Human Flag progress

flagProgress

Back in May I posted the below “selfie” (in quotes because how could I have possibly taken it?):

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It’s a party trick I learned back in high school. I think Dan Jaffe showed me how. It’s called a “clutch flag” by some, because you clutch a pole (with elbow jammed into abs for support) and pretend you’re a human flag. You may even choose to get inside the mind of a flag and “be” the character if you like. It’s quite peaceful.

After I’d posted it, some people (it was me) egged me on to achieve the “real” human flag, wherein you don’t use the elbow for support, but instead grip with two hands, overhead, arms straight. I tried it once, collapsed, laughed at the absurdity, had one friend remark “Is this even possible?”. Turns out, it requires a heck of a lot more shoulder, chest, lats, abdominals, and oblique strength than I had on tap. So, I asked my awesome Pilates trainer, Jaime Rutt, to help me put together a training plan in order to achieve the fully laid-out, arms-only, human flag by September 1st. She came up with “JP’s ‘Super Selfie’ Workout”, which I’ll share in another post.

I’ve been doing a decent amount of conditioning toward this goal, but I haven’t actually done any training on a proper pole yet (the one from the my clutch flag photo is much too wide to grip properly) I’m very excited however to have tried a pike to flag position on the ladder rungs at the fitness trail the other day and not completely bitten it:

My goal is to hold the flat position horizontal to the ground for a few seconds. So I’m not even close. This is my first attempt at starting from a vertical pike position and lowering to horizontal. My dog is unimpressed. Incidentally, the world record is 1 minute 5 seconds — not something I’ll be challenging any time soon. Even that leaves my dog nonplussed, so. But check back on September 1st to see if I hit the three second mark.

 

Laser Cut Wood Gymnastics Rings

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Gymnastic rings are excellent equipment for bodyweight fitness training. Anything from push-ups, dips, and pull-ups to advanced moves such as muscle-ups and the fabled Iron Cross can be done on a pair of gymnastic rings to improve core and upper-body strength and stability. Plus, as my kids can attest, it’s really fun to swing from them. Here is a great guide to getting started with the rings, and a fundamental rings workout routine.

You can purchase good, commercially made rings, such as these. But how about making your own rings instead? There are several examples online of DIY rings made from either plywood or PVC pipe.

 

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You can create these wooden rings by laminating two pieces of 3/4″ plywood, cutting with a jigsaw, and then sanding.

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These rings are made by filling PVC pipe with a length of rope and sand and then heating them in the oven to soften the plastic, and then form.

I have a set of commercial wooden rings (wood is the preferred material as it absorbs sweat, helping with your grip), but I’ve decided I’d like to make a second set with a slightly larger grip diameter (my current set is the 1.1” international size). I’d rather not use the jigsaw-cut cylinder method and the ensuing difficulty of sanding down straight walls to a perfect circle. My plan is to begin by laser cutting ten thin, stepped layers out of baltic birch, so that when stacked they are closer to the final profile. This approach should make it easier to sand them down to the proper circular profile after gluing.

Starting from from standard dimensions (1-1/4” diameter profile, 7” inside diameter) I drafted the design in Rhinocerous, a NURBS modeling tool I use for precise 3D modeling and laser cutter CAD drafting. (You could do the same in most any CAD or 3D modeling package.)

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I then sliced my final design model into 1/8” cuts with a stepped square profile to mimic the laser cut materials I’d be assembling. This gave me ten circular slices to laser cut and assemble.

Since I’ll be stacking and gluing ten rings of varying size together, I replicated the profile curve of my stacked pieces and used this as a guide to create a laser-cut stacking/gluing jig. I’ll cut four of these into which to lay my ring slices for gluing and clamping.

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I’ve ordered the baltic birch plywood, and am gearing up for laser cutting — and lots of sanding. If all goes well, I’ll get them super smooth, like my current set. (Because, otherwise, splinters. Which is bad.)

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Also, a note on safety: make sure you rig your rings carefully from something that can support the load. You may buy buckled straps online made for rings, or, do as I have and use rock climbing web straps and carabiners to attach them to the backyard swing set.

