“Geary” the making of a cardboard robot

I recently took a job at the Y Creator Space, which is part of the Homewood Brushton YMCA. I will be here for 10 months as part of a full-time AmeriCorps term of service. During that time I will do my level best to teach lessons about engineering and STEM to youth age 9 – 13 every day after they are done with school.  But first…we needed some kids to teach. The Y Creator Space was short on attendees as we went into this new school year, which was crazy since this is a free afterschool program that also feeds the kids dinner!

Part of our recruiting strategy was setting up a table at local events and luring parents and kids in with cool projects from the Makerspace. I thought a great showpiece might really bring them in, and since we’re all about inventing with cardboard and making robots, I needed to combine the two ideas.

While I had this project in mind for a while it wasn’t till the director of youth programming at the Y suggested we make a robot secretary, and the shape of the bot materialized. With Tank in mind I set off, made a quick plan and started cutting cardboard.

Before long I had a prototype:
2017-10-25 21.46.18

Right now you’re looking at two servo motors glued inside of a box each with an empty tape roll attached directly do it. It had been a while since I had worked with puppetry, and I had never worked with animatronics, but I’ve been a sculptor for long enough that I knew I could get something working…

Now I need some kind of linkage to attach the mouth to a servo motor, and of course it would have to turn to look at people…

Here it is all finished up a few days later!
The whole thing is 4 servo motors rigged up to 3 potentiometers, controlling both eyes, rotation and the opening and closing of the mouth. The controller is a Hummingbird Duo, the same controller that we teach the kids on and they all have access too.

Normally a Hummingbird must be hooked up to a computer to a function but for the sake of portability I wanted to take advantage of the Hummingbird Duo’s ability to hold a simple arduino program. I was running into some issues with ArduBlock so I dug deep into my programming history and hacked together some example code to make each potentiometer which gave an output from 0-100 control each servo which takes an input from 0 – 180, thanks to Tom Lauwers and the team at Bird Brain Technologies for making this easy enough for even me to do!

Geary has been a big hit around the Y Creator Space and at the events we attend. I’m very proud of this creation, it’s been a great teaching tool!




Echo Echo Victor Echo Echo

Eevee is a Pokémon that has so much potential. It can fill whatever niche your missing in your team, it can be cuddly, slimy, spiky, frozen, or a plant. As long as there have been pokémon people have been speculating on what the next new eevee ‘brother’ will be (I assume brother because a newborn eevee has an 87.5% chance of being male). We were theorizing a green eevee evolution as early as 1997 10 years before the 2007 release of Diamond/Pearl and Game Freak canonized existence of Leafeon.

Needless to say I love Eevees. The illustration above is from a Platinum play-through showing my method for “EV training” my Flareon (I don’t care if it has no moves it’s so fluffy!)

A good friend of mine Caroline C knew of my love of eevee and during her short stint at the 3D printing company Piecemaker she printed off a shiny eevee for me!


Look at that support material!

Regular eevee’s are brown: Shiny eevee’s are grey: 

If you don’t know a “Shiny” pokemon is a palette swapped version of the original that has a 1/8192 (Generation 4) of occurring randomly in the wild. Many people will play through the entire pokémon franchise without ever encountering a shiny pokemon. I lucked into a shiny eevee while breeding a team of all 7 of the brothers available in Platinum version. With a mother eevee from Alex F and a father Linoone from Lynne G that she wonder traded in from Japan; I successfully utilized the “Masuda Method” which reduces the chances of breeding a shiny from 1/8192 to only 1/1638. I got mine in less then 80 eggs. As a wise man once said never tell me the odds.

The whole point of this blog post was to talk about the model eevee I was making….after I was given the 3D print I celebrated, this thing is so cool. Then proceed to hack it up. Cut the support material, hit it with a little sand paper, use a file to get into the tight areas and knock the ridges down and then throw down a layer of primer…

There are many methods for cleaning up 3D prints but this is the one I decided to try: the process is something like prime and sand, prime and sand, prime and file and sand, and prime and paint.

The primer sits heavy in the ridges and builds up to a smooth layer. keep this up until it’s a smoth outer layer.

Then it was painted:

Before it was finished I made a base on the laser cutter with some translucent plastic in red and white and some thinner plastic in black.


