Sunday, October 10, 2010

Progress and some Reminiscing...


We are working on the writing as well as finishing up commission work.

- Daniel Cherng has given up his commission on the Draconis Combine’s Katana and I will pass it to Stephen Huda pending more money and his completion of the Pershing A-57.

- Stephen Huda has completed the Pershing A-57, as can be seen above.

- Karl Olson is working on the Taurian Concordat’s Auroch (formerly the Damocles) Infantry Fighting Vehicle. We have moved into the third draft as can be seen below:

- Ian has requested another round of suggestions for his draft of the Tomahawk. *Sigh*.

- Eric is busy with school work – he is going to pass the Werewolf commission on to Stephen Huda.

- Paul has completed editing all but two of the Capellan vehicle writeups.

- Geoff is working on filling in the gaps left by tighter editing of those writeups.

- Eric has come up with a template for our PDF, but we are still working the bugs out.

- Bill has ordered a copy of InDesign CS3 for Dummies; it was cheap off Amazon and should arrive in the next few days. It boils the process down and should go a long way towards Bill’s understanding and ability to work with InDesign. I am hoping to get a copy of InDesign for myself so I can help Bill.

- I am still saving and budgeting for the remainder of my wife’s dental work. It should be done by the end of this month. The art payments will resume after that.

- The following is a list of the people I owe money for art:

Interior plates - $70 remaining to David Dryburgh
Werewolf - $25 remaining to Eric Ou
Nemera – $30 remaining to Chris Seymour
Panzer X, San Ku Chu, Auroch, Centaurus - $60 left to pay to Karl Olson
Pershing - $30 remaining to Stephen Huda
Tomahawk – $25 left to Ian Stead
Seven internal color renders - $48 remaining to Terrance Wong

This is a total of $288. We’ll get there.

Old Dreams

A long time ago I was a member of a Star Trek club in the Seattle area. Or rather, I built things for them. I had been doing this for about six years, in Seattle, Hawaii and San Diego. My conclusion was that the fans wanted fancy stuff, but didn’t want to pay what it cost to make the things – never mind the labor or even a profit. Even in 1994, electronics were seen as disposable and the average fan didn’t want to pay top dollar for a Playmates Next Generation Tricorder which had been heavily modified to look like the real thing.

There were others like me, but they were fans and many of them were much more knowledgeable and skilled in electronics and building costume props. One of them was Dave Pinney, who built a sliding door that was powered by pneumatics and triggered by a pressure pad. He also built a console, Next Generation style, complete with graphics and a chair. The console was powered by pneumatics and swung out and in based on a signal from the seat. Here are a few pictures of his creation:


The graphics were printed on paper and sandwiched between two layers of glass. They were backlit by a string of white Christmas lights inside the console. Pretty clever! I told him I thought it would be great if the console actually did something. So – I devised a way of detecting the touch of a finger to the glass (via reflected IR) which filtered out florescent light flicker.

After substantial testing on the workbench, David refined my design and built a working prototype. I built the main circuit board based on that prototype. It cost over a hundred bucks just in parts. With its ten switches, we could have controlled a lot of stuff from that console. But ST fandom suffered a major collapse after the Next Generation show went off the air and the console was disassembled.

I tried to get it built about ten years later, in 2005. I had the console (still!) but no glass and someone else had the base and chair. And they were not going to pay me for my work, or fund the remaining electronics, and they were not going to give up their half of the project. It was the same old story – you pay for and build everything, Steve, and we’ll pat you on the back and play with it until it breaks. My half of the console eventually ended up in a Kitsap landfill, but I could not bear to part with the circuit board and its many unused components. As you can see, it represents a lot of work:

Each circuit was assembled by hand. The infrared sensors had to be proof against the flicker from flourescent lights and the random IR bouncing around out there, so we took the IR signal and fed it into a 741 Op Amp configured as a Schmitt trigger. Suitably cleaned up, the signal was then fed from the 741 into a 567 Tone Decoder, which would not respond unless the incoming signal was within a certain frequency band. We set the IR LED emitters to that frequency, of course. Once the 567 accepted the tone, it in turn sent a pulse to a 555 timer set to single shot mode. We could adjust the length of the final trigger pulse that way, so as to control several different types of transmitter, sound effects boards, or whatever.

On the way to working the bugs out of the prototype, Dave found an odd thing happening. He would tune the circuit so the 567 would recognize the incoming tone, get it to work repeatedly, then run the board from his workbench out to his living room to show to his girlfriend. Whereupon it stopped working! He would take it back to the bench, retune the board, take it back out and it would work. But once back on the workbench for more than ten minutes and it would stop working again.

Dave finally figured out that the strong halogen lamp he was using to light his workbench was heating up the capacitors used by the 567 to set its frequency window. When he took it away from the workbench, the capacitors cooled slightly and altered the recognized frequency! We ended up ordering special tantalum capacitors with zero temperature coefficient – that is, their value would not change with the temperature.

