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DIY Steampunk Lightsaber!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Some of you might remember this vintage flashlight I bought almost exactly a year ago with the hazy idea of turning it into a lightsaber:


Well, with my Lady Vadore costume shaping up in a timely fashion, John and I were able to squeeze this in as an extra accessory. I won't make you wait for it this time, either; here's the finished product:

[heavenly chorus singing]

As you can see, it also makes a nifty night light.

This is a relatively simple mod that you can probably do with any vintage flashlight. The one essential piece you'll need is a plumbing extension pipe, which you'll want to cut down at an angle for the business end of the 'saber:

We took it a step further and drilled vent holes around the pipe so our LED could shine through, but that's not necessary. This plumbing pipe is solid brass, so both cutting and drilling it is no easy feat. Watch out for sparks and sudden starts and stops with both. (Or get John to do it for you. I'm sure he won't mind. :D)

To disguise some of the scuffs and scratches that came from drilling the pipe, John came up with the brilliant idea of sanding the metal to give it a brushed look. The inside of of the pipe is especially beautiful because it's a bright brass -  so it's kind of a shame no one will see it with the LED in place.

Here's the sanded/brushed pipe with the light inside:

The really cool part is that the pipe snaps onto the flashlight body snugly as-is, so we didn't need any glue or extra rings to connect the two. How's that for a happy accident?

Once you have those two pieces joined, it's really just a matter of jazzing up the body with doo-dads to make it look less like an old flashlight and more like a steampunk lightsaber. 

I started with the grip:


I wanted black vertical lines to resemble Vader's actual lightsaber, but the leather strips I tried first were too thick and looked all wrong. John found the solution in screen splicing, which is a hard rubber cord with one flat side and one rounded:

It glues on easily, and actually makes the grip extra comfortable.

Next I dug through my junk box and found a few leftover scraps of brass mesh from our radio makeover. We used E-600 to glue strips of it on the top and bottom, plus a small "control panel" section below the switch:


Here I'm testing out different sparklies on the control panel. I decided I wanted one to look like a little dial, though, so I went with this metal button instead:

I'm hoping that looks like a tiny dial and two indicator lights. (Humor me.)

I also discovered that the original switch was the perfect size for a rhinestone. It's glued directly to the original button, so the switch even still works!

The bottom end of the flashlight had a big Eveready logo on it, so to cover that I cut a circle out of my brass mesh, and then topped that with a silver gear and dome button:



The last thing we did was fill the threads on the pipe with epoxy putty:

...and then paint that band a flat black. Now from a distance the band just looks like a rubber ring:


And that's it! The only things I had to purchase (other than the original $4 flashlight) was the rubber splicing and plumbing pipe. Oh, and also the LEDs, but since we got a bag of 12 and only used 1, I don't think it's fair to count that cost (about $10) in entirely.

Speaking of which, these LEDs are AWESOME. Seriously. They're small, cheap, self-contained, last up to 100 hours each, and come in several different colors. WOOT! I think all of my crafts are going to light up from now on. :)

Here's the LED package, in case you want to hunt some down yourself. They're in the floral aisle next to the glass marbles and other vase fillers, which is probably why most of us have never seen them before:


(I almost wanted to keep these a secret and let you guys think we're wiring geniuses, but they're just too awesome not to share. Heheh.)(Oh, and bring a JoAnn's coupon for these; regular price is about $18 for the bag.)

To light the  'saber all we did was cut out a hole in the original flashlight end, drop a LED down (the hole is smaller than the body of the LED), and add a bit of stiff fabric inside to keep the light in place. Of course it'd be cooler if the flashlight switch controlled the light, but for as easy as this was to do, I think I'll live.

The LEDs are surprisingly bright, so we also stuffed a tiny bit of bubble wrap around the bulb to dim it just a tad:
Although since it will only be pointed at the floor (hanging from my belt) for my costume, the odds of my blinding anyone with it are pretty slim regardless.