 Put the finishing touches on it, (eyes are hard man)

I made some extra bases because they were rad.

Now I have an awesome one-of-a-kind homage to my favorite pokemon that more then a few of my friends have contributed too!!

It goes great with the “Once in a Blue Moon Umbreon” that Alex crafted for me out of sculpty! ❤

Dredge Cosplay; A saga in the traditional sense. [Day 0]

Banner saga was a game that captured my interest in a way that few games do. I haven’t been one much for video games in the past few years but this one stuck with me grid based tactics games feel like board games, they feel like wargames…In many ways they play like them too.

Screenshot 2017-05-07 19.12.00.png

Banner saga had a lot of things going for it, the art style; the sprites are clean and the animation smooth and simple, it sells it well. The music was done by Austin Wintory of “Journey” fame, he is a master at his craft.  It’s setting is a world like that of Norse Mythology but also not quite Norse… all the gods are new and unique…and dead! The fantasy races are not that of Elves and Dwarves but of Varl and Dredge and Valka. The Varl all male and each individually crafted by their god stand 8ft tall, and have great horns sprouting from their heads, very cool.  Then there is your adversaries…

The Dredge

What are the Dredge?…grey skinned humanoids wearing stone armor, speaking in strange sounds and seemingly emotionless fighters. These are the antagonists in Banner Saga and as we play we learn more and more about them…but their design is great I really want to dress up as one. But there’s not a lot of detail defining them in their game-sprites or in cut scenes, I might need a little more to go on…




When’s the next opportunity to cosplay? The inaugural PAX Unplugged in November.  That will be a great opportunity to get dressed up…but going as a Video game character to a Board game convention…faux pas.

Luckily I can kill two birds with one stone here:

A company I really like called Megacon Games made a skirmish board game about the banner saga world! They made some really beautiful miniatures that also gave a bunch more detail to the design of Dredge armor and clothing.


So I went and bought a set of the miniatures! YAY! More stuff to paint. Here is Alex F. learning to use an airbrush and priming a Dredge warrior in a dark grey so he can be painted.



I also went and picked up some EVA foam at Costco to make the armor plating.


This will be my first project like this so the plan currently is to model the helmet in Blender and be able to make templates. I need to do some scaling and the vast majority of the work will be done in the amateur cosplay making techniques widely available online.  I can’t wait to get started, I dropped into the Discord channel of the Banner Saga team everyone seemed excited about an idea like this.

Kingdom Death; The following of Adam Poots

I met Adam Poots in a basement Apartment in Brooklyn New York. My cousin Shoshanna F.-I. had brought me there in the early ‘aughts on some new years eve to escape from our folks. The residents were playing a new Silent Hill game in their basement in the dark and I was excited to learn someone in the house also played Warhammer 40k. Adam’s miniature collection was awesome, and his paint work nothing short of aspirational for pubescent Ethan and the fact that he worked at Atari made this some kind of man of legend. Anyway Adam Poots would walk back into my life a few times after that point…

He had some kind of public falling out with Atari? I still don’t know this story but here it is from him: (I wouldn’t bother watching it)

One year I was attending Otakon some cosplayer walked up and handed me a business card for a competitor to Facebook (which was new at the time) it was a social media platform called “I Heart Poots” (poots.com) I couldn’t believe this was the same guy, but sure enough I called up my cousin to see what Poots was up too and it was him.
I kept an eye on the URL who’s content shifted over the years until it had become about creating and sculpting this dark, but sexy, horror miniatures game, Poots had partnered up with some artists and sculptors and began releasing one off miniatures for a board game he’d make in the future. The game was vaporware but the sculpts on the minis were good and he’d develop a following. Production runs of 150 miniatures would sell out overnight…I had to get my hands on some. So I stayed up late and ordered myself a “White Speaker’ when it became available:

and a “Grand Mother”

They were really cool…but the miniatures were TINY TINY and I didn’t feel as though my painting skills were up to snuff, and to this day they remain un-built and unpainted.

