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The Foxee Animatronic Robot Project Blog

Archives for: 2005

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Fox, The Mad Scientist, and The Robot

Posted by: The Mad Scientist

I just got back from seeing The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe for the second time in a week, and I have to say that I absolutely love that movie! I rarely go to see movies in the theaters at all anymore, so the fact that I saw this movie twice really means something! Honest to God I just can't stop thinking about it! Why am I so in love with this particular movie you ask? Well for starters, its opening scene with the Luftwaffe Heinkel He-111 bombers attacking London in the middle of the night with flak, tracers, and search light beams filling the screen was enough to make this movie catch my attention all by itself! I am a huge military history buff, and the special effects and cinematography of that scene was just awesome! It was much better than the similar shot of Junkers Ju-87B Stukkas shown attacking London in the beginning of the Disney animated feature film Return to Neverland, which was in that aspect anyway a Narnia knock off.

As great as the opening scene of this movie is, it still is't what has gotten me all excited about this film. What has gotten me on cloud nine is the CG animated animal characters in this movie, especially the talking fox that was voiced by actor Rupert Everett. Considering the fact that I have only been trying to build my very own realistic talking fox in the form of my Foxee animatronic robot project, actually seeing one that looked extremely realistic on the big screen was practically a mind blowing experience for me! The words just escape me about how cool the fox was! And if having a talking fox wasn't great enough for this film, I also have a huge soft spot for cheetahs, and there were plenty of CG cheetahs in this film as well! One thing that I especially enjoyed in this film was how the humans, animals, and mythical creatures work, fight, and live together side by side and treat each other as equals. Now if only the humans on planet Earth could get along so well with one another.... To say that I found this film to be inspiring for my own animatronics and animation work is an understatement! In fact, I am sure that I will both be talking all of my friends' ears off about this movie and be having Narnian talking foxes in my dreams for many months to come!

So that you can see what I am talking about, here are two screen captures of the CG animated talking fox from the film:

The fox from Narnia talking to the children and the beavers about the mission given to him by Azland around a fire.

The talking fox from Narnia bidding his friends farewell.

The pictures above show the absolutely amazing CG-animated talking fox from the movie The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. In this scene the fox is telling his friends about the special mission that Azland the lion has sent him on. I found this incredible talking fox to be very inspiring for my animatronic Foxee robot project!

I apologize for how small these film captures are, but this was the best that I could do. The CG animated fox character is unfortunately in none of the promotional pictures for the movie, so I had to use Paint Shop Pro to take some screen captures of the fox while he was being shown in a behing the scenes online mini-documentary movie at the official Narnia website. These small pictures don't do this incredible fox any justice at all-- you have just got to see this fox in motion on the big screen! Now I just need to work on finding a way to get my Foxee animatronic robot to end up looking this good when she's finished!

Another ecperience that I had recently that I also found to be very informative and inspiring was my visit to Robert King's house last Saturday. Robert King is the person responsible for founding the Midwest Furfest furry convention back in 2000, and he has a lot of friends in the furry fandom. With the Further Confusion furry convention in San Jose, California rapidly approaching, many of Robert's fursuiting friends had a lot of last minute construction to do on their new fursuit costumes for the convention, so Robert hosted a huge social gathering for them all to get together and pool their resources to get their costumes finished over at his house. I am not a fursuiter yet with no current plans on becoming one, but my animatronics mentor Kitt Foxx was going to be there working on his latest animatronic creation at Robert's house as well. Because of this, Robert was kind enough to invite me over to his house as well so that I could watch Kitt Foxx work on his new animatronic fursuit with the hope that I could pick up a few pointers from him.

I have to say that Kitt Foxx's brand new animatronic fursuit that he is going to be debuting at Further Confusion is absolutely awesome, and that she will be an awe-inspiring sight for sure when she makes her premier at Further Confusion! I wish I could go into great detail describing every great amazing thing that this incredible new animatronic fursuit can do, but I swore to secrecy so I am limited to telling you only the information that he released previously during the Midwest Furfest Head Construction Panel.

This new fursuit of his is definitely a step up from his Georgia Belle vixen animatronic fursuit that he wore at Midwest Furfest back in 2004! While the Georgia Belle animtronic fursuit could only do pre-recorded audio and servo motor actions that were from a program disk much like a more technilogically adbvanced Teddy Ruxpin doll, Kitt Foxx's new female raccoon suit uses a model airplane type radio remote control to control the fursuit's animatronic actions. A second person (known as the "handler") standing nearby the fursuit performer controls the suit's facial expressions with this radio controller, allowing the person wearing the fursuit to concentrate on his body acting and allowing the fursuit's animatronic facial actions to respond spontaniously and interact with people around the suit! It truly is an amazing setup, and I am sure that it is going to delight and amaze the attendees of the Further Confusion convention! Boy do I wish that I could be there to see it! I had an absolutely wonderful time with Robert, Kitt Foxx, Aeto, and all of the other wonderful costumers that I spent the day with and learned a ton of useful information from them, and hopefully the next time that I see them I will have enough of Foxee completed so that I can amaze them as well! As always, any comments that you may have are greatly appreciated and encouraged!

Audio Files and Photos from my Midwest Furfest Speaking Panels!

Posted by: The Mad Scientist

Ahoy to all of you Foxee fans out there! While I am a few weeks late with getting this information up onto my blog, I have finally sifted through the many hours of audio that I recorded during the Midwest Furfest furry convention, and I have separated and MP3-encoded some sound clips of my best speaking parts during the panels that I was a panelist on for you to listen to! In case you don't remember, last November at the Midwest Furfest furry convention in Schaumburg, Illinois I was a panelist on three speaking panels that had to do with both animatronics and fursuit (animal mascot) costume construction. I was asked to be on the panels to answer questions about animatronics and electronics and their uses in fursuit costumes. While I have never built a fursuit personally, my Foxee animatronic robot project involves many of the same building skills and techniques that an animatronic fursuit does, so I was still very useful as a panelist despite my relative inexperience with the panels' topics.!

I spoke on three panels at the convention, the Fursuit Mega Construction Panels 1 and 2, and the Fursuit Head Construction Panel. For the two Fursuit Mega Construction Panels I was teamed up with Michael "Aeto" Sawyer who has been speaking on this panel for the last 5 years and did most of the talking, and Jason "Ocicat" Williams, a commercial artist and a fursuiter for the last 5 years. On the Fursuit Head Construction Panel both Aeto and Ocicat returned as panelists and this time were joined by Kitt Foxx, a former Disney Animator and Hollywood Special Effects Technician. Kitt Foxx is the extremely talented person who designed the animatronic Georgia Belle fursuit that utterly amazed me at last year's Midwest Furfest convention and inspired me to do my own animatronics project. He has been a fantastic help to me with getting my own project off of the ground to the point of being my mentor, and I was very honored to be speaking on a panel with him!

Since my experience on these topics paled in comparison to that of the other panelists, my plan for my speaking part of the panel was to give the audience a very basic introduction to what servo motors were and how they worked, how to build some basic servo driver boards using a variable width pulse modulator to control them, and what information was available for beginners on the Internet to help you get started. I brought is several props for my presentation, including a working servo driver board hooked up to a Futaba servo motor and a nickel cadmium battery, a homebrew servo tester board that could hook up a servo motor to a Commodore 64 microcomputer to test its range of motion, and several books on robotics, animatronics, and microcontrollers.

I also brought in some photographs of what the output signal of a servo driver board looked like displayed on an oscilloscope so that people could see first-hand what the signals that controlled servo motors looked like. Some of the topics covered by the other panelists on these panels included using fiberglass to construct fursuit heads, how to choose the right fur for your costume and sew it together, how to airbrush patterns onto fur using leather dyes, how to use foam for sculpting fursuit body parts, how to use electric fans in fursuit heads, how to choose the right fursuit eyes and teeth, how to make fursuit tails that keep their shape using a Delrin rod for support, how to give a convincing performance while wearing a fursuit, and much much more!

The Audio Files

I originally wanted to post my audio recordings of the three fursuit construction panels in their entirety to my animatronics blog because of how interesting and informative they were, but unfortunately that was against the Midwest Furfest audio and video recording policies and I was unable to get permission from the convention staff to do so. So the very best that I can do is post some short audio clips of some of the better things that I talked about and explained during the three panels.

Please judge my speaking performances kindly if you decide to listen to my audio clips from my Midwest Furfest panels. As the sole representative of my company, Project Destiny Studios, at the convention, I found myself spending long hours working on setting up and tearing down my artwork at the art show and auction, staying out late selling artwork as a dealer in the "Artists' Alley," and pulling near all-nighters to prepare my panel presentations for the next day. I far overstretched myself and pushed myself past my limits by trying to do so much on my own at the convention, and ended up only getting 2 hours of sleep before my Saturday 10:00AM panel and only 45-minutes of sleep before my Sunday 9:00AM panel because of it. So if I sound like I am half out of my mind while I am giving my presentations in these recordings, thatis because I probably am! Luckily, since I am a mad scientist, I am supposed to sound half out of my mind most of the time, so it all worked out!

