Saturday, April 23, 2016

Pathetic Fallacy

I fired up Tomb Raider 2013 recently just to play the hunt-for-your-food sequence again (and try out some DLC -- like a warm jacket, finally!) And I couldn't help noticing this time around that no matter how long you spend wandering around the woods, the rain starts the very second you shoot a deer.

But I've also been playing other games, and reading reviews, and a lot of what impressed me earlier no longer impresses me. There is the core of a nice little story there and the voice acting and motion capture support it well. But ninety percent of the game is a stock first-person shooter with stock mechanics, graphics tricks, game assets, character AI, etc. As nice as some of the shrines and other scenery are, the majority of the art assets are the same tired variations of room full of boxes and cluttered alley between cookie-cutter buildings.

The new game, Rise of the Tomb Raider, ups the graphics, adds a little more variety to the combat options and improves the crafting system, but basically is the same routine. Of which an absurd amount is still the barely-interactive scripted sequences.

Really, what happened with games? So many of them are striving for spectacle. Sure, with modern graphics cards you can do spectacle, but Hollywood can do it even better. The peculiar strength of gaming is that it is interactive. And spectacular action sequences that force the player to be an almost completely passive viewer are not playing to this strength.

I've said this before. There's one sequence in Tomb Raider 2013 where a scared (but determined) Lara has to climb to the top of a rusted, shaky, and very tall radio tower in order to send out a distress call. On the first play through, this is nail-biting, seat-of-the-pants scary. But on a second play, a terrible truth becomes obvious; the entire sequence is so tightly scripted you can not fall even if you try. In fact, the only action you as a player ever take over the entire five-plus minutes of this sequence is to hold down the "go forward" key.

And so many games do this. They put in pre-rendered cutscenes. They put in quicktime events (which stab themselves in the back, as they force the player to not get involved in the spectacle but instead focus narrowly on whatever symbol has popped up that requires that corresponding key to be hit). They don't even make it possible (in far too many cases) to skip through this junk on a second play-through. So they sacrifice playability in that way, too; they force the gamer to do things that aren't interesting (like waiting through a Quicktime Event) instead of letting them, well, play.

Interact. Be involved in the material. Be immersed, in those ways that games permit and movies do not.

I also just played one of the old Call of Duty games -- a World War II setting, in keeping with my current interest in history. And the biggest problem I have with this game is a similar one to that which I have with Tomb Raider 2013. I want it to be more about the purported subject, and less about generic mechanics.

Not that I think this would be easy to achieve. Or even necessarily sell well. Call of Duty is very much a "twitch" game. Now, it does focus on events -- such as the Normandy Landings -- which were incredibly fast-moving and chaotic. But I've taken part in military exercises and outside of the last moments of a banzai charge the pace is a little slower.

The first sequence, for instance, places you as a Soviet peasant conscripted into the defense of Stalingrad. It actually frames pretty well, with such cute bits as having you practice how to throw a grenade with a bucket of potatoes, that the Soviet army is poorly equipped. But then combat begins, and for all intents and purposes the only reason to ever conserve ammunition is because the reloading animation takes so long. Really, like practically every other first-person shooter, you are encouraged to hose the landscape.

I made a point of going through even large parts of the Normandy sequence with a rifle, and choosing to look through the sights rather than firing through the hip. And this slowed down the breakneck pace just a little, but it is still far from a realistic experience.

And, yes, there are nice models of appropriate settings, uniforms, equipment, There are little set-ups in film reel style, and short diary entries. Just enough to where I did sort of get the sense of being a British soldier at El Alamein (or whatever). But really the mechanics trump any need to pay attention to specific details; grab any weapon you see on the battlefield and pull the trigger whenever the cross-hairs turn red, run in the general direction of the big arrow and keep shooting until the next cutscene begins.

Now, I'm not asking to have to study a topo map and strain to understand static-swamped radio messages in order to figure out the next objective, any more than I'm asking to have to spend three hours scraping a one-meter grid with a trowel to find the next artifact in Tomb Raider. But I think there's room for a lot more context.

