Year: 2012

Minecraft Steve – Halloween Costume

This past Halloween the youngest child unit™ went as Steve from Minecraft. This was a pretty easy and cheap costume to make. For the head I used the pattern from The hardest part was cutting all the paper out.

An old hat (with the bill cut off) was secured to the head via a screw and nut. Some extra cardboard was glued in place to raise the head’s eye level so the child unit could see out the eye holes.

I used some screen to cover the eye holes so one could not see directly into the head – this was mostly superfluous but added to effect.

The sword was made in the same way using this pattern. To make it so that it was “life-sized” I imported it into Acrobat and scaled it to 200% in the print settings (did this twice, once for each side of the sword). This made it print on multiple pages (like the head) for you to piece together and glue on cardboard.

Both the head and sword were covered in packing tape to prevent them from turning into a soggy mess in the Oregon rain.

Architectural Mailboxes’ “Security” Mailbox [UPDATE]

After posting my video demonstrating the easily exploitable security flaw in Architectural Mailboxes’s security mailbox I was contacted by the CEO of Architectural Mailboxes who had this to say:

Hi Adam,

Thank you for reaching out to our company. After viewing your video it is apparent that the mailbox display you videotaped is a very early design. As with all products we are constantly looking for opportunities to improve the designs. This display may even be from the very original sample sent to the store and the retailer never changed out the display when an inline design change occurred. The Oasis Jr. mailbox is on the shelf in literally thousands of stores due to it being the #1 best-selling locking mailbox in the USA for several years running. I assure you if you were to buy the Oasis Jr. today you would find that your hand would not be able to fit in the opening past the curve.

We would be very appreciative if you could provide us with the store name and location so we can send them a new display.

Thank you for bringing this to our attention.


Vanessa Troyer

I found the explanation curious since my wife originally pointed out that she discovered this flaw years ago. Maybe I was assuming too much but is seemed to me that the old displays would have been purged by now. So I asked Vanessa if she could provide a demo of the current design that showed that one could not reach into it and grab mail out.

To my surprise Vanessa was very approachable and offered to send me an updated unit to try first hand. She also requested the location of the Home Depot the first video was shot in so that she could make sure their display was changed out.

I’d have loved nothing more than to show you how the mailbox was still insecure but that simply isn’t the case. As you can see in the video even our youngest child-unit, who has arms like toothpicks, could not get his arm inside the mailbox.

I want to commend Architectural Mailboxes for their rational response to my initial post. It’s nice when a company responds to criticism in a calm, measured and respectable way (unlike others).

UPDATE: 6/9/2012 – Vanessa, CEO of Architectural Mailboxes, offers the following additional info:

I wanted to point out that with all USPS certified locking mailboxes there needs to be an opening to allow the USPS carrier’s hand to deposit the mail (in the Oasis Jr.’s case a small parcel also). The objective for us was to allow delivery while at the same time make it very difficult for anyone to reach all the way into the Oasis Jr. and retrieve the mail from the mailbox floor. In an ideal world we could make a solid door where one side is housed with a homeowner lock and the other side is a USPS control lock. Although this would be a more secure option it is not a realistic one as it would require the USPS carrier to carry a key for every locking mailbox they deliver to. This would add an additional step to the delivery process and the cost implication would be significant. At present, the USPS is operating in the RED and we do not anticipate this occurring any time soon, if ever.

For now you will only find two types of locking mailboxes on the market; letter slot style which can accept letters/magazines and hopper door styles like our Oasis Jr. which in addition to letters/magazines can accept small parcels. In addition, when the Oasis Jr. is installed on a post where the entry point is located at 54” off finished floor this makes it a bit more of a challenge for one to reach into the mailbox. I think you would be surprised how many tests and scenarios we create when developing a product, a lot of time and resources are spent trying to constantly improve our products. We too rope in people with long slender arms to help in the testing.


Full Disclosure

I had asked Vanessa to send me a video of them demonstrating that you could not put your hand completely in the mailbox. I also offered to test the mailbox myself if they would send me one, that I would send back after testing. Vanessa kindly asked my color preference and said that I could keep the mailbox after I was done testing it. So yes, I got a free mailbox. Make of that what you will, it does not change the fact that, as you can see in the video, the flaw demonstrated in the first video is not present in the updated mailbox design.

Architectural Mailboxes’ “Security” Mailbox

Turns out the mailbox shown in this video was an early design that was being (improperly) used as a display – click here for more info.

Via the Architectural Mailboxes’swebsite (emphasis mine):

Our Oasis Locking Mailbox has an innovative oversized patented Parcel Delivery Door which allows for delivery of small parcels and mail bundles, keeping items secure until the box is unlocked. The delivery and access doors are equipped with weather tight seals to keep mail clean and dry. The Oasis has a re-keyable zinc plated cam lock with zinc die cast cylinder. Every aspect of the Oasis locking mailbox was selected to provide security, durability and style.

