Monday, November 8, 2010

Foot drives

My father and I have been working on wooden foot drives, based on a metal design we saw on Jerry Greene's R2-R9 blog. The motors are 24-volt E-100 scooter motors. The wheels are scooter wheels. The belts are from Polybelt, purchased on eBay.

The wheels spin and the ankle cradle seems to work, but we're going to rebuild the foot drive and ankle holder as one part.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


Sandwiched between a great breakfast meeting with family and an apple-picking trip this afternoon, I had a good chunk of time to work on my droid.

I spent nearly all of it on the frame. A month ago, I fitted four reinforcing rods to my A&A frame. They braced it so well I decided even before going to Celebration V that I'd add more. So, late this morning, I took three 1/4-inch threaded rods, purchased way back in 2007 from a Lowe's or Home Depot in another state, measured them for the frame and cut them.

I used a hacksaw borrowed from my father and a miter box. A block of wood was placed under each rod. I cut down no more than halfway. After that much of a cut is made, it's easy to put the rod on the ground, step on it and then lift the other end until it breaks off.

The break isn't clean, and I found that even cutting straight through with the saw doesn't leave a clean cut. This matters only in that each end of the threaded rod is supposed to screw into a coupler. To fix that problem, I took my Dremel, put a sanding attachment on it and knocked off the rough edges. Problem solved.

Three rods cut in no more than 15 minutes, finishing in another five, and I was able to attach them to the frame.

Hardware used: 1/4-inch inside diameter, 7/8-inch long threaded couplers, 1/4-inch threaded rods, 1/4-inch by 1/2-inch long flat-headed machine screws (to screw into the tops and bottoms of each setup). I also bought some 3/4-inch long flat-headed machine screws in case my threaded rods came up a bit short (a few did, so I used the longer screws).

I also replaced some round-headed screws that I had installed just before CV because they were handy. The problem with them was that they naturally don't sit flush with the frame. Properly attaching the skirt, which IS flush with the frame, would have been impossible.

Sub-project done.

Then I unscrewed the base of the A&A frame (necessary to install one of Azman Sugi's ABS skirts) and cut out the side bracers from the ABS skirt. I used silicone to hold the legs of the frame to the new bottom panel and, after I returned from apple-picking, used silicone to attach the skirt. I used what clamps I have and some painter's tape to hold everything into place. I checked a few minutes ago, and all seems to be well.

Next jobs: I'd like to get the skins finally attached. I tried just a day or two before my CV trip, and they slipped out of the position. So I took them off, and R2 went to CV unclothed, in addition to being footless, lightless, soundless and brainless.

My plan this time around is to drill No. 4 screw holes into the frame first and then to ... somehow ... match the skins to the holes. This will be for the inner skins. The outer skins I think I will attach with silicone, which is secure enough but can be pulled apart easily.

I also need to do some more sanding on the dome and cut holes for the PSIs, two of the HPs and for the dome bumps.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Bob Ross' R2-D2 at Celebration V

The biggest highlights of CV for me were meeting R2 builders and seeing what they had built. I was fortunate enough to be in the room after the doors closed on Friday, Aug. 13, and see Bob Ross demonstrating his R2. It executes a 2-3-2 and waddles, among other things. With a bit of encouragement, maybe it will climb stairs one of these days.

I checked with Bob and posted a short video of it for those who might be interested.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

CV Saturday photos

Celebration V: Saturday, Aug. 14

Vader poses in one of the Hoth displays while a Jedi/R2 builder lays down gaffer's tape to keep people from tripping on the floor.

I think the stormtroopers are R2 builders from Poland.

CV, Friday

More photos from Friday. I spent most of my time volunteering in the R2 Builders room, No. 205.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

CV Day Zero, Day Zero minus one, Day Zero minus two

I arrived back from CV late Tuesday (nearly Wednesday morning. It's Thursday now, so I'm updating some earlier uploaded photos with comments.