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If you’d like to get going and build your own gymnastics rings, you can download my design files here, on Thingiverse. Have fun, and please share your results.

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What’s In My Bag?

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(Note: this is a repost of my  article on Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools site.)

Curious to know what’s in my daily work/travel bag? Please, have a look (click the images for an even closer look). I carry this bag and gear for my daily work routine, as well as when I take trips. Note: I do carry some worrisome, pointy things that I place in checked baggage or leave behind when flying. More on that below.

For context, I work in CG animation at DisneyToon Studios, am a maker of robot-y, Arduino-ish things, and write about it for Make: magazine, BoingBoing and other places in print and online. I travel between locations in Los Angeles and overseas for work, so my bag is a bit of a mobile office. (Thanks for the suggestion, Justin.)

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The bag: I carry a Filson bag, made in Seattle, WA ($335, Filson 72 Hour Briefcase). I’ve taken many other bags all over the world — from Papua New Guinea to Belarus, Pakistan to Singapore, Poughkeepsie to Mumbai — this one has quickly become my favorite. Just the right carry-on size with proper, minimal organizational features for my needs. It’s rugged, weather resistant, and made of waxed cotton, bridle leather, and heritage awesomeness. Plus, it makes me feel more outdoorsy than I currently am, so that’s a psychological bonus.

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Let’s have a look in the left outer pocket.

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Sunglasses, writing, fixing, lighting:  I have somehow managed to not yet lose these lovely polarized Ray-Ban sunglasses. I carry a Sharpie marker, a wonderful little $4 technician’s screwdriver (see my review), a solid pen that takes Fisher Space Pen refills ($55 and up), a small AAA flashlight, and a Wörther mechanical pencil ($35 from Hand-Eye Supply).

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Snacks and meds: I stash snacks and pill capsules in this old army ammo pouch from my dad. He gave it to me when I was a kid to play soldier. (You’ll have to get one at a surplus store, because my dad is fresh out.) I usually have one or two snack bars and some nuts or granola in there. Also, lip balm  and instant coffee packs. Lastly, I use these great little waterproof Delrin pill capsules ($6 and up depending on size) to carry antacid, Tylenol, Advil, pseudoephedrine, industrial strength Immodium (helpful for travel to places with unsafe water), and Tic-Tacs. Because I love them. (Also: fresh breath.)

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Sharp things: This is the grouping I put in my checked luggage (alongside my double-edged safety razor) when flying is involved. At the top, the best groomsman gift I’ve ever gotten, the Leatherman Micra multitool ($25, or free if you are in the right wedding party). Next, my beloved Victorinox Swiss Army knife, which I’ve carried into the woods, the city, and around the world on adventures since my parents gave it to me for my fourteenth birthday. Note: sometimes I swap out the knife for my full sized Leatherman SuperTool or Leatherman Juice CS4 so I’ve got good pliers on hand. Connected to my knife is a seriously effective pair of government issue tweezers ($7). At the bottom, is an innocuous-looking capsule.

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Grappling hook: Not so innocuous now, are we? The micro grappling hook ($27 from Maratac). This item is absurd. I really shouldn’t carry it. But I must, due to a pact I made with my teenaged self to always be super freaking awesome as an adult. I have used it legitimately three times – in all cases to retrieve things from rooftops and trees. (It is not intended to support the swinging bodyweight of the foolish/optimistic.) The three spikes are stored inside the capsule and then thread into place when needed. As seen below, I also carry a long length of paracord to be deployed with my ridiculous grappling hook.

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On to the right outer pocket.

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Tunes, tape, adapters, photos, cards: I’ve got photos of my kids, a business card case I made from scrap leather, a zipped ripstop nylon bag full of electronics adapters, an earbud wrap in the shape of an owl I made on the laser cutter, standard Apple earbuds, plus an iPod Nano with some workout tunes on it (nifty that it’ll function as a radio during the post-apocalypse rebuilding of Earth, unlike my iPhone), and a long strip of folded over duct tape (Gorilla brand, $6 a roll) for emergency repairs or live-action body-part censorship.