Architectural Mailboxes, you use the word “security” but I think it means something different than what you must think.

Turns out the mailbox shown in this video was an early design that was being (improperly) used as a display – click here for more info.

No, it is not.

Firefly - No it isn't

For the purposes of this discussion I’m gong to ignore the fact that the the owner of the pictured Mazda truck ruined it by putting a bumper sticker on the paint and focus on the more egregious infraction (note: we’re also ignoring the dirty windshield the picture was shot through. Drizzle, out of washer fluid, you get the idea).

The bumper sticker in question reads “My other car is a Firefly.” Based on the Firefly reference and the poorly rendered illustration of the spaceship Serenity we can surmise this is a reference to the TV series Serenity.

Ah, so what’s the problem?

First the owner’s other car cannot possibly be a Firefly. Firefly is a class of spaceship, not a freaking car. Kinda a big difference.

Also, and again, Firefly denotes a class of spaceship and is not the name of the ship poorly pictured on the sticker.

A more accurate version of the sticker would read: “My other mode of transportation is a Firefly class spaceship” or “My other mode of transpiration is Serenity.” The last one is doubtful though as I imagine Captain Mal would sooner kick you into Serenity’s engine then give her up.

This sticker, along with its placement (oops, I said wasn’t going to talk about that) is a total fail. If you are going to make a reference to such an icon, get it right.

Human Bird Wings

Update – 3/22

It has come out that in fact the “Human Bird Wings” videos are a hoax. Jarno Smeets is really Floris Kaayk, a CGI artist. My theory that this was a viral marketing campaign was wrong. Apparently the videos are related to a documentary that Kaayk is working on.

Update – 3/21

I have to admit that it makes me sad to see the following lending credence to this fakery.

Jamie Hyneman of Mythbusters.

MAKE Magazine


GIZMODO all “report” on this story with complete and utter credulity.

Note though that GIZMODO now has an updated story with input from folks at ILM (special effects experts) who agree that it’s fake.

Original Post

There is a video going around the Net that shows Jarno Smeets, a mechanical engineer, supposedly flying via motorized wings he calls “Human Bird Wings.” The concept is interesting, Smeets supposedly uses an Android phone along with a Wii controller to control the flapping of the wings with his arms.

It’s not a particularly compelling control system from the standpoint of efficiency, comfort, or flight time. I’d imagine that even someone who is fit would only be able to sustain sufficient hand flapping for a few minutes. It’s a completing gimmick though.

Is It Real?

There are a number of people (me included) that are questioning the authenticity of the video showing the “Human Bird Wings” working. While I can’t say with absolute certainty that the video is faked, there are some compelling reasons to believe it is.


Smeets has a video demonstrating the flapping device but it’s curious that outside of the two flight videos this is the only video showing the flapping device working and the wings aren’t even attached. I believe there is a reason for this.

There are two videos that show Smeets attempting to fly the “Human Bird Wings.” The first is of a failed test flight:

Notice that at the 1:51 mark the camera pans down to the ground and then pans back up to at the 1:53 mark, just when Smeets starts his attempt to takeoff. Again, at the 2:21 mark, after Smeets fails to get airborne, the camera again pans to the ground and stays there until a cut (2:27) to the cameraman and crew running towards the craft. Curious.

Up until the 1:53 mark the device looks like it’s physically there in the park. I believe they used a physical model of the craft for the close up shots. What we see from the 1:53 mark to the 2:21 mark is a computer generated model of the craft superimposed on a shot of an empty park. Then at the 2:21 mark the camera pans down and cuts to another shot where the physical (but not functioning) device is used for the close up shot.

The second video shows Smeets actually take off and fly the craft:

The test video was uploaded on Jan 20, 2012 while flight video was uploaded on March 19, 2012. I find it odd that Smeets and his crew seem to be wearing the same clothes in videos that were shot 60 days apart:

It’s curious that the only footage shot from the craft is of the ground. This is probably because that footage is from a camera attached to an RC plane. That’s my guess anyway.

Finally, while there are no odd pans or noticeable cuts, I believe that the video of the flight is faked as well. My guess is that at the 0:20 mark when the crew starts to run towards the camera is when the switch between footage happens. It actually looks like the crew is standing in front of a green screen. Everything from this point on is just a computer model superimposed on footage of empty sky.


I believe both videos are faked. My guess is that Smeets is probably more actor than mechanical engineer, and a model of the “Human Bird Wings” was constructed for close up shots but that all shots of the flight (attempted or otherwise) were done via special effects. My guess is that it’s part of a viral marketing campaign and that GoPro, HTC or both are behind it.

Lastly, from a physics standpoint I don’t think the device would work. If Smeets jumped off a cliff he may glide but I can’t see this device generating enough lift to overcome the weight of the craft and pilot.

