Monday, March 02, 2020

Dr Seuss Tribute Assembly Show

My Dr. Seuss Read Across America school assembly show is a tribute to Theodore Seuss Geisel and has become one of my most popular school assembly programs, particularly at this time of the year. The truth is, the assembly program is a great way to kick off the school year or as a reading reward incentive ideas for students who have met certain reading goals like AR or Bluebonnet. The show is a fun, whimsical production filled with more magic tricks than any other show I do. Like most of my shows, I include several short book talks, obviously focusing on books written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss.
Julian Franklin performing Dr Seuss Tribute Show not Dr Suess
However, this is also an educational school assembly program, so there will be new insights students will pick up and even a few things that your most experienced teachers might not know; like the story behind the dedication Seuss made to his father in the front of McElligot's Pool or the challenge from a fellow children's author that spawned GreenEggs and Ham.

If you'd like to learn more about this show or any of our others, check out the web site of Texas author Julian Franklin or watch me describe the show in more detail in this short Dr. Seuss Tribute Show video clip.

Monday, February 03, 2020

2020 Summer Dates Filling Fast!

Booking the best entertainer, speaker, presenter, magician, for Texas SRC Summer Reading Club can be a challenge. One of the problems that libraries in my area face is that budgets are not revealed until mid-to-late January and by that time most of my schedule for the summer has already been filled. Some systems won't even let their librarians engage in discussions for booking until AFTER the budgets have been approved and released!

For years I've told librarians who wanted to book me to reserve a date way in advance since it doesn't cost anything to plan ahead. I offer a no-risk, no-obligation reservation for my clients so they can tentatively save a date without having to sign a contract, make a deposit, or actually commit to a booking. It's like a dinner reservation, only easier.

WARNING: Shameless plug coming up....Not all presenters are this easy, but it is certainly this easy when you book Texas author Julian Franklin.

The most popular dates and times seem to be Wednesday mornings. If you want a fun library magic show on a Wednesday, particularly a Wednesday morning, you pretty much have to reserve it as I leave your library the year before. Some clients book me two years in advance, but that's usually not really necessary. Also, if you have your Texas Summer Reading Club shows and events on Mondays, Fridays, or Saturdays, then it is much easier to get a quality performer. But if you wait until the last minute, you won't be able to get top name performers, who frequently perform in public libraries at LESS than other presenters who might not even be as skilled or entertaining.

Imagine paying MORE and getting LESS. I know the best performers tend to book up quickly, and they almost all allow tentative reservations without a deposit or signed contract. If you can't get me, Julian Franklin, then see if you can get someone really fun and engaging like Lucas Miller the Singing Zoologist or Storybook Theater, or even San Antonio Birthday Party Magician, Mr. Magico. You will be pleased with ANY of these talented performers.

And if you work at an elementary school, don't forget that during the school year, I perform more Texas elementary school assembly programs than any other Texas author or presenter!

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Asst. Lib. Dir. kills City Council Member in Cage Fight

January 11, 2020. Last night a tornado ripped through the Friendswood area destroying fences, knocking down trees, and redistributing all manner of outdoor furniture among neighbors. But just hours before another tornado of sorts was wreaking havoc among five of Friendswood's most recognized community members. Fortunately, no one was hurt in either of these storms.

The evening started innocently enough with five upstanding Friendswood City community members agreeing to a friendly dash though an obstacle course. The competitors included City Manager Morad Kabiri, Police officer Kevin Crouch (who was recently promoted to detective, so congratulations Kevin!), City Council member Steve Rockey, Assistant Library Director Karen Hart, and Youth Services Librarian Christina Hicks. Sadly, Ms. Hicks, and Mr. Rockey would be the only competitors to cross the finish line as the others lay critically crippled on the course.

OBSTACLE COURSE: I should make it very clear at this point that all of this happened through the iconic collaborative storytelling game known as Dungeons and Dragons, or D&D, for short. So, technically Mr. Rocky didn't actually win first place in the race, his PC (player character) Strong Linen took that title as well as the magical boots the king granted as the prize for winning. Ms. Hart took a close second, leaving everyone else in broken agony, covered in oily mud at the base of the 20' climbing wall from which they had each fallen after losing their grip.

