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I make toys for kids who don't want to grow up. I'm on the lookout for new projects. If you're interested in commissioning me to build something ridiculous, shoot me an email.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


Sometimes you wake up to interesting things going on.

Yesterday morning I got up and ambled over to the Marina Bean, my normal morning coffee haunt, and one of the other marina tenants pointed out "a lot of noisy stuff over in the parking lot."

When I looked I found something like thirty Shelby Cobra replicas (and a Shelby 500GT and something called a "Lister") parked in the lot:
cobra 005

Even though they were all kits and replicas, these cars were all gorgeous:
Cobra 010

Cobra 015

Cobra 025

cobra 039

But even in this crowd of beauties, there were a few that stood out.  The first one I spotted (indeed, you could see it from space) was this green one:
Cobra 042
The owners said they'd bought it from the original builder with that color and, because it had been featured in a magazine, decided they should keep it that way.  I like it, but I'm sure they get a lot of grief wherever they go.

The next unique one I spotted was this one painted in black primer with satin silver racing stripes:
Cobra 030
Unfortunately, this owner is planning on changing the color.  He's not finished building it, but he was so eager to get out and go driving that he didn't want to wait for the finish.  His plan is to paint it blue with white racing stripes, bringing it neatly into conformity with the rest of the ranks of replica owners.  Bummer.

Finally, there was this gem made by Kirkham Motorsports:
Cobra 023
Kirkam is a replica company that bought out a Polish MiG factory after the cold war and re-tooled it so they could make sports cars instead of fighter jets.  If you check out their website, you'll find tons of droolworthy photos of shiny aluminium parts being made into shiny aluminium cars and then polished to a mirror shine.  You can also get them in a burnished or brushed finish, all for the bargain price of around $105,000 US dollars.

Knowing this meant I was able to ask the owner the most annoying question possible:

ME: Nice car!
OWNER: [smugly] Thanks.
ME: So what color are you going to paint it?
OWNER: [grumbling] I'm NOT going to paint it.
ME: Yeah, I know, I just figured you probably needed to hear that question one more time.  I've spent enough time poring over the Kirkham Motorsports website to know that it'd be a crime to paint one of these.
OWNER: [almost mockingly] Are you going to get one?
ME: I'd like to, but I've got one or two other, slightly more practical, cars I need to get first.
OWNER: Practical?  This is practical. [points to the roll bar] That part is for hauling lumber.

Since I can't count how many times I've hauled lumber in my tiny convertible, I couldn't tell if he was joking.

Not long after that conversation, the whole crowd fired up their engines and started rolling out:

Sadly, my tiny little camera mic didn't do justice to the deep bass throaty grumble of all of those horses chomping at the bit while they waited for the light to change.

Still, it was a fun way to start the day:
Cobra 038


I've been noticing lately that there's a lot of guano landing on board the Heart of Gold along with some sort of berries.  This would all make sense except for the fact that I haven't been seeing a lot of birds on board.

Then the other day I woke up, walked into the main cabin, and noticed this little guy staring at me:
Bird on a Wire

A little to the left I saw this one:
Birds 020

As I headed forward to the head, I saw more on the foredeck:
birds 012

But that was nothing compared to all the birds on the lifelines:
birds 010

They were everywhere:
Birds Everywhere

I was suddenly filled with worry because I'd put a new coat of varnish on the portside gunwale the day before.  When I checked, it turned out that, magically, all of the birds had confined themselves to landing on the starboard side. 


Still, I'm thinking it's time to install a scarecrow.

I Am No Longer Excited About the Ultramarines Movie

It was all going so well.  A top-notch animation studio.  Cutting-edge motion capture gear.  John Hurt narrating.  A rich universe of characters, races, and technologies to choose from.  Gorgeous set design concept art.  The Ultramarines movie was going to be just what I've been waiting to see since I was twelve years old.

Then the other day they posted this crap:

So now it looks like this movie will have some smoke, some marines shooting at...  something, I guess, and some really crappy rendering.

I'll still see it.  But I'm no longer on the edge of my seat waiting for updates.

Instead, I have to just go on hoping that they'll one day make a live-action HALO movie:

Sheryl's MARPAT Desert HALO Helmet

Some time ago I got a random urge to make one of my HALO helmets for my sister.  Since she's a Gunnery Sergeant in the US Marine Corps, it seemed appropriate to paint it up in MARPAT desert digital camouflage.  This was not as easy as it sounds.

