Using the Internet to Get Free Stuff in the Mail

     In an earlier post, I mentioned how much I love sending and receiving mail through the good ole USPS. One of the ways I ensure that my mailbox periodically contains treasure when I open it, is by taking a few minutes every once in a while to fill out forms online to get free stuff sent to me. I'll do a bigger post soon showing the bounty I've gleaned in the past couple of years since I started doing this, but today I received two free magazine subscriptions with a juxtaposition that just made me chuckle.
     Behold, my new bathroom literature, free copies of "Yachting" and "Waste Management World". I have vague interest in both of these fields (what with my semi-obsession with re-using and recycling, and a love of water since childhood) but it was just so funny to see these two gems sitting next to each other in the mailbox - what an unlikely pair!
     To get this free stuff sent to me, I use a few different websites that feed into my iGoogle. Beware, because some "Free Stuff" sites can be fronts for scams, but I've been using these ones for over a year and they have been reputable:

Papercraft (Cardboard Craft?) Pizza Box Robot Monster

     Recently, due to the hard economic times, I was forced to take a job as a pizza delivery driver to make ends meet. The work was tedious, but allowed my mind to wander to some productive places. I came up with some great ideas while assembling hundreds and hundreds of boxes in the basement. Leaving myself voicemails made Google Voice the perfect repository for my pizzeria pipe dreams.

     I'm guessing that pizza boxes are generally die-cut, and as is common in this process, the excess cuttings were sometimes still partially attached to the boxes in all manner of interesting shapes. To pass the time I started collecting them and thinking about what I could make with them. It soon became apparent that I had enough to assemble a mighty creature who could become a menacing mascot for the pizzeria. After four months of steady collecting, I had enough and put this guy together. Though not intended, I think he may be a cross between The Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past From the Future from Aqua Teen Hungerforce, and bad-ass Johnny Five from Short Circuit 2 after he re-assembles himself in the radio shack. 
     Alas, the pizza gig is over, and they did not adopt it as their official mascot. If you work at, or know of a pizzeria in the NYC area that might be interested in displaying my robot on their counter, leave a note in the comments.

Father's Day

     The memory that keeps occuring to me this Father's Day is this one time we went bluefishing when I was a teenager. I was reeling one in on an umbrella rig with multiple lures and snagged a second fish on the same line! I brought them both into our little boat with its' little cockpit and everything flopping around chaotically - The lures with their barbed hooks, two 5 pound blues with sharp teeth that have been known to bite off a toe (we were not wearing sneakers that day), and my dad with his spectacles jumping up and down at the end of his nose, one hand on the tiller, and the other hand wildly swinging a pair of vise-grips in a valiant attempt to crush some fish skulls- all with Andres Segovia's classical guitar blasting from the boombox. This had to be one of the most hilarious, bizarre, and scary moments we had shared together. That day I was glad he was my dad, and I think he was glad that I was his son.
     The pic in this post was taken after our last sail together. When the conditions were right, we had developed enough rapport to sail the boat off the mooring at the start, cut a course through the LI Sound, tack back into the harbor, and luff the sails, coasting to a stop with my arm stretched into the water to grab the mooring line. An excursion like this, without needing to turn on the motor, we dubbed a "perfect day." This was a day like that, and a couple weeks before his failed surgery to remove a malignant tumor - he passed away six months later...I don't want to end on a sad note, and after 8 years past I feel no sadness- only gratitude. This is my favorite picture of the two of us. Happy Father's day to all dads everywhere, always.

Pliers Turned Magnets, How Do They Work?

  I had to cut some metal today, and was happy to be able to use the angle grinder that was given to me recently by a kind co-worker. Sparks flew and my workbench was soon covered in a fine layer of iron filings. I went to grab my trusty pliers, and noticed that the ends of the handles had little afros made of iron filings. How did this happen?! It's not like I magnetized them on purpose, and can't recollect ever storing them near anything magnetic.
     Could it be that from the friction or proximity to the angle grinder's motor that the filings themselves became electrically charged? Anyone care to shed light on this?
     One thing I know is that these guys won't be able to give me a satisfactory answer.

But I'm only a hardware hacker....

Thanks for stopping by, especially if you came here via Boing Boing's Notepad page - their post there just beckoned for me to guess at their password, so I did.... I hope you like the projects I've been working on - no harm intended to the Boing Boing folks. When opportunity knocks....

Artistic Interpretation of The Cube Root of Three

     My wonderful sister is a high school math teacher, and in our family the geek apple doesn't fall too far from the tree. With that in mind, I made this extra-special birthday present for her this past year. For a native New Yorker you might pronounce this "Da Cube Root o Tree" - It's a wire frame papier mache tree sitting atop a wood cube, with the cube root of three expressed in different ways on the four visible facets of the cube - decimal, hexadecimal, binary, and integral (click here for pic showing the other two facets).
     For the cube, not only did I not have a thick enough piece of wood available, but I was eager to experiment with a method of scrap wood laminating I read on Lifehacker a while back. With wood glue, clamps, and varnish, I was able to make a durable, interesting looking cube for the base. I then stenciled and spray painted the letters and numbers, and spray-lacquered the whole thing.
      For the tree, I shaped a wire frame, then covered it in papier mache - old school, like in kindergarten with water, white glue, and newspaper. After applying green spraypaint and letting it dry, I hit the tree with some 3M Super 77 spray adhesive, and rolled it around in soil. After brushing off the loose bits, I lacquered it several times to keep it all together.
     Epoxy holds the two pieces together, and now it sits on my sister's desk, awaiting the curiosity and/or bewilderment of her students.