Even though City Manager Morad Kabiri's PC (Donatello) didn't actually win the race, or technically even survive to the finish, everyone agreed that the highlight of the race was him dashing straight down the middle of "Sucker Punch Alley" avoiding every single swinging padded log. The dice might have failed him on the climbing wall, but they were on his side then!

ARCHERY: After having all their injuries magically healed by the court clerics, everyone gathered for the archery competition. The targets were placed at a reasonable range of 75' then moved back to 150' which caused Ms. mean, Willow to shoot at disadvanatge because her weapon of choice (hand crossbow) was beyond normal range. For the final round the targets were moved out to 300' where everyone shot at disadvantage due to the extreme range.

The king has decreed that future matches will have 3 arrows at each range increment as this short competition demonstrated that a gust of wind, the call of a bird, or an unlucky roll of the d20 can cause a skilled archer like Detective Crouch's PC Rolen to barely hit the outer circle of the target on one shot and miss it entirely on the other two shots, while brutish barbarian Strong Linen dominated and took first place with two bull's eyes! And while Aspen and Rolen were trading quips earlier in the competition having come from different elven clans, I suspect that Rolen was secretly glad that second place went to Aspen. Everyone knows that elves are rather proud of their archery skills and if Rolen couldn't take second place himself, he must have felt some modicum of solice knowing that it at least went to a fellow elf.

MORTAL COMBAT: All the contestants walked into the cage, but only one would walk out. The rest would be carried out on stretchers. Strong Linen already had two first place victories and he was the crowd favorite to win this competition for a triple crown. I mean, a tough meat-shield of a human barbarian against a few elves and half-elves, some of whom weren't even proficient with martial weapons.

But the other competitors knew that Strong Linen was a threat and so they seemed to focus their efforts on him, trying to take him out in the first round. In fact, the only attack that injured anyone else the first round of combat was when Donatello "accidentally" shot Rolen in the back while Rolen was busy engaging with Strong Linen. Eveyone in the crowd could see how such a mistake might happen as it seemed obvious that Rolen was simply in the way of a shot targeting Strong Linen. However, some by-standers suggested they saw a glimmer in Donatello's eyes as he drew his bow and a satisfied smirk as the arrow pounded square into the middle of Rolen's back.

Please remember that all the weapons, of course, had been magically enchanted and caused only half damage, and even that damage was merely sudual. But any of the contestants will assure you, it still hurts!

Willow (played by Karen Hart) seemed to have the strategy to attack from afar while everyone else seemed to mix it up a bit. If it was a conscious decision to stand back and let everyone else battle it out then it seemed to work on this day. Ultimately it came down to Youth Services Librarian Christina Hicks fighting for her life against her boss, Karen Hart. I'm not sure if Ms. Hart has ever actually fenced with a rapier before, but her PC Willow certainly seemed comfortable with the weapon. After several rounds of cat-and-mouse sword play involving jumping from behind cover to swipe before spinning behind another barrier of protection, thrusting, parrying, dodging, and ducking, Willow ultimately defeated the agile Aspen (Christina Hicks) and stood triumphant in the blood splattered ring.

CONCLUSION: It is both interesting and informative to note that all of the first place winners in this tournatment were played by people who had NEVER played D&D before this game. D&D has a reputation for being a confusing game with lots of difficult rules, but the truth is that a good GM (Game Master) should make it easy and seamless for a new player to learn the rules WHILE they play. If you've ever been curious about D&D, visit your local library or a nearby gaming store and see if they have an opportunity for you to either watch, or better yet, play.

I'll be back at Friendswood Public Library on Saturday, Jan. 11, at 12:30 pm and again the next day, Sunday, Jan. 12 at 11:30 am. All the events at Friendswood Public Library are free, just like all the events at YOUR local library, so come out and enjoy the fun. I'll also be hosting similar games across Texas this summer at a library near you, when the theme is based on fantasy and story telling.