Me Introducing Myself to the Audience During Saturday's Fursuit Construction Mega Panel 1

This short audio clip features me introducing myself as "Hoagiebot" to the panel's audience. At furry conventions it is standard practice to have a nickname on your convention badge, and that is what everyone addresses you by. For most furry convention attendees their nickname is the name of their furry "fursona" that they enjoy dressing up as at the convention, much like how someone who enjoys dressing up as a Klingon at a Science Fiction convention would have a Klingon name on their convention badge. In my case, Hoagiebot is just my user name on several online auction sites and Internet services and has no real significance after that. At the same time however it is the nickname that most people in the furry community would recognize me by, which is why I used it at the convention. I also tell about myself and my Foxee animatronic robot project during this introduction, and crack a few sleep-deprivation inspired jokes while I'm at it!

Listen to the Audio Clip

(File Format: MP3, Running Time: 1:49, File Size: 216KB )

Me Giving my Presentation on Using Servo Motors for Beginners during Sunday's Fursuit Head Construction Panel

In this audio clip I start off by reflecting on my own experiences while trying to learn how to build animatronics on my own during the dark days before I had met Kitt Foxx and had only myself to rely on to figure things out. I explain how you can use general purpose "Battlebots" style robotics books to learn how to create animatronics because the same methods used to make hexapod walking battlebot robots move are also employed in making animatronic robots move their various parts.

I then go on to talk about two websites that I found to be extremely helpful when I first started out learning about servo motors and how that worked. Two websites provided schematics for different simple variable width pulse modulator servo motor driver boards, and I ended up constructing both designs for comparison. The first website that gives a good overview on servo motors and there use in fursuits is the Fursuit FAQ at www.fursuit.org. You can find their schematic for a servo motor driver board here:

http://www.fursuit.org/faq/28elect.htm

The second website mentioned in my presentation is Fox's Electronics, which has a better servo driver board schematic and photos of what the finished driver board looks like. The servo driver board that I demonstrate during the presentation is modified version of his design. You can see the Fox's Electronics website here: http://soli.inav.net/~fox/fursuit/electronics.html

The pulse output of a 555 Timer IC based Servo Motor Driver Board shown on an Oscilloscope.
This photo shows the pulsed output of a 555 Timer IC based Servo Motor Driver Board shown on my Hewlett Packard Model 130BR Oscilloscope. Most servo motors respond to pulsed signals that are between 1KHz and 2KHz. As the oscilloscope shows, this servo driver board is currently sending out a pulse at 2.050KHz, which is causing the Futaba servo motor that is hooked up to it to turn all the way to the right and hold there. You can find the schematics for this servo driver board at Fox's Electronics.

Here is a triangle wave signal from a function generator that is being outputted on an oscilloscope for comparison.
This photo shows a triangle wave signal at 4.005KHz that is being output from my Exact Electronics Type 240 Function Generator into my Hewlett Packard Model 130BR Oscilloscope. This photo is shown as a general comparison to the servo driver signal. (Hey, I know that this is not the greatest of comparisons, but I had to have some excuse to try out my new function generator!)

Listen to the Audio Clip

(File Format: MP3, Running Time: 2:44, File Size: 323KB )

Me Answering an Audience Member's Question About Powering Battery-Powered Fans During Sunday's Fursuit Head Construction Panel

This audio clip starts out with an audience member asking about how he can find a more reliable power source than a 9-Volt battery to power the battery powered fans that ventilate his fursuit costume's headpiece. The question is started to be answered by Aeto who recommends using a RC battery to power the fans, but cautions about the overheating dangers caused by this. Having solved this kind of problem before, I then add in that you can readily build a simple regulated power supply out of a 78XX series voltage regulator IC and 3 capacitors that can be used to step down the voltage from the battery to the fan and prevent the fan from overheating. The "XX" in the voltage regulator IC's model number is the desired voltage that you want to regulate the battery's voltage at. For example, if you want to take the current from a 12-Volt battery and regulate it down to 9-Volts, you would use a 7809 voltage regulator IC. You can find the schematics to build such a regulated power supply at this website here: http://www.epanorama.net/circuits/psu_5v.html.

Kitt Foxx then talks about the advantages of using 12-Volt personal computer case fans in fursuit heads and then either running them at voltage with a 12-volt battery pack or running them under voltage with a typical 9.2-Volt RC battery pack. 9.2-Volt RC battery packs are advantageous because they are extremely common and can be found at nearly any local hobby shop or Radio Shack store. Since it is then discussed that battery voltages can drop over time, I once again add in that you can use a simple regulated power supply board to keep the voltage level going to your fans constant.

Listen to the Audio Clip

(File Format: MP3, Running Time: 4:21, File Size: 512KB )

While I did do a lot more speaking on the panels than just the three audio clips presented here, these were the things that I said that are the most interesting on their own and out of the context of the panel presentations in their entirety. Being a rookie panelist among several experts in the field that had each done several of these kinds of panels before, I wasn't able to contribute quite as much to the presentations as I originally thought I would be, but then again I was brought on as an extra knowledgeable person to support the others and not to be a primary presenter at the panels. Because of this, I feel that I fulfilled my role on the panels with flying colors, especially when I was able to help answer that one audience member's question about powering fans by explaining how he could easily build a regulated power supply from parts that can be bought for a few bucks at any neighborhood Radio Shack store.

I am sure that eventually down the road once I finally get my little animatronic arctic blue fox completed and performing shows that will eventually get an animatronics panel of my own at conventions, and then I will be able to show people how much fun it can be to be able to create your own robotic creations. These Midwest Furfest panels were just getting my feet wet for a bigger and brighter things to come, and I was more than happy to be a part of them!

In any case, I very much hope that you enjoyed all of these audio clips that I recorded and encoded for you, and that you found them to be helpful and informative! As always, comments are welcomed and encouraged and I would absolutely love to hear what you think!

I Will Be Speaking On Three Midwest Furfest Panels!

Posted by: The Mad Scientist

I will be a panelist speaking on three fursuit construction panels at the Midwest Furfest Furry Convention! The convention takes at the Hyatt Regency Woodfield Hotel in Schaumburg, Illinois, from November 18-20. If you are attending the convention, you can see me speak on the following panels at the following rooms and times:

Fursuit Construction MEGA-Panel 1
Saturday, November 19th, Arlington Heights Room, 10:00AM - 12:00PM

Fursuits, those wild and zany animated fuzzy critters no furry can resist! So how do they come to life, and what does it REALLY take to make one? Here you can learn, from some of the best builders in the fandom, about designing, constructing, and caring for fursuits. Whether it's your first suit or your tenth, you're sure to learn some valuable tips and techniques! This first session of two MEGA-panels will cover basic fursuit construction and design.

Basic Fursuit Head Construction
Sunday, November 20th, Schaumburg Room, 9:00AM - 10:00AM

Ok, so you've almost built that fantastic fursuit, but something just doesn't seem right! Join Ocicat as he discusses basic fursuit head construction and materials that will help you top off that perfect suit, and bring your critter to life!

Fursuit Construction MEGA-Panel 2
Sunday, November 20th, Schaumburg Room, 10:00AM - 12:00PM

As if we haven't had enough fun, already! Stop on by for more furry construction mayhem as fursuit builders discuss advanced fursuit building techniques, materials, special effects, and basic care and maintenance.

(Midwest Furfest panel descriptions were taken from the Midwest Furfest website.)

To explain how I became a panelist on these panels, some time ago I mentioned my Foxee Animatronics Project and my experience with servo motors and electronics to the Programming Director for the Midwest Furfest furry convention. I knew that the convention often had an animatronics for fursuits panel each year, and I offered to help speak on the panel if I was needed. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the furry fandom, a "fursuit" is a sports mascot-style animal costume with a full body suit and an animal head that you put on over your own. Just like how Star Trek fans dress up like Klingons and Fantasy Fans will dress up like a mage, furry fans like to dress up as "furries," which are upright walking animals with human personalities like Bugs Bunny or the characters from the Walt Disney animated feature film "Robin Hood." Dressing up into character is just a fun way to "role play" as something that you always wished you could be.

Getting back to the story, while I was told by the Midwest Furfest Programming Director that I wasn't needed to speak on the animatronics panel, the programming director did ask me to speak on three other fursuit construction panels at the convention to answer any electronics questions that the audience may have. These panels include the two fursuit construction mega panels, and the Basic Fursuit Head Construction panel. At first I was a little intimidated by the fact that I was going to be on a fursuit head construction panel considering that I have yet to construct any fursuit heads myself. I expressed my concerns to the Programming Director, but she reassured me and told me that I was placed on the panel to field any electronics or animatronics questions that the audience would come up with and to back up the other panelists if I had something to add to what they were talking about.

