Mar 272014

Greetings and Salutations, Red here, and welcome to a little series discussing technology from the Victorian era. For this first one, I’ll be talking about the telegraph.

In some ways, the electrical telegraph could nearly be said to be pre-Victorian, in that some early experiments preceded Queen Victoria’s birth, let alone reign, in 1808. It didn’t use anything so fancy as morse code or buzzers, but instead consisted of a separate wire to carry a signal for letter, digit, or symbol. What was essentially a large battery was attached to wires at the transmitting side, which would cause electrolysis to occur in an acid bath at the other side, creating bubbles which indicated to the operator that the transmitting side had selected that letter.

That was one among various other early experiments, the rest of which I won’t go into here. Now, when commercial telegraphy started to become a thing, that’s where things get interesting. Typically when thinking of telegraphs people often think of the dits and dats of Morse Code, however that wasn’t the only encoding used in the early telegraph systems as they began to become prominent. In England, Sir William Fothergil Cooke and Charles Wheatstone (Engineers may would know him the fellow the “Wheatstone Bridge” was named after) created a system which could transmit the alphabet using six wires that controlled 5 needles which allowed the receiving end to easily decode what was being transmitted. It turned out that many wires was a bit too cumbersome and problematic for maintenance though, so a two-needle version was created, though that was a little more difficult to use.

Meanwhile, around the same time in the United States, Samuel Morse and Alfred Vail came up with a telegraph system that is the sort more familiar to most people these days. It was rather to simple to implement in that it only required two wires, and used a code of short and long pulses to send the messages. Eventually in 1851 this became the standard telegraphic device in Europe, however the UK kept using Cooke and Wheatstone’s needle-based system.

As time went on, various improvements to telegraphic systems were made, such as systems to record messages without an operating required at the receiving end, some even printing letters on paper, or ones to transmit images (the predecessors of what we now know as fax machines), all during the Victorian era. By the middle of the century, long telegraph lines had started to be laid between countries allowing long distance communication, and soon even ones crossing oceans were put in place.

After Victorian times, the telegraph continued to be used, and continued be improved with systems for progressively more automation, getting to the point of allowing someone to use a typewriter keyboard to send messages. One could say it eventually evolved into what we now know as the Internet.

Hopefully some people found this interesting. Stay tuned for future articles, they’ll (most likely) be going up at the Thursday/Friday boundary bi-weekly… at least if all goes to plan.

Mar 212014

Welcome! For once, I’m actually sure what I’m doing, and can share tips and tricks in a proper how to with you all. Been a while, hasn’t it? 🙂

For the Laika Leonne build, I decided to make a pair of custom lion-esque ears. This is a process I’ve used to great success in the past making cat ears; I first started doing this when I got tired of hard-edged ears that hurt people when I headbutted them, which I am prone to doing >.> You know that thing where housecats walk up and shove their head into your hand as a way to demand affection? It’s hard to mimic when your ears can poke someone’s eye out >.>  Ears made with this procedure will squish when they encounter resistance and bounce back into shape after.

Fosshape is a specialty fabric made by the people who make Wonderflex; I first came across it when I was working in my university’s costume shop for credit. We used it to make lightweight masks. Basically, it’s a fabric much like felt, but when exposed to heat, it hardens and becomes more rigid — not totally rigid, but it holds a shape. Typically it’s molded or stitched or what have you while soft, then firmed up with a steamer. Lacking a steamer, I discovered that the oven works just as well: it just needs to get above 212F, which it can easily do in a 350F oven.

I make my molds out of tinfoil, mostly because I have plenty lying around.


The good thing about tinfoil is it’s fine to put in the over but can still hold pins in place 🙂


It took about ten or fifteen minutes to get them nice and hard in the oven; they cool quickly, so you can tell if they still feel floppy when you pinch the edge of one. I did the ears one at a time, but you can do more than one at at time if you make multiple molds; I used to do whole trays of ears when I was planning to sell them at cons.

finished 2

finished 3

Don’t think I’d forget your pinnable!


Mar 192014

Hello everyone, Yami and Chaos here. Today we’re debuting some information on Top Secret Project #1: a joint build we’ve been working on together.

Later this week you’ll see one of the more costumey pieces of the build, but today we’re debuting the central piece, the brain that makes it all run. Yes, that’s right: we’ve gotten into electronics. Woo!