And I think the standard model of the first-person shooter was sufficiently exercised by the time Doom II came out. Playing as an Army Ranger at the cliffs of Point du Hoc should not be essentially identical to the experience of playing as a young archaeologist shipwrecked on an island filled with savage cultists and an ancient mystery. Let's not be afraid to tinker a bit. Especially, lets find a way to support game length other than spawning a truly ridiculous number of essentially-identical targets.


I tried out the NextEngine 3d scanner. Confirmed that working up a sculpted prop in 2x scale, digitizing it, then 3d printing it at final scale is a plausible workflow. The NextEngine software is pretty good with stitching and with decimation/retopology, and scanning is relatively fast. There are limitations on size, however; a 4" x 5" window, for instance, for anything using the attached rotary table.

Yet I am still torn on the design of the Wraith Stone. It seems defensible within the information presented in the game that this is a manufactured thing, an item of Atlantean technology like Excalibur or the Galali Key. You could even defend the green blobs as Atlantean blinkenlights (or as some necessary aspect of their technology, like the fiddly bits Howard Taylor puts on everything technological within the Schlock Mercenary universe.)

Really, though, the kind of thing I'd like to have (and like to try building), is something that looks more like a proper archaeological artifact. Something old, worn, rubbed smooth around the edges. Something that comes from an aesthetic before the Classical Greeks and their primacy of geometry; something informed by other aesthetics that to our modern eyes looks lumpy, off-center, misshapen.

I mean this with absolutely no insult towards two wonderful renditions in this direction I managed to find.

The first here is a sculpt by DeviantArt user and cosplay enthusiast Very-Crofty. I love the beard on this one; it feels very Green Man or something (whereas the high forehead with markings feels somehow Maori to me -- a nice mix of cultural elements that feels like the real product of a complex cultural heritage)

Reverse image search on this one turned up an eBay seller but I was unable to find any real information about the artist. It is also a sculpt, and I am impressed with the way they've incorporated the "glow-y bits" into it. It also has both that "primitive" aesthetic and the worn-by-countless-hands that gives it a proper feeling of unutterable age.

Even in-game, the artifact looks more like this than it does in the development art (or the derived image that gets used in the title movie for Tomb Raider: Legend).

This is a texture -- possibly from the one-and-only in-game closeup -- ripped from Tomb Raider: Legend by a user posting at the Tomb Raider Forums. Again, the shape is much cruder, although the general proportions are still recognizable. The way this image is strikingly different is that in all the other in-game shots the stone is dark but the face/skull is picked out by being much lighter.

Ah, well, back to the Holocron. I still haven't resolved the glue issue with the "circuitry" layer. The last idea was to push the connection out to the edge and hide it behind the edge of the shell, but that makes that part of the shell too wide to look right in the Stolen Holo pattern.

Also, TechShop just got rid of all of their Epilog lasers. So I need to go back and take and pay for ANOTHER damn class just to be able to keep using the cutters. At least the new lasers are faster at engraving...

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


Ah, this is the point where it becomes engineering. I've threshed out options for the Holocron to come up with a compromise that meets the primary requirements of being cheap and easy to assemble. Now it is just about nailing down the specifics as I generate the final files; EPS files to cut the shell, Eagle files for the PCB, and of course a BOM for all the parts and materials.

Paper-doll trial layout in Fritzing

But it doesn't mean that discoveries have stopped. Far from it. First there was the discovery that USB can't safely deliver the power to run my first-choice of LED. Then more exploration; if downstream devices negotiate for power, what is the typical draw of a USB thumb drive (and is it going to interfere?)

Yesterday I tried to look up the typical value for a pull-up resistor on the RESET line of the AVR chip I was using. And after scrolling though several massive threads on StackExchance and AVRFreaks, I've learned that resistor is hotly contested but, in the end, omitted as often as not.

And today I was looking at options in tilt switches and discovered that the previous holocron I made was running said part well outside of spec. Typical current handling of these devices is 1 to 5 mA! So basically you use them as sensors, not as a power switch.