My wife gave me a parting gift for the trip. She won't go to Star Wars conventions because she'd be bored. On the other hand, she "gets it" as far as my own interest is concerned. Here he is at a rest stop somewhere between Wiscsonsin and Florida on Monday, Aug. 9, the first day of the trip:

I've never exhibited anything at a Star Wars convention and never met anyone in the R2 Builders group in person (aside from chatting with people at CIV and probably at CIII, though I don't remember who they might be). I rented a car from Hertz and spent Monday and Tuesday driving to Orlando. The trip was smooth sailing; I had gotten caught up on sleep and paced myself. A cooler full of drinks and an iPod packed with music and LibriVox recordings helped. "Sketches by Boz" took up most of the second half of the first day, starting in Illinois and continuing through Kentucky and Tennessee.

On Tuesday, I came across a pleasant surprise just past Valdosta, Ga. My wife and I drove through Valdosta nearly 14 years ago, a day after we were married and on our way to Walt Disney World. This was before had been created, and I still liked to stop by used bookstores to look for gems. We saw enormous billboards advertising a book sale, or so we thought, and stopped in Valdosta, which we still jokingly refer to as "Valdosta/Valdoesta" because we didn't know how to pronounce it. What we found was a bookstore named "Book Sale." It was set up as a charity business to funnel money toward cancer research at Emory University. Book Sale was the companion, discount store to a main store on the other end of the strip mall building. The main store was called Book Warehouse. Both were heavy on religious books and advertised Bibles and other spiritual texts.

I had looked through the discount store and was feeling cheap enough back then not to buy anything. She hung back a bit and must have told me to meet her at our car, which would have been a 1991 Toyota Corolla. A few minutes later, she came back with a surprise for me, a copy of "The American Bartenders School Guide to Drinks" by Jack Tiano." The book was great; what was better was that she had remembered an interest I had expressed in how proportions in cocktails were determined and where liquors such as rum and vodka originated and were prepared.

It was the mixing that captured my interest; drinking itself never carried much appeal. At the time, it probably was very, very recent that we had been to a party at my then-boss's house in Birmingham. This wasn't an obligatory office party. The boss was a great guy and had simply invited a bunch of us on the copy desk over to his place one weekend day. Among other things, he gave us some concoctions to try, including something he called a Russian snowshoe or Russian something-or-other. I'm looking at that bartending book now and seeing that I transcribed that recipe from Calvin: one-third each of Russian vodka, Franjelico and Bailey's Irish Cream.

So there we were, on our honeymoon, en route to Walt Disney World, and my new wife, remembering the interest I had expressed in the background to mixed drinks, of all things, had found a $2.99 book on the subject. Perfect!

Thirteen years and some months later, I started seeing big yellow billboards advertising a Book Sale and thousands of book, none for more than $3. Sure enough:

I stopped at the discount site and asked the young woman how long the store had been there. "Twenty-one years," she answered right away. "It's basically been here as long as I've been alive."

How about that? I'm sure most nostalgia trips are anchored to resorts, hotels and restaurants in little nooks on cobblestoned streets. But part of mine concerned a strip mall bookstore.

I looked through the old bookstore, found a book of poetry, and gave it to my wife after I returned.

Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2010

Setup day for the R2 Builders Club room, No. 205:

The order of operations for Wednesday was to go to the convention center after 9 a.m. and check in with the loading dock gate guard, who would direct us to the appropriate dock for Room 205. I was sent first to Dock Seven, where I parked and signed in. The woman at the sign-in table gave me a blue-and-white check pattern paper wristband and sent me to Dock Nine or Ten since Seven was full of other vehicles. A Freeman worker on a golf cart led me to Dock Nine, where I parked and began unloading. Each vehicle was given 20 minutes to unload. Since I had little idea where Room 205 happened to be (not a very good idea, that is; I had looked over a convention center map, but I was unable to place the dock and so knew only that 205 was some distance into the center.