Of course, once this was finished I made the mistake of googling "steampunk lightsaber," and now I have SERIOUS 'SABER ENVY.  Ugh. They're all so pretty! And better than mine! Must...resist...urge...to make...more...!


I hope you guys enjoyed! And to those of you clamoring for final Lady Vadore photos; paaaatience. I'm waiting for a few extra bits in the mail to jazz up my boots, and then we'll do a photo shoot for ya. 

Oh, and check it out: my Vadore mask is starting to make the rounds online! Over the past two days it's been on the Daily What, Fashionably Geek, & Steampunk Costume, to name a few. 

I'm always so excited to see Epbot stuff elsewhere on the web; with Cake Wrecks it's a non-stop barrage of scraper sites and content thieves, but with Epbot most everyone is wonderful about giving proper credit, so it's the complete opposite: like getting a friendly "attagirl!" from my fellow geeks. Which just goes to show: geeks are better people.  :)

Posted by Jen at 5:30 PM   |  20 comments  |   Labels: , , , ,

Mailbag: "What Should I See At Walt Disney World?"

Friday, August 10, 2012


I promised someone I would do this post a few months ago, since it's always been a FAQ - and since then I've had four more of you ask me for the exact same thing. So, yeah, I guess it's time!

So, here 'tis: My personal list of Stuff You Shouldn't Miss On Your Walt Disney World Vacation. I'm going to do this bullet-point-style, and just concentrate on the things John and I like best, so don't consider this an all-inclusive guide; if you want one of those, the 'net is bursting with them. 

If I don't list something, odds are that means it's good. Not a can't-miss, not terrible, but good. (Or it means I forgot about it. Ha!) Ready? Here goes!

The Magic Kingdom: 
 Most rides at the MK are great, but the absolute MUST-rides are:


- Haunted Mansion
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- If you like thrill rides, all the Mountains (Space, Thunder, Splash)
- The train (that counts as a ride, right?)
- Peter Pan 
- Jungle Cruise (Just imagine me as your skipper.)
- The Wedway People Mover
- Philharmagic (Not a ride, but a 3D show in Fantasyland that is amazingly good. And air conditioned. Don't miss it.)


Must-Sees:
- Main Street. Probably my favorite area of the park, so take a little time to explore it -  and try to see the Flag Ceremony at 5pm. 
- The Dapper Dans - Barbershop Quartet on Main Street. Look for them in the morning. Loads of fun. Say hi for me. 
- The mural inside the castle walkway. Take a moment to gawk.
- The castle projection show, "The Magic, The Memories, and You." Skip the fireworks if you must (although Wishes is spectacular) but DO NOT miss this show.

Must-Have Treats:
- The Citrus Swirl (if you like oranges)
- The Dole Whip (if you like pineapple)


Best Restaurants:

I don't have any strong opinions on any of the restaurants here - they're all decent, nothing spectacular - but the best place to eat during the day is upstairs in the Harbor House, on the bridge overlooking the path to Fantasyland. It's often deserted up there, and it's a fabulous little-known retreat with a great view. (Sadly the food at HH is sorely lacking, so I've been tempted to bring a tray over from Pecos Bill's. Ha!)





Feel Free To Skip:
Unless you have young kids dying to see them, don't bother with:

- The Monsters Inc Laugh Factory. We saw it once. That was more than enough. 
- Stitch's Greatest Escape - Ditto.
- The Raceway Mini Cars. They're not called that, I know. But they're stinky (literally - diesel fumes!) and the ride is short and so not worth the wait.
- The new Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game. If you're curious, watch someone else play at one of the portals - you'll get the idea in a few minutes. It's definitely not worth waiting in lines for, or sacrificing time you could be using on other attractions. If you want to try an interactive game with the kids, try Agent P's at Epcot. It's much, MUCH better.



EPCOT:

Must-Rides:
- Soarin' (Grab a FastPass in the morning)
- Test Track (Surprisingly fun, but don't expect a roller coaster; it's pretty tame. Which is why I like it.)
- Maelstrom, the ride in Norway - but skip the movie afterward. Just keep walking through the theater before the doors close
- Finding Nemo 
- The boat ride inside The Land 
- Spaceship Earth (aka Epcot, aka The Big Ball)


Must Sees:
- All the lands. Really explore them - don't just walk by the entrance. My favorites are Mexico, Morocco, and Japan.