YEARS LATER I checked back in on Poots and found that his game was finally becoming a reality, in 2009 kick-starter had come into existence and was helping aspiring board game designers bring their products to market. In November 2012 Poots launched the kickstarter for Kingdom Death Monster asking for $35,000….a goal which was met 90 minutes after launching the campaign.  He would go on to raise more then 2 million dollars the most successful board game on Kickstarter at the time. The Oatmeal would go on to break that record with some garbage that could barley be called a board game. (I’m not linking to it) But there is justice in the world, Kingdom Death 1.5 would break the Oatmeal’s record and raise $12.3 million dollars!!

Anyway I paid less then $90 for the Original KD: Monster box which had, through various kickstarter promises, ballooned in scope and become an unwieldy beast of a project. Poots had made a lot of promises he was unable to keep the biggest of which was thinking he be able to deliver a product by November 2013. (HA!) I didn’t see my copy of Monster till July 2015, but I had been waiting for Poots to make this game for years and years, another couple years wouldn’t hurt me.

As soon as it arrived I opened it up, everyone was thrilled, we had to play it! It was a legend! I took one look at those miniatures, so intricate, so detailed. I couldn’t do them justice with my painting experience and I put the lid back on the box and carried it around for the next two years.

But it’s finally time. Here is the starting sprue that includes the 4 basic survivors and the first boss “The White Lion”, and also “The Butcher”

I remember back then looking up painting guides for these game pieces, and seeing assembly guides for the starting figures…I scoffed, HA! Was it the first time these people had assembled a miniature before, who needs a guide?

Now I understand.

These simple characters have no fewer then 6 pieces…


The problem isn’t that they are complex, but that they have very very similar looking pieces to those around them, and only the exact right ones will fit.

Again with these also Airbrush has been a game changer. It lets me get down some subtle changes in skin tones and otherwise.

I “kit-bashed” some of the armor kits together to make a D&D miniature for a Drew I.  who is leaving for Seattle. I did the miniature for him back in December but didn’t get around to painting it until the week before he left…funny how that works.


The base is from http://sciborminiatures.com a place I’m going to need to be order from again very soon. All their products are awesome.


Anyway after nearly a decade of following Adam Poots and his game I think I might finally be able to play it some time in the next few months. Only time will tell.

More updates on Kingdom Death to follow.


Dungeon Delving in 8-Bits

First of all, It’s down home cooking day at the Labyrinth!
In an effort to use up all the food in our house in our waning days here we’ve taken to making more and more elaborate meals….

We had leftover meatloaf that Dillon L. made from his family recipe, so we spice’d it up with home made vegetable gravy, mashed potatoes and some small portion from the remaining instant stuffing. Hearty food, perfect for two no-longer growing boys who are spending most of their day on the couch. But love to eat.

Super Dungeon Explorer

From Soda Pop Miniatures.  I bought a copy of the first run of this game WAY back in 2011 before Kickstarter (was big). There was a day when a publisher had to take a random guess at how popular their first printing would be, get it wrong; make too many and risk going under therefore not being able to make more games… or make too few and have people decry their inability to produce a game fast enough.

I got my first edition, first printing of Super Dungeon Explorer, it came with a fantastic set of miniatures in a “Chibi” or “8-bit” style that I instantly fell in love with… and an utterly incomprehensible rule-book. To this day people who got to experience the first play-throughs still talk about how bad the first edition rules were. But we persisted, ad-hoc’d, errata’d, balanced, and loved the game. But we didn’t play very often, I had always wanted to paint the miniatures and was ashamed that I hadn’t yet so I wouldn’t bring the box out to play.

Matt B. helped me get over that when I moved in with him in 2015, he had loved the game when we played it as young-yinz and demanded that we break it out. He even wanted to paint miniatures with me. We went ahead and bought the new “Expansion” Forgotten King that was also a stand alone version WITH UPDATED RULES and some “Caverns of Roxor” miniatures to add to are hero and villain pool. The updated rules were worlds better and became essential to a good SDE Experience, especially for first time gamers.  Matt initially acquired both for himself but after opening up the Forgotten king box I needed to paint those trees so I purchased it from him.


These are so cool….

One day I’ll finally put together a cheap light box and take some really good photos of all the painted miniatures, and put them on the blog of course.