I stepped into the main exhibit hall. A Celebration is a temporal experience, similar in timing to a play or a concert. The magic begins on opening day. As Han Solo might say, "This is where the fun begins." The day before opening is a day of work. The exhibit hall was full of rolls of carpet, set pieces in various stages of disassembly, paid employees and volunteers hurrying from dock to exhibit space, exhibits and parts of exhibits in tow or pushed forward on dollies, and union workers scurrying with authority on utility trucks. Hundreds of voices created a din of human noise mixed with the whirring trucks and opening and closing convention center doors.

The great Jabba the Hut display was partially assembled, and the walkway between it and the "Return of the Jedi" bunker filled, unfilled and filled again with backdrops and pieces for the scenes. Great posters and backdrops hinted at the atmosphere to come, but for now they were just pieces to be moved into position

I approached the end of the hall opposite the docks, toward a bank of double doors leading to the carpeted exhibit hallways, looked back and saw a man happily carrying a COM-8 aluminum frame, one of the newer body models to the doors. "You look like someone who knows where Room 205 is," I said.

His name was Hermes, and he had come to the convention from Brazil. I remembered his recent posts to the group. I held a door open for him, and we found our way to 205.

The room was a smaller version of the giant exhibit space. Dozens of builders were inside, and the displays to come were just parts to be assembled. Droids and parts of droids already were there, a Jawa's dream. The lights, so crucially dimmed to set the mood during the show, were bright. Large colored room plans were lying about, showing what pieces were to go where; these, like the Hoth displays, center carbonite chamber stands, printed backdrops and builders' information cards, were the work not of Lucasfilm Limited but of individual builders who wanted to contribute something to the group's Celebration V room. I set the dome's box in the general droid display area near the back wall and went back for my A&A frame and toolbag.

According to my cell phone clock, I spent slightly less than 20 minutes unloading. It seemed like much longer, but walking through the main hall and back again several times presented me with views that I couldn't help but appreciate. I realized many years after the first "Star Wars" movie was released that I wasn't the only person interested in behind-the-scenes work. Builders essentially are attempting to re-create movie props. Costumers are trying to re-create costumes and, in such cases as lightsabers, movie props as well. Despite the atmosphere of down-to-earth work about the hall, I enjoyed seeing everything come together.

Twenty minutes. I moved my car to the main parking lot in front of the convention center, paying $8 to do so, and went back inside. The wristband was enough. Doors were unlocked, and I was able to roam a fair amount before going back in. The walkway to the main area passed over the loading dock:

AT-AT in a display hall. From the 501st, I think:

The builders room had several focal points: Starting with the entrance and working left around the room, there was, along the wall to the main hall, a full-size viewport from the medical frigate at the end of "The Empire Strikes Back," a table, a Dagobah swamp backdrop with an R2-D2 built in two weeks by Guy Vardaman (later to be a popular photo site), three tables' worth of a parts display, a table for R2-KT and general builders club information, the exit door

and, starting in the corner and along the next wall,

a Hoth ice corridor (later to go to the Florida builders group) with an R2-D2 and C-3PO for photos, droids and a display of glass Rebel command consoles

and, along the next long wall,

the main droid area, where mine would wind up, a small display of parts including an IG-88 head and the start of the next corner Hoth display

which continued along the next wall to include a snowtrooper-armor-clad mannequin and a tripod laser cannon and more droids.

The display started with the mannequin. Then armor were put on bit by bit, until a snowtrooper was present to greet visitors. The tripod cannon came with sound effects.

The room's center was taken up by a brilliant display of stands created in the model of the carbonite chamber from "Empire." These had been purchased by various group members and went their separate ways after the show. For now, they formed a beautiful tiered display for some of the most advanced droid models in the room.

The center also contained a chessboard and a projector that put animations of various "Star Wars" vehicles onto a backdrop behind the main droid display.