MARPAT desert is four separate shades of brown or tan.  The first coat was a base color to cover the entire helmet.  Then each of the following colors was applied using a stencil I made by hand:
Painting Desert Digital Camo

The main challenge was getting the colors properly matched.  Here's an early attempt:

And the same paintjob from another angle:

It seemed like every time I tried to mix paints to match the colors, the best I could manage was three out of four.  The fourth one would always end up too green or too red or too light or too dark.  I ended up repainting this helmet three times before I gave up and bought a kit with all of the proper federal-spec colored spraycans in it.  If you need to make something in a US military digital camo scheme, the best price I've found on these kits was through Barre Army Navy.  Look carefully, as they tend to sell closeout versions of this stuff (old stock I'm guessing) at half the price.

So once I had the exact right paint, I set to work on the fourth attempt at this paintjob.  Here's three of the four colors:
Desert Digital Phase 3

Since I was having a hard time deciding if I had the different colors in the right proportions, I went ahead and painted all of the black parts by hand:

With that done, I went ahead and put on the fourth and final shade of brown (called "light coyote" if you wanted to know):
MARPAT desert MkVI HALO Helmet copy

Once I was satisfied with the colors it was time to add the proper rank insignia:
You can't see it in the picture, but there's a large Eagle, Globe, and Anchor (EGA) logo on top of the bill.

The next step was to add the lettering and the little EGA's that show up in the camo pattern.  Here's the lettering along the brim:

Toward the rear of the top you can see one of the little EGA's on the right (with "USMC" written below it):

Once the painting and detailing was done, the next step was to permanently install the visor and add some padding to the inside.  Clamping the visor in place has long been a tricky proposition.  In the constant quest to find a better way, this is what my last plan looked like:
Visor Clamping 2

I was halfway through wrestling this same collection of contraptions into place when 
my father stopped by the workshop, saw my huge clamping arrangement, and asked "why are you making that so difficult?"

A few minutes later, we had made these nifty little threaded arrangements* and used one of my less-good visor pulls to press the good visor in place inside the helmet:
Faceshield Clamps

With the visor clamped into place, the next trick was to use some cheap clay to caulk around the seam and make sure that none of the epoxy would dribble out all over the outside of the visor and my hard-earned paintjob:
Faceshield Caulked

That done, I gooped some epoxy around the bottom edge of the visor and waited for it to cure.  Then I turned it over and gooped more epoxy on the top edge.  Once it looked like everything was securely in place, it was time to remove the clamps* and mirror the visor:
Sheryl's Helmet

While it looks great from the outside, it still isn't terribly comfortable to wear yet.  That, and it's loose enough to make the wearer look like a bobblehead with even the slightest movement:

The padding isn't interesting enough to take pics of.  Suffice it to say that it fits snugly now and it's a lot warmer to wear.

Once Sheryl gets it, I'll have her send me a couple of pics of her wearing it so I can post them too.

So there you have it.

*I'm just going to call them "Thorsson clamps" unless someone else already invented them and already has a name for them.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Unseaworthy Vessel of the Week: Zipper Boat

Japanese artist Yasuhiro Suzuki built a little motorboat to look like a zipper pull:

The technical aspects are mildly interesting, but what makes it work is the aerial view:

It looks a bit less cool when it's turning:

Makes me want to make a boat that looks like a great big pencil drawing on the sea...

Monday, August 23, 2010

Weekend Jaunt to the Turning Basin

I promised myself when I bought my boat that I would get underway at least once every month whenever I'm in California. Even if it's just a trip to the other side of the marina to pump out the onboard sewage holding tank, I feel compelled to leave the dock to verify that I still can.

So the other weekend my sister and her husband came into town to retrieve their kids from the grandparents' house. Taking advantage of this rare occasion where all three siblings were in the same town, I decided to shift the S/V Heart of Gold to a berth in the turning basin in the heart of downtown Petaluma so we could go out and have a convenient place to crash at the end of a night of drinking.

I got underway early on Saturday afternoon. I'd called ahead and found that there was a drawbridge opening scheduled for 1330 and another at 1600. I planned to make the 1330 one, keeping the later opening as a fallback plan.