But this week I tackled Candy and Cola who were a special edition hero as far back as the first edition…and totally broken to play with. I’ve been using Zach U.‘s airbrush that he lent me, and this thing has been a game changer.

Here is candy. After a coat of white primer, a coat of purple base from the airbrush and some work done on her hair. After DSC05656

Candy was unique for a few reasons, by the time I got around to buying her she was “Out of Stock” so to speak and I had to grab one off ebay. Thanks resellers! Additionally out of maybe…150 miniatures from Soda Pop that I have she is the only metal model. Which poses it’s own painting challenges, but most amusingly she’s really heavy when people pick her up, and they don’t expect that.

After her hair I went and put down a base of flesh tone, then went in and did detail work on the eyes. Doing the eyes well is one of the reasons I’ve avoided tackling the hero models for years now, but I think I did an okay job on the first try. Thanks to the Ninja Division forums for people offering tips and giving examples of their work.

I have censored the next image…the model is wearing clothes I swear, it just does not look like it in this picture and I want to keep everything PG on this blog.


After that I added some sand to the base and busted out the airbrush again for a base coat on the sand and to get another thin layer of skin tone down. This one also censored.Primer

While waiting for paint to dry, literally I went about making  a little prop to add some interest to her base. In the game she is “Soda Master Candy” and can be seen drinking from a soda bottle on her card, but they didn’t include this in the sculpt, so I wanted to put it back in…This time the poor girl has some clothes.

20170530_201747Soda is sort of her schtick I was surprised it wasn’t included in her sculpt. The Kingdom Death version features one…okay call the blog PG-13.

After some final refinement I got the model to a point that I was okay with fielding it, and I just couldn’t look at the tiny piece of work anymore and called it done.

She’s not perfect but she’s ready for play and this marks a pretty big turning point for me. Candy was among the first heroes I had… and now then 50% of my total SDE miniatures are painted, and I’m finally starting to do the player characters. A light at the end of the tunnel can be seen…and behind that light, BUYING NEW MINIATURES!

Fear not this cycle never ends. Hit me up for a game of Super Dungeon Explorer, it will give me a reason to hurry up and paint more.

Humans weren’t meant to fly [Day 0]

After getting my amateur radio license with Matt B I knew exactly what I was going to do with it…assist in the weekly operations of Buggy at CMU. I started reporting weekly to the W3VC Buggy Safety net. The net consists of amateur Radio operators helping out by making sure everyone is well informed about what was going on around the buggy course, they maintained a direct line to Emergency Medical Personal when needed, and in general kept everyone off each other’s toes.

But Matt had other ideas; he didn’t have any interest in standing around in the cold and the dark before 7 in the morning shouting a call sign into the void….Matt wanted to fly.

Remote control over radio frequencies isn’t rare, in fact its the most common way to transmit that kind control input across line-of-sight to an RC vehicles…but with a little more power we could drive a vehicle out of line of sight! So we wanted to make a drone. Now when most people think of drones they picture this:

Phantom 3 Quadcoptor Drone

We wanted to build this:

General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper/Predator

Well…that’s kind of big and expensive…How about something in between?

AeroVironment RQ-11 Raven

Yeah that thing is cute! It looks like an RC plane and also is scaled to something we could actually make. While I was really excited to start fabricating planes we both needed to wrap up school before really jumping in earnest, but we did find a couple of hours to talk about distributing the labor. Matt would take care of control systems, internal electronics, propulsion, guidance, vision, batteries, base stations, permits….ya know everything that I wasn’t interested in…which was everything except building the physical body of the plane.

I did a bit of research and learned designing airplanes is really hard, I didn’t want to have to calculate the idea surface area to payload ratio of my aircraft and then find the right major axis along the airfoil of the wing….I’m sure a bunch of those words are in the wrong order.

The long and short of it was, at the very least I wanted to piggyback on someone else’s design, in comes: Flite Test and their Tiny Trainer. Flite test was a website for people like me who wanted to attempt to get into RC planes. They were even graciously giving away plans free online!

Look at these things! This one piratically is a RQ-11!

FT Explorer from Flite Test

But it was kinda complicated and I didn’t yet have a motor to fly it with…what do they recommend starting with?