With that concern out of the way, now all I have to figure out is how I am going to get up at 9:00AM on Sunday morning-- Considering the fact that this Mad Scientist is nocturnal and plans to be dancing the night away with all of the cute ladyfurs during the Saturday night dance, it is going to take at least three-quarters of the caffeine in the northern hemisphere injected straight into my heart to get me up by then! A Mad Scientist's work is never done! Despite the fact that I will probably be resembling one of my undead zombie experiments when I am at these panels that early in the morning, it should still be a lot of fun! And while I don't know the possibility of this yet, I might just be able to bring in an oscilloscope and hook up some servo motor controller boards to it to give a demonstration about how servo motors work. We'll just have to wait and see!

My Life In Stereo!

Posted by: The Mad Scientist

The song 'Life in Stereo' being played through my Heathkit OS-01 Laboratory Oscilloscope

The Just Add Water song "Life In Stereo" being played through my Heathkit OS-01 Laboratory Oscilloscope

You're looking at one of my insanely great new toys, the Heathkit OS-01 Laboratory Oscilloscope that I purchased from my scientist friend from Fermilab! While I suppose that I should be something useful with this particular piece of sophisticated testing equipment such as troubleshooting electronic circuitry or checking my amateur radio equipment for good transmit signal quality, like any good mad scientist I opted to do something that was cool and completely useless with this oscilloscope instead-- I hooked it up to my stereo system! I am sure you are saying, "But oh smart, wise, and incredibly dashing mad scientist sir, shouldn't you be doing more useful things with this piece of equipment that you worked so hard to get?" Well, as of right now, no. I purchased two oscilloscopes from my Fermilab scientist friend, and my other oscilloscope is a much more powerful and sensitive Hewlett-Packard Model 130BR oscilloscope. I will be using the Hewlett-Packard oscilloscope for all of my electronics and robotics work. In fact, I intend on using the Hewlett-Packard scope to start looking at the output signals created by my homebrew servo controller boards that I built back in January very soon! If I come up with something more important that my Heathkit oscilloscope could be doing, I will take it off of stereo duty and use it for real work.

My Heathkit OS-01 Laboratory Oscilloscope hooked up to my stereo system
At first I was very nervous about hooking my Heathkit oscilloscope up to my stereo system. I wasn't sure what the impedance of the electromagnets in my stereo's speakers and my oscilloscope's electron gun were, so I was afraid that an impedance imbalance between the two devices could damage one or both pieces of electronics. I later found out that I didn't really have anything to worry about and that I was being very over cautious, and once my fears were set aside it took longer for me to move the stereo away from the wall to get to the speaker outputs on the back of the unit than it did to actually hook up the stereo to the oscilloscope. Two simple 12-gauge wires from my electronics toolbox attached to each device and I was in business!

What I did to hook up my stereo to my oscilloscope was to shove my two 12-gauge wires into the back of the right stereo speaker's output along with the right speaker's wires. This insured that I will still get sound going out of my right speaker even though that speaker's output would also be hooked up to the oscilloscope. I then ran the two 12-gauge wires from the right speaker output and hooked it up to the vertical input on my oscilloscope. I then set the base sweep speed to 10Hz and adjusted it until I got some very good looking signal waveforms on the oscilloscope's display. I could have additionally hook the left stereo speaker's output to the horizontal input on my oscilloscope to get some funky circular patterns on the display, but I thought that this looked much cooler!

While I don't know too much about the history of my Heathkit OS-01 Laboratory Oscilloscope, I am assuming that it dates back to around the late 1960's or so. It is filled with glowing vacuum tubes, and the oscilloscope gets fairly warm when it is turned on and fills my room with a wonderful musty electronics smell. I suppose that most mundane people wouldn't consider the smell of ozone coming from a vintage electronic device to be the most delightful of aromas, but to a mad scientist it's heaven! While I could probably be accused of being over-easily entertained, I never get tired of watching the oscilloscope when I am playing music, and I mess around with it nearly every day! I have wanted my very own oscilloscope for more than half a decade now, so for me this thing is the absolute coolest toy I have gotten in a long time and a dream come true! Now if I could only find a way to impress the single women at the bars with it....

My Heathkit oscilloscope during an intense part of a song

To give you an idea of what you are looking at in the photos above, the dark rectangular object with the circular screen in the middle of the photo is my Heathkit OS-01 Laboratory Oscilloscope, and underneath it is my stereo system, which as you can see is 27-seconds into a track that it is playing. Directly to the right of the oscilloscope is a tower of music CD's. The glass jar with the radiation symbol on it that is sitting on top of the stack of CD's actually has radioactive material in it-- it is filled with vaseline glass marbles which contain a little bit of Uranium in them to give them their yellow-green color. They have so little radioactivity in them that the glass marbles are completely safe to own in any amount and are unregulated by the government. I have some of these marbles because the Uranium makes them glow in the dark underneath a blacklight, which is really cool looking, and because they give me something to test my Russian Military Surplus DRSB-01 handheld Geiger Counter with. (Yes, Russian Military Surplus Geiger Counters are legal for people to own too!) The blue light in the photo is coming from a blue cold-cathode decorative lamp that I own, and the framed picture in the upper-right portion of the background is a limited edition Disney Aristocats pencil drawing from Walt Disney World. Yes, even though it is a bizarre combination, I have a love for Duchess from the Aristocats just like I have a love for high voltage electronics! That's why I am a mad scientist that builds cute animatronic robot foxes instead of death rays and giant peace-keeping robots of mass destruction like all of the other mad scientists that I know in the Mad Scientist's Union! Consider yourselves fortunate that I am not the death ray type and that I like cute fuzzy cartoon characters instead! As always, comments about my projects are welcome!

I've Been Promoted to General!

Posted by: The Mad Scientist

A General Class FCC Amateur Radio License that is! Tonight I took my Element 3 written exam for the license at the DuPage Amateur Radio Club volunteer examination meeting, and I was able to pass the exam on my first try despite the fact that I had only covered about two-thirds of the study material in my Gordon West General Class examination preparation book! I held a Technician Plus class amateur radio license before, which gave me transmitting privileges on many VHF, UHF, and microwave radio frequency bands and some low-power transmitting privileges on some tiny portions of the shortwave radio bands, but now with my new General Class license I can transmit on the vast majority of the shortwave bands at a peak envelope power of 1500 Watts! That is more than enough power to talk to other amateur radio operators across the globe, and even bounce radio signals off the moon and back to earth! Now if I could only afford an HF radio transceiver that could take advantage of my new license privileges.... In any case, for the next week over the air instead of identifying myself as just my normal radio call sign "KB9MFT," I can identify myself as "KB9MFT Temporary AG," which will let others know that I recently upgraded my license!

While I am not a very active amateur radio operator these days because I am so busy working on my artwork, animation, animatronics, and electronics, if you are interested in hearing me on the air I occasionally pop onto "The Night Patrol Net" run by the Argonne Amateur Radio Club every night at 10:30PM. The Night Patrol Net is run on the W9ANL Repeater Station, which is located on the grounds of Argonne National Laboratory just north of Lemont, IL with a output frequency of 145.19 MHz and a input frequency of 144.59 MHz.

Press Any Key to Continue....

Posted by: The Mad Scientist

In my Foxee™ Animatronic Character 2005 Midwest Furfest Variety Show Act Proposal post to this blog I mentioned that one of my preliminary projects that I was going to do that was designed to help teach me the skills I would need to have in order to build my Foxee animatronic robot was to learn woodworking by building an authentic Apple I wood case for my Replica I clone microcomputer. The internal frame of Foxee is going to be made largely of plywood, and as a result I need to have some skill with a power jigsaw in order to construct this. Since a simple Apple I-style computer case is a lot easier to construct out of wood than a robot fox skeleton, I decided that constructing the wood computer case wood be excellent jigsaw practice before I tackled the more daring project. Unfortunately, there was one major thing that was keeping me from constructing my Apple I computer case-- the lack of an Apple-I compatible keyboard to mount into the case!

Steve Wozniak's 1976 Apple I Microcomputer used an ASCII-encoded keyboard with a STROBE line. Such keyboards were relatively inexpensive to find parts for and build in 1976, but in 2005 trying to find the parts to build such a keyboard became nearly impossible unless you were willing to shell out some serious money to a cutthroat obsolete electronics components dealer. There were two other easy ways to get an authentic looking ASCII Keyboard that was Apple I compatible and would as a result work with my Replica I kit computer. The first route is to be lucky enough to find an ASCII keyboard that was pulled out of either an original Apple II or Apple II+ computer, but these keyboards are scarce at best because the Apple II's and Apple II+'s are in themselves collector items now. Keyboards from an Apple IIe, which are as common as stink, will not work unmodified with a Apple I because Apple IIe computers use binary matrix encoded keyboards instead of ASCII-encoded keyboards.

