I’m not a hardware guy…

Ok, so as some of you already know, PacKay Productions is building puppets for the Glove Theater’s production of Shrek: The Musical (and my lovely wife will be performing the part of Dragon).  Part of Kay’s design for Dragon included eyes that light up, and Kay figured that she could accomplish this by putting a battery-operated LED closet light in each eye:


The problem, of course is that to turn those things on, you have to physically press the front on each of them.  That’s going to be awkward if you want to light up the eyes while you’re performing with the puppet.  “Hey,” I told Kay, “I can move the switch outside the case… heck, I can probably put it at the end of a long wire, so you can have the switches for both eyes next to each other.  And I could move the batteries to the end of a long wire, too, so you don’t have to have all that weight up in the eyes.”  Kay was skeptical, however, because she didn’t want me ruining the one pair of these lights that she had.  So I found another pair for $5 on sale at a hardware store and I took them apart.

The build seemed simple enough: there was a switch soldered to a circuit board that had the LEDs soldered on, and there were two leads from the circuit board to the battery housing, one of which had a resistor.  I could de-solder the switch and put it at the end of long wire, and I could do the same for the battery.  Easy-peasy.

So I set to work.  I grabbed about three feet from my spool of cat5 cable and split it open to reveal the four pairs of twisted wires.  I de-soldered the connection to the battery and wired it back in with one of the wire pairs from the cable.  I now was able to put the battery three feet away from the LEDs.  I then de-soldered the switch from the circuit board and soldered in one end of another pair of wires.  I then tried touching the bare ends of that wire together to close the circuit and make sure everything was working.

Nothing happened.

“Uh-oh,” I thought. “I’m not going to be able to do this by the seat of my pants.”

See, I’m a geek, but I don’t really grok electricity the way most geeks do.  There are equations for things, and I mostly ignore them and just do things by the seat of my pants because, for the most part, I can get things to work that way.  I don’t bother sitting down and crunching numbers because… well, that’s work.  And I hate work.  That’s why I mostly write computer code–coding isn’t work, it’s fun.

So, I started asking around for help. As luck would have it, one of my former coworkers Don came by the office this past week for a visit, and I chatted him up about it.  He did some quick addition on my whiteboard, and he gave me one crucial piece of advice: buy a multimeter.

So, on Friday, I grabbed a $35 multimeter from RadioShack. On Saturday, I took apart the other LED light and started testing voltages.  I tested at the two terminals on the battery pack. The multimeter read 4.77V. I tested where the two leads connected to the circuit board with the LEDs and switch. 4.75V.  Ok, good, I’ve got numbers to compare with.  I then tested the circuit I had soldered together at the battery pack. 4.75V.  Ok, that’s good. Then I tested at the circuit board? -4.75V. … … wait. NEGATIVE 4.75V?

A little voice in my head said, “They don’t call them Light Emitting Diodes for nothing, Pack.”

So I de-soldered where I’d connected the wires to the circuit board and re-connected them with the proper polarity.  VOILA!  It worked!

Emboldened by my success (and spurred by the fact that my ham-handed soldering had damaged one of the switches so it was no longer a push-on, push-off switch but appeared to now only function as a momentary (push on, release off) switch), I trotted off to RadioShack and grabbed two larger switches and a little plastic project case to house them in.

Another hour in my in-laws basement, and I was done!

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The switches are close enough together you can turn both lights on at the same time, but you can also choose to light up either light individually.  Now all we have to do is mount these in Dragon’s eyes and figure out where the best place to place the switches.

An end for some things and a beginning for others…

Well, many things have finished up here at Packy’s Place, and new things are starting.  I’ll go over the endings first.

The box office of Nutley Little Theatre right after Superstorm Sandy.  The person who took this picture says the base of the tree didn’t so much look like it had been blown over and more like Chuck Norris had roundhoused the trunk.

A Bad Year for Tomatoes closed, after losing our opening weekend to Superstorm Sandy.  In addition to the falling tree damage, we had blazing transformers burning up the utility pole in front, no power, and, in completely unrelated to Sandy bad luck, no heat.  We found out that when PSE&G had been out to do some work on the gas line in September, they had neglected to turn the gas back on.  Normally, this would have been an “Oops!  Sorry! We’ll send someone out right away to turn the ‘By law, this knob can only be turned by certified technicians’ knob!” but with power out over much of the state, turning on the gas for a business that only operates in the evenings wasn’t a high-priority for them.  However, we got power back after the first weekend, and we got the gas back for heat the day of our delayed opening night.  We did dress rehearsal with space heaters.  The performances themselves went well.  The sound design wasn’t particularly challenging: lots of doorbell sounds (which I foisted off on the cast by installing a real doorbell on the set for them to ring), a phone ring, some scene change music, and some pre-recorded dialogue that was supposed to be coming from a tape recorder on stage.  I hung some speakers over the spots where the tape recorder was being played and called it a day.

