Kite Season is Here!

Fall is prime kite season in much (if not all) of the US: It’s frequently windy and those winds tend to be steady both in force and orientation (in contrast to the gusty spring breezes that shift all over the compass, knocking your kite down just as it begins to stabilize). Last spring a pal hit me up for some kite advice via Facebook, and agreed to let me clean up our conversation and post it here. (FYI: I sent her a copy of the Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred ebook after she asked about kites; it isn’t like I sent her trotting to B&N. I’m not that bad a guy.)

Anne Marie Ellison Miller: Hey, Dave–any thoughts on the merit and/or difficulty of home-making a kite? And remember, we Millers are kind of craftarded, so use small words and don’t assume ownership of a bone folder. (OK, I just wanted to say “bone folder”. Bone folder.) Ahem. Seriously, I’d value your ideas.

David Erik Nelson: You can make a kick-ass diamond kite using bamboo garden stakes (or any strong, thin dowel; bamboo stakes are cheap as hell and plenty strong), packing tape, FedEx mailers (there’s probably a mountain of them in your office mail room’s recycling), kite string, and some POLICE LINE tape (or cut up garbage bags, or whatever).

Flick to the “FedEx Kites” chapter (pg. 273), and the first design is the diamond kite in question. Pro Tips: Focus on being symmetrical and getting the sail taught (as long as it’s anchored around the edges, as described, it’ll be taught enough). Use a long tail for stability (a long kite tail will make up for a multitude of sins, in terms of asymmetry or sloppy sails). This is a design that drug-addled kids had no problem making work; it’s within your grasp.

FYI: Spring is crummy kite weather in most of the US, since winds are gusty and fitful (certainly in MI). Go to the beach for better, steadier wind. That said, I’ve had plenty of good times flying FedEx Diamonds in the spring in crappy breezes; it’s a very, very forgiving design.

Oh, and the barrel of a sharpie marker makes a fine bone folder for all occasions.

AMEM: I should’ve known that you’ve been all over this for ages! Thanks SO much!

DEN: I like to keep it real, time permitting.

AMEM: OK, professor, here’s a question for you: using wrapping paper as material instead of FedEx mailers: Yea or nay?

DEN: 1) That’s “Dr. Professor” 2) or preferably “The Fabulous Night Panther,” as per my earlier tweet, 3) like gift wrapping paper? The plain papery kind, or plasticy Mylar stuff? SHORT ANSWER: Go nuts; use whatever you’ve got, even newspaper or butcher paper. LONG ANSWER: Paper ends up being kind of a pain because a) it tears easily–the wind can give a kite some pretty good snaps, and there are a lot of rough landings on your first kite–and b) it gets weak when it’s wet, even from just light mist or dewy grass or hands damp from a cold beer bottle. The Chinese used silk, because it’s light, rip-stop, and can take some water. For these same reasons I favor the Tyvek mailing envelope. But, really, anything tight-woven and light that won’t tear easily is ok. So I’d take Mylar wrapping paper over paper wrapping paper. Beware of thicker papers (grocery sacks or butcher paper), which get heavy quickly. I’ve heard of folks having good experiences with garbage bags, but never tried it myself. I believe this is a context in which a dry cleaning bag might be considered a toy.

AMEM: Thank you, sir.

DEN: That’s “Dr. Sir,” please.

DEN: Or “Dr. Fabulous Night Panther.” That’s probably the best, in terms of covering your honorific bases.

DEN: . . . you still out there, Anne Marie?

DEN: Anne Marie?

DEN: <sigh>

Reader Tips: Vibrating Motors from Electric Toothbrushes

By way of an Amazon review by RobinTaylor9640:

Loved the book, especially the Jitterbug Project, but the author did miss an alternate source for the vibrating motor in the bug though, battery operated electric toothbrushes have one and are cheaper than Radio Shack if you shop around, assuming you don’t have one already lying around the house, of course.

Excellent tip! These are 3volt motors (just like the cellphone vibrator), but beefier–which can mean more rattle for your buck (depending on how toothpaste-caked the motor is). Definitely worth saving that broken toothbrush for parts.
*thanks, RT9640!*

DIY Vibro-Brushbots for Greater Good! @curiositytech

I met Conan while doing Maker Faire Detroit stuff; he has *a lot* of great things to say about play and exploration and iteration, and how these all fit into innovation and progress. His lil brushbots are a great literalization of all that: They’re an easy jumping-off point for kids and adults new to electricity, and their design flexibility encourages the sort of adaptation that makes for great toys. The store-bought Hexbugs that are all the rage in some quarters are a really lame shadow of brushbots, and not nearly as much fun (at, what, 6 times the price? Ugh!)
Here’s just one riff on his design:
Brushbot, meet Papercraft – curiosity tech | curiosity tech

Build Dirt-Cheap Toys with Dave-o at Maker Faire Detroit this Weekend! #makerfaire


Just got back from the Maker Faire Detroit load-in/meet-n-greet. There are some *crazy rad* displays this year, many featuring fire and Mad Max locomotion: Giant Crazy Truck-crushing Mousetrap is back, and there is also an angry, fire-breathing bear-dragon mobile, and that water swing, and mobile cupcake launchers, and something–I dunno what–that involves six propane tanks and a *very sturdy barrier*.
I’ll be there showing folks how to jam out on homemade electric instruments, and build cardboard boomerangs and Quick-n-Easy Water Rockets (forecast calls for 90+ degrees and sunny; perfect water rocket weather). I’m also speaking on the MAKE: Live stage at 2:30 about building cheap toys, innovation, and neuroplasticity. So, if you’re at Maker Faire, come say “Hey!” Tweet me @SquiDaveo if you want to rendezvous. Hope to see you there!

DIY Flower-pot Refrigerator

‪Flower Pot Fridge!‬‏ – YouTube

Zeer pots are pretty rad, but be aware that your mileage may vary: These were developed in Egypt (albeit several millennia past) and rely on evaporation for cooling–just like you and me. Here in Michigan, we’ve had a straight 10 days or so with upper 90s temps and upper 90s humidity (FYI, although those temps are a lil higher than the traditional norm–say “Hey!” to total climate collapse!–the humidity is totally, totally the norm). Subsequently, this kind of “swamp cooler” tech has never caught on here in the pleasant penninsula. Our old-skool simple tech equivalent is the trash- can root cellar.
(props to Mojo for the vid link)

Upcoming Events w/ Dave-o!


If you’re a Michigan person and you have a driving desire to chill out with me, your opportunity has finally arrived! A week from now, during Ann Arbor’s wonderful and occasionally soul-crushing Art Fair(s), I’ll be at FestiBooks @ Workantile (two days! July 22 and 23!) On the first, I’ll sell you water and candy; on the second, I’ll make boomerangs with you. This is how I roll.

The second opportunity is at the Second Annual Detroit Maker Faire, where we’ll be outside, and thus can make both boomerangs and water rockets(!!!)–plus there will be about eleventy-thousand even cooler things there, which will totally BLOW YOUR MIND. For reals.
So, that’s me for the next two weeks. Hope to see you there!

Cool Intermediate-level Water Rocket Design from the i3 Detroit Hackerspace


Water Rocket DIY Project | Metro Parent, Southeast Michigan
This is a pretty sweet rocket-and-launcher design, a good step or so more advanced than the one in my book. Very cool.
Incidentally, I’ll be teaching folks to build their own cheap-n-simple water rockets and cardboard boomerangs at Make Faire Detroit at the end of this month; see you there!
*thanks for the tip, alan!*