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The adaptors: Within this ripstop nylon bag I stash a standard VGA adapter for my MacBook (helps when hooking up to strange projectors), MacBook ethernet adapter (not pictured), a Lighting-to-USB cable and wall wart for my iPhone and iPad (please note the Rainbow Loom wrap my daughter made for holding the coiled wire), a USB thumb drive with presentations and documents (useful when I need to give a talk without hooking up my laptop), and a rechargeable Li-Po battery pack for my iPhone and iPad (or any USB powered device).

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Shall we have a look in the main compartment?

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Laptop, notebooks, art: I’ve got my laptop and power adapter, the latest bit of artwork my daughter gives me before a long trip, a small Moleskine pocket journal ($8 for three), and a square-ruled Maker’s Notebook (~$20) for project notes and sketches.

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My laptop is a 13” MacBook Pro Retina (starts at $1300), which I find to be a snappy computer with a great-looking screen and relatively small size and low weight. The sleeve I sewed from an old pants leg and some felt.

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Toiletries, sleep mask, water bottle: I keep all my grooming supplies in this little canvas dopp bag ($60 from Archival Clothing). Thankfully, I sleep pretty well on long flights, particularly with the aid of a good sleep mask. My favorite is this pair of Eye Shades with earplug pocket ($20 from Bucky). I like to have a refillable, insulated water bottle on hand to slake my thirst, this one is $35 from S’well.

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Staying so fresh and so clean: After a long flight, I like to freshen up before landing, so I carry all of this stuff on board. I basically take a standing bath in that tiny little lavatory, hence the need for the excellent MSR PackTowel medium personal towel with which to dry myself, $13 from REI. The rest is standard stuff – deodorant, hair cream, eye drops (important on airplanes), a solitary band-aid, Q-tips, cough drops, ear plugs (how’d I end up with three?), a tiny vial of North Atlantic from CB I Hate Perfume so that I can smell beguiling, and hand lotion. Plus, a small bottle of aromatic bitters for soothing the stomach and crafting in-flight toddies from hot water, honey, lemon, whiskey and bitters.

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iPad and travel documents: I carry an iPad mini ($269) for reading books, watching movies, and playing games on flights, as well as for ready access to documents at work. I built this little adjustable stand from an old webcam monitor mount, some lead sinkers (to give it weight), and some Sugru for grip. The document case is a repurposed car sun visor organizer.

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Papers please: In order to make travel, particularly international travel, as simple as possible, I keep everything for passage, customs, boarding, and the like in one place. In the document case I carry my passport, tickets, itinerary, immunization records, airline and hotel membership cards, spare arrival card forms, and any local currency I’ve accumulated or exchanged. Plus, an extra pen.

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Strap, rope, keys: Tucked in the rear patch pocket is the bag’s shoulder strap (when not in use), a length of 550 parachute cord, and my keys, which I attach to the bag’s key clip/lanyard so I can find them when I return home. The paracord ($7 for 100’)  is good to have in many of situations, but mostly because without it, my sweet grappling hook is of greatly reduced utility.

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That’s pretty much my whole kit + kaboodle. Not pictured here: for longer trips I tear off and pack a few pages of the NYT Crossword Puzzle page-a-day calendar (~$10 for 365 puzzles), a pack of Sugru for repairs, as well as a good, dense magazine, such as Monocle. Hope you enjoyed peering inside.

Imperial Melody Discharger – Stormtrooper helmet art build notes

I built the Imperial Melody Discharger, an articulated Stormtrooper helmet music box, for the Star Wars Day (“May the 4th be with you”) vinyl Stormtrooper helmet art show . For the event, artists across the Walt Disney Company, including DisneyToon Studios where I work, were invited to participate by using a blank 6″ helmet as the canvas for their work. What follows are my build notes and work in progress images.