The sadder news is that Lily finally passed away.  She was getting weaker and weaker as October passed, and we knew she was going soon.  By the closing day of Tomatoes, we knew it was that weekend.  By the time Kay and I had to leave for the final performance, we didn’t know if she’d make it until we got home.  She didn’t.

We wanted to be with her when she died, but there was no way to bag out on the show.  As it was, we’d made her as comfortable as we could have, and we’re positive that she knew she was loved.  The next day, we took Lily upstate to my parents’ house to lay her to rest next to my cats Tiger (1981-2000), Kitty Galore (1990-2007) and Twinkletoes (1990-2008).  In the spring, we’re going to plant some flowers there.

RIP, Lily  (1997? – 2012)

So much for the endings.

Kay is busy planning out our Christmas episode for PacKay Productions, and she’s planning on introducing a whole lot of NEW in this next video.  First, this will be the first outing for our new HD video camera and tripod.  It will also be the first appearance of someone I’ve been working on for quite a long time.

Because we need him for the next video, Kay has taken over finishing off my rug monster. I’ve been home sick the past few days (something in my GI tract kept me close to a bathroom and a smidge feverish yesterday, today I’m keeping to bed to kill it for good), but Kay’s been pulling me down to the basement every few hours to show me things and have me make decisions about how certain elements work.

I swear–my wife is a genius.  And so, because of her genius, I’m able to introduce you to my new friend… Rudy Monster.


There’s still some work to be done on him, but he’s mostly there.  Since these photos were taken, Kay’s already affixed his eyebrow, and I’m debating whether I want to give him palm pads like I’d originally designed or leave his hands furry all over.  But this is close enough that I can show him and say “This is it.  This is the monster I’ve wanted to show you.”

And he’s a rabid Bruce Springsteen fan from Little Furry, NJ.  *sigh*  I don’t quite know how I wound up with a monster who’s really into The Boss (while I can take Springsteen or leave him), but, hey… sometimes new friends can throw you some surprises.

There are patterns I must follow…

The postcard advertising NLT's production of 'The Beauty Queen of Leenane'Well, it’s been two and a half weeks since our anniversary, and we haven’t had time to work on my rug monster mostly because a) I was running the sound board for Nutley Little Theatre‘s production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane, and my wonderful wife Kay has been rehearsing for The Barn Theatre‘s production of Stephen Sondheim‘s Assassins (information about when the show is running can be found here).

This afternoon, however, Kay had neither Fight Club (a nickname Kay and her coworkers have for their employer so they can refer to it in public and have it remain anonymous to people who don’t know them) nor rehearsal, so we set off to work.  First, Kay had me watch a series of videos she’d found online about making monster puppets.  Then, after that, I sat down to read a very long and detailed brain dump from my friend Missa who offered to tell me everything (and I mean everything) she could put down in words about working with fur. One of the things I’d never thought about is looking at which way the fur goes before you decide where to cut your pieces out of.  If not, you could wind up with the fur on your puppet pointing upwards once you cut it out.

Finally, I was ready to actually get around to making the pattern.  Generally, you don’t want to just cut up fur/fleece/foam willy-nilly when you’re making a puppet.  You make a pattern on paper first, then you cut from that pattern.  The reason is two-fold: if what you did works the first time out, you can then repeat it because you have a pattern (because puppets wear out, you’ll want to make replacements as time goes on).  If, however, what you wind up doing doesn’t work, then when you go to correct your problem you’ll know what you did originally.

This is the pattern I drew, on the back of some old Christmas wrapping paper:

The pattern for Packy's rug monster puppet

The pattern for Packy's rug monster puppet

This means the monster’s reach will be about four-and-a-half feet.  I’m going to lengthen the torso a little more, but the most important part of the pattern was the placement/sizing of the hands and head.  I’m going for a full-out Henson two-handed monster; when I’m working him by myself, I’ll just stuff one of his hands and pin it down, but Kay really wants to work the hands with me when I operate this puppet.