More importantly, we’ve gotten into electronics that we have to assemble ourselves. Which is equal parts, exciting, interesting and dangerous.

The number one name in hobbyist electronics is, as I’m sure you’ve heard, the Arduino. The Arduino is an open-source electronics prototyping platform; there are dozens of variants of the boards, including the Uno, which you can buy at Radio Shack *shameless plug* (I was shocked, too, I thought they ditched all that in favor of cellphones). We went with an Uno-like variant that’s meant to slot on top of the Raspberry Pi called the “AlaMode”.

Which is called that because someone thought they were clever. It connects to pins on the top of the board and it tends to be white, so it’s like ice cream on a pie.

See? Sit's right on top

See? Sit’s right on top

It comes unassembled, so we had to solder the servo pins, analog pins, and GPIO headers. We also soldered in the digital pins, but turned out not to need them just yet. If you want to get into soldering, get some instruction, because it’s really dangerous, but you’ll want the following:

Soldering iron:

Stand and sponge:


Patience also helps, but we couldn’t find an image. So, obligatory safety spiel: be VERY careful with soldering irons. They get really hot and you will know very quickly if you’re touching anything you shouldn’t. You also want to make sure you wash your hands, as most solder you buy has lead in it. You can buy lead-less solder, but it’s harder to work with, and you can be perfectly safe with the normal solder as long as you wash your hands.

So…how do you actually solder electronics? Well, the idea is that you heat up the area you want to connect and you melt the solder into the connection, allowing electricity to flow through. In our case, we wanted to attach the pins through some of the holes in the Arduino.

You can tell where you solder since those holes have metal on the sides.

You can tell where you solder since those holes have metal on the sides.

First, make sure that you have the pins oriented the right way. Look at your board and think about how the connection should look like when you’re done. This will save you a lot of headaches later.
Make sure you have all pieces flush against the board, that way you’ll know that the connection will be good and you’ll only have to do this once.
Take the soldering iron and press the tip so that it touches the metal around the hole and the pin you have going through. You’ll want to hold it there for about 2 seconds, leaving enough space so that you can get the solder a little into the hole and to the iron.
Take the piece of solder and carefully touch it to the iron while getting as much of it over the gap in the hole as you can. The solder is going to melt pretty quickly so you won’t have to do this part long.
Once you have a bead-sized bit of solder, pull the solder away, but leave the soldering iron there for another two seconds. This will allow the solder to flow into the hole, making a full connection.
Pull the iron away and dab the tip in the wet sponge. Also, make sure that it’s actually a wet sponge, since sponges are actually pretty flammable and you really don’t want to start a fire in your workspace.

And there you have it! That’s basically how you solder electronics. It’s not nearly as scary as it seems, but with some practice you’ll find it easy. Yami found a nice little comic that gives the beginner’s run-through of how to solder in case you want some more detailed instructions. A couple more pieces of advice: when you’re first soldering several pins, after the first one check to see if your connection is straight. It is a LOT easier to remove the solder from one pin than it is to do several and it will save you a lot of time, frustrations, and possibly burnt fingers. Also, if you have the parts that will be connecting to your pins, you can plug it into the loose pins as you solder it. That way if it’s only a little off, the connections should still work.

As far as my first adventure into hobby electronics, the Arduino is pretty good. The board has a lot of labels so you know what is going where, and it’s pretty easy to put together. If you take your time and make sure you understand what’s going where, you’ll have an easy time putting it together. The actual programming of the Arduino is also pretty simple, but I’ll let the more experienced programmer go over that.

There will be more parts in this series, rest assured, because we only have half the build working so far. The Arduino IDE allows you to program the Arduino in C, using special Arduino libraries, and upload the resulting bytecode to the board. Since I’m the only one in our household who knows any C, that’s where I come in 🙂 We ran through a number of sample sketches to ensure that we’d hooked up our pieces correctly, and then I wrote the final sketch.