Candy sculpting - ask for a bird. Or a Koala.
- The shops in Japan. (SO MUCH CUTE STUFF. Plus candy.)

- The candy-sculptor in front of Japan. She performs hourly before 5pm, and is world-renowned. 

 - The American Adventure - you have to see it at least once. It's iconic Disney.

- The Voices of Liberty - a group that performs inside the American Adventure before 5pm. They sound absolutely heavenly under the dome.


"'Ello!"


  - Illuminations, the nighttime fireworks and laser show. There's a slow bit in the middle, but the beginning & ending are so, so good.

- Captain EO - Retro, toe-tapping, 3D goodness. See it while you can; there's no telling when this classic will get shelved again.

- If you have extra time, Agent P's World Showcase Adventure is a blast and a half - even for adults, and even if you've never seen Phineas & Ferb.

- The cuttlefish in The Living Seas. They don't perform; they're just cool fish. They're upstairs. Say hi for me.





Must-Have Treats:
- Schoolbread and "World's Best" (it's a dessert) in Norway
- Pretty much anything from France's pastry shop (you'll find it by the long line out the door) Our favorites are the créme brûlée, strawberry tarts, and Napoleans. Mmmm.

Best Restaurants, casual:
- Counter service at Morocco (my personal fav - get the platter)
- Brats with 'kraut at Germany
- Most everything at the counter service in The Land


Best Restaurants, table service:
- Our favorite is Germany (it's a buffet! Yay!), but you have to sit with other people family-style, which can be awkward. Still, the loud polka music drowns out most table mates.
- Morocco - the food's a little hit or miss, but there's belly dancing! A very fun dining experience.

Feel free to skip:
- Innoventions (the two large show buildings behind the Ball. They're filled with mildly interesting-to-outright boring sponsored activities and showcases aimed at younger kids. If you're short on time, skip 'em.) 
- The Universe of Energy (the ride takes over 40 minutes. The interesting part lasts maybe 5.)
- The boat ride in Mexico (fine if there's no wait, but please, don't wait for it.
- Journey into Imagination. Especially if you remember the original ride, don't torture yourself by seeing the cringe-worthy schtick-fest Journey has become. Just mourn DreamFinder and go see Captain EO again. (Although you can duck into the gift shop for some cute Figment merch.)


Disney Hollywood Studios (Formerly MGM Studios)
I just realized I have no good photos of DHS. NEW LIFE GOAL.

Must-Rides:
- Star Tours
- Midway Mania/ "The Toy Story Ride"(grab a Fastpass in the morning. Do NOT wait 2+ hours; no ride is worth that!)
- The Backlot Tour (gotta do it at least once!)
- The Great Movie Ride
- If you like thrill rides, then Tower of Terror & Rockin' Roller Coaster.

Must-Sees:
- The Beauty & the Beast stage show (MUST. SEE.) 
- The Muppets 3D (MUST. SEE.)(And don't miss the pre-show! It's hysterical.)
- If you're a Disney buff, then One Man's Dream, the exhibit on Walt Disney. It's a walk-through.
- Lights, Motor, Action (Expect massive crowds to pack the arena, but it is a good show)
- Indiana Jones (For some reason this show never gets old.)
- The Villain candy shop. (Just plain fun to look at.)

Must-Have Treats:
Anything at Starring Rolls, the bakery/deli that likes to torture us by closing early and seasonally. Get the stacked banana cake trifle thing. It's awesome.


Best Restaurant: For table service, the 50's Prime Time Cafe is the most fun and has the best atmosphere - assuming you don't mind getting yelled at by your "mom" waitress. The food is just Ok, but the retro theming is spectacular - if nothing else, at least go in and look around! Ditto for the Sci-Fi Dine-In theater - fun theming, so-so food. 