The Tapescape Audio Robot

Keeping in the spirit of this blog, I should mention that I'm the co-creator of a robot that was built almost solely from a dual tape deck and could transmit sound from a "scape" of "tape" as it rolled along. This was called TapeScape -

After moving out of NYC after my tenure as bassist for Kinetic was over, this was the first major "maker" project I undertook with my collaborator, Ilan Schifter (who encouraged me to enroll at NYU's ITP program.) We originally entered the robot into an Instructables contest, and then received attention from several well-known blogs.

It was after this that the gears started turning for this website idea. It excites me immensely to know that there is "obsolete" technology and materials languishing, just waiting for others like myself to snatch it up and re-imagine it as something fantastic!

If you have ideas along these lines, I'd love to hear what you've been doing. If you have something laying around and don't know what to do with it, let me know, and we can think of something. Cheers!

Recycling Plastic Bags into Childrens' Blocks

I learned about the method of "stewing" plastic bags from this instructable a while back, and decided to try it for myself.  In short, it's done by placing the bags in canola oil, in which they acquire a gummy consistency, suitable for molding into rigid pieces. I decided to make some childrens' blocks out of it. As far as I know the plastic is all #2 HDPE which I assume is safe for children. Can anyone shed some light on this? (don't worry I wouldn't give this to kids until I'm absolutely sure).

The swirly, marbled patterns have potential, although just mixing all the different colors together make it ugly as sin. Perhaps in the future I'll use various color schemes and they'll come out nicer.

On further thought, what basically gets created from this process is plastic lumber . Perhaps I can hang onto all my #2 plastic and slowly make enough plastic bricks to build a house. :) or even better, raid the bins on recycling day and live within other peoples' waste. Oh the possibilities....

Check out build pics at my flickr page.

How To Rewire Roland DS90 Speakers (For Humanities Students)

After so many years of literary analysis and myriad other right-brained ventures, I've become quite sluggish in mathematical type analyses. So, when I accidentally blew the internal amplifiers on my Roland DS90 desktop monitors, it took six years of procrastination before I finally opened them up and converted them to passive speakers.

Wiring in series and parallel I could understand, but when it got into the heady world of impedance and frequency crossovers, my brain started to swirl. I'll try to give the condensed version of how I figured it all out.

First, these monitors have two speakers, one standard for all frequencies, and one tweeter for only high frequencies.

A "crossover" is a speaker wired in parallel that has it's frequency limited by wiring in one or more capacitors.

I found out the "crossover frequency" of my speakers, then checked out this site to calculate the proper capacitance

Then it was a matter of rummaging through my junked circuit boards to find the right capacitors. That same site I linked to has a nifty little calculator that tells you how many farad you get when wiring the capacitors in different series or parallel combinations.

Now for the build pics:

The monitors with their butts ripped off.

The capacitors wired in: 2 10 microfarad caps in series, and 1 2.2 microfarad cap in parallel = 7.2 microfarad

Hacking the input: After I went all Om Nom Nom on the preamp circuit board...

I used the existing RCA input jack, and kept the rest of the amplifier guts intact, guessing that their physical presence has an effect on the overall sound of the monitors.

Thinking Inside the Box

     I'm a pretty decent wood butcher - have slapped together a compost bin, workbench, shelves, even an adirondack chair made of shipping pallets. But what I've never tried to do is a carpentry project that fits edges together snugly, where everything is perfectly square, and it looks somewhat decent (like a wood surgeon would do it?)
     So, after feeling restless and watching this video, in which Adam Savage claims to start going a bit nuts if he isn't regularly building something, I made it an afternoon project to construct a simple, clean, elegant wooden box.
    I must give infinite respect to my friends who are carpenters. It is an art that takes a lot of practice to do well. I feel like my box will hold up for a while, but it ain't the prettiest, nor the straightest thing in the world. All the same, I learned a bit while making it, so it's all good.

What's it Worth to You?

     One of my favorite quotes is, "You tell me 'Looks like someone has too much time on their hands,' but all I hear is 'I don't know what it feels like to be creative.'"
     Every day we experience a conscious state taking up what Clay Shirky calls cognitive surplus. In two nights' worth of TV time (watching the NBA finals game 1 last night, and a TV movie this night) I've organized all of my loose hardware: nuts, bolts, nails, screws, washers, and whatever else I might dive into for inspiration from time to time.
     One on side, I paid less attention to what I was watching on the tube. But how much attentions do we really pay to the act of watching television anyway?
     Now the tip: sorting hardware is a devious task when you feel like you've gotten so much accomplished, but it's really just because you sorted the big stuff first. Then it's a marathon of drudgery and fine motor exercise. When you're down to a handful of fluff and the tiniest of pieces, I suggest throwing it all in a tin can, going outside, and burning it from a safe distance with a splash of accelerant (isopropyl, gasoline, kero, what have you...).

Once you're finished, dump it onto the pavement, blow away the ash, and scoop up the spoils!

Scrapwood Trellis

It's June and the plants are going vertical for sure now. Our snow peas needed some help with their ascent so I put together this trellis from scraps I have lying around. Kept my Triangle Square (def my fav new tool) out on the ground while framing it up. The design looks haphazard but keeping everything at right and 45 degree angles makes it coalesce I think.