First, we hooked up a servo and a potentiometer, verifying that we could read from one and write to the other using the Sweep and Knob sample sketches. Then, I wrote the following sketch:

#include <Servo.h>
Servo myservo; 

int pos = 0;
int potpin = 0; //the pin that the potentiometer is attached to
int val;

void setup()
    myservo.attach(3); //the pin the servo is attached to
    myservo.write(0); //resets the position after the power has been lost
    delay(5); //wait for servo to reach position

void loop()
    val = analogRead(potpin); //Read the potentiometer's value, which will be between 0 and 1023
    if (val < 700) { //700 is the cutoff for when we stop the sweep, as the potentiometer never seems to send the max value
        val = map(val, 0, 700, 5, 30); //scale it to be between 5 and 30 instead
} //The loop function will loop infinitely on its own

void doSweep(int delayVal) {
    //sweep one way
    for (pos = 0; pos < 180; pos += 1) {
        delay(delayval); //this controls the speed of sweeping
    //then sweep back
    for (pos = 180; pos >= 1; pos -= 1) {

This allows the potentiometer to control the speed of the sweeping servo, rather than the angle. The servo will waggle back and forth, though it can be stopped by turning the potentiometer all the way to one side. You’ll want to fine-tune the magic numbers in the above sketch to your potentiometer and servo; we found that our potentiometer doesn’t actually send the full range of potential inputs reliably, so we set our threshold for turning it off to be much lower than the top potential input. We also fine-tuned the speed of the servo using the map parameters; too fast and we’d break the motor, but too slow and it’d look wrong.

Now that we had the electronics working, it was time to build the actual moving piece: Laika Leonne’s tail.

We’ll be devising a cover for the tail so it doesn’t look so naked, and we’re considering lengthening it by adding some bare wire and maybe a weight on the end so it sways right, but that’s all fine-tuning and will have to wait until we get back from our vacation and have time to finish the build. This is all due at the end of April, and we still have to hook up the ears, so we’ll need to work fast, but I feel confident we can do it. The end is in sight!

Mar 142014

Alright then! We have this month’s steampunk (sorta kinda, Amazon lied to me but you’ll have to listen the podcast to hear the details) for your listening… well, pleasure might be a bit much. Vague feeling of amusement perhaps? Anyway.  We, gods help us, watch Mutant Chronicles. We’re going to skip next month as Yami and Chaos will be out of town (and country, continent and hemisphere for that matter) but we’ll resume after that with Firedrake’s suggested viewing of The Assassination Bureau.


Firedrake, if you lied to us and it’s a terrible, horrid movie, I will cry.  If’s okay, or just not our taste, that’s cool. But if it’s as badly made as MC… I will actually weep.


Right. Links!


Part One.

Part Two.

Deleted Scenes and other Chatter.



 Posted by at 5:05 pm
Mar 072014

It seemed so perfect.

When I found the idea on facebook, reblogged from Pinterest, I was excited. A simple little craft I could do, with cheap ingredients, something simple but fun I could knock out in an afternoon and have another post for this month. It was foolproof: some glue and paint and I’d have myself some fake sea-glass bottles.

But then, of course, I’m used to winging it, scrounging for replacement supplies to do something on the cheap instead of following instructions. In this case, I hit the dollar store and replaced just about everything: cheap plastic travel bottles instead of glass, off-brand glue, and tiny pots of paint (having mis-remembered the instructions saying paint rather than food coloring).

Tools of the Trade

On a side note, aren’t those little notebooks cute? I grabbed them just for kicks.

I’m sure you’ve noticed the lack of wide, spongey brush. All I had to work with was that tiny paintbrush.

Just a Dab'll do Ya

I had to use a cut-down plastic cup to mix in, that’s how underprepared I was

I tried mixing the paint and glue in varying consistencies, but nothing seemed to work. The tiny paintbrush left streaks, and the mixture just wasn’t going on right: too gloppy or too runny, never just right.

Layered Green

Dab by DabEcto-PlasmThat’s when I re-read the instructions and realized my mistake. Oh well, I had plenty of glue. I grabbed the only food coloring we had in the house — red — and got to work again on bottle number two:

Thinned Red Vamp Blood

As you can see, it’s not much better, though it’s a lot closer. The finished, failed product:

Day AfterWill I try again? Maybe. The sponge brush might make a difference on plastic, but then again, the plastic could have been part of the problem, as it didn’t seem to be adhering well. It was just a whim anyway, not an important piece of the project. Today’s lesson, as many of my lessons this year seem to be, is that it’s okay to fail at something.  Things will turn out alright 🙂

Con build status: I knew trying to do two ambitious builds for April’s Symposium was iffy when I planned it back in June, and now that it’s March I feel semi-confident that I can have one of the two done if I abandon the other until summer. But this one build is going to be so dope ya’ll. So dope.