Thursday, January 02, 2020

RPGs: Like Playing Barbie, but with rules

I've been thinking of the best way to inspire YA participation in the 2020 SRC. The owners of the D&D franchise describe the iconic game as “collaborative storytelling” and, as a long-time RPG enthusiast I completely agree. I've hosted probably hundreds of RPG games including Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), Pathfinder (a fantasy RPG similar to D&D), and even a home-brewed RPG based on the video game Fallout that I hosted for Rice University's Owl Con gaming convention a few years ago.

D&D is group storytelling. Imagine YOUR Story in 2020!
FYI: RPG = Role-Playing daughter, when she was six and we played our first game of D&D, described RPGs as being "like playing Barbie, but with rules."

Ultimately I decided that offering a professional level RPG gaming experience was the PERFECT way to combine the fantasy elements of the 2020 SRC Collaborative theme with the CLSP concept of "Imagine Your Story." The adventure that I've created will be run using the D&D 5e mechanics, but it won't matter whether your patrons are familiar with this system or not. A good Game Master (GM) can guide a group of players through a gaming experience where the rules are almost invisible. It is, after all, a group storytelling experience.

The adventure I've outlined (the details and ultimate conclusion will be added by your YA patrons) includes many of the iconic D&D tropes that have inspired generations of players: underground mazes of tunnels, caves, catacombs, and mysterious subterranean complexes inhabited by mythological creatures, magic-using antagonists, and hoards of amazing treasures that are protected by ingenious and devious traps.

Don't let your patrons miss out on this fun-filled adventure. If you've ever thought about establishing a regular YA gaming night at your LMC, this could be the catalyst that sets it all in motion. A gaming session of D&D might last as short as 2 hours, but the “game” never ends! There is always another abandoned mine to explore, a haunted house to exorcise, an evil necromancer to arrest, or even an ice-breathing blue dragon to hunt down. Get your patrons "hooked" on the most addictive YA SRC program ideas ever!

Of course, I'm still available for your more traditional fun assembly programs if you want a Texas author. Julian Franklin is also available for escape room challenges in your library and a TON of other fun reader reward program and incentive ideas. Google search "Julian Franklin" or click one of the links in this article. You won't regret it.

Monday, December 09, 2019

How I Became a Professional Magician

Texas Author and professional magician, Julian Franklin
In Texas I'm known primarily as a magician who does author visit assembly shows at elementary schools and public libraries. But it all started WAY back at the turn of the millenium....[cue the wavy sound effects that indicate a flash-back scene]

Before I had ever done a motivational school assembly show; before I had ever done a magic show at a public library to promote their summer reading club; before my writer's resume contained anything other than about a dozen published magazine articles and not even a single published book; way back before I had a cell phone or GPS, but still had a little bit of hair on my head and a copy of "The Y2K Survival Manual" on my bookshelf waiting for the immenent collapse of society; I was a school teacher.

Kids, these were a dark time, now referred to by historians as "The Late Nineteen Nineties" and I was just getting started with a side hustle to help make ends meet as a newlywed trying to survive on a teacher's salary. My particular side hustle was performing magic shows for children's birthday parties, much like my friend who does birthday party magic shows in San Antonio, Mr. Magico.

This "side hustle" eventually led me to doing motivational magic shows for summer library programs in Texas (since I had my summers off anyway as a school teacher), and the work I did in public libraries ultimately led me to become a motivational school show presenter using magic and puppets as teaching tools.

The reason I mention this is because one of my birthday party clients from WAY back, still had my name and contact information. So when her neighbor asked for a reference last month she gave out my name. I haven't marketing birthday parties since my seventeen-year-old daughter was just six years old. To tell you the truth, I MISSED it! I legitimately miss sitting on the floor with a small group of kids just doing, simple, silly, magic tricks.

No motivational message.

No educational content.