I want to do all this one did, but with a lot less mess.

So I thought a little about building my own (several Instructable pages are out there showing this), or about putting a weight on a lever switch. But, really, it seems an equally sensible design to leave it off entirely, instead tasking the capacitance sensor for turning the lights off and simply letting it run the battery down (until you plug it into a USB charge source again). Okay -- I might put a toggle on the inside anyhow.

Oh, yes, and there was a long bit of research to see if 1-pin capacitive sensing, with or without ATmel's own libraries, was going to work. The Capsense library in the Arduino Playground uses up two digital pins, and with an ATtiny45 I was already scarily short of pins. Which also meant yet more reading up to see what the drawbacks were of putting circuit loads on the MOSI, MISO, and other programming pins. (And yet more long, heated discussions to read at StackExchange).

From ArduinoCC

But in the end, it makes more sense to provision with the ATtiny84; not only does it separate all these pins, not only does it provide some extra pins for the end-user to get creative with their own sensors. but it then becomes more of a legitimate fork of the ATtiny84-based Cree driver board I was working on before.

Eagle file of the prototype Cree driver board. Which is also used in the Retro Raygun!

Of course it isn't necessary to go through all this merely to light a holocron. You can just stick an LED on a resistor and either put some batteries inside or cut up a USB cord. The intent here is for full RGB light which is selectable and animatable (aka pulsing, flickering, color swirl effects), and for operation fully unplugged with painless recharging. Oh, and the option to add a user-supplied USB memory device inside, making it a practical desktop accessory.

To achieve all that and keep the costs down, I'm pushing what was hand-wiring and various (mostly Adafruit) boards on the prototype into one custom PCB.

Another sideline I keep wandering down is the temptations of a custom-written GUI to control the thing. I only discovered recently that the HID standard is bi-directional, allowing the host computer to send messages to the hosted device. Which can be done even on the through-hole AVRs (even ATtinys) via V-USB, saving you from having to go through surface-mount soldering. Even though SeeedStudio offers that as a service now.

(Actually, I may go surface-mount with more parts than the necessary Lithium Polymer charge management chip, to save space. But the cool thing about the HID fork of the USB standards is HID is allowed to be low-speed without breaking the USB standard. And they are driverless!)

In any case, I'm going with the dreaded VCR Programming paradigm on this one. Because I can put three or four buttons in a small space and set them up as Select, Enter, and Decrement/Increment. And the advantage of this over an analog potentiometer is that this has memory; you start from wherever the value was last set instead of going to wherever the potentiometer was left. (And the advantage to me is I can tie them all to a single analog input pin with a simple resistor ladder).

(And as I wrote the above, I realized a rotary encoder would also serve. And you can get a quadrature-encoded one from Bourns for about a buck fifty. Hrm. Yet one more thing to make a determination on as I try to move to final PCB layout.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Fish and Chips

The Irish pub near me does a decent fish and chips. I've been making a semi-regular Tuesday thing of that. On Saturday, went to see the show I lit, and at the end of curtain calls the producer came out and made me stand up to be acknowledged. That's neat. At my previous theater (the one I mixed shows at for over five years) they had a "nice" habit of giving special thanks to all the designers at the big opening night bashes. Except for sound. They never mentioned us. Once again, I'm reminded of how well I am to be rid of those people.

This week has been slow. I've been putting in a solid forty as I wait for the new hourly position (and the pay raise and benefits) to start up. Wouldn't bug me so much, the waiting, if they hadn't gone ahead and promised it. Four months ago. I want to stay there. I'm making the schedule work, and I can see retiring in that job. I mean, against the rather unlikely chance that WETA workshop will suddenly phone and tell me to catch the next flight down to New Zealand. But still being on the Temp Agency and still getting only a little over minimum wage is really starting to irk.