Feel Free to Skip:
- Fantasmic. I may get flak for this, but to me Fantasmic isn't worth the hassle. You're supposed to arrive an hour early, you pack into a giant arena with more than half the park, and it takes 30 minutes to get out again after the show is over. The whole area is a massive bottle neck and a potentially panic-inducing crowd, if you have anxiety and escape issues like me. The show itself is good, but not as good as Disneyland's version, if you've seen that. So, decide for yourself, of course, but if circumstances prevent you from seeing this, don't feel too bad.



Disney's Animal Kingdom:

I should preface this by saying that DAK is John's favorite park, and my least favorite. We only go a few times a year during the winter, because this park is the hottest of them all, with the least amount of A/C and shade. If you're visiting in the summer, I'd advise skipping it entirely. Come back in February; then it's nice.


That said...

Must-Rides:

- Dinosaur (my favorite)
- The Jeep Safari (you'll be surprised by how many animals you see, no matter what time of day it is)
- If you like thrill rides, Everest



Must-Sees:
- Flights of Wonder (aka The Bird Show)
- It's Tough To Be a Bug (the 3D show inside the giant tree)
- Both walking trails (One has tigers - our favorite! - and the other has gorillas. Both are great.)
- Festival of the Lion King
- Finding Nemo, the musical (a little long, but srsly. MUST. SEE. It's better than some Broadway shows.)
- Rafiki's Planet Watch (formerly Conservation Station) - go for the Tamarind monkeys, stay for the Sound Booths! Also, there are dozens of hidden Mickeys in the giant animal mural there, which are fun to hunt for.


Must-Have Treats:
- The pork egg rolls & fried rice in Asia. Seriously the best egg rolls & fried rice I have ever had - we make a meal out of them.

Best Restaurants:

I haven't eaten at enough of them to give an opinion - but I've heard good things about the Yak & Yeti.


Feel free to skip:
- The rafting ride, if you don't want to get wet. Other than that, this park is so small you shouldn't really have to skip anything - so go see it all!



General Disney Tips:

- The Disney buses *will* get you anywhere on property, for free...eventually. Pad your schedule out if you plan to use them, no less than 30 minutes each trip.

- Staying on property, but want a day off from the parks? You might try exploring the resorts. It's fun, free, and you can take the monorail between the Contemporary, Grand Floridian, & Polynesian. You can also catch a free boat ride in from many of the resorts to the MK. When you get bored with resorts, the Downtown Disney area is also free and full of great shops and fun things to see.

Best restaurants on Disney property, outside the parks:
- Boma, in the Animal Kingdom Lodge (not only our favorite Disney restaurant, it's our favorite restaurant, period.)

- Ohana, in the Polynesian Resort

- California Grill, in the Contemporary Resort (Best known for its fabulous view of the fireworks - but here's a tip: you don't have to eat there to go out on the rooftop to watch the fireworks! Ask for directions; a castmember should be happy to show you the right door.) {CORRECTION: Sorry, guys, per a reader in the comments who actually works at the Grill, you *do* have to eat there now for roof access. Sorry!}

- If you're looking for a formal evening with astounding food and your own personal harpist, then Victoria &Albert's at The Grand Floridian is the way to go. (Jacket required, gents. And be ready to drop a few hundred bucks.) John and I have eaten in the restaurant, which was awesome, and also at the chef's table in the kitchen with a large group, which was easily the best and most memorable meal I've ever had. Five hours, thirteen courses, and the memory of a lifetime. If you ever get the chance, do it. (And bring friends!)

Ok, fellow Dizgeeks, tell me: What'd I miss? Share your own favorite tips and recommendations in the comments!

