms as well.

If you look at the picture, you will see that we have a lot of excess wrap below the body, which adds a nice ethereal look (we also added some more after the fact).

Step 2 – Apply packing tape over the torso, making sure you stay over the plastic wrap. You want to add 2-3 layers everywhere, but if some areas are thicker, that is fine. In fact, you will almost certainly end up with some areas that are thicker unless your model is a perfect sphere in a vacuum…

We went with the “cut strips and apply” approach mostly, but you can just do the crazy-person-box-wrapping approach with the roll if you prefer.

Again, make sure that you avoid taping anything not covered with plastic wrap unless you are feeling particularly vengeful.

Step 3 – Cut off the torso – Extremely carefully, use a pair of scissors to cut a seam in the torso where it won’t be as noticeable, such as along the side under the arm. You should then be able to carefully separate the torso from your model.

Step 4 – Repair the seam – Just tape up the seam using more packing tape. Once done, you will find that the figure is surprisingly solid. You should also patch up any holes or weak spots in the torso using more packing tape.

Step 5 – Create the arms – Same process, different parts of the body. Have your model put her arms in an appropriate pose (that she can also hold for a while – my wife held on to a pole for support). Wrap the arms (you can do one at a time) with plastic wrap, making sure you have a good overlap with the torso.

Ghost Arm

Arm in mid-wrap

Then add the packing tape, and cut off each of the arms underneath (again, very carefully — if you draw blood, you lose 50 points). Patch up the seam and any weak spots, then attach the arms to the torso using yet more packing tape.

Step 6 – Create the head – Neither my wife or sister were willing to allow me to wrap their heads with plastic wrap (even when I offered a straw to breathe through – what sort of monster do you think I am?), so we just created the head by wrapping a wig head we had lying around. This worked out really well because the head was slightly smaller than a real head, and didn’t have annoying protuberances, so created a cool profile.

Step 7 – Attach the head with fishing line to the body – The head didn’t really match up and we couldn’t just tape it, so we used fishing line to have the body dangle a few inches below the head, which created a nice effect.

To stop the fishing line from ripping the tape, we taped on some small washers, then made a hole in the tape through the middle of the washer.

Step 8 – Hang the figure and add lights – More fishing line and washers to connect the top of the head to a convenient hook or nail. We also added some additional fishing line to support the lights. The power cord goes out of the “neck” which is just represented by fishing line anyway. If you plan to mount the ghost somewhere without power, there are also battery-operated x-mas lights, but I’m not sure how bright they are.

We also added a bit more plastic wrap to create tentacle-like hands.

Step 9 – Wait until dark, then scream in terror.

Here is a short video showing the lights blinking, with some spooky sound effects in the background:

(My first attempt at embedding video).

The same technique could be used around other things – you could add partial or full legs, use balloons to create shapes, etc. My wife wanted to create a ghost cat as well, but the cat wouldn’t hold still long enough…

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Tardis - LitAlthough my general interest in 3D printing is based on designing my own models, I have printed a few pre-made models. This TARDIS model came from Thingiverse, and was created by a guy going by the name of Count Spatula!

Even though the model was already created, it was still something of a learning experience – both to see how different people design models, and also in the assembly and circuitry.

The model is designed using a number of separate pieces that need to be assembled. There are also some optional pieces to allow for holding some LEDs, a battery, etc. And there are some images for the signage. The finished model is about 6 inches tall.

Here are all of the pieces of the TARDIS laid out before construction:

As you can see, there is a fair amount of complexity. The four sides (3 sides plus one front with door) slide into each other. The white pieces are the windows, which need to be glued in behind the openings. The top is made up of four pieces (including the light and light cap), and the bottom is the open square (so that you can access the switch).

There are also two specialized pieces – a light holder and a switch/battery holder. These are designed to slide into slots in the side panels, although in practice I had to Dremel the edges to make them fit. I’m not sure if that is just because of the vagaries of my printer, or a common issue. I think that next time I print one of these, I might print the holders a percentage or two smaller to see if that helps. I’m probably too lazy to remake the parts, although it would be a good exercise.

The entire thing took about 21 hours to print on my TAZ 5.

Although not explicitly described by the good Count, the light circuit is pretty straightforward:

Tardis Circuit

I used some bright 5mm LEDs. Each pair of LEDs is hooked to a 330Ω resister, as is the single bulb for the top, although you can’t see the resisters because of the heat shrink tubing. I used some heavyish wire — partially because I had some lying around, and partially because it does a good job holding the top light in place without being glued. The bulbs in the light holder are glued in place though. I didn’t glue them in before soldering in case I smoked one, but it would probably have made soldering much easier…

The battery holder already had a hole for a switch (in fact, two different versions of the battery holder were included for different switches), but it didn’t work for the switches that I happened to have, so I used an x-acto knife to enlarge the hole. Again, I should probably have recreated the battery holder, but, remember–lazy!

Assembling the pieces is actually quite tricky–just to get everything lined up.

Tardis Open

Here is the process that I eventually settled on:

  1. Slide the 3 sides together.
  2. Put on the top ring.
  3. Snap in the light holder, and super-glue it in place.
  4. Snap in the battery holder (but don’t glue yet)
  5. Bend the top light so that it is positioned more-or-less centered at the top of the TARDIS.
  6. Slide in the front panel.
  7. Slide on the base.
  8. Add the top pieces, sliding the top LED into the light shade.
  9. Put a battery in place, and then position the battery holder so that the battery is held between the holder and the side without rattling, then glue the battery holder into place.

I would counsel patience for this process – you don’t want to force and break anything, or screw up the circuit, and it is definitely tricky to get everything lined up. I would also test the circuit before gluing everything in place. For the labels, I just printed the provided images on a page-sized label and stuck them on.