Another solution is to take a matrix keyboard, like the one from the Apple IIe, and either hook it up to a custom hand-built ASCII encoder circuit board or hook it up to a microcontroller that would translate the values from the keyboard to their ASCII code equivalents. I decided to go with this seemingly easier second option. I thought that finding some new old stock keyboards from 1970's and 80's microcomputers would be the hardest components to find, but as it turns out they were fairly easy to come across and I very quickly acquired a keyboard from a Texas Instruments TI-99/4 microcomputer and a keyboard from an Apple IIe "Platinum Edition" microcomputer. Then the devastating truth hit me: I found out that the parts needed to build your own ASCII keyboard encoder board cost tons-- far more than I could afford-- because of all of the rare components that it used. In addition, using a microcontroller chip to translate keyboard values would also cost me quite a bit for parts and for purchasing a microcontroller programmer, and then I would have to figure out how to program the darn things. That would be completely time consuming, and I was very short on time.

Everything looked glum for my Apple I case project after that until I ran across a classified ad of all things for a rare Apple II ASCII keyboard! The rare keyboard cost me an arm an a leg, but it should be directly compatible with an Apple I more or less, however it looks like I may have to do a little bit of wiring to hook the keyboard and the computer together. The keyboard is from fairly early in the original Apple II computer's production run and has "Apple Computer Incorporated, ASSY NO 01-0341-01, MADE IN USA" silk-screened on the front of the PCB, "P C BD 02-2239-01 REV B" silk-screened on the back of the PCB, and "INSP. JUL 6 1977" stamped on the back of the PCB in black ink. You can see a photo of the Apple II keyboard here:

The Apple II keyboard that I purchased

As much as I wished that my ASCII keyboard troubles were over, I still have one more hurdle to go. The schematics I have that show how to hook an ASCII keyboard up to my Replica I kit computer show hooking an Apple II+ keyboard up to it. The Apple II and Apple II+ keyboards are noticeably different with different wiring going to their output connector, which means that I will have to find some schematics for my Apple II keyboard so that I can determine how to wire the two devices together. Hopefully such information will be easy to find, but if my past experiences hold true, it won't be. In any case, I will keep you posted on my progress, and if worse comes to worse there are always those two matrix keyboards that I now have laying around that I can mess with in a pinch!

I Love the Smell of Ozone in the Morning!

Posted by: The Mad Scientist

Here it is, 5:30AM in the morning, and I have just pulled an all-nighter. What could I have possibly been doing all night you ask? Soldering elctronics and listening to this week's Off The Hook and Off The Wall 2600 Hacker radio talk shows in WinAMP! In yesterday's Foxee Project Blog entry I mentioned that I had purchased an Exact Electronics Type 240 Function Generator from a scientist who worked at Fermilab, and that the function generator needed a little bit of soldering work to get it into workable condition. The problem with the function generator was that it had no wall plug on the end of its electrical cord, and that I had to solder a new one on. That would have been as easy as matching wire colors and soldering the like wires between the plug and the function generator together if the wires on the cheap three-prong power cord that I bought from American Science and Surplus used the standard wire color-coding scheme for alternating current wires, but the cord didn't so I had to look the information up online. I have never really worked much with household 120V alternating current before, so I wanted to make really sure that I had my wiring right, that I had no bear wires showing at my splice point between the two cords, and that I wasn't going to screw up by crossing some wires and as a result blow up my fancy piece of equipment.

After some searching online I found a website that told me what I needed to know. Alternating electrical current is a completely different animal when compared to direct electrical current, and because of that I found out that the wiring colors of each of the leads is of an AC power cord is different from its DC counterpart. Instead of the wires being red and black for positive and ground, AC plugs have a black lead that is the "hot" lead, a white lead that is a neutral lead, and a green lead that goes to ground. To find out which lead was which on my non-color coded plug I checked the resistance of each lead to each prong in the plug with a multimeter until the reading given by the multimeter read near zero. A near zero reading indicated that I had closed a circuit, and that I had found the lead that matched the prong that I was testing.

After soldering the power cord together and insulating it with electrical tape, I decided to hold my breath and plug the function generator into the wall power outlet, hoping that the vacuum tube-filled device wouldn't explode, catch on fire, or smoke due to some technical error on my part! Instead, the power light on the unit turned on, and all of the vacuum tubes inside the function generator began to glow and get very warm. While I haven't been able to test the function generator with an oscilloscope yet to see if it is really working since I lack the hook-up wires to do so, I will take the glowing tubes and the heat as a positive sign that it is, and that I soldered the power cord on correctly. Pretty soon I will be looking into getting some probes and hook-up wires to use with my new function generator and oscilloscopes, and then reading some tutorials on the operating my new instruments so that I can use them effectively to troubleshoot my electronic circuitry!

Bringing Out the Heavy Equipment!

Posted by: The Mad Scientist

Nothing makes you feel more like a mad scientist than buying several enormous pieces of electronic test equipment out of the back of a guy's car trunk, and that's exactly what I did today!!! The man I bought the equipment from was a scientist from Fermilab who I met at the DucKon 14 Science Fictiion convention way back in June. At the convention he was one of the people running the "Build-a-Blinkie" workshops where you soldered together little blinking LED pins that you could wear, and he also gave a demonstration of his 400,000-volt Tesla coil that could throw 12-foot bolts of lightning in the Science Fiction convention's parking lot.

Being that it happened to be close to Fermilab, we decided to meet and do our exchange at of all places the American Science & Surplus store, which is like a mad scientists' paradise in and of itself! The pieces of heavy duty equipment that I bought from him for my robotics, radio, and electronics work were as follows:

  • Heathkit Laboratory Oscilloscope Model OS-01 from The Heath Company
  • Hewlett Packard Model 130BR Oscilloscope
  • Type 240 Function Generator from Exact Electronics Inc.

The function generator could use a little bit of soldering work in the form of soldering a new three-prong plug onto it so that it can be plugged into a wall outlet, but other than that the equipment I bought was said to be in working order. All three of these electronic devices are large, heavy, and use vacuum tubes, and two of them were designed to be rack-mounted. These tools have many uses in the field of electronics including many troubleshooting applications, and if worse comes to worse and I can't find a use for one of the two oscilloscopes, I could always hook it up to my stereo and watch the waveform of the music! In the meantime it has been a very long time since I used an oscilloscope, so I am going to have to hit the Internet to see if I can find the manuals for these puppies. Giving myself a refresher course on the operation of oscilloscopes and signal generators by reading through their manuals will get myself up to speed a lot quicker than the "Ooh! What does this button do?" approach!

While I was at the American Science & Surplus store I also picked up a few odds and ends for the electronics work that I have been doing these days or plan to be doing very soon. Unlike the last few visits to that tore that I have made, I didn't purchase very much this time. The big item that I picked up was a bicycle electroluminescent wire kit, which contained a small 2 "AAA" sized battery powered power-inverter and two foot-long blue electroluminescent strips that could be stuck to something with adhesive. I bought this as a cheap example of electroluminescent material technology that I can play with before I start moving onto building things with the more expensive professional-grade electroluminescent wire, which I plan to use with future robotics projects.

I also picked up a cheap laser pointer to use with some electronic schematics that I found on the Internet. These schematics showed how to send an audio signal through the laser with amplitude modulation from the headphone output of a sound source to the microphone input of a stereo system or computer sound card! While I don't plan to be building such a device anytime soon, I figured that I might as well buy a cheap laser pointer while I was at the American Science & Surplus store. Another thing that I bought was another mono-headphone because tons of my electronics projects call for wiring a device up to a mono-headphone jack, such as the above mentioned laser pointer data transmission device, my audio-pickup inductor coil, and my magnetic stripe card reader. What I do is just lob the headphone part off, toss that aside, and use the wires and the 3.5mm jack for my projects. It's always useful to have a few of these on hand since I seem to use them all of the time. Some other things that I picked up at American Science and Surplus were some battery holders that I can use to power my electronic projects, and plenty of cheap Alkaline batteries to put into them.

Along with the things related to my electronics and robotics work that I purchased today, I also received my brand new DIY Electronics K149 Version E USB Serial PIC Programmer kit in the mail yesterday! In an earlier blog entry I mentioned how the company Electronics123.com had originally sent me an older version of the kit than the one that they advertised on their website, and I wanted to make sure that I had the absolute newest version of the kit available so I made them exchange it. To their credit, the people at Electronics123.com did send me the correct kit after I asked for it, and reimbursed me for the shipping that I had to pay to send the older kit back to them. So at the very least this company showed that it valued customer satisfaction!

