Best. Animal Shadow Puppets. Ever.

Oh we think we’re so slick, sitting here in the present and looking back at the follies of the past. But the pace of innovation in which newness steamrolls oldness means that sometimes we lose things we really should have kept. Like astronaut ice cream. We really don’t eat nearly as much astronaut ice cream as we should. And what ever happened to the band INXS? Another great historical cultural achievement that seems lost or at least marginalized in the modern era is the art of hand shadow puppets. Today is the day we change this. Join Maker Boulder in bringing back the art of the shadow puppet. These should get you started:

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Homemade Halloween: Gizmo is More Than a Costume

At your school, how many kids will be dressed as ninjas? How many will be Star Wars or Harry Potter or superhero characters? How many animals or vampires or witches? How many will be dressed as Gizmo? No, not the adorable fuzzball from the 1984 blockbuster film Gremlins, but Gizmo the robot as conceived in the brain of Maker Boulder co-founder Martha’s 9-year-old son, Coulter. The answer is exactly one, that is if you go to Coulter’s school. See, Gizmo is one of a kind and the process of one-of-a-kind costume creation makes more than a costume — the process of making creates an emotional connection between the builder and the product that no trip to Target can recreate. Check out what Coulter wrote about his design process:

“First, I drew a picture of the robot. I didn’t know his name, then, we had to make him to name him. This picture is our plan:

Gizmo.Plan

I showed my mom the plan and she had some ideas for how to create his legs – the problem was how could I bend my elbows and knees? So we cut strips of cardboard and used duct tape to keep them together. We went to EcoCycle’s Charm area to select boxes that were the perfect shape. Well, one box was leftover from Mom’s new computer. We painted the boxes with chalkboard paint. Then we painted the legs and arms with silver paint. It was a long day, and here is what he looks like now that he is done. We had to spray him with fixing spray so the chalk wouldn’t smear. After he was done, I named him Gizmo.”

GizmoPersonally, I remember the time I dressed up as a jukebox; when people put candy in a slot I would sing a song. And I remember how hard it was to bend chicken wire into the shape of Nightcrawler’s shoulder pads. About all those other store-bought costumes I wore all those other years? Meh, I can’t recall. It was the process of making that burned the now-slightly-mortifying memory of the jukebox into my brain. Let’s be honest: it’s the Tuesday before Halloween and so your child probably has his or her costume already made or picked out. And let’s also be honest about something else: some years you have the time and some years you just don’t. But memories built on making don’t have to limited to Halloween. Next weekend, when that ninja costume is shoved in the dress-up box never to be seen again, what could you build? Maybe it’s sugar rockets, built on Saturday and launched Sunday afternoon? Maybe it’s a trebuchet? But I’ll bet you this: if you build for Halloween, your kids will remember it. And if you build something — anything! — the weekend after Halloween, it’s that home-built project your kids will remember, far beyond any experience that can be bought in a store.

Calculate Best Bucket Size for Halloween Haul

Want a real Halloween nightmare? Imagine filling your child’s too-small bucket in the first three houses and going home with only a small slice of your kid’s potential rake. But if you allow your little monster (or in my case, blue whale with pink and purple barnacles), to carry a big bag, you should be prepared to spend the hours and hours (and hours) needed to fill it. Bad news: there are nightmares on both ends of the bag guesstimation spectrum.

So instead of playing the equivalent of Russian roulette with your child’s Halloween bag size, use the equation below to calculate—with the power of absolute mathematical certainty (wink, wink)—the bag size that’s best for you and yours.

•  T= Total time in hours you plan to spend trick-or-treating

•  A= Trick-or-treater’s age. If over 20 (or below zero…), shame on you. You’re stealing my kid’s goodies.

•  Hc= Hours spent on costume. If store-bought translate into hours at $20/hr.

•  Pd= Population density in trick-or-treat neighborhood. Enter 1 for “rural”, 2 for “open suburban”, 3 for “tight suburban”, or 4 for “Apt or dorm”

•  Ma= Estimated median age in neighborhood. For comparison, median age in the Gaza Strip is about 15 and in Japan about 41.