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My intention for the piece was to provide a view behind the mask of the anonymous Stormtrooper, while creating a fun, interactive moment for the person experiencing it. I wasn’t sure exactly how to get there, but I was certain I’d need to cut the vinyl helmet open. You only have one shot at that, so I decided to first cut apart a CG model inside Maya, and rig it with pivot points that could be used in the real world for the facial articulation.

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Mostly satisfied that I knew where to separate the parts of the helmet, I grabbed an X-acto knife, took a breath, and began the incision. (Note: It smelled really foul in there. Also note: I have no way to compare the smell to that of the insides of a tauntaun.)

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Once splayed out I wasn’t too surprised to see that the “pelt” of the helmet was darned floppy. I needed to build an armature to keep the structure solid, and to support the articulation of the two halves of the face mask.

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With very little time to get fancy building parts from scratch, I rummaged around my workshop, closets, and shamefully disorganized garage, until I came upon an old spider Babyface homage to Toy Story I’d build back in ’95 out of Erector sets. Sorry, Spider Baby, I needed your body parts.

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Please look away if you’re an Erector set purist. I bent and cut up some beams to fit my needs, and then laid out the basic support structure.

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With some drilling and bolting I got most of the helmet secured to the armature. Needing a secure bond between the eye sockets and the ends of the metal beams, and not wanting to place screws through his eyes, I referenced ThisToThat.com to learn that Houshold Goop is recommended for adhering metal to vinyl. I glued the parts together, added a small magnet to each tip to aid with closure, and clamped them with clothespins to dry.

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My next task was figuring out how to make the two halves of the face mask move. I knew from the CG rig I’d built in Maya that I could fit two standard hobby servos, plus a microcontroller, and batteries inside the helmet. A pair of directly coupled servos would be simpler than building a gearing mechanism to swing the two “arms” of the mask from a single motor, plus I could vary the timing of the two halves for added dramatic effect. I did some quick tests with one servo opening and closing half of the mask and it worked well. I discovered that by pivoting from two points on the servo – one lower attachment flange and the control horn, I could swing a wider arch and avoid pinching the hinge of the mask. This dual pivot worked somewhat like a clavicle and shoulder when raising your arm out to the side and up.

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For the brains of the operation, I used an Arduino Uno microcontroller with a prototyping shield. Onto the shield I soldered cable interconnects, a piezo buzzer, and a Pololu Pushbutton Power Switch for power management. I programmed the Arduino with a small bit of code (available here) to wait for a button press, open the right half then the left half of the mask, play the Imperial March theme on the piezo buzzer (for nostagic/crappy sound quality), and finally close the two mask halves. Since I wanted to run the piece from four AA batteries, I didn’t want them to drain when idle by having the Arduino constantly powered on, waiting for the interaction button to be pressed. The Pololu switch solved this neatly – it acts as a power switch, but can itself be controlled by the Arduino, so at the end of my entire routine, the Arduino sends a command to the Pololu switch to power down the board.

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I noticed that the skull cap was pretty floppy and looked unfinished. A trip to my favorite local odd-parts store, Luky’s Hardware , yielded a nice aluminum hose clamp, which I also glued in place with the Houshold Goop.

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Breaking out the X-acto knife again, I cut out a spot for a panel-mount LED indicator light. This would be used to signal when the Melody Discharger’s button had been pressed and the system was active.

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I mounted a battery pack inside the skull cap, and then marked and cut out a hole for the shiny, red interaction button.

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I patterned and cut out some thin sheets of steel to cover the eye lenses of the mask, giving them a bit more life than the blank, matte white of the vinyl. I glued these in place.

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I then plugged the button, LED, and battery pack into the Arduino, and closed the whole thing up.

I’m very happy to say that my Imperial Melody Discharger (named by my friend Mike Greenholt) was a big hit with patrons at the show opening at the Robert Vargas Gallery in Downtown L.A. I was thrilled to watch people interact with it and smile.

Catch the show for one last day at Robert Vargas Gallery, Sunday, May the 4th, 12 – 4 pm

My axe

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I now have an axe, thanks to an estate sale. It’s an old Swedish 3-1/2 lb. Hults Bruk AGDOR felling axe. I’m going to restore it and then look for stuff to fell.