And that's the news from Lake Woebegone.*

Sometimes I think engineering is about knowing the right questions to ask. I've been complaining recently about black boxes in modern electronics. There's so much imbedded intelligence in everything now. Take the "humble" lithium polymer battery. You'd think you'd look at the chemistry, check out graphs of charge and discharge curves versus internal resistance and heat dissipation and so forth. Well, not exactly. Tucked beneath the foil jacket on any decent LiPo is thermal monitoring and overcurrent protection and a nifty little voltage monitor that won't let you bottom out the charge.

So it becomes a lot more about looking at lists, of truth tables instead of graphs, where digital switches will be thrown inside the black box when certain conditions are met. And not everything is documented, so this has a lot of what old-school programmers will call the Deep Magic or other Incantations; little tidbits of information passed hand to hand like secret rituals.

But then, a lot of engineering is about how to make use of existing solutions. You don't want to design a wheel every time you need to build a cart; you go out and find a wheel that someone else has already done the heavy lifting on, and compare the final tested performance of the thing against the requirements of your project.

And even when you are working down to raw materials, there are rules of thumb and working formulae and other places where someone has done the measuring and the tabulation and the algebraic manipulation and the empirical results for you, so you can apply an industry-standard calculation instead of having to sit around in a lab discovering melting points and so forth for yourself.


This is all sideways to my latest work on the Holocron. It occurred to me to take a closer look at the current draw. And there I hit a big snag. The rule of thumb for LiPo cells is maximum current draw is the same as maximum charging current; half the capacity (in milli-amp-hours), expressed as milli-amps. (A safer working value is .2 C) Well, that's fine; the cell I had in mind is a 2500 mAh battery, meaning I can draw up to 1250 mA off it, and two channels at 350 mA is only a little more than half that.

However. The design is that it will run stand-alone on rechargeable battery, or it will run from a USB port and charge the battery while doing so. And anything above 100 mA breaks the USB standard. (Sort of. It's actually rather complex. The USB standard permits current draw of 500 mA if negotiated by the device. But not all computers and certainly not all hubs can supply this safely. Off the standard, devices can and have drawn as high as 1.8 amps -- but this is nonstandard and unsafe.)

Even if I accept 500 mA as the cut-off, I can't power the LiPo charge circuit and still be able to push two 350 watt LEDs. And even if I shave the power requirements; run the LEDs at half the rated current and a 50% duty cycle, it still ends up exhausting the battery in a mere four hours.

So, yeah. Somewhere down the road I'm going to need or want a gadget that can push that 1-2 watts of LED, but the Holocron is not the appropriate project for it. Nor do I think it needs it. So I'm back to neopixels. Especially as I figured out the easy assembly for them; use the through-hole mode and simply bend the pins 90 degrees so they all face out in a wheel.

And here's the math there; 20 mA each (per channel, that is). At a single color and four of the units, the MCP73831 will handle them with a little bit left over to recharge the battery, and the draw is only a little over the 100 mA USB standard.

Of course some colors are best achieved through running two channels wide open. That would be 160 mA and I'd have to push the MCP73831 up to a 250 mA charge rate in order to ensure there is enough current. But that still beats trying to come up with 1400 mA.

And four neopixels worked fine in the first one.

The big trick in the Holocron -- all of the design, not just the electronics -- is to make it as cheap as possible and as easy a kit for the customer to assemble as is possible. So I'm happy to avoid needing surface mount components, but I'm willing to spend a little extra to keep from having either of us have to fiddle with hand-soldering micro-USB connectors.

And this applies in force to the programming. Yes, there are ways to provide computer control for customization. But even the best of these require dealing with drivers for a huge variety of operating systems and even if I could handle the programming I'm not up for the support. So the only user customization I can support with this go-around is on a primitive "VCR Programming" level; walk through menus with one button and change values with another one.

But I think I can do it within an 8-pin ATtiny, which means I don't have to play with a surface-mount component for the main CPU. It is tight, especially when I add a general-purpose "sense" pin (probably tied to a capacitive sensor, like I did with the first Holocron).

