Hannah the Pet Theft Society

I’ve grown tired having Hannah’s astroturfers using this post as a platform to spew their drivel. Therefore, I’ve removed all comments and have disabled commenting on this post.


Hannah is an Oregon company that offers pet adoption and care services to Oregon residents. I’d originally heard of them through their radio spots where they advertise what seems to be their main shtick – Total Lifetime Care.

According to the ads, the Total Lifetime Care program will provide you with all the care your pet needs for a small monthly fee. The video below sums up the program rather succinctly (if a bit unnervingly given the creepy voice over).


Kee Klamp TV Mount

I needed to come up with a way to mount a 24″ TV in the ceiling. There was no way to mount the TV where it needed to go with more traditional/off the shelf mounts. Having thought on the issue a bit, going back an forth between ideas, I finally came up with a mount that used Kee Klamps.



Coin Operated XBOX

We don’t have any issues with our Child Units™ (CU) playing video games. No fears of them turning into mass murderers or anything. However, the XBOX has a way of making our CU’s oblivious to the rest of the world. This creates all manner of issues, from the dogs not being let out, to chores not getting done at all or completely.

I started to think about a way to control access to the XBOX – the length of time it could be played, a way to forcefully stop game play at set intervals, and make it so that playing it was something you had to earn.

While the XBOX has “parental controls” they don’t work the way I’d like them too. You can set content restrictions and on-line restrictions but can only set a daily or weekly play limit. So, I could broadly limit the amount of playtime but I wanted more granular control and was looking for a way to stop game play and say “Let the dogs out!” or “Go finish the dishes!”

I almost immediately thought of a using a coin or token system as the access control. I took to Google, I was sure someone had done something like this already.


Motorized Pinewood Derby Car 2013

For this year’s Pinewood Derby race I made another remote controlled car for the Outlaw class. Unlike last year, this year I spent a little more time than the few hours before the race designing and building the car.

What I ended up with was a car powered by two micro DC motors, capable of multiple speeds, forward and reverse, controllable with an IR remote.


2013 Pinewood Derby

This year the youngest Child-Unit did the Cub Scout’s Pinewood derby again. Like last year he designed the car and I helped him with the electronics.

The fading LED was done by using a 555 timer. I believe this schematic is close to what we used. The only real difference is that R1 in that schematic was replaced by a trimmer pot so that the fade speed could be adjusted.

Power was provided by 3 CR2032 batteries connected in series for a total of 9 volts. The dome was just a scrap piece of plastic, with two metal pieces from a hard drive glued to the ends.

Unfortunately, this was one of the slowest cars at the race with a top speed of ~5.8 MPH. 

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 stevelange.net. 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.