After I got the idea for the Mission Control Desk, it almost immediately occurred to me that we should have a spaceship of some kind to go with it. My son really did need a desk for school, though, and I had to finish that before starting on the spaceship.
This spacecraft is my favorite project ever. Not only was it challenging and educational for me, it will be great fun for the boys, while also encouraging them to work a lot of teamwork into their play.
Each Christmas, I like to participate in Cheerlights, an Internet of Things system for synchronizing the colors of multicolor Christmas tree lighting. To command the trees of the Cheerlights service, all you have to do is send a tweet with “@Cheerlights” and the name of a color. In the past, I built and modified a tiny desktop tree display. This year, I went all out, not only outfitting my big Christmas tree with color-changing lights, but also building a robot to roam the house and hunt for colors.
Meditation strikes a special chord with me as a maker because it is said to foster creativity, intuition, imagination, and fantasy. I can’t think of traits better suited to making. I’ve tried meditation in the past, but it didn’t seem to stick. When I saw that NeuroSky’s Mindwave headsets had dropped to $100, I couldn’t resist trying meditation again, this time with feedback. These headsets measure electrical signals from your brain and determine two main metrics: attention and meditation. The charts and graphs in the headset’s app worked well enough for measuring attention, but the very nature of meditation is that you can’t focus on charts and graphs while doing it. I set out to build a more peaceful and serene visual output for my headset, one that would actually serve to calm me even further as it displayed the depth of my meditation.
Part of what makes me a maker is that I prefer to do things myself when I can. I even cut my own hair. Nothing fancy, mind you, just a quick buzz cut with a trimmer. The tricky part, though, is cutting a good line across the back of the neck. It’s not only hard to trim, even using multiple mirrors, but it’s quite obvious when I haven’t been keeping up. Usually I ask my wife to help me, but I like to be self-reliant, and decided to see if there was a fun and educational way to trim it myself.
Pondering this problem, the two things that came to my mind were computer vision and automated heavy equipment. I figured I could use computer vision to track my head and the trimmer, and besides, I have long been looking for an excuse to learn about computer vision. I thought of construction equipment as a model because some control systems for bulldozers use GPS to locate the machine, and then adjust the blade according to the requirements of the site plan. In theory, the bulldozer operator could just drive back and forth over the site many times, and the control system would handle the height of the blade to result in a perfectly sculpted site. I set out to build a trimmer that I could blindly run up and down the back of my neck, and have it automatically turn on or off in accordance with its position.
Faced with a wiggly-toothed toddler, I realized that we’d be starting the old Tooth Fairy routine soon. Being a bit of a non-conformist, I began to dream up non-conventional ways that we might carry out the Tooth Fairy tradition in our house. I decided that the Tooth Fairy was probably getting overwhelmed by the increasing world population, and would appreciate it if we could send the teeth directly to her. I installed a pneumatic transport system in my house to make it happen.
In my latest “Making Fun With Jeff Highsmith” video, I demonstrate the building and use of a self-contained alarm system designed around the Raspberry Pi computer. The idea for the project occurred to me when my older son asked for help keeping his little brother out of his room. We had some great father-and-son time working on it. You can find a more detailed writeup, along with diagrams, flowcharts, and links to the code at the Make Magazine website. Here is the video:
For the second video in my Making Fun with Jeff Highsmith series on Make, I built Dr. Seuss’s Sneetches as well as the Star On and Star Off machines. You can find the post with links to materials on Make. Here is the video:
Let me know if you think of another Dr. Seuss contraption I should bring to life.
Having spent the week away from home, I returned with an itch to build something. When the boys started making treehouses out of Duplo blocks, inspiration struck. I grabbed the saw from the garage and walked out the woods where I found a suitable dead branch. Back in the garage, I quickly screwed a scrap of cedar to the bottom of the branch and then picked up the glue gun and the craft sticks on the way back into the house. The boys placed a fair amount of the sticks after I had applied glue, and they cut out all of the leaves. It was a fun afternoon project for all! A few weeks back, Gavin asked me to build a treehouse, and though I think this technically fulfills my obligation, I’ll still help them build a human-scale treehouse some day.
Make is my “desert island” publication. If I could only pick one website/magazine to bring with me while stranded on a desert island, I would pick Make. My hobbies and interests have quite a range, but I think that making fun things out of a variety of materials is what consistently interests me the most. I have been a reader of Make Magazine since the first issue, and their website has occasionally mentioned some of my projects. This month, though, I’m beginning to contribute on a more formal basis, with my own monthly video series titled, “Making Fun with Jeff Highsmith”. In it, I hope to use playful and fun projects to inspire folks to make things in the same vein or just to make things, period.