Art of the Hands

Time to Tinker

Month: April 2018

Solar Balloon Part 6-What next?

With our last balloon drifting through the stratosphere, it is now time for us to look forward to our next project.

The first thing to work on is obviously the quality of our tether rope. Just out of simplicity, I think we have decided to use paracord to hold out next balloon, partly because it is so light, and partly because it can hold so much weight before it brakes. We may also look into the possibility of a second safety line or an anchor that can act as a fail-safe, just in case.

The next thing that we will be changing is the design of the balloon itself. As I mentioned before, a sphere is a very good shape to use on paper, but the problem is it is very hard to produce, making the construction phase take far to long to complete. To try to solve this problem, we decided to change the shape into the cube. A cube is geometrically similar in shape to a sphere but is also much easier to produce. Another way we are going to make the building process easier is by increasing the size of our plastic. We decided to buy some painting drop cloth, which we will use to make the walls of our balloon. this way we only need to fuse two pieces of plastic instead of +50. Because our drop cloth is clear, we are also going to be covering the inside with black paint pigment. It can be bought at Walmart for an only a few dollars and can make our balloon black and so able to absorb the sun’s energy as well, if not better, then the trash bags.

The next modification we wanted to try is one that we have seen on professional balloons but have not tried ourselves yet. That is to put a clear balloon over the black one. This will help us because as the black balloon absorbs the sun’s energy, it will radiate that heat in two directions, in and out. The heat radiated in is already being collected by the black balloon but right now all the energy being radiated out is simply lost energy. By adding a clear balloon outside the black one, we can collect the energy being radiated out as well, increasing the efficiency of our balloon.

The final thing we want to add to our balloon is a black box. Though we do not intend to lose a balloon again, our last outing has taught us that anything can happen. Because of that, we decided to add a sensor package to our balloon so that if we do lose our balloon again, we can find it when it lands. Our box will have several sensors to help know what our balloon is doing at all times.

  1. A radio tower based tracker. This is similar to what professional weather balloons use, it allows us to track the balloon based on what radio signals are picking it up. We decided to use this tracking device because it is more versatile than a GPS tracker and is also cheaper.
  2. A camera. One of the main goals of our last balloon was to be able to hold a camera so we can take pictures from 300 feet, just because it would be cool. Because we still want to do this, we are getting a cheap Go-Pro and putting it in our balloon, so that as we fly we can record our flight and hopefully get some good pictures. we chose a Go-Pro because it is smaller and tougher then other cameras and so can survive an impact better. (Even though we hope it never will need to)
  3. An altimeter. Though we hope to never lose another balloon, we do want to prepare for the possibility. To accommodate that wish, we decided to track our height so if we do lose another balloon and we recover it, we can at least know how high we went.
  4. A thermometer. Because temperature is so important in calculating our lift, we decided it would be beneficial to add a thermometer to both measures the temperature of the air inside and outside the balloon. This way, we can start to get a better idea of what temperatures we should use in our future calculations.

Because finals are rapidly approaching, both I and Andy agreed that we were too busy to build our next balloon right away. When we do, these are some of the changes we will be making and hopefully, we will get another successful flight. Until then, good luck with your projects and Happy Tinkering!


I’m sure that all of us have experienced the frustration of headphones getting tangled on us, then getting broken because of it. I know that feeling because it happens to me all the time. Recently, I decided to try to fix my perpetual problem with a little bit of engineering.

One really common you I see people keep their headphones from getting tangled in their pockets is to wrap them around their fingers then tie it off like a piece of rope.

While I have used this technique does succeed in keeping your headphones untangled while they are in your pocket, I have found that it has a fatal flaw that will decrease the life expectancy of the headphones. That fatal flaw is the jack, in order to keep the knot from unraveling it must be tucked into the loops of the coil and as such is bent at a fairly severe angle. with repeated use, this stress point results in damage to the wiring and eventually a short, likely only in one ear. At least this is what kept happening to me.

Now I know that many cheap headphones will practically come from the factory with a short in them, but either way I wanted to make an apparatus to minimize the stress placed on the headphones, hopefully increasing their lifetime. With that in mind, I decided to grab some copper wiring I had laying around and make myself a copper whatyamacallit to solve my problem.

The result is basically a small, wire, Christmas light holder. The loop in the middle is so I can catch my earbuds and hold them together while I wrap the wiring around the prongs. The gaps in the wiring are also strategic as they allow me to remove my headphones without unthreading my headphones completely.