•  X= Your child’s ineffable, illogical, but very real lust for candy. Enter 1-10 with 10 being “has strategized since last Halloween”

Interpretation Key:

If Bckt is less than 1, your pockets are more than enough

If 1<7, use small-size, plastic jack-’o-lantern bucket

If 7<Bckt<15, use the standard trick-or-treating bucket

If 15<Bckt<25, use a grocery bag

If 25<Bckt, use a trash bag


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Alice Shi Kembel’s Take on Captivity vs. Freedom for Mice & Mini Makers

Our former pet mouse, Snowflake, started out as snake food.  He and two other mice had been purchased by our son’s friend to use as bait for snake traps in the field next to his house in Park City.  When we returned to his house after a five day excursion to Yellowstone National Park, we found three mice in a colorful plastic cage, complete with a climbing tunnel, loft, and running wheel.  My three boys fell in love immediately, and spent hours playing with the mice, who they named Snowflake, Brownie, and Ribbon.

When our son Jonah’s friend and his mother returned to the house two days later, the mice had become pets in the boys’ minds, so it was a shock to them when Tyler announced, “I’m going to use the mice in my snake traps now.”

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DIY Bionic Rock Climbing Hand (c.o. MIT’s Hugh Herr)

Here in Boulder, we actually know who Hugh Herr is: the climber who lost his legs to frostbite on Mt. Washington, designed his own climbing prostheses, and used bionic feet to send the world’s hardest thin cracks. Herr now runs a biomechatronics group at MIT’s famed Media Lab. I talked with Herr for a book I wrote and, in addition to working on balance mechanics for “real” prostheses, Herr was deep into the creation of what he called a “spider suit” — basically, the elastic-like suit holds your arms and fingers in the flexed position, augmenting your pulling strength. With elastic help, climbers will appreciate the extra pep in their pull. Or…they would if the thing actually existed commercially. Until then, I offer this (moderately harebrained) prototype, which my kids and I actually product tested one afternoon up at Flag.

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Researchers Say Stochastisaurus Has “High Probability” of Being New Species

Paleontologists recently unearthed bones, likely in Montana or Wyoming, of a new dinosaur species dubbed Stochastisaurus. “Based on surrounding species and the fossils themselves, there’s an approximately 88 percent chance that Stochastisaurus was an herbivore,” says the lead researcher. The new species of dinosaur more likely than not had something interesting about its head, perhaps heavy bone plating like Pachycephalosaurus, a frill like Styracosaurus, a crest like Corythosaurus, or a hollow series of tubes like Parasaurolophus. This interesting head feature is almost exactly equally likely to have been used for defense, reproductive competition, or as an instrument of communication with other Stochastisauri.

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Throwback Thursday: History’s 5 Most Underrated Inventions

What are the most important inventions of all time? Some people go for big, obvious things…like boats, the printing press, or gunpowder. Don’t get me wrong, those are all pretty great and everything. But the printing press is nowhere without paper and sans compass, boats were pretty much stuck paddling around in sight of land. This list rights the wrongs of history’s tunnel vision. Here are history’s 5 most underrated and overlooked inventions. Read more

Hacking Perfect Pitch

Conventional wisdom holds you’re born with perfect pitch or you’re not. The conventional wisdom is wrong. Here’s how to train perfect pitch.

For my book Brain Trust, I interviewed Diana Deutsch, University of California San Diego professor and president of the Society for Music Perception and Cognition, and she said the trick is pairing pitch with meaning — early!

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Instructions for a Truly Awesome Card Trick

There are things that every Maker needs: a good hammer, a good workspace, a good joke…and of course one good card trick. You may not have the opportunity to demonstrate it often — all the better! But when you need it, you need it. Here, in case you don’t have it yet, is a truly awesome card trick.

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How to Can Plums (Without Giving Your Kids Botulism!)

Last week a friend ended up on my doorstep. She has 3 plum trees in Wheatridge, Colorado and she had 5 pounds of plums – for me. For me this was akin to wishing for a pony – and then getting it. It was a lovely gesture and plums are great eats and all, but now I have to do something with plums. Five pounds of them.

I’m a canner, I admit it. A cabinet full of Ball jars full of different foods is my nirvana. My mom chastises me for this, saying that canning is so violent on the food. But I say that anything that is left to stew in its juices for a few months is awesome. I’m kind of a foodie, so just putting plums up in jars was never really an option; I had to step it up a notch.

That’s where the booze comes in.

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