As far as my Replica I microcomputer wood case "practice project" goes, I will be purchasing my Apple II ASCII keyboard and encoder board a little later this week, and as soon as I get paid for some PC repair work and some artwork commissions that I am doing, I will start buying the wood and the power jigsaw that I need to start building the case with and teach myself the art of woodworking (and hopefully not chopping my fingers off in the process)! As always, I very much appreciate to hear any comments that you have about my projects, and thanks for reading!

Internet Order Frustrations

Posted by: The Mad Scientist

I received my PIC programming kit and my EEPROM programming kit in the mail yesterday, and unfortunately I was disappointed by what I opened. Even though they weren't the cheapest source of DIY Electronics kits around, I ordered from Electronics123.com because they promised that they had the very latest version of the DIY Electronics K149 USB/ Serial PIC programmer, the K149 version E. They were the only electronic kit supplier that promised to have the brand new version E kit, and I wanted to make sure that I got the best kit available that could program the most PICMicro microcontroller chips. When I received and opened my package from Electronics123.com and looked at its contents however, I saw that they had sent me an older version D model of the kit, despite the fact that my invoice showed that I had ordered a version E.

Before getting all upset and using Electronic123.com's toll-free number to jump down their throats, I decided that I would go to the DIY Electronics website, www.kitsrus.com, and see what the difference was between the version D and E kits. After spending over an hour scouring the website and several different versions of the kit's documentation PDF files, I learned what the difference was between the version A, B, and C kits, but they did not list the differences between the version D and E kits. So maybe it was something major, or maybe it was something insignificant. I just didn't know.

I decided that since the only reason why I chose Electronics123.com in the first place was because they promised to have the newest "E" version of the kit that I was going to demand either a new kit or a refund on principal. I was extremely aggravated that they dumped older inventory on me, and I wasn't about to let them get away with it. I called them up using their toll-free number, and got a very surprised sounding employee on the phone. I explained my situation, and he claimed that they must have accidentally sent me some older inventory by mistake. After some prodding, I was able to make the employee agree to mail an E version of the kit to me and to refund the shipping that I was going to have to pay to send their D version kit back to them. It was good that I was able to get them to exchange my kit, but now I am going to have to go through all of the hassle of repackaging it and sending it back to them, which is an extra activity that I didn't need. It would have been nice if they had just sent me the right kit in the first place!

Last night I was able to get ahold of the person who has the ASCII keyboard I need for my "Replica I" Apple I microcomputer clone, but I have not found this person to be the most comfortable person to deal with. Here I am, offering to pay top dollar for a 30 year old piece of computer junk, and he is not willing to take the time to test it. Instead he said to me, "It is untested and I don't have any time to set up a Apple II and try it out. It is sold 'as is' and untested. If you would rather look elsewhere that is fine by me." His take it or leave it attitude makes me kind of nervous. Unlike on eBay where you can check a seller's reputation, I found this guy through an online classified ad, so I have no way of checking how honest of a seller he is. Unfortunately, despite the high cost that he wants for the unit, it is the correct part that I need, and I have little choice but to buy it from him unless I want to delay my whole electronics project schedule by yet another month to locate another part. And since I only have 3 months time to go to build a working, talking, singing, and laughing cartoon fox, any further delay is not an option!

On a brighter note, the other day I also heard back from the scientist at Fermilab who is going to sell me an old Heathkit oscilloscope that I can use with my electronics projects. Since Fermilab is only about a mile away or so from my beloved American Science & Surplus store, the scientist and I plan to meet there sometime next week. It will be fantastic to finally be able to kit my hands on that oscilloscope, and I can't wait to start experimenting with it! I am sure that it will help me out a lot in my work!

Lastly, a couple nights ago I ordered the General Class and Extra Class FCC Amateur Radio License Exam preparation books written by Gordon West from Amazon.com. I am currently a Technician Plus-class amateur radio operator, and my license expires later this year. Since my license class doesn't even exist anymore since the FCC changed the amateur radio license structure a few years ago, I decided that instead of just trying to re-new my license that I would take all of the exams I needed to get the highest license class there is-- the Extra class. I am already 5-WPM Morse Code certified, so all I have to do is take the written exams, and if I was able to become a Technician Plus operator back in junior high school I am sure that I can pass both the General and the Extra class license exams now. Once I get those exam preparation books I am going to knuckle down and study my rear end off with them, and hopefully I will be an Extra class amateur radio operator by either September or October! And since amateur radio has a heavy emphasis on learning electronics, I am sure that studying for these exams will help me become a much better electronics designer and robot builder as well!

In any case, hopefully all of my Internet order woes will work out for the better in the end, and that I will still be able to build Foxee on time for her tentative Midwest Furfest debut. This will definitely prove to be a great challenge to me, and hopefully it will prove to be an even greater triumph! As always, comments are welcome-- I always love to hear what others think about my work!

More Microcontrollers and Another Trip to Sci Plus

Posted by: The Mad Scientist

This weekend the American Science & Surplus store, a store that is like a mad scientist's and hardware hacker's paradise, had its annual outdoor tent sale. With prices on the store items in the tent reduced by 50% or more, this sale attracts bargain hunters, scientists, and do-it-yourselfers from miles around to feast on the store's assorted electronic and mechanical oddities as well as lab equipment, tools, and toys. My chemistry student friend and I are no exception, and we try to make it to the American Science & Surplus Store's annual tent sale every year.

I found many things at the tent sale that will be useful for my Foxee animatronics project at bargain prices. The first item of interest was a pair of Coby CS-P31 2-watt dynamic sound system portable speakers. They don't exactly sound the greatest when compared to my deluxe set of stereo speakers that I have hooked up to my computer, but their small size (3.5-inches wide, 4.5-inches tall, 2.5-inches deep) and the fact that they are self-powered through their headphone mini-jack connector may make them very desirable to mount inside Foxee and become her "voice box." Originally I had bought a set of SOYO Dragon PC speakers for this task, but these Coby speakers consume a lot less space and may be better suited for the task. I will have to compare the two for both space consumption, power consumption, and performance after I have Foxee's frame constructed.

The next interesting piece of equipment that I picked up for my robotics project was a pair of elbow-length heavy rubber electrical lineman's gloves-- the same kind that the electrical utility workers use to repair power lines! As one of my earlier blog entries states, the skit that I am planning to perform at Midwest Furfest this year could possibly involve the use of high voltage electrical devices such as a Jacob's Ladder to produce special effects. Having a pair of rubber linemans gloves on hand while building, testing, and operating such devices might prove to be a very good idea! In any case, the gloves will make an excellent addition to my mad scientist costume for the skit, and make me look even more creepy and authentic!

Some other items that I picked up at the American Science & Surplus store that deal directly with my Foxee animatronics project include yet another set of electronic guts from the inside of a Worlds of Wonder Teddy Ruxpin stuffed doll, and another bag of stuffed animal eyes that I can use to make stuffed animals with when I am practicing my sewing and fox sewing pattern making.

Along with going to the American Science & Surplus store this weekend, I also purchased the DIY Electronics K149E Serial/USB PICMicro Programmer and the DIY Electronics K151 EEPROM Programmer. The K149E is the same PIC microcontroller programmer recommended to me by Dwayne Forsyth of 2DKits, who used it to program the PIC16F688 microcontroller found on their advanced blinkie kits that they had at the Duckon 14 Science Fiction convention "Build-A-Blinkie" workshop. I plan to use the K149E programmer for future animatronics projects and certainly other electronics projects if I don't end up using microcontrollers with Foxee herself.

I bought the K151 EEPROM programmer because the kit itself was fairly inexpensive and because the 24xx and 93xx series of EEPROMS that it can program are very inexpensive as well. While I don't have any particular projects demanding the use of EEPROMS at the moment, it seemed like a useful device to have, and with how cheap EEPROMS are I am sure that I will find a use for them in the future. Since these two programmers that I ordered are kits, I will have to assemble them before I can use them.

One of the other recent developments that are related to my Foxee animatronics project are that I have located a source of a Apple II keyboard and ASCII encoder board that will be compatible with my Replica I Apple I microcomputer clone. This is extremely important because I my practice project that is going to teach me how to use a jigsaw and a circular saw was building a authentic Apple I wood case for my Replica I, and I can't build the case without first having that keyboard and encoder board. The reason why this practice project is so important is because I will need to use a lot of fancy jigsaw cutting to build Foxee's main wood support frame, and I needed an easy beginner's project to hone my skills on.