The key feature of this device is how it keeps the wire from unraveling. Instead of relying on a knot to keep everything secure, it instead uses the pressure created by squeezing the headphone jack between the wiring of the prong and the headphone wire itself. The friction is strong enough to keep the wiring from unraveling, and the way it grabs the headphone jack allows for the wiring to be kept nearly straight. Because the wiring is fairly straight, there are no concentrated stress points that will fail faster than the rest of the wiring. as a bonus, the rigid frame from the wire also helps to keep the headphones from getting bent while in your pocket.

I don’t think that this is a perfect system, I do think that it is better than the alternatives. I have only been using my apparatus for only a month or two so I don’t know if there is a failure point that I haven’t seen yet, but I think that my headphones will likely die from work before they die from my pocket, and that was the goal anyway so I am happy with that right now.

I hope that you have enjoyed this post. If you want to repeat this project, then don’t worry about being exact, all you need is some wire, some safety equipment, and some needle nose pliers. make a general shape that you are happy with and then test it. you will probably need to make modifications to do that and once you are happy with your design then cut away the excess wire and voila, you’re done. Have fun with this simple little project and I will see you in the next one. Till then, Happy Tinkering!


With the approach of spring and the reappearance of nice weather, I have started to have a hankering for hiking again. In that spirit, I have decided to do a project with a hiking theme today. I hope you enjoy!

You may or may not know this but I have celiac disease which means that I cannot eat gluten at all. Gluten, for those who don’t know, is a protein inside wheat and is often used as a bonding agent in many cooking recipes and as such, there is a lot of foods that I cant buy store bought, I have to make them. In the last few years, there has been an increase in store-bought foods that actually taste good and don’t cost a fortune, but there are still some foods that this still isn’t the case, and jerky is one of those foods. Most store-bought jerkies either have gluten in them directly or are produced in an environment where gluten is used, making it untrustworthy as to if it is actually gluten free. Because of that, I have decided to try to make my own.

I got the idea for this from a church-run camping trip I went on last year called treck. While you are at treck, you are divided into groups called families and you have adult volunteers leading the family who you call Ma and Pa. While on treck you pull handcarts with all your stuff for four or five days so you can experience to journey that the Mormon Pioneers experienced as the crossed the plains in their journey to the Utah Valley. My Ma and Pa were also eating a gluten-free diet and they brought with them this homemade jerky that was amazingly salty and delicious. They make it by cooking some thin cuts of steak then salting it and letting it dry in the salt. The result is a very salty and chewy jerky perfect for activities where you will be needing to replace the salt you are sweating. steak is expensive but I wanted to see if I could replicate the treat using hamburger meat. Why hamburger? It is what I had on hand, you could probably do just fine with chicken or possibly fish if you wanted.

I started by squishing some hamburger meat as this as I could between my hands and then cooking them in a frying pan.

once I was done, as you can see they swelled a little bit so it might be a good idea to squeeze as much of the fat out of the meat as you can before adding the salt. The salt will remove the fat anyway so you might as well reduce the mess by getting rid of it early. Once the meat is degreased, all you need to do is throw it in a bag with some salt and suck out the air. using larger salt pieces would probably work better but I used normal table salt and that seemed to work just fine so it is up to you.

Once you have let your meat cure for about a week, then all you need to do is wash the salt off in the sink and let the meat dry and you should be good. Don’t worry about removing the flavor, it has already soaked into the meat so thoroughly removing the salt on the surface of the meat will not hurt the flavor at all. If you are using a dense meat like steak or chicken then you might be better to just brush off the excess but the hamburger was so absorbent that you will defiantly want to remove as much salt as possible.

Fair warning, you will want to thoroughly remove as much salt as you can. This jerky can be a bit of an acquired taste because of the amount of salt in the meat. Unless your body is experiencing a salt deficiency,  your body will actually react and recoil at the amount of salt in this meat. You may find it disgusting or inedible. However, if you are in a position where you need a lot of salt fast then this meat is heaven sent. I have seen it revitalize people who were feeling faint because of the lack of salt in their system and I know from experience that the more salt deprived you are the more your body accepts the salt increase and so you stop finding the salt so unappealing and you get to start tasting the meat.  After a week I was totally hooked on this meat and have wanted to make it ever since. Steak is a better meat to do this with because it absorbs less salt, is chewier so it takes longer to eat, and has fat reserves to help you replenish your energy, however, hamburger meat will still work, you just sacrifice the chewiness and some of the fat for a lower price. as a bonus, I was able to make quite a bit of jerky with just one pound of meat so this is a cheap and easy was to make a delicious hiking snack for your summertime adventurers.

One last note, I tried flavoring my meat and it didn’t really work. Just stick to salt, it works way better. I hope you found this post interesting, good luck prepping for your summertime adventurers and I will see you for the next one. Untill then, Happy Tinkering!