Making your biggest project to date is a tall order, and is bound to come with all sorts of unforeseen problems. This one was a matter of communication.
Grandiose projects can give a sense of wondrous fulfillment when completed, but they can be a hard slog, and the time between inception and gratification can be disheartening. I’ve come to realise that having a small task in my backlog can help at times like these, so that I have some way to get a quick hit of satisfaction.
These can be short tasks like changing out a blue power LED for some other colour (which is good for your health if you sleep near it), or longer-burning (but periodically rewarding) challenges such as learning the best way to digitally encode video using command-line tools.
Not a day has gone by in the last fortnight when I have not worked on the Tripper Trapper, and it was beginning to wear me down. So after cutting, re-soldering and re-sealing six short LED strip segments, I took some “me time” and improved my bench light.
This year’s Burning Man festival looked to be an easy one at first: since most of the new toys I had intended to bring to the playa last year didn’t make it there, I’d be able to take it easy and just show them off this year. I didn’t feel any pressure to build anything grand. That was, until our camp mayor got an email from the coordinator of our village stating that we’d be the centrepiece now that another camp had left, and that for us to get favourable placement we’d need something interactive out front, day and night.
Since we already had a daytime activity for this year (an aerialist rig), plus a till-relatively-late activity (the bar), all we needed was something that would be interactive all night. Thus came about…
The Tripper Trapper.
The basic concept was explained as such:
Sounds like a perfect time to make the Trippy Trap Tunnel. It sits there all nice and glowy with some dull rainbow chases….until the victim gets to the center. All of a sudden, strobes and a klaxon…..How the hell do you get out? Here, have a drink.
The jury’s still out on this thing making noise, but the rest of the idea stuck immediately. We would build the Trapper as a monkeyhut, and attach LED strip to the inside of the ribs. Since this would best be seen up close (people are meant to wander through it, after all), it would use 1-LED pixels (5V strip). Needless to say, it wasn’t long before I was hard at work, calculating how big and bright we could make it with a materials budget of around $1000…
So, New Orleans has this crazy vibe during Carnival season. On a scale between “a literal city” and “Burning Man”, it ranks somewhere around “the square root of WTF”, with parades running first on weekends, then increasing to every day as Mardi Gras approaches. So naturally, I figured the best way to experience this would be to dive right in. When I heard that the Kaiju Flambeaux Corps was looking for people to march in radio-synchronised LED suits, I jumped at the chance.
A good portion of any lit costume like this is finding a garment to use. Our parameters were something relatively-translucent and white. I found a dinner jacket on Amazon, then ordered it from the manufacturer’s website for about $10 less.
In software development there is a type of defect called a heisenbug. It is named after the physicist Werner Heisenberg, who stated that the more precisely a particle’s momentum is measured, the less precisely its position can be known, and vice-versa. Likewise, a heisenbug is one which disappears when you add code or try to debug it using external tools.
When I posted about the intermittent problem with the Glowbek, I had no idea whether it was a hardware or software defect. Turns out, it was somewhere in the middle.
The results are in: an Arduino connected via header pins, and loosely-attached prototyping boards are insufficient to handle being carried and played while dancing. It did, however, prove sturdy enough to be transported, handled, and played around a campsite.