While finding this Apple II keyboard and encoder board may solve my ASCII keyboard dilemma which was holding up my all-important Replica I wood case practice project, it is not without its downsides. First of all, I was really looking forward to building my own ASCII keyboard encoder board, but unfortunately, the scarcity and expense of some of the components that I needed made this approach not very feasible. The other huge downside is that this Apple II keyboard and encoder board are also extremely expensive, and are really killing my extremely small and ever-shrinking budget. The only reason why I am going ahead with this solution is because building my own ASCII keyboard encoder board will likely cost just as much if not a little more than just buying the Apple II components, that I have already wasted way too much time finding these components anyway and I can't let this drag down my progress any longer, and that this Apple II keyboard and encoder is guaranteed to work with my Replica I while my homebrew Frankenstein keyboard and encoder design that I was planning to build, which would have used a replacement keyboard originally meant for a Tandy-Radioshack TI-99/4 microcomputer, may not have actually worked with my Replica I at all. I guess this is the first case of me "throwing money at a problem" to solve it, and hopefully it is the last time since I can't really afford to solve my problems this way if I am going to have any money at all to even start building the frame of Foxee little alone complete her construction!

To end this blog entry on a positive note, I may have solved another of the obstacles to my Foxee Animatronics Project that I originally listed in my Foxee™ Animatronic Character 2005 Midwest Furfest Variety Show Act Proposal blog entry. In that entry, I reported that I required a IBM-compatible laptop computer to remotely control the Foxee robot on-site as well as perform other tasks for my company at conventions. It looks like my father may be getting a brand new state-of-the-art laptop computer for his work, and he said that I could have his old laptop if he does. This laptop happens to fall slightly below the requirements that I was looking for in a laptop machine, but its close enough to what I wanted and I definitely can't argue with the price tag! So hopefully I will be able to get my hands on it, because that would be an indescribably enormous boost to my operations!

As much as I would love to continue writing, it is about time for the first landing attempt of the NASA Space Shuttle Discovery, and I plan to watch that take place live on NASA TV! As always, I would very much appreciate to hear your comments about this blog entry, so don't be shy about posting them!

Some Concerns Brought Up About My Mad Scientist Skit

Posted by: The Mad Scientist

The other night, a member of the Midwest Furfest Variety Show e-mail list brought up several concerns that he had about my Mad Scientist Foxee skit that I was considering doing at this year's Midwest Furfest Variety Show, and since his concerns were legitimate I thought that I would repost them and discuss them here. His concerns focused on many aspects of my proposed Foxee skit, including its length, the safety of some of the high-voltage stage props that I was planning to use for my skit's special effects, and the reliability of the technology that I was using in my Foxee robot. Here were his concerns:

1) Five minutes on stage is a long time. Holding the audience's attention for more than three is often problematic, and little/nothing happens for the first few minutes of your sketch.

First of all, I am not quite sure if my skit will even take up an entire 5 minutes. I don't have the dialog for the skit written yet, and until that it written and the skit is read through and timed, I won't really know for sure how long or short the skit is. I guessed that the skit would be about 5 minutes in length based several assumptions. First, the Mad Scientist will need a minute in the beginning to give his monologue explaining his experiment and why he is doing it to set up the setting and the story of the skit. Secondly, the "It's alive!" special effects sequence will take up some time because I plan to act very dramatically throughout it by doing crazy things like yelling, evilly laughing, ducking in case something explodes, etc. After that the Mad Scientist will meet Foxee or the first time as she comes to life, and will have to ask her how she feels and if she is operating properly. Once the first-meeting formalities have been completed, the Mad Scientist will go straight into "Phase II" of his experiment where he tries to pick up Foxee with some very nerdy sounding pickup lines, such as "You can be an acid and I can be a base, and together we can make some heat!", "You must have a lot of lactic acid build-up in your legs because you have been running through my mind all day!", or "How would you like to see if my hardware interfaces with your software?" Foxee would naturally be shocked by the question, and that would cause the 30-seconds or so of back and forth sarcastic snappy dialog that would culminate with the Mad Scientist getting frustrated and announcing to the audience about how he just found a new lab animal to try out his brand new death ray on. So there really is a lot going on, and I have confidence that the crazy personality and funky accent that I plan to use for my Mad Scientist character will be able to hold the audience's attention for the duration of my monologue.

2) I think I can guarantee that having HV discharges and the like on stage will be absolutely verboten. Hotels and fire marshals tend to get antsy about this kind of thing.

Plasma balls, strobe lights, and lumina discs are all common novelty decorative displays of electricity and light, and all three of those items these days can be purchased at any local Radio Shack, Fry's Electronics, or even Wal*Mart. I own most of these devices already, and they are very safe. As far as the Jacob's Ladder goes, I probably won't even be able to build one because it will cost me about $100 to do so, and since I am not even quite sure how I am going to scrap together enough money to build the Foxee on time, I doubt I will have a lot of money to spare on a minor detail like a set prop. However, if I do end up being able to build one, I have the plans on how to build one that uses non-lethal amounts of electrical current and has a safety cut-off circuit that will automatically shut the device off if somebody decides to stick their hand into the flowing lightning bolt. That is the design that I am planning to use, and there shouldn't be any problems with it-- especially considering the fact that it's only going to be turned on for about 10-seconds during the skit anyway.

Hypothetically, even if I did end up building a more dangerous version of a Jacob's Ladder without any safety devices built into it, and it used more dangerous components such as a television flyback transformer to produce the lightning effect, it would still only be a shock hazard if somebody was foolish enough to stick their hand into the device while it is turned on. And once again since I plan for the device to be all by itself up on stage while it is powered on during the short time it is needed during the performance, the chance that someone could get right up next to the device to be hurt by it should be highly unlikely. In addition, high voltage devices many times more dangerous than my proposed Jacob's Ladder, such as a 400,000 volt Tesla coil that could throw 12-foot bolts of lightning were demonstrated by other people at the DucKon 14 Science Fiction Convention earlier this summer without incident. That just goes to show you that when precautions are taken, these displays of electrical power are really not much to worry about. None the less, since I probably won't even be able to build a Jacob's Ladder in time for the Midwest Furfest convention anyway, I won't start worrying about it until I actually have one built. It would be pre-mature for me to get worked up about it right now.

3) The idea is pretty funny, but can you be certain all the mechanical effects will work perfectly?

As much as I hate to say it, no I can't be entirely sure at this time that everything is going to work, especially since I haven't gotten past the design phase on Foxee yet. Even if I was further along with building Foxee however, I still would have to ask if anyone can ever be 100% certain that every mechanical device that they use will always work perfectly. Even NASA screws up every once in a while, such as they did with Apollo I, Apollo XIII, the Space Shuttle Challenger, the Space Shuttle Columbia, the Mars Observer, the Mars Polar Lander, etc. The best I can do is test my Foxee robot and all of my electrical effects thoroughly both before the convention and on-site before the variety show, bring spare parts and tools to do emergency on-site repairs if the need arises, and be prepared to ad-lib an ending to my skit in case something still goes hay-wire with Foxee during the skit and the performance cannot be completed as intended.

In any case, I do very much appreciate the member of the Midwest Furfest Mailing List who brought up these concerns, because they make me think about potential problems that I might not have otherwise considered. I am extremely new to the world of furry conventions, costuming, animatronics, and putting on stage shows, so I am absolutely sure that what I am up to is not perfect and that I haven't thought of everything. I very much appreciate people bringing issues like this to my attention, so if anyone else has any concerns or suggestions, please let me know!

Microcontrollers, Light Pipes, and a Trip To Sci Plus!

Posted by: The Mad Scientist

While laying in bed and trying to go to sleep a couple of nights ago, I let my mind begin to wander with thoughts of developing new vixen cartoon characters that could maybe one day also be turned into talking animatronic animal robots. All of a sudden inspiration hit me like a sledge hammer on the head, and I came up with a fantastic idea that made me so excited that I could barely fall asleep that night! This idea for a new animatronic robot character was so exciting (at least to me) that I had a mini-obsession about it and have spent the last two weeks researching the technology behind it! What is this great fantastic idea do you ask? I would love to tell you, since it will probable be a year or two before I can turn this great new idea into a reality, I will have to keep this a secret project for now. I will tell you this about my new project however-- it involves fiber optics-- lots of fiber optics! I will most likely discuss the new character in more detail when I have the new character's design on paper and copyrighted, but until then I will be keeping this character under wraps.

As if to feed my obsession, as it so happened, the mad scientist equivalent of a candy store, American Science & Surplus, was having a sale on large fiber optic lamps. These lamps have a round base and a fountain-shaped formation of .75mm end-glow optic fibers coming out of the top that glow in different colors, and they usually cost between $20.00 and $50.00 apiece, but American Science & Surplus had them on sale for only $5.95 each! These lamps struck me as the absolute most perfect things to take apart and reverse engineer to figure out how fiber optic cables were illuminated, so I had to get my hands on some!