No school schedule to keep.

Just the unbridled laughter of children and the gasps of amazement from their parents in the back of the room.

So, I dusted off my box of birthday party magic and went out to where it all began: the living room floor of a house with a child celebrating their birthday. In this case, his name was Sam and he turned five on Sunday. This morning I got an email from Sam's mom. This is what it said:

Just wanted to tell you how much fun EVERYONE- kids, parents, and grandparents had today.  Everyone was talking afterwards how great you were.  How is it possible to keep 4-5 year olds so focused for an hour?!!!  And you kept them all in line and made sure each and every child who wanted to participate, did so!  You gave us your time prior to the party, warming up Sam and his friends, and time after, without rushing out and abruptly leaving the party.

Sam was going around his bedroom tonight, as we were putting him to bed, blowing his magic breath all around his room, giving magic life to everything!  He loved that “special” gift that only the birthday boy was able to make happen!

Thank you for making us feel so proud of a beautiful birthday party to honor Sam!

You are TERRIFIC!!

Monday, December 02, 2019

The Best Texas Summer Reading Program Artwork I Could Find

"The Storyteller"©Scott Gustafson; all rights reserved
As I try to create the best, fun, magic puppet show, artwork is an important consideration. I'm a magician and a motivational speaker, but my ability to draw is quite limited. I recently contracted with an amazing artist to license his artwork titled “The Storyteller” for my show this summer. Like the artwork commissioned by the CSLP Collaborative Summer Library Program, Scott Gustafson's artwork includes imagery of a native American. Unlike the CLSP artwork controversy, however, Scott's imagery carries no religious significance, but is rather a wonderful inclusive design element that I find to be brilliantly executed and fantastically rendered.

I hope that you get a chance to have my show at your library this summer. Our license of Scott's amazing artwork includes the printing and distribution of full-size, full-color posters to help promote the show in your school or library. While we can't sell the posters, we are able to give 3 of them, at no charge, to any organization that books our program this summer. I'm almost as excited about Scott's amazing artwork as I am about the hilarious, elementary school magic puppet show assembly program we've created. Of course, like all of our shows for public library programs we will be offering an educational version beginning with the 2020-2021 school year. This will be one of the 15+ elementary school assembly shows we offer.

Friday, November 29, 2019

It's not a Motivational Talk if The Audience Doesn't Change

Does “published Texas author” automatically mean “great educational assembly presenter?” I just got back from an event where I was hired as a motivational speaker based, in part, on the fact that I'm a recognized author among the attendees. It was a great event and my talk was very well received. This was a very high-end event with a ticket price of $2,497.00 per person, so you can imagine the caliber of speakers I shared the stage with. It was an honor to be invited to the event and when I wasn't talking, I was at the back of the room taking notes!

Texas Author Julian Franklin, Magician & Motivational Speaker
As I was watching the various speakers I realized that there were people on the stage that were a little bit “famous” in some circles. These are people who have had amazing careers and have some incredible stories. I enjoyed watching and listening to them recount their life histories. At one point it dawned on me that the “celebrity” talks were fun, interesting, and made me feel closer to the celebrity on stage, but the content of the talk didn't really hold very much actionable material. In other words, I wasn't taking any notes. The talk was interesting and entertaining, but I was not finding myself changed because of it. I didn't end the talk with a list of things to do. My behavior wasn't changed because of the talk. I didn't finish any different than I started.

I contrast that with several of the talks that were presented by people I had never heard of prior to this event. Their talks were not only interesting and entertaining, they were also packed with actionable information. I left not just entertained, but INSPIRED. I had a list of things that I WANTED to do, even to the point of feeling that I NEEDED to do these things. My behavior was certainly altered.

I know that when putting on events like the one where I spoke, there is a need to balance information delivery and pure entertainment. And please don't misunderstand me: I found ALL the talks to be worthwhile. I just noticed a difference that I found interesting. As someone who makes his living as a professional motivational speaker, I tend to sometimes micro-analyze things like this, in an attempt to constantly improve what I offer when I present, whether it is an attempt to provide the best elementary school author visit in Texas or a motivational speech to professional entertainers in Florida.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Optical Illusion...or MAJOR Mistake?