The plan stopped being a plan and started being a scramble right away.  I shanghaied my sister into getting underway with me when I moved the boat and she stowed her kids away below decks while we left the marina.  As we were rolling out, someone ashore snapped a pic of us leaving:
PIC: underway in Petaluma River
Sadly, the pic was taken before we'd pulled in the fenders.  So we look like amateurs.

I'm not sure what the problem was, but for some reason I was unable to throttle the engine up much past idle speed.  Looking at my watch it was pretty clear that this speed restriction was going to make us late for the 1330 bridge opening, so I called the bridgetender to ask them to wait for us.

Luckily, the bridgetender himself was running late and would get there about the same time as we did.  Unluckily, there was a barge moored next to the bridge and the approach was very narrow.  Rather than wait there and run the risk of the wind catching us and sliding my boat into the steel barge, I turned around to keep station just downriver.

At some point while I was making this turn I decided to bump the engine into reverse to slow us down a little.  Once we'd come to a stop I bumped it ahead again, but we weren't moving anymore.  Like an idiot, I'd run aground in the mud near the riverbank. 

Just then I heard the horns and alarms that indicated the bridge was opening.
I called the bridgetender on the VHF radio, knowing full well that the entire boating community was able to listen in, and told him that there'd be a bit of a delay while I unstuck myself from the mud.  The entire delay was only about three or four minutes.  With my throttle problem I wasn't able to get enough power out of the engine to drive off of the mud.  Instead, I had to backwind the jib to pull the bow around.  That was just enough to twist the stern free and get us back on our way.

Less than five minutes later we moored in the turning basin downtown:
HofG at Turning Basin

Safely ashore, we caught up with Rose and the rest of Sheryl's family for lunch.  Then they all headed off to go shopping or something while I went back to the turning basin and got to work cleaning up the boat in order to entertain guests.

While I was doing this, I decided to mount my stainless steel Magma grill to the railing on the port quarter.  I was holding it up by it's handle and fumbling with the clamp when the handle popped off and the whole assembly splashed into the river below.  A quick check online revealed that this was about a $250 oops.  Dammit.

Otherwise, the afternoon passed without incident until people started showing up:
Matt & Jen

Then more people showed up (bringing liquor):
Drinking Aboard HofG

Then folks started trying on my hats:
Corry Tophat

And drinking continued:
Bud Drinking

The last of the guests to arrive were my cousins Amanda and Tiffany (who was turning 21 that night) and Amanda's boyfriend AJ.  Our first stop, Kodiak Jack's, aka KJ's, aka 365 North, aka whatever they're calling it this week.

By then there had already been a bit much drinking:
Sheryl Drinking

And hilarity had ensued:
Sheryl & Corry

Somewhere along the way, I spotted a cougar staring at me from across the bar:
Cougar at the Bar

This was the first of three stops, but I wasn't taking all that many pictures.  I was too busy making sure that Tiffany was getting properly inebriated for her 21st birthday.  I did such a good job that, after a brief stop for junkfood and returning to the boat, Tiffany spent much of the rest of the night regurgitating her intake off the dock before her friends bundled her up and carried her home.

I didn't have any sorts of problems until the morning after:
Morning After

I planned to spend the next day ambling around and trying to take it easy.  This didn't really work out.  Instead, I had to pull my scuba gear out of storage and go on a rescue dive to recover my sunken grill.

The plan was simple: the grill sank, so all I had to do was sink in the same place and I would probably find the grill on the bottom of the river.  Since the muddy water of the Petaluma River affords zero visibility, the only way I was going to find anything was with my bare hands groping along in the mud.  Visibility was so bad that I couldn't read my compass even if I held it directly to my facemask.  Instead, I had to drop down to the bottom, lay face down in the mud, feel around for the grill, and then move a little further over and repeat. 

After a few minutes of fumbling around like this I surfaced to regain my bearings.  It turns out that I'd inadvertently crawled halfway across the river.  There was no way that the grill would've drifted that far away from where it'd dropped.  It took two more attempts before, while sliding through the muck, I bumped into the grill with my head.  Then I grabbed it off the bottom, hugged it close to my chest, and inflated my buoyancy control vest all the way to carry me back to the surface.

When I thrashed my way back to the dock, muddy and hugging a large chunk of stainless steel, I heard a small child exclaim from the restaurant on the opposite bank, "Look, mommy, he came back!"