Now I just need time to Eagle out the new circuit board, and Inkscape the new design elements. Oh; I made one other bit of progress. I checked scale, and I'm happy staying with 4" outer dimension. Which means my already built and tested outer shell files can be re-used.

*It somehow feels deeply meaningful that Apple's spellcheck is still staggered by basic scientific and engineering terms but has no trouble with "Lake Woebegone." It also passes, without comment, "Darth Vader" and "Frodo Baggins."

Monday, April 11, 2016

An Oblique Approach

Came up with a couple of ideas to try on the Holocron lighting. Had some pink "Cree" LEDs left over from the Raygun project

so I was able to throw together a lighting test of back-to-back Crees with a PCB and LiPo between them. And it looks okay with the only complete Holocron innards I have to work with at the moment.

Another alternative I came up with was to use four NeoPixels (as I did for the first one) but use through-hole ones or find some right-angle headers so they could be easily slipped into place on the PCB without a lot of fiddling about. This is mechanically a better idea, and a simpler circuit, but I want to keep exploring the Cree the NeoPixels are 20ma a channel versus 300 for the Cree.

Anyhow, test pans out. The lighting coverage is acceptable even without additional diffusors for the LEDs (something I'm still tinkering with, however, since it would be simple to incorporate a sheet of material and some stand-offs within the existing "spider" support for the circuit board.)

Not as much progress on the Wraith Stone. I got out my Sculpy and made an extremely rough test model. It showed me the outer envelope for scale (at 3-3/4 inches long), told me something about the shape of the total artifact (possibly arrowhead, more likely flat-backed), and also gave me a sense of what it would be like to carve by hand (painful but not impossible...but also, understructure is mandatory).

This did lead to some new questions, however. The big one being, what is this thing? Was it made from scratch and then given the power to communicate with/control the Unknown Entity, or did it start as a natural object with those powers and get carved/incorporated into a more elaborate shape?

It is plausible this thing is Atlantean technology, like "Excalibur" and the Galali Key, in which case the shape is simply whatever Natla's people thought made a cool-looking housing. But there's an intriguing irregularity about some of the depictions I've seen around, an irregularity that speaks of a found object that has been hand-shaped to try to bring out certain shapes (like the skull/face) but only within the limits of the existing material/artifact.

And while the depiction I'd been looking at is smooth and precise, I like the idea of something that's a lot more worn and "been around a while" looking. Which is all a way of saying that half-melted, off-center and "primitive" is a lot more interesting to me than seeing it as a machine-neat bas-relief carving.

And speaking of the Atlanteans. I realized two things about my Tomb Raider/SG1 fanfic.

One is that (due to starting without a plan and basically just working it out as I go) it reads a lot more like a serial. Episodic, really. Which is to say, the overarching story is just the MacGuffin or the linking element to connect practically stand-alone sequences like the Giza chapters, her infiltration of Stargate Command, or the Prague adventure. Or the completely independent-but-parallel adventure of Major Carter on her first independent command. Which means I can basically just keep writing new ones until I get bored.

(There's no chance of running out of ideas. There's way too much interesting archaeology in the real world -- even if not all of it lends its way in obvious ways to the climbing-and-shooting approach of the archaeologist least likely to gain tenure since Indiana Jones.)

Anyway. The other realization is I already gave away the Asgard plot. The Frost Giants are simply not enough of a revelation for my final act. So I might as well pretend the effort to stop Horus' plan was going to turn into a sideline all along as I explode some of the illusions about the Ancients and what they were up to around the Dawn of History.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

That Moment...

...when inchoate purpose strikes the breakwater of complexity thrown up by the dark underwater shoals of the unknown unknowns. 

One of the things I emphasize in this journal and in the Instructables I have published is methods. By which I mean not the actual craft techniques, but the planning and problem-solving methods that tell you what you need to research, and more than anything else give you milestones and sanity checks to help tell you if the project is actually on track.

And in particular. You plan out tests, proofs of concept, rough models, massing sketches, sanity tests, all to see if an idea shows promise or not before you invest a lot of time and money in research and purchasing and construction.