That afternoon I gathered up my chemist friend and we headed down to the American Science & Surplus store to go and check it out! Not only did I stock up on a couple of the fiber optic lamps while I was there, but I also picked up some other neat oddities including: heat-shrink tape to use with my electronics projects, a bright 4-color LED light stand with fading effects to use as an alternate fiber optic illumination source, a 3.5mm mono mini-jack plug to hook up to a audio pick-up inductor coil that I was building a novelty, and a magnifying visor to help me with soldering!

Also in the past couple weeks I have been looking for an alternative to the overly expensive General Semiconductor AY5-2376 ASCII Keyboard Encoder IC for the ASCII keyboard encoding board that I am building for my Replica I computer. So far the best alternative I have come across is the KR2376 developed by Standard Microsystems, but that too isn't exactly cheap-- just cheaper. The other day I may have found a source that has authentic Apple II keyboards and ASCII keyboard encoder boards that are compatible with my Replica I system, but those have their own pluses and minuses. On the plus side, the Apple II keyboard and encoder are guaranteed to work with each other and my Replica I system, but on the downside the combo is very expensive and I will be out of the fun of building my own keyboard and encoder board. I will have to weigh in the cost of all the parts to build my own encoder board based on the KR2376 IC, but building my own my turn out to be cheaper, and since I don't have a big budget for my projects, anything that I can get for cheaper is a good thing!

Lastly, I have been doing a lot of research on PIC microcontroller programming lately so that I can used custom controlled PIC microcontrollers in my projects, and thanks to a lot of help from Dwayne Forsyth from the company 2D Kits, I now know the model PIC microcontroller programmer that I am going to use as well as which development software. After I purchase and build the PIC programmer board and practice programming the chips, I should be able to start making custom chips that can add to the functionality of my robots!

A New Solo Midwest Furfest Skit Idea for Foxee

Posted by: The Mad Scientist

Last June at the DucKon 14 Science Fiction Convention in Naperville, Illinois, I was lucky enough to run into the director of the Midwest Furfest Variety Show. I told him about my idea of building an animatronic robot of Foxee and having her perform in this year's Midwest Furfest Variety show, and he seemed very interested. However, when I told him that my main idea for a performance involved Foxee teaming up with "Georgia Belle," the animatronic fursuit designed, built, and operated by Kittfoxx, he told me that Kittfox may not be performing in the Variety Show this year because he was planning to be an artwork dealer. That lead me for the first time to start seriously planning a new skit idea for the Variety Show in case I wouldn't have anyone else to perform my singing duet with Foxee, and Foxee had to go on stage by herself. I have since talked with Kittfoxx and he said that he would be willing to work with me and do a skit together with Foxee, but just incase things do not work out, I have continued to develop my solo skit idea anyway. Here's what I have:

The "Mad Scientist" Skit

I have joked around for years with my friends that I am a kind of "mad scientist" since I spend much of my free time building strange electronic gadgets (with more and more of them involving high voltage) and coming up with new characters and comics. Because of that, I figured I could play with the mad scientist theme and do a "Dr. Frankenstein" parody skit where I play as a desperate and single mad scientist that builds a robotic fox companion to go out with on Saturday nights!

The scientist can start the skit by lecturing to the audience as if the skit was an actual university science demonstration. He would explain that he was trying to unravel the greatest mystery plaguing mankind, "women," but when he was unsuccessful at trying to find a female subject to take back to his lab to "study intimately" at the local "alcoholic beverage consumption establishment" (bar), he decided to give up and build his own robot woman instead.

When the mad scientist goes to bring his robotic creation to life, the lights in the banquet room will go dark and there will be a whole bunch of high-voltage electric props on stage that give a frightening display, all while the mad scientist is screaming, "It's alive! It's alive!" Some of the high voltage props could include plasma balls, lumina discs, strobe lights, and possibly a high-voltage "Jacob's Ladder" like what was shown in the original Frankenstein film if I can build one in time. Then, when the Foxee does come to life, she turns out to be cynical and sarcastic to the mad scientist, and a hilarious dialog ensues between her and the scientist as she rebuffs his advances. Some possible dialog between the two could be:

Mad Scientist: Don't get smart with me! Your brain is made from an 8-bit Atari console!
Foxee: Well then I guess I have 7 more bits in my head than you've got!

Foxee: You built me to go out on a date with you? Isn't a guy dating a fox illegal in the state of Illinois?
Mad Scientist: No, no, no! *Those* kinds of experiments will happen later, at the Motel Super 8...."
Foxee: I don't know what disturbs me more, the sound of your experiments, or your cheap choice of hotels!

The dialog between the Mad Scientist will be snappy and light-hearted, and the content will be no worse than anything heard on a Simpsons episode. In fact, the proposed dialog above is as risque as I would ever go. The dialog between Foxee and the scientist will last about 30-seconds, and will end with Foxee rejecting him for his date. After that he marks down on a clipboard about how Foxee acted the same way as every other "test subject" he asked out, and then announces to the crowd that at his next lecture he will be testing how his new giant death ray and how he just found "a brand new lab animal to test it on," motioning to Foxee. The skit then closes with a nervous Foxee calling out to the audience, "Yikes! Is there a member of Greenpeace in the house?"

I am guessing that this skit will be about 5 minutes long and that it could be extremely funny once I work out all of the jokes for the dialog between Foxee and the Mad Scientist. I will post updates to this blog as I go along. I have most of the props required for this skit already, including even a mad scientist's lab coat! I already have a plasma ball and a strobe light, and if I want to spend the extra cash I know where I can buy lumina discs and the parts to build a high voltage Jacob's Ladder. While I don't have any professional acting skills, I have starred in a few of my university theater major friends short films, and they never complained about my acting-- so it can't be too horrible. I originally didn't want to act on stage myself leaving that up to Foxee, but if I have to I am sure that I can pull it off.

My biggest concerns about doing this skit is the cost of the extra props, and the extremely difficult chore of finding a voice actress and recording equipment to record her with to provide the voice of Foxee. (Any people that are female voice actors or have recording equipment please feel free to contact me if you would like to volunteer.) I have a female acquaintance that I used to know back in high school that has some acting experience and I am thinking about asking her to help me, but boy will that be one odd question to ask! In any case, I would love to hear your thoughts, comments, and suggestions for improvement about this skit, and whether or not you think it will go over well at Midwest Furfest Variety Show. Thanks!

Foxee™ Animatronic Character 2005 Midwest Furfest Variety Show Act Proposal

Posted by: The Mad Scientist

Overview

I have a very ambitious act that I would like to try and perform for the 2005 Midwest Furfest Variety Show. In a nutshell, the act would involve Foxee™, an animatronic robot female arctic blue fox that I am currently constructing, either moving and singing by herself or talking and singing with a human actor on stage for about three to four minutes. The Foxee™ robot when completed will utilize technology similar to that of Kittfoxx's "Georgia Belle" animatronic fursuit that performed in two skits during the 2004 Midwest Furfest Variety Show with the exception that Foxee will be a stand-alone animatronic robot with no human operator instead of an animatronic fursuit.

Foxee's Design and Projected Capabilities

The Foxee animatronic robot is currently only in the design phase. However, most of the hardware and electronics that are going to be used with the robot has already been determined, and based on that I can give you an overview of what her design and capabilities will be. The design for the Foxee animatronic robot will be based off of my Foxee the arctic blue fox animated cartoon character, who has been the flagship character for my sole-proprietorship animation studio for the last two-and-a-half years. Because the robot will be based off of a cartoon fox instead of a real one, it will have a cartoony appearance and will be larger than a real fox.

The Foxee robot will permanently sit upright and be about 27-inches tall. The robot's primary frame will be constructed out of grade A-A plywood and wood dowels, and this frame will provide the support structure, internal compartments, the basic shape of the robot, and something to anchor the servo motors against. On top of the wood frame will be a sculpted wire frame made of low-gauge aluminum armature wire or steel wire. This wire frame will give Foxee her feminine vixen shape and provide the hinges for her mouth and access panels. On top of the wire frame will be a metal or plastic mesh, which will provide something to hot glue her outer fur to. This is the solution I have found to be best based on my robotics and costuming research, however I have little to no experience with using any of these materials, so if any experienced fursuiters or robot designers have any suggestions for better frame and super-structure construction methods and materials, I am open to input.