Of all the things I’ve run on my 3D printer so far, this is the one that has got the strongest reaction. At this point, I’ve printed several (I did one without lights, then one with for me, and now they are turning into common birthday presents).


TARDII in their native habitat (and yes, I know that you don’t really pluralize acronyms like that, but it is much cooler than TARDISes).

The next version I do will probably have a flashing light, and then I may move on to a decent dematerialization sound effect. I might also try printing a super-large model as well. (As I write this, I’m printing a baby half-size version just to see how that works).

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Glowing SkullSince Halloween is approaching, I figured i would try printing out a 3D skull. The model came from Thingiverse and was uploaded by 3DWP, which seems to be a 3D-printing company in the Netherlands.

The skull is hollow, and has some serious undercuts, so I was actually surprised that it printed as well as it did, although there are some holes in the eye sockets (other than the ones that are supposed to be there!).

This was my first time printing using t-glase, which is a slightly-glassy material that is semi-transparent. It is also kind of a pain to work with. It took several attempts. One thing I learned was to increase the temperature of the printer bed a bit to get the very thin base to stick properly (The first time I tried to print, I came back to watch my printer happily transferring a big ball of goo back and forth over where the model should be).

For the moment I’ve just shoved a flashlight inside to demonstrate the translucency, but I’ll probably do something a bit more involved with some LEDs. I might design and print a simple LED holder that sits centered in the skull.

Here is what the skull looks like without the light inside:


And here’s a shot mid-print:

Printing Skull

This looks pretty H.R. Gigerish to me, but I don’t think I will add an acid injector…

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cd_outThe CD Drive on my mother’s laptop was somewhat tricky to open (the button was a bit fiddly) so I threw together a utility so that she could double-click a shortcut from the desktop to pop open the drive.

I now use the utility myself, and figured it might be handy for other people as well.

You can download the utility here. Just unzip the executable and either put it directly on your desktop or create a shortcut to it. You will have to have some flavor of .NET 4 on your machine for it to work.

Update (10/15/15): Windows will helpfully block the executable when you first download and extract it, giving strange error messages when you try to run it. To fix this, right click on the executable, and click/check “Unblock”.

If you want to set up a shortcut to close the CD drive (and your drive supports it–many laptop drives do not) you can pass -c on the command-line.

The one limitation is that it only supports a single drive. It is actually relatively tricky to handle multiple drives, and since none of my machines have a second drive, I didn’t bother.

The code

I’ll spend a few moments talking about the code (which is fairly concise). The application is a WinForms application. It could have been a console application, except that then you would see a command window appear briefly whenever you ran the app.

The way the application works is by sending a command string to the MCI (Media Control Interface) which is done via an external call to the method mciSendString. You need to do a DLLImport on the command:

[DllImport("winmm.dll", EntryPoint = "mciSendStringA")]
public static extern int mciSendString(string lpstrCommand,
  StringBuilder lpstrReturnString, int uReturnLength, int hwndCallback);

The default action is to open the CD drive, but the utility can also close the drive (if it is one that supports auto-closing–many laptop drives do not). Here are the command strings:

  • set CDAudio door open
  • set CDAudio door closed

The calling code just looks like this:

CDController.mciSendString("set CDAudio door open",
  (StringBuilder)null, (int)sbyte.MaxValue, 0);

That is pretty much all there is too it. There is a little bit of code to handle command-line arguments, but that is about it. Here is the source. Feel free to rename the application to Cup Holder and/or use it in any way you would like.

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Shampoo ring with bottlesIt’s been a while since I’ve talked about what I’ve been doing with my 3D printer, so I thought I’d do an update.

I spent some time going through a series of exercises with FreeCAD, and printed a bunch of cool, but not totally useful things. The picture on the left is the first “useful” thing I printed. I bought a bunch of large bottles of shampoo, then realized that they wouldn’t fit on the shelf in my shower. The ring in the picture holds the big bottle on top of a smaller bottle so that I can do refills without having to stand and hold the bottles (and it prevents me from making as much of a mess).

I realize that it isn’t much of a design – really just a ring, but the fact that I could make it exactly the size I needed, when I needed it was pretty cool. Here is a close-up of the ring when not in-use:Shampoo ring

Windmill holder with windmillI also created a “windmill holder.” My wife was given a windmill for her birthday, and I figured it needed a stand to hold it upright. Although more involved than the ring above, still not much more than a bunch of circles. Here is what the 3D model looks like (note the cool rounded edges :-):

Windmill holder model


Cap in PlaceMy wife rebuilt a wagon/wheelbarrow, and did a really nice job, but the struts ended in open pipes, so I printed some caps to cover them up:


Yet another circular shape. This was not particularly planned–it just happened that most of the things that came up to be printed were round. Circles also tend to be fairly simple to make, and the printer makes some really cool hi-tech noises while printing. All of the green stuff is PLA, which I’ve learned is not a great material to use for anything that is particularly thin and tall because it tends to stay gooey for a while. The blue is ABS, which, so far, has given me the best, most reliable results.

The most recent thing I’ve printed was the roller core for a tape dispenser. I did this for a friend whose dog literally ate the original (or so he claims).

Tape dispenser

In this case, I didn’t create the model – my friend sent me a link to the model on Thingiverse. However, either my software had a problem with it or there was something wrong with the model, because it came up as being less than 1mm in size! I ended up using the scaling capabilities of Cura to get the main piece to be the correct size. I redesigned the rod for the core as two separate pieces to make it easier to get the size right.

I have done some other projects which I will talk about in another post, and I am starting working on some costuming-related projects as well. I promise that some of these actually contain angles!

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