Posted by Jen at 11:30 AM   |  124 comments  |   Labels: ,

My Next Projects. Maybe.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Well, this is definitely my next papercraft project:

Check it out - you even make the display box! It's by Boxzet Papercraft, and you can download it for free here. Plus, Boxzet has a bunch more free templates in this style, including Back to the Future, Batman, and even a retro tin-toy robot. Talk about a fun set to make! (found via ProtonCharging)


Next, GeekDad James Floyd Kelly made this amazing lightsaber for his son for less than $25 and in less than 25 minutes, if you can believe it:

The design is based on the $33 Lightsaber in 33 minutes over on Instructables, so you'll want to read both posts to see the different modification options. (And in case you're as baffled as I was: the base is a pop-up basin drain, and I think all of the pieces come from the plumbing aisle.) Even though my steampunk lightsaber is already done, this one is making green with envy - so I think I may need to make another one. (Sorry, John, sweetie!)

I'm pretty sure there's no way I could make something quite this cool, but I'm still inspired to try:


Steph M. sent over this gorgeous Wall-E by Kevin Stanton, and the paper cutting nerd in me is beyond delighted. Yep, every line and shape you see is a piece of finely cut paper! Hit the link to see more of Stanton's work on his blog; his illustrated books of Shakespeare are also fabulous.


Morgan Ditta posted this on Twitter, saying, "Because they don't sell them new anymore, I had to make my own:"

Roger Rabbit!! Tell me you didn't just scream and do a happy dance. TELL ME. Just look at those feet! And that tail! If anything will get me to try again with the whole sewing wizardry, it's this. Love it.

Oh, and while I was exploring Morgan's site, I also came across these ear hats she designed:



How cool are these?! It is an absolute CRIME that they aren't being sold in the parks right now. Especially the Jungle Cruise hippo. And Roger. And Maleficent. Please, somebody send these to the higher ups at the Mouse, pronto! (Shockingly, Morgan doesn't work for Disney; she's just a fan. Let's hope that changes soon!)

In addition to all of these, I'm also researching resin supplies, because I have Some Ideas. [devious grin] Stand by while I get everything I need, and here's hoping I have something fun and exciting (or at least terrible and amusing) to show you soon!

Posted by Jen at 11:30 AM   |  16 comments  |   Labels: , , , ,

Turning Something Sad Into Something Beautiful

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

After my medical post I was flooded with so many e-mails sharing similar medical horror stories that I've only managed to get through them all just recently. Of all the tears and pain and mind-blowing medical incompetence, though, Saudade's story trumps them all. (Not that this is a contest, of course.) As horrific as her experience was, though, I honestly think you need to read it. All of you. You need to know how you might be treated some day, and you need to know what lengths you may have to go to, for yourself or your loved ones, just to get the care you literally need to survive.

In a nutshell, Saudade was belittled, berated, and ignored while she bled internally in the ER for six solid hours. Her ER nurses apparently thought she was just another hysterical pregnant girl, and so claimed that each of the *three separate machines* showing her rapidly dropping pulse were faulty, until Saudade simply had no pulse at all.  She was moments away from death before anyone - ANYONE - took her pain seriously. 

She has had the surreal experience of a nurse breaking down into tears as she rushed Saudade into emergency surgery, and a doctor pounding on her chest screaming, "breathe, dammit!" - which I honestly thought only happened in movies. She nearly died, several times over. She did lose her child. She was on a respirator for days. And two years later, it all happened again. 

Saudade's corresponding emotional journey is also something I thing you should see, because while it has equal horrors of cruel and clueless "counselors," at least it has a happier ending. It's taken nine years, but Suadade's finally stopped blaming and punishing herself, and  - here's where I'm going to cry again - she's started drawing again. 

And out of so much pain, there blooms something so, so beautiful:


Saudade wrote to thank me for helping her feel brave enough to finally share her story. I think we should thank her for taking this leap, and for allowing us to see the dangers we must guard against in our health care system. If I've taken anything away from her story and the countless others you readers have shared, it's that you have to trust yourself more than your doctors, and you should never let anyone tell you you're fine when you know you are not. Sadly, playing nice just isn't an option any more when it comes to your health. Make someone listen. Don't stop. Look out for your loved ones. And whatever you do, whatever people say, please, don't blame yourself. There are good health care workers out there, so let's make stories like Saudade's a thing of the past, together.