(I later figured out that this was the major stumbling block in my early attempts to create a LazerTag land mine which would set off Worlds of Wonder sensors for our North Seattle games in 1990).

Nowadays I would probably try something like the Next Gen console using a dedicated computer or a microcontroller (same thing), but the business of detecting the touch of a finger to a smooth surface would pose the same problem. I would use Plexiglas instead of glass. It doesn’t filter IR like glass does. You can project an IR beam through the side of the pane of Plexiglas and a touch of the finger to the Plexiglas would give a strong reflection to a sensor on the backside. However, a dedicated emitter for each sensor would be better.

But who would want such a thing?

Sad Relics of a Happy Past

I have two boxes out in the garage filled with Star Trek props I tinkered with. One holds the finished products, the other a small selection of Playmates ST toys that were the basis of my tinkering. I cannot imagine anyone wanting them now. They represent a lot of wasted money and time.

Oh, I tried to get the word out. When I realized few were able to do what I did, I decided to create my own tutorials. The biggest Seattle Star Trek fanclub at the time was founded on the ‘Mirror, Mirror’ episode of the Original Series and (at the time) called itself Imperial Starbase Seattle (ISS). It was run by a couple of fellows who are still around in various forms – Michael Montoure was one of them. I think they have a Facebook page up now. We had a falling-out in 1992 over publishing rights to a tutorial I’d written – the Chief Engineer’s Manual - and I was left to publish it on my own. I copied the cover style of the existing ISS publications as best I could and made twenty copies. I sold all but one, though I don’t really think anyone used them to make a single costume prop.

I continued to deal with the ISS’s satellite fan clubs, and that is when I met up with Dave Pinney. I continued to write tutorials for making electronic costume props (on an ISS BBS). Eventually I published those tutorials in one volume while making another for upgrading the NG Tricorder.

So far as I know, no one ever used them. Though they were written with the beginner in mind, they also assumed a few basic skills – using a VOM, soldering and reading a circuit diagram, or schematic. I have come to the conclusion over the years that 95% of the people out there who might have come in contact with this information never possessed any of these skills. Nor desired to. I gave up trying to get the word out in 1995 when a printed tutorial offering to teach you to upgrade Worlds of Wonder LazerTag guns fell flat on its face.

Nowadays, if the bug struck me, I would blog the hell out of it, as while those skills still do not appear to be common, I can reach a lot more people through the Internet.

Then again, maybe not. In all the years since, I have been installing electronic special effects in Warhammer:40K models and BattleTech displays. Only one person has ever asked me to help him make something similar:

And that was five years ago.

Control Line!

Here is the progress I have made so far on the Double Bean. As you can see, I joined the tanks together to make two larger units. I used some braided wire to bridge the gap in the center and installed some longer copper tubing to pick up the fuel. So far, so good. I also cut some thin plywood in the shape of the ribs in order to replace the two that will support and anchor the bellcrank.

Next up will be a stiff horizontal stabilizer and elevator, along with an extra vertical stabilizer and rudder. All the parts needed are just about finished. Soon it will be time to actually assemble the model. I will cut the rib location notches in the center section’s leading and trailing edges, and locate the horizontal stabilizer mounts accurately in the fuselage. I don’t want a warped wing or model!

Below is a 1964 Gilbert .11 Control line engine running for the first time in decades. It is turning a wood 7-3 propeller.


Thanks for stopping by.



Paint it Pink said...

Memories. Those were the days of our life. It may all add up to not a lot in the bigger scheme of things, but as Ghandi said "it is still important that you do it", or words to that effect.

Steven Satak said...

Au contraire, THESE are the best days of my life. And no, none of it adds up to much in the bigger scheme of things. Somewhere it is written that if you take care of the little things, the big things will take care of themselves. I think this is true on the scale of a life lived, but not when you go smaller.

If you raise your son to appreciate the small things, take care to value his friends, treat your own friends with honesty and tact, the bigger things like your place in the world will sort themselves out.

I have never been especially concerned with my place in the pantheon. Maybe folks will remember me, maybe they won't. But I did my best at the time. It is just a little... mmm... sad to see so many plans come to naught. I look at those pictures up there and feel bad that no one was able to enjoy that project at a con, or build their own gadgets using my books.

You know, I have a copy of the ISC Wildcat organizational manual. I get the same feeling reading through that, so maybe it has less to do with folks appreciating my work and more about things which coulda been sweet, but weren't.


Paint it Pink said...

You are right about today being the best day of my life. I phrased myself poorly, but there again I've had a bit of a rough week or two.

Karyudo said...

Oh InDesign how I loath how you deal with graphics. I've used the program a lot to generate multi-page PDF's. Some good and bad I guess, never liked how you work with images in it though...really never felt I needed an image and an image boarder area. Maybe that was for the non-photoshopers.