The Giant Spirograph

What’s eight feet across, has 90 teeth, and makes beautiful designs? Not a shark with an art degree, but this giant version of the classic Spirograph drawing toy. Chalk is the medium, and streets and sidewalks are the canvas.

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Molotov Cocktail LED Lantern

LED candles not radical enough for you? How about some revolutionary chic in the form of an LED molotov cocktail! Let’s call this number two in my series of bad ideas sure to draw the attention of the local constabulary, the first being the screwdriver key that lets you “steal” your own car. Read on and learn how to make your own.

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Konami Code Necklace

Up up down down left right left right B A Start… Who of a certain age can forget that code? I make no guarantees that this laser-cut mirror necklace will get you extra lives, but it will get you some extra attention.

Since there isn’t a whole lot to share in the how-to of the final product, instead I thought I’d share the meandering process of getting there from the initial idea. So often, project write-ups only focus on what worked and ignore the many failures and missteps along the way, and there were many failures and missteps in this project, spanning over a year.

If you’d like a necklace, you can buy it in my Etsy shop and help support my further creative endeavors.

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The Art of Tinkering

The Exploratorium in San Francisco recently released a book called The Art of Tinkering. They describe it as

a celebration of a whole new way to learn by thinking with your hands, working with readily available materials, getting your hands dirty, and, yes, sometimes failing and bouncing back from getting stuck.

Sounds like exactly what I enjoy!

I’m excited and proud to be a part of it, with a section on Pumpktris right on page 73, sharing a spread with littleBits and the folks from Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories, among others.

Order your copy at the Exploratorium store or at Amazon.

Easy Star Wars Paper Snowflakes

DIY papercut Star Wars snowflakes are all the rage these days (here, here, here), but what if you’re not that crafty? Or your mom won’t let you use the sharp knife? Successfully finishing one of those designs takes some fine motor skills and attention to detail that not everyone possesses. Now you won’t be left out, with these three easy papercut Star Wars snowflakes that anyone can do.

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Abacus Wristwatch

After building the abacus bracelet last year, I wanted to explore the idea of archaic wearable computing a little more. An abacus wristwatch seemed like a good way to do so, and the project would challenge me to learn 3D modeling. Pebble or the rumored iWatch would have nothing on the computing power I had in mind!

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PONG Halloween Costume

Sticking with the video game theme for Halloween after last year’s Pumpktris, this year I decided to go as the classic game PONG. It’s a simple costume, and it can be put together with only about $15 of materials and an hour of time.

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Nixie Clock

I’ve long been attracted to nixie tubes with their warm, glowing numbers, and wanted to build a clock with them. Not experienced in the high voltage circuitry required, I ordered a kit from TubeHobby. There’s still some DIY in it, but not as much chance of burning down the house as if I tacked it by myself. It took a few years of off and on work (mostly off) to finish the clock, and I didn’t start the project thinking I’d write it up, so please forgive the lack of in-progress photos. I did take a few pictures before I put it together, though, so you could get an idea how it came together.

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Snap Circuits Multimeter

After my son saw me troubleshooting a circuit with my multimeter, he wanted to use it himself. Now while I strongly believe that kids should have access to real tools, that doesn’t mean they have to be my tools (you should see what he did to my dial indicator).

Having real tools doesn’t mean that thought can’t be given to how a five-year-old might use them differently than an adult. In a multimeter, the features I thought would be most useful included

  • Auto-ranging. The kiddo isn’t reading resistor values yet, so plug and play is the way to go.
  • Auto-shutoff. I guarantee it will be left on after use.
  • Durability. It has to withstand the bumps and drops that it’s more likely to get from small hands than large ones.
  • Affordability. In case it’s not durable enough.

The Equus 3320 multimeter fits the bill on all counts, ringing up at right around $20. Considering that it’s not a toy and can continue to be used for decades, it seemed worth it.

Most of my son’s electronic projects are with his Snap Circuits kit, and he doesn’t have the dexterity to hold the two regular probes on the circuits while at the same time manipulating switches and shining flashlights into photoresistors. Heck, I couldn’t do it either. The multimeter would need snaps for probes. Not surprisingly, these are not standard equipment for electronic testing. So, with a set of sheathed banana plugs and a pair of replacement jumper wires from Snap Circuits, I made my own.

This hardly needs instructions, but I’ll write up the steps anyway.

First, disassemble the banana plugs.

Cut off one end of each Snap Circuits jumper wire and strip half an inch of wire from the long wire remaining. Instead of cutting the wire as close as possible to the snap,  you might want to cut it with about an inch of wire remaining on the short end. This way those snaps can be spliced to something else (alligator clips?) and re-used.

Insert the stripped end of the wire into the housing for the banana plug, into the plug itself, and then tighten with the included Allen wrench to clamp it in place. Assemble and snap the back into place.

That’s it. Put the original probes aside to use later, and start testing! Some fun things to do include seeing how precise the marked values on the resistors are, testing continuity, measuring the resistance of different chains of components, and measuring the current draw of various circuits. Seeing the numbers on the meter change as he turns a potentiometer or adds a light bulb to a circuit really makes concepts come to life.

Another great thing about the snap probes is that they’re a lot harder to misuse when a budding engineer decides he wants measure the voltage of a wall outlet or the resistance of an iPhone charging port. They just won’t fit!

 

Drive It Like You Stole It

Officer, it’s not what it looks like! I did not steal this car; that’s my key! Why are you getting out your taser?!

For no practical purpose at all, I wanted to see if I could make a screwdriver into a car key. What fun it would be to impersonate the look of a stolen car with a screwdriver jammed into the ignition! And maybe I could empty my glove box all over the seat so it looks like I was scrounging for spare change and prescription drugs too!

Read on to make your own.

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