Go here to read Saudade's story. Then forward it to your mom, and your sister, and your doctor. Get the word out. Then find someone with a story like Saudade's, give them a hug, and remind them it's not their fault. I bet we'll be surprised by how many of them need it.

Posted by Jen at 5:02 AM   |  42 comments  |   Labels:

Wanna Listen To Me Ramble About Geek Stuff?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Then you're in luck!



As most of you know, I turn down the vast majority of the speaking invites I get. In fact, I turn 'em all down. (Although it's always nice to be asked!) I'm fine with e-mail interviews or informal chats on the phone, but I reeeeally don't like being recorded, on camera or even just audio. The few big radio bits I agreed to for the CW book tour all had to be pre-recorded because of my nerves, and even then I've yet to listen to any of them. No sir, I do not like it. (Although the NPR lady was super nice.)

This past week, however, I broke out of my shell in a big way and did TWO recorded podcast interviews, and this one with Josh of JustUs Geeks was the longest. I don't expect this to become a regular thing, but I will say it's a lot more fun to talk about geek stuff than trying to explain the Naked Mohawk-Baby Carrot Jockeys. (Seriously, try to do that without a visual aid - and without sounding like a total perv. YOU CAN'T.)

I have not - and will not - listen to the interview myself, but John tells me I didn't completely embarrass myself. I do laugh a lot, though. He also tells me we need a microphone, because it's really echoey in my office. Sorry. (It was a Skype recording.)

Anyway, it's about 30 minutes of me talking about my geeky influences, my thoughts on everything from social media to my readers (and yes, that IS the sound of me getting all choked up), and lots of other things I don't remember. I hope you like it. And that I sound exactly like you imagine: calm, cool, collected, and drop-dead sexy. MROW.

Go here to give it a listen, and then we shall never speak of this again. Deal?

Posted by Jen at 2:09 AM   |  33 comments  |   Labels: , ,

Lady Vadore Update & Sneak Peek!

Monday, August 6, 2012

An amazing thing happened this past weekend, guys: John and I finished my costume.

Can I get a "Wahoo?!"

I'm sure I'll find ways to add even more detail in the next few weeks, of course, but it's a huge relief to be ready this far in advance of Star Wars Celebration. We tried it all on Saturday night (and I say "we" because I need a LOT of assistance to get in the thing), and then I just hung out, you know, chillin', in my rather restrictive costume for an hour or so to see if I would suffocate or keel over or both.

Happily I did fine, although sitting is an adventure and I had some fascinating marks all over my face and torso afterward. Heh.

One of the reasons this costume has taken so long is that John and I have focused on lots of tiny details you can't really appreciate when you first see the whole thing. So while the following images are, indeed, a complete tease, they're also to show you some of the finer points you might not notice during the grand reveal.

I hope you like them. 







There aren't many fabric trims available in copper, so I applied a copper wash on all the gold button highlights and hand-painted metallic copper strips on all the gold braided trim.



A vintage piece with custom painted filigrees and pale green Swarovski crystal accents. This is probably my favorite part of the whole costume, after the mask, and I can't wait to show you guys what it does.




The feathers flash iridescent green in the light, with a few horizontal veins of purple.

Tiny calling cards (only an inch and a half tall) that John and I designed and printed on a textured linen cardstock. ( I should mention I'm not going to be foisting these off on unsuspecting con-goers; they're actually a part of the costume. You'll see.)

Thanks for all of your help on the name, too, guys; the consensus seemed to be "Vadore" would get the proper pronunciation across.

I have a tutorial coming up for my lightsaber, so look for that soon. In the meantime, I'm already brainstorming what my next project should be! (Don't tell John; he just now got his dining room table back after two months. Ha!) I'm a little steampunked out, so I'm thinking....I dunno....resin jewelry? I've wanted to try mold-making for ages. Or painted sneakers? Or a comic book purse? What do you think, guys - anything you want me to test-try for you?

[In case you missed it, you can see my completed Vader mask (and lots of progress pics!) here.]

Posted by Jen at 3:14 PM   |  46 comments  |   Labels: , , , ,

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