The Holocron is fairly far down the development path. My plan called for three tests before I proceed into the details of the final design; a lighting test, attempts to solve a flaw in the previous iteration of the control circuit, and a scale check for the overall Holocron.

It failed the lighting test. By itself, the "Cree" 3 watt RGB won't smoothly light all six faces of the cube. This leaves me, well, floundering a little. The PCB design is all about driving a Cree. I have some ideas towards surface-mount or even neopixels, but I don't have ideas yet on how to wire them so as to achieve 180 degree coverage. All I can say at this point is that an internal "ping-pong ball" diffusor shows some promise.

Which means circuit design stops dead until I can come up with a new lighting scheme and then give that a test.

The Wraith Stone is faring worse at the moment. The assumption is that I'm casting something that will go over/around a circuit board that will provide an internal illumination. The problem here is in the nature of the material. The artist's renditions are rather unclear as to what this material really looks like. Are these quartzite veins? Nodules? Is the stone metallic or more like obsidian? How opaque is it?

The known unknown is that different casting (or printing) materials are going to behave very, very differently to internal illumination. Unfortunately, this is something that calls for extensive experimentation, and I have neither funds nor patience to try out every resin additive in the catalog.

What I hit today is lots of unexplored territory I didn't even know was out there. UV-sensitive additives to casting resin, for instance. The potential of "cold casting" (aka, mixing actual powdered metals into your cast). 

I keep edging at some sort of idea of creating spaces, either with a special mold or a lost wax method or something, pouring in a dark material, then following it up with a clearer one. Or maybe create little beads or appliqué and drill behind them? I don't know. I can't form any ideas in a concrete enough fashion to point at proper experiments.

Which means all I can really do is a scale check with a rough Sculpey, err, sculpt, and maybe try out some vague ideas I had towards a black stone base with the relief elements brought out with Rub 'n Buff. 

Sigh. A weekend isn't enough time to really do this. I look forward to my new job schedule. Spent much of this morning getting the latest M40's ready for shipment...only to discover the local branch of the Post Office has stopped having Saturday hours.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

To see the King, to sell the cow, to make the potion to lift the curse...

I've had to push the Wraith Stone back a little.

Did a little more reading up. There is a piece of development art that shows, together, "Excalibur" in a form much like it appears in the game, something that is almost certainly an early version of the Galali Key, and a thing that simply has to be the Wraith Stone, although the in-game version is quite different. And there are a lot of interesting fan theories about all these resemblances! (Me, I see a certain Atlantean influence in the Galali Key, and that fits in oh-so-well with some of the revelations in Tomb Raider: Underworld).

Well, I'm not building the in-game version. It is boring and ugly (although the really ugly one I've seen references on turns out to be the one worn by an otherwise excellent Tonner doll of Amanda.)

I've more-or-less decided to sculpt the thing then either mold it, or 3d scan it (using the NextEngine scanner at TechShop), print that, then probably make a mold off the print after cleaning it up. I still have no idea how to control translucency to get the weird look of glowing inclusions within a matrix of darker stone. But all that takes a back seat to the real problem; the electronics layer has simply become too complex.

Found a cute little chip, the WS2803, which can drive 18 channels at 30ma constant-current PWM from a mere two channels of serial input. (There's also the TLC5940, which takes several more pins to control but hits a whopping 120ma per channel). As another option, SeeedStudio now does PCB assembly at a very, very reasonable rate -- making an ATmega (with the speed to software-PWM those 16 GPIO pins) an even more attractive alternative.

Aka, I could do the whole thing in surface mount. But that, plus the need to build in LiPO charge management, means the engineering on this thing might be too big for a single step. Better to work out some of the kinks on the Holocron fork of the DuckLight circuit.

So I'm back to the Holocron.

I'm to the point where I need to stop designing and start bending metal (which I'm told is aerospace jargon, but I'm unable to find a cite). There are all sorts of wonderful creative ways I could realize a Holocron, but I need to put that exploration aside and complete what I have; a perfectly functional way to realize one that takes the form of an inexpensive kit.