Have you ever seen one of those pictures where you see one thing, and then after a while you see something else that makes you realize your first impression was totally wrong? Like this picture that seems to be a floating rock, but is actually just a normal old rock, in the middle of a pond. You're just looking at it upside down.

I've had a photograph that was taken by a staff photographer working for the Museum of Fine Arts Houston,Bayou Bend Collection. The photographer and I agreed that it perfectly captured the silliness of my show while also demonstrating the audience participation and the scientific principles and skills that I teach in this particular show. I put the picture on my website where it has been for many, many years. It's one of the photographs I uploaded to my Google page. If you do a Google search for my name, my business will open on the right and you can see a map of the area I work, leave a Google review, read the other reviews from past clients AND see pictures that I and others have uploaded including this picture that is one of my favorites.

I recently used the picture in a postcard mailing that went out to roughly 3,000 elementary schools across Texas. The cards started landing yesterday and I already got my first “complaint.” It seems that the picture I so love can appear to be something “lewd” and “inappropriate” if glanced at quickly (which is how we normally look at a postcard with lots of pictures on it).

The photographer who took the picture, as well as everyone who has seen the show I do when this picture was taken, had to really “stretch” our imagination to see it in any way OTHER than what is actually happening. But we are looking at the picture in full context of the show we remember. It's like looking at the rock picture right side up. It's nearly impossible to see a “floating rock” from this angle.

But it still looks like a floating rock from the other perspective. To deny it, I'd have to bury my head in the sand. Believe me, I want to dismiss this as one “over-reactive” person, but I don't think that's the case at all. I have to turn the picture around to see it from the other perspective and admit that it really looks like the rock is floating in the air...or in this case that the picture seems to appear to imply something other than what is actually happening.

I debated about whether or not to even include it in this blog post but I can't stand when people post vague comments without providing any context. So I'm including it so that hopefully you can see both sides of the issue. I hope that you can see why I so love this picture. For those who haven't seen my show I'm “struggling” to lift a bucket of rocks that weighs 50 lbs. There is a scale attached to the bucket handle and so I'm telling the child to read the scale and while I “struggle” with the weight I'm huffing and puffing and saying “Hurry! It's heavy!!”

It's a very funny moment in the show, everyone in the audience is laughing, and this picture (in my mind) captures that moment perfectly.

From another perspective, particularly if glanced at quickly and without context, the angles and facial expressions might be misinterpreted as something less wholesome. That's disappointing to me, for more reasons than I care to articulate.

So I removed it from my website and won't be using it in any future marketing efforts. It's still on my Google page just because I haven't yet figured out how (or even IF) I can take it down. Now I'm worrying about the other 2,999+ recipients of the postcard and wondering what THEY think.

Monday, August 05, 2019

I'm Really Getting Into this 3-D Printing Stuff!!

For those who don't know, we own an old, historic home built around 1853. We're only the 4th family to own this home and the previous owners were antique dealers who left a lot of stuff for us including a garage attic full of dust-covered treasures.

One of the things we found up there was what we thought was a caddy for fireplace tools. I cleaned it up a bit, brushing off lots of rust and realized it was actually a twin ashtray holder. The two large circles held glass ash trays. The medium sized hole held some sort of insert that held loose cigarettes, and the smallest hole held a cigarette lighter.

Annie and I wanted to use it but since neither of us smoke we knew we had to re-purpose it to hold cold drinks. Unfortunately the two larger holes are just a little bit TOO big to hold any glass or cup we own. So I figured this is the perfect job for 3-D printing!

I got out my calipers to measure the openings of the holes in the caddy, and to also measure my glasses and coffee mugs. These calipers are the first pair I've ever owned and I bought them just a few months ago when I first got into designing things for 3-D printing for the robot. I now use them all the time! What a great measuring tool!

