Category Archives: Projects

Sneetches: Putting Stars Upon Thars

I certainly don’t have anything against buying toys at a store, but sometimes I wish that we had a toy that’s not available in stores. That’s when the tools come out. Inspired by Dr. Seuss Week earlier this year, I decided to build the boys a working set of Sneetches. I made a video of the build as part of my little video series on the Make Magazine website.

If you’re itching to build your own set of Sneetches, you can find more info and links here.

Santa’s Workshop

In mid-December, our elf, Zuzu (full blog entry about her to come), left a project for the boys: complete custom-stamped tote bag gifts for their aunts. Jeff made construction machine stamps and applied the paint while the boys designed the construction site scenes on the bags and placed the stamps. Thanks for the great idea, Zuzu!

We got a picture back from afar showing a happy recipient.


Dispatchatron Junior

As a Christmas present for Jasper this year, I made him a smaller version of my Dispatchatron invention, sized just right for the train table. Dispatchatron Senior was rather large and had to be put in storage when we could no longer spare the space. Dispatchatron Junior, however, can fit in a hat.

In short, the Dispatchatron Junior monitors the computer-voice (no humans) dispatch radio frequency of the county fire department and launches a toy fire truck onto our train table whenever the county dispatches a real fire truck. Even though the radio dispatches are just a computer voice giving addresses and unoffensive descriptions of the problem, I normally (when not making a demo video) keep the volume just loud enough to be an effect, not loud enough that the boys will understand the words and start parroting the dispatches.

If you are curious about the building and programming details, read my in-depth description on

Gavin’s First Robot

Gavin asked for a “one-eyed robot” for Christmas this year. Jumping at the chance to start his electronics education, I have assembled a robot kit for him. I could have just given him one of the store-bought kits like the Lego NXT robotics kit, but I want him to get the full experience of building a robot from more basic parts and I also want his first robot to be something that stays assembled forever, and is not scrapped for parts when he wants to make something else.

The parts I’ve gathered include a pair of Solarbotics gear motors with matching wheels and tires, a sheet of expanded PVC foam for structure, battery compartments, switches, an infrared distance sensor (the one eye he requested), an Arduino Uno programmable microcontroller to act as the brain, and a motor driver circuit that I soldered up last night to allow the Arduino to drive the gear motors.
Do I expect him to assemble this himself? No. I will do my best to get him as involved as possible in the building and programming, but I’ll be happy if he just turns the occasional screw and squirts a dab of glue now and then. When we get to the programming phase, I don’t expect him to learn C yet, but I will ask him what he wants the robot to do and show him how we tell it to do that.
It’ll be educational and a lot of fun at the same time, the two reasons I picked up the robotics hobby in the first place.

Zuzu’s Robots

Our elf on the shelf is named Zuzu. Being a toymaker, herself, she enjoys helping others to learn to build toys. As one of her daily surprises, she brought the boys tools and robot-making supplies.

Both boys were happy to oblige, each constructing a bristlebot from a toothbrush head, pager motor, and watch battery.