On Standing Brooms

The other day the wife-unit showed me a picture of a broom that was standing on its own by its bristles. She said that people were posting them on Facebook saying that it was caused by a phenomenon associated with the Spring Equinox.

A bit dubious, I ran to the laundry room and grabbed a broom. The first broom I tried to balance didn’t work because (I thought) the broom was newish and the bristles were too stiff and it was too small. I went back and grabbed a different broom and tried it. The second broom had a bigger head and is older and more worn than the first. Without too much trouble I was able to get that broom to stand up on its own.

This is not trick photography nor is it “Photoshopped.” The broom is actually standing on its own. The only thing that was done in Photoshop was to re-size the picture so it would fit on the page. You can get the original, complete with EXIF data here.

I had originally thought that the first broom didn’t balance because it was too new and the bristles were to stiff. My theory was that an older more warn broom would have softer bristles that would spread out to support the broom. While this may still be the case, after looking at both brooms, I found that the older broom actually has stiffer bristles than the newer (green) one.

In fact the newer broom (a dollar store special) has significantly softer bristles than the older one; it can’t even support its own weight. I also think that the size of the broom head may play a role in being able to get it to balance. I think you actually need a broom that has bristles stiff enough to hold it up but not so stiff that they don’t spread out to support the broom laterally.

So What?

Broom standing seems to be a relativity recent offshoot of the old Equinox egg balancing hoopla. The claim with the eggs is that during the Spring Equinox there is some special gravitational mojo going on that allows one to balance an egg on its end. In reality, with a little trial and error you can get an egg to balance on its own any day of the year. It has noting to do with the Equinox. The standing broom is the same thing. It’s a cheap parlor trick. Noting more.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • None of the planets, not even the Moon, exert enough gravitational force to cause eggs or brooms to stand on end.
  • You’ll note that the Spring Equinox for 2012 is March 20th. If broom standing is related to the Equinox how then was I able to get my broom to stand on March 10th?
  • If you look at my picture above you’ll note that it’s showing the profile of the broom and on the left side you can see bristles sticking out that look to be helping prop the broom up. This might be why all the pictures that I’ve seen show the face of the broom, rather than the profile.
  • I actually had to work to get the broom to balance. Unlike what many are claiming, it didn’t just stand there when I let go of it, it was more like playing a game of Jenga.
  • I’ve heard that new brooms work best but I had better success getting an older broom to balance.

I think that this kind of stuff is important to debunk. It’s a fun trick but that’s it. It’s just just a broom balancing on its bristles. There is no need to invoke pseudo-scientific drivel to explain this “phenomenon” and to do so is disingenuous.

I See Your Standing Broom and Raise You A Floating Broom

After I posted my standing broom picture to my Facebook with a short explanation a friend replied: “Call me when you make it float.”

Challenge accepted:

DIY Power Supply

Adjustable Power Supply

Retail an adjustable power supply like this would go for ~$50. You can make one for ~$10. If you salvage parts from stuff destined for the trash, you can make one for free-ish.

Everything with a red arrow pointed at it was salvaged from old hardware, mostly an old TV set.

This is how you recycle.

The power supply uses the LM317 voltage regulator. The input voltage can be anything from 9v to 30v. The output is adjustable from 1.25v to within a few volts of the input voltage. A good guide to follow for making your own can be found here:

Motorized Pinewood Derby Car

I woke up the day of the Pinewood Derby race and decided that I wanted to run a car in the “outlaw” class. Using spare parts I had lying around I made a remote controlled Pinewood Derby car in about five hours.

The car would have done really well (especially since the CO2 car malfunctioned on both official runs) except for a couple of issues. On the first run the rubber band on the driver’s side wheel came off and wrapped around the axle, jamming it. On the second run the limits of the cheep transmitter/receiver became grossly apparent as I had to chase the car down the track to keep it going.

In case your wondering (and why wouldn’t you be?) the axle, motor, gears and belt came from an old printer. The wheels were cut from a piece of acrylic, and the transmitter/receiver parts were “borrowed” from a dollar store RC car.


2012 – Pinewood Derby

This year the youngest child-unit participated in the Cub Scout’s Pinewood Derby. He did all the design, build, and paint work. He outsourced some of the electronics work to me.

The light is a BlinkM programmable LED. It was programmed (per the child-unit’s request) to blink like a police light.

The BlinkM light was powered off a 9v battery that was housed in the “bed” of the car. Because the BlinkM can only take a maximum of 5v a 7805CT (that was salvaged from an old TV set scanner) was used to regulate the 9v coming from the battery to a safe 5v.

While his car did not do very well in the races (5th place was the best he got in any of the heats) it was easily the coolest looking. And it was the only one that had working blinky lights!

Here is a video of the car racing (sorry for the shaky teenager-shot video):