Foxee, like Kittfoxx's Georgia Belle, will run pre-recorded programs off of a specially formatted audio compact disc using a Sony portable CD player, a Buffington Effects CD2Serial board, and the Servo Animator 1.2.0 software. For a servo motor controller board I have decided to go with the Lynxmotion SSC-32, which is MiniSSC II compatible, can control up to 32 servos, and has open source firmware. A combination of standard and mini-sized Hitec and Futaba servos will be used for the robot’s movement. I plan to use at least 9 servo motors in Foxee, and more will be included if I have the money and the time to install them. The projected servo layout will be as follows:

  • 2 standard servos to control the vertical and horizontal motion of Foxee's neck via a Lynx B pan and tilt kit
  • 1 or 2 micro servos to control the blinking of Foxee's eyes
  • 2 micro servos to control the horizontal and vertical direction of Foxee’s eyes
  • 1 micro servo to control Foxee's mouth
  • 1 micro servo to control Foxee's eye brows
  • 1 standard servo to allow Foxee to wag the tip of her tail up and down

My current design for Foxee calls for her front legs to be static and permanently positioned in front of her as she sits. However, if I have the time, money, and required skill, I would love to attempt adding 4 mini servos and a pan and tilt kit to each front leg so that she could move and manipulate her front legs and paws to use for arm and hand gestures. That would make her seem much more life like, dynamic, and entertaining.

Proposed Acts

My original act idea was to have my animatronic Foxee character sing a duet with KittFoxx's Georgia Belle animatronic suit. The song I have chosen for the duet is a Lee Ann Womack and Alecia Elliott duet country western song called "One Dream," which would be perfect for Georgia Belle because her character is supposed to be a country western singer! The song deals with two girls singing about their competition over a guy, and that rivalry can be acted out between the two characters while they are singing on stage. The song is only three minutes and twenty-one seconds long, which could hopefully be short enough to eliminate the possibility of the skit becoming repetitive or boring. I have not yet proposed this idea to KittFoxx because the e-mail address I have for him bounces back my messages to me, and because my robot is not far enough along in development for me to start making plans and commitments with other people. I need to see if I can actually build this robot in time for the Variety Show first! And if worse comes to worse, I can always try to do this particular act at the 2006 variety show. I hope to have two robot foxes built by then, which would allow me to supply my own duet without having to draft Kittfoxx and Georgia Belle into my act.

If Foxee has to go out on her own without the support of another animatronic character or puppet, I could either have her sing a short song on her own or I can write a script where she interacts directly with me with some kind of short funny conversation. I have been a professional comic strip cartoonist for the last three years, so I am used to writing sharp and funny dialog. I am currently still working on coming up with ideas for such an interactive skit, however if you have any suggestions feel free to volunteer them.

Foxee's Current Development Status

As of the time of this writing, only design work on Foxee has been done and no actual construction of her frame or electronics has been started. I am still in a phase of researching robot design methods and learning how to use the tools and materials needed for construction. To effectively learn how to use a new tool or material, I complete a small practice project using that tool or material. Currently, I have used how to use electronic tools such as a soldering iron, chip puller, chip inserter, multi-meter, and logic probe by building three 555-timer IC based servo controller boards and a working replica of a 1975 Apple I microcomputer. These projects also taught me the purpose of basic electronic components, bread boarding, and how servo motors work and can be controlled.

My next scheduled project is to build an ASCII keyboard and a custom wood case for the Apple I (just like Apple I owners had to do in the 1970's) to teach me how to use a circular table saw and a jig saw, both tools that I will have to master to be able to construct Foxee's complex wood frame. Yet another project will be to create a small stuffed animal replica of Foxee to teach me how to use an electric sewing machine and to design and cut patterns in fur to cover the exterior of my robot. While these mini-projects are time consuming and somewhat sidetracking, the fact is that I will be spending well over $1000 in parts and tools to build this robot, so I would rather take the time to learn how to use all of the tools and materials correctly than risk making a very costly mistake on the robot itself.

Current Obstacles

  • A am currently having trouble locating a reasonably priced supply of General Instruments AY-5-2376 ASCII Keyboard Controller IC's. The AY-5-2376 is a special DIP IC that was manufactured in the 1980's to control ASCII keyboards. At least 2 of these chips are required for my Apple I case project. While I have found multiple suppliers of this out-of-production chip, they either want a $100 minimum order, which is ludicrous, or they will not return my phone calls or e-mails at all.
  • I am having trouble finding an IBM PC-compatible laptop that is within my tight budget that I can use for controlling my Foxee robot and for giving on-site demonstrations of my Foxee Microsoft Agent character. The laptop needs to fit the following minimum requirements:
    • Intel Pentium III running at 450mHz or faster
    • 128MB of RAM, any speed
    • Functioning color screen
    • Graphics card capable of 16-million colors and at least a 800 x 600 resolution
    • 5GB or greater hard drive
    • A DB9 or DB25 RS-232 serial port
    • An external monitor VGA port
    • A PS-2 port for mouses or keyboards
    • A headphone jack for external speakers
    • A microphone jack for microphone input

    Most laptops that are about 4 to 7 years old will probably fit those specifications. I am currently a recently graduated and unemployed university student who is playing the dangerous game of living without health insurance, so I currently unable to afford the price that laptops of this caliber for what they go for on eBay. I wish that I could utilize a less powerful machine, but the multimedia used by both the Foxee robot and Foxee animated Microsoft Agent character require some serious RAM and processing power behind them. If anyone has an old laptop that fits or comes close to these requirements that they would like to either donate to the cause or sell, feel free to e-mail me privately.

Potential Obstacles

  • The Possibility of Lack of Funds – Since I am currently unemployed, my Foxee robot is currently draining my savings account, which alone isn't nearly enough to complete the project. If I am able to find a well-paying job between now and November this should not be a problem, but the risk is there that I could run out of funds before the project is completed, which may render me unable to provide an act for the Midwest Furfest variety show.
  • The Possibility of Lack of Skill – Before I started this project, I had almost no prior knowledge of electronic soldering or electronic circuit design, and I still have no practical experience with sewing, hot gluing, making stuffed animal fabric patterns, wire sculpting, or woodworking. I am learning these things as I go along, and while I have confidence in my ability to learn new skills, there is always a possibility that I could always fall short of my needed abilities and not be able to learn a skill in a capacity that is high enough to complete my robot. All I can say is that I will try my best!
  • The Possibility of a Poor Robot Design – While I have currently bought several books telling how to build digital and analog circuits, robot chassis, and robot power trains, I am still doing a lot of educated guessing while I am designing Foxee's frame and determining where to place her servo motors, control rods, and moving parts. I am a Computer Science and Biology student by education, not an Electrical or Mechanical Engineer, so there is no guarantee that the design I am working on will even function after it is built. I just have to try my best here too!
  • Meeting the Midwest Furfest Variety Show Deadline (November 18, 2005)– I am steadfast and determined to get the Foxee animatronic robot constructed and programmed to perform an act in time for the Midwest Furfest Variety Show, however not everything concerning the construction time of the robot is within my hands. One primary concern is the shipping time and availability of some of the parts and supplies needed to construct the robot. I do not have the funds to be able to buy all the parts I need to complete the project from start to finish all at once, and because of that I have to buy whatever parts that I can afford as I require them for the building process. Unfortunately, this opens the possibility that if a certain part is unavailable or takes an excessive amount of time to ship that it could halt my progress and throw me behind schedule. I will plan ahead as best as I can and try to reduce this risk to a minimum, but due to Murphy’s Law I cannot eliminate this possibility completely.

Why I am Doing This

During the course of this project many people have asked me why I would take on such a large, difficult, and expensive project with a high risk of failure at a time in my life where I could barely afford to do it. To explain, ever since I was a little kid, one of my attractions at Disneyland was the Enchanted Tiki Room in Adventureland. This Disneyland attraction was the very first audio-animatronic attraction built at the theme park, and it featured talking and singing tropical birds, tiki masks, and plants. When I was a very small child I literally thought that Jose the parrot and all of his other enchanted tiki bird friends truly were alive, and I was completely awed by them. When I returned to Disneyland when I was high school aged I was still awe inspired by the tiki birds, and couldn't believe how well done and lifelike those characters were. I didn't know how at the time, but I swore that I would get my own tiki bird someday!

At Midwest Furfest 2004 I once again was awed by the performance of an animatronic robot. The robot was the animatronic Georgia Belle worn by Kittfoxx, and when I first saw her perform in the 2004 Midwest Furfest variety show my jaw dropped and hit the floor! Georgia Belle was absolutely fantastic, and I once again told myself how I had to one-day build such an animatronic robot myself! The possibility was opened to me when Kittfoxx handed me his typed essay "Electronics for Fursuiters 101." While the paper didn't go into how the frame of Georgia Belle was built or how her servos, push-rods, and other moving parts were positioned, it did go into the circuit boards that she used as well as some of the basic tools and materials needed to construct her. With that paper in hand, I swore that I was going to build an animatronic robot of my own someday!


Visitors have been rocked by Foxee the Animatronic Blue Fox!!!

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