My intended price point is under $50 for a full kit, electronics included. Said electronics being an animated lighting effect, internal power with USB re-charge, and a slot for including a user-provided USB thumb drive inside.

I still haven't traced down why my first circuit (otherwise quite functional) would reset the chip when I went for a full zero-to-full on two channels (aka a Police Car flasher lighting animation). The next PCB is mostly to correct that and some other errors I found (such as one of the programming pins being wrong, and some traces run too close to the edge of the board), and to add on a LiPO charge circuit and the connectors to support the USB and LiPo components.

Otherwise, here's the current gordian knot cutting:

Shell design on the "Stolen Holocron" model as much as possible, with only one USB slot instead of that being incorporated into the design. Giving up on ideas like mirrored acrylic sheet or thin metal or some really clever geometry and go back to using the fact that you need to paint the shell as the way that the seams all get hidden.

Diffusor design sticking with pale transparent color and drafting up a abstract geometrical design of vaguely astronomical/clockwork shapes.

Circuitry layer maintained, using a darker transparent color as before, but designed at the full size of a cube side so that the pieces can be layered together and snapped together as a unit, thus placing any glue (and the seams) at the edges where it gets hidden by the shell anyhow. The only cleverness I'll have here is integrating the "spider" so it fits into tabs on these other layers and requires no glue or other support.

And also (after looking at purchasing Illustrator) going to stick with Inkscape, but draft everything on graph paper first to work out the design elements there instead of wrestling with them within Inkscape.

Saturday, April 2, 2016


My full-time job just made an interesting offer. Long-term hourly at a 30 hour week. I wasn't expecting that; I thought it was full time or nothing (with perhaps some flex time, as I've been enjoying these past couple weeks with two shows opening at once).

If the pay and bennies are decent I might just take them up on it. Because while I'm doing better at not falling asleep on the couch the moment the work day ends, I could still use a few more hours of me time to pursue, well, all the stuff this blog has been about.

This for one. I've officially started a new run of Aliens M40 grenades at the Replica Props Forum. I have six complete ones, two bodies that need the spring-loaded button installed, and enough metal stock on hand for another four or so. I've got (unconfirmed) orders for ten already, so those should go pretty quickly -- and at $40 a pop, that makes up for some of the work hours I've been missing.

And it makes use of my existing TechShop membership. Regardless of what my work schedule turns out to be, running out to the City in the evening for a four-hour lathe session is (and has been) quite do-able.

I'm also moving on the Wraith Stone. Settled on the Title Movie version from Tomb Raider: Legend but I think I need to CAD it up to experiment with scale. I don't mind it being smaller than depicted; I want it to be wearable!

The internal electronics may not be appropriate for this design, but this is technology I want to explore. It's stuff I need to work on for my Holocron as well (and the DuckLight, for that matter). Something new to the mix is that Seeed Studio is offering PCB assembly at very, very, very reasonable rates (and with practically no minimum order). You have to base your BOM on their stock, but that isn't a huge problem. Besides, I can always solder a few parts myself after the board is shipped.

Big thing here is that this puts the SMD family of AVR chips a lot closer to my reach. ATmegas for more control channels, for instance. Or the USB-native family of AVRs for class-compliant USB devices. And smaller footprints -- but that goes without saying.

The biggest downside to my circuitry plans for the Wraith Stone is that, once again, I've taking a project away from the traditional methods. I would love to hand-sculpt this thing. But unless I add a 3d scanning step to the mix, how does this give me the ability to shape the inner surfaces to accommodate the circuitry? All of my electronic prop experience tells me this is best done in CAD, and that sort of implies that the stone itself gets 3d printed...

Far from lastly, the show I did these crazy improvisations for last year has come around again. At least this time I own two dimmer packs of my own (just arrived yesterday, not yet tested). But I don't own lighting instruments. I could afford to purchase some of my own fresnels, but where would I store them? I have enough trouble finding closet space for my rack of body mics (which is why I love it when they are out on rental, as they are right now).