Tiny Trainer from Flite Test

I think this thing was still pretty cool. So I went and got some plans…FT-Mini TinyTrainer-plans

At this time I was still operating as a shop supervisor for the Art Department at Carnegie Mellon so I had access to laser cutters which turned what might have been tedious job of cutting out foam…into an agonizing but brief  fight with the settings on our cutter.

Soon I had this:

2017-03-02 20.51.42

Huge thanks to Flite Test for making this kind of work possible. But I put the plane together and had something reasonable! I re-enforced the leading edge with some tape to give it some character and personality:

2017-03-03 14.24.19
Mk .001

Time to test it:

Ah well, it’s not supposed to fly backwards, better get some weight in the front end. Apparently it’s very important that you have the center of gravity right at the wing when flying planes….

Better….what if we try again?

Hey that was a pretty good flight!! Now we’re getting somewhere I bet we can replicate that!

Ouch. It hurt me to just hear that happen.

Whelp…so much for the Mk .001! Luckily they design this thing to be modular so I printed out another one, but this time I did a little custom design work.


I made this plastic “Air frame” designed to add weight to the front-end and reduce the need for a counterweight, and also re-enforce the nose cone to resist crashes. It sure looked cool!

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Here the plane is in parts…2017-03-03 17.54.39

All together….now for the maiden voyage:

It didn’t make it.
At this point I had to stop playing with Airplanes and refocus onto classwork. These test-flights were dated March 3, 2017 hopefully some time soon Matt B. and I will reconvene to discuss the creation of further ‘paper airplane’ construction. Making things that fly is really cool…but you should be prepared for those things to break regularly…or sometimes get lost in the park, and returned to the lost and found by a good samaritan.

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Found in Blue Slide Park while going on a run.

FIRST Firsts; Robots built by kids.

The weekend of March 20th I was invited to volunteer for the Greater Pittsburgh Regional FIRST Robotics Competition. I was coerced by Ben Matzke into getting up at 4:30am and traveling to snowy rural CALIFORNIA, Pennsylvania. I have known Ben from our time in Sweepstakes at CMU (Aka “Buggy”). Ben has taken over running the Buggy Alumni Association, so I’ve been seeing more of him as I try to contribute meaningfully to this organization I love.


I was familiar with FIRST because I had done Botball in middle and high school. In fact by the time I had arrived at Carnegie Mellon I had been building robots for nearly 6 years. Working with mechanisms, coding in a really simplistic form of C++ (“Interactive C”), soldering wires and programming understandable logic into “Rocks we tricked into thinking“.

FIRST was always the pinnacle of these kinds of events. With a $6000 entry fee (that’s before you’ve started building robots or buying tools) it was way out of reach for my team of 16 year old fundraisers.

This event had a similar feel to the Botball robotics “Greater DC” regional that I was familiar with; A center stage set up in a school gymnasium with lots of cameras live-streams and volunteer staffers in matching t-shirts. Lots of kids in small rectangular pits allocated a certain amount of space in which to build and modify their robots between matches…..But this was bigger!


The robots were more robust these things had effective gearing and powerful drive-trains that allowed them to get up to very high speeds, or haul around heavy objects or other robots with ease.

The field…


…was an order of magnitude larger then the game area we prepared for;  the largest 8’x8′ field we used for Botball would have fit in the space taken up by the ‘airship’ on the FIRST arena.

I was put in the ‘traffic cop’ role of getting all teams to the field for their scheduled bouts pulling them from their frantic repairs and iterative code changes to thrust them into the hurry up and wait game of standing near the side of the field watching the matches play out. It was the only way we could have possibly kept this event from being further behind schedule then we already were through no fault of anyone in-particular.

I’ve always loved being behind the scenes. In general I wont be at an event unless my presence there serves some purpose. Or at the very least I’ll tend to stick to the edges and not engage with too many people.

But this weekend I met lots of passionate kids, excited about what they were building, weather they win or lose. Lots of dedicated adults who were willing to give an inordinate amount of time (and an unreasonable amount of money) to helping young people get exposure to the technology that is increasingly present and pivotal in our modern world.

Making this happen is not cheap. But the experience is invaluable…it’s part of why we need to continue to fund educational programs in the United States…

Thanks for the invite Ben! I had a great time.