From time to time, someone would stand by Room 205's entrance and announce that if anyone needed something to do ... another trailer had arrived and needed unloading.

This is Dana Powers and family's trailer:

I wound up helping Jon Stokes and DeWayne Todd set up the parts display:

Jon said the plastic shelves came from his mother-in-law's book collection. Shiny things, as Jon put it, went at eye level along with other impressive pieces, such as Wayne Orr's finished R2 dome. Someone questioned which eye level; the best pieces were at heights best for adults, not kids. Jon replied that the placement was deliberate. The parts display's target audience was adults -- the dads, he said, who would be trying to gauge what really went into building an R2 and who would be trying to get an idea of the cost.

Smart guy, Jon. I spent my first volunteer shift, on Friday, by the parts display and spoke with several fathers who were trying to gauge cost, difficulty of assembly, materials and so forth.

Jon had a theatrical bent to him and kept up a running stream of consciousness about how the growing display looked, in which direction the parts should be facing and so forth. For a volunteer project especially, this is the sort of person a small team needs, someone who keeps the process fun and sees that the job gets done.

Jon also had a signup sheet for people lending parts to the display. As far as I know, with only a few hiccups, every part made its way back to its owner within a couple of days after the show's conclusion.

It was a privilege to work with the parts. We had a J.E.D.I. microcontroller system, aluminum, resin, wood, a COM-8 frame and a relatively new all-styrene frame that I later showed off to visitors, some of whom mistook it for aluminum. ("No -- it's actually styrene," I said, showing the give one of the pieces had. "It's strong but extremely lightweight and fairly inexpensive.")

I also helped a bit with the builders' information cards. These were four-piece foamboard stands put together (and, for some, put together again so the holoprojector silhouettes would be on the same side for all stands) and glued in the hall outside 205. The stands themselves were glued, and the printed information sheets were glued to the stands:

Ben Lewitt from Grand Rapids, Mich., and his as-yet-unpainted R2 with moving booster rockets:

My unfinished R2 is in the photo below. My droid started in the main droid area, but I and several other builders were asked to move them so the motorized models nearby could "come out and play" without much fuss. DeWayne, Todd Bixby and I moved the R2 in front of the medical frigate window for a time, where it would have been one of the first units visitors saw, and then were asked to move it and others nearby toward the center of the room, where stanchions would be placed to form a little island display near the main center display. The additional stanchions were not to be found, so Todd and I moved it to the main area next to the Hoth ice cannon display. The next day, I walked through the room and found it had been moved again, right back to where it started in the general area, no more than a few feet from where I had unboxed and assembled it. No gripes, but it's funny:

I had test-mounted the legs before leaving for the convention, but some of the holes on the right side didn't line up at all; I might have mounted the legs in the reverse of what I had done back in Wisconsin. A couple of people helped me while I was doing this and pointed out the mismatch. No trouble; since it was a static display to begin with, I left two of the bolts off the right leg and set it down. I made a comment about stability, and someone joked that as long as it didn't get bumped, it'd be fine.

Jawa displays (no people inside the costumes):

A room plan in front of a Jawa cutout. Several of these cardboard Jawas appeared later in the droid race area:

Looking down the center of the room before the center carbonite display stands arrive. The troop carrier can be seen in the center background:

Thomas Clark, with Jerry Chevalier in the red-and-white shirt behind him:

A major benefit to helping with setup was a chance to see other builders' droids. Up to this point, I had seen only pictures of Cole Horton's well-painted red R2. On Wednesday, I saw them up close, next to the Rebel troop carrier he and Daren Murrer had created:

Ben Lewitt still working on his droid:

A gadget-filled R2:

Room 204B was the builders' storage room. After setup was finished, I went back to the rented car and saw that a windshield nick, which I first noticed half an hour after leaving the lot, once the rain had cleared, had grown in the Orlando heat:

The car rental company gave no trouble at all about it and had me exchange the car at the Orlando airport.