It's nice to know that someone was looking out for me.

Later that night I took my niece Skylar to dinner with some of my friends.  When we'd finished eating, I asked her to help me touch up some of the brightwork and we spent about an hour brushing a coat of varnish on the port gunwale.  Then it was getting dark and I had to take her home, pick up the dogs, drop off my car at the marina, and then walk over to the boat and crash out.

Bright and early Monday morning I was underway again.  I was still having my throttle problem, but otherwise everything was working fine.

As I motored back downriver, I snapped a picture of the spot where I'd grounded out.  I don't think it has a specific name, but if it doesn't I've got at least one proposition:
Thorsson's Bank

As it turns out, this was the first time I'd ever been underway with the dogs aboard.  They seemed okay with everything:

About halfway back to the marina, I was intercepted by my father on his way to pulling the scouts' ski boat out of the water:
Scout Ski Boat
He said he just wanted to come and watch when I got stuck.  Jerk.

All jokes aside, I managed to return to my home berth without incident.  In the end a good time was had by all and I was able to say that yes, I got underway this month.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

This I Have to Try!

Finally Building My Sniper Rifle

After waiting and waiting for some other maker to start offering a decent-looking fullsize replica of the SRS99D Sniper Rifle from HALO3 I've finally given up.  When I finally managed to download a decent 3D file (which has origins with Martyn Lee Ball if I'm correct) I was able to convert it into a format I could use, tweak it a bit, and feed it to Lopez, my robot shop helper.

Here's what the end result is supposed to look like:

Here's what mine looked like when Lopez was about 90 minutes into the first piece:
Sniper begins

Per the game references I've found, the whole rifle will be a little over six feet and two inches long.  To make it a tiny bit more manageable, I've scaled it down a tiny bit.  My version will be around five foot, six inches long.  The main body will still be thick enough that I was forced to slice it into four separate layers and then carve them out two at a time.  Here's the parts that make the left half of the rifle once Lopez was done whittling them:
First Half Cut

After I'd separated them from the waste portion of the board, it was a simple matter of buttering one of them up with epoxy and then clamping the two halves of the half (two quarters really) together:
Sniper first half glued

Bear in mind that this is just the main body.  With the barrel and muzzle brake assembled and attached it will be over twice as long.  This will be a big f*cking gun:
Sniper size test

Prior to making the left half of the main body, I had Lopez make the magazine and I made a mold from a .50cal machine gun round.  Here's one of the shell castings sitting on the rough prototype of the mag:
Sniper Mag fairing

It turns out that the mag fits perfectly:
Sniper Magazine Test Fit

While the glue was curing on the left half, Lopez cranked out the right half:

While I was reading through the references for this piece, I stumbled across a number of nicknames for this rifle.  My favorite was "the mister."  Not "mister" meaning "man" or "husband," but rather "something that makes mist."  Clever.

Here's a shot of the right half being glued and clamped to the left half:
Sniper Slices glued up

Here's a couple of the small parts clamped and glued.  Here you can see the forward handle and the bipod leg:
Sniper Bipod Leg
Since the left and right bipod legs are interchangeable, I'm planning on making just the one, molding it, and then cranking out copies to attach to either side.

The frustrating part of a project like this is waiting for glues and paints to dry or cure.  All the while I have to find ways to distract myself from my cool new toy so I don't touch it and mess something up.  Once I'd clamped all of the main body parts together, I spent some time tinkering with my MA5C Assault Rifle casting.  Here's a shot of it laid on top of the sniper rifle body for size comparison:
Sniper AR size comparison

After that it was time to take off for the weekend and let everything set up.  When I'd returned on Sunday night, it was time to remove all of the clamps, tape a length of PVC pipe in the place of the barrel, and struck a few poses.

When the whole thing is finished it's not going to be small:
Sniper Barrel Mockup

And the posing will be fun:
Sniper Size Test

Even though it's wasteful and premature, I couldn't help but spray on a coat of black primer to get a bit of a preview of what the Mister will look like once I get him in formalwear:
Sniper Body Primered

Not too shabby.

Now I need to have Lopez make the muzzle brake and scope housing.  While he's doing that I'll machine the barrel and the recoil suppressor.  Then it'll be time to do some sanding, filling, detailing, painting, molding, casting, sanding, painting, and all that'll be left to do is explaining it to the arresting officers.