Anyway, I measured the openings I would need to hold my glasses, estimated how deep I would want the insert to set into the caddy, and then 3-D printed one to make sure it worked. It fit great, and so I printed the other one. The image at the left of the insert is technically upside down from how it is inserted, but it prints better this way so that's how I designed it. I also created a smooth, round shape on the part of the insert that fits into the caddy, but I created the inside hole of the insert (where the glass will rest) to be more polygonal. My goal was to provide less surface area contact between the drinking glass and the printed insert so that there would be less likelihood of the glass getting wedged into the insert and sticking.

I'm still contemplating a different 3-D printed insert for coffee mugs with handles and I'm trying to figure out what I can do with the other two holes. I can easily imagine a cup-type insert for the medium sized hole, probably very similar to what originally went there to hold loose cigarettes. But I wouldn't know what I would put in it. Ice cubes? The hole is almost exactly the size of a 12 oz. soda can, which means if I made a "cup" style insert, a drink coozie would slip over it perfectly and help insulate it.

I'm trying to think in three dimensions though. I could have a cup insert hang down, but I could also have something stick UP and it's just wedged into the hole; like a snack bowl with a "peg" on the bottom that perfectly matches the smallest hole.

That's one of the great things about 3-D printing. You can create one-off things with absolute precision at a cost so ridiculously low that you can keep tweaking and creating variations for as long as your brain can invent and design them! Learning new things like this is one of the major side advantages of writing a school assembly show about maker space ideas.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Downloads for some of my 3-D printing files

One of the things that's been very encouraging with this new show is how many kids are genuinely interested in the robot and the idea of possibly building their own robot. After the show is over, kids from older teens all the way to very young pre-readers want to hang out and talk about how the robot works, and how I built him.

Of course, RD-3D is not as complicated as most real robots since he's really more of a robot "actor," pretending to hear and respond while actually just delivering his "lines" on cue.

But he was still an ambitious project and something that any builder would have fun with and be proud of. So, I'm including links to the files on Tinkercad that I used to create RD-3D.

It's important to note that I started with a frame work from a toy made by 4M Kidz Labs, as I mentioned in a previous post. I used a soup can because they are about the same size as a soda can (what the toy was designed for), but the soup can is sturdier and I knew it would be a better casing.

However I needed more room inside than a single can would provide, so I designed the can connector. Here's the link to that if you want to go in and download it, tweak it to something else if you want to try to improve it, or just print it as it is.

I also incorporated some forks and redesigned them to be even better than before. Here's the link to the file for the improved forks:

Monday, July 22, 2019

Improving the Battery Life of RD-3D

A week or two ago I blogged about how Making involves a lot of trial and error. Lots of problems come up, work out a solutions, maybe it works, maybe not, back to the drawing board, keep researching, keep trying, keep feeling forward progress and keep hitting new road blocks.

One of the things that was frustrating was that my robot's 9 v. battery would die after only 4 shows or so. I would turn the robot off after each show, and even disconnected the battery each time. If a switch is left on, then I can understand how a battery would die rather quickly, even if the motors and LEDs are not going, the Arduino is still "thinking" and waiting for new code or new inputs to affect the current code. By completely disconnecting the battery I was ensuring that there was nothing that could drain the battery other than his actual performances, and they were much too short to drain a battery after 4 shows.

CLUE #1: His LEDs are still bright even when he can't move. Not surprising since lighting an LED uses nearly no electricity at all while powering a motor uses LOTS of electricity.

CLUE #2: When he was supposed to move you could hear the motor struggling, just unable to actually make the robot move (this is an important clue because it indicated that the battery still had enough power to affect the motor, just not quite enough, it seemed).

CLUE #3: When he would get to the part of his skit where he was supposed to "shake" he always had enough power to do that (this is the most important clue and what finally made me realize the source of the problem).

So him shaking is actually the motor going full blast forward for 1/10th of a second, then going backwards full blast for 1/10th of a second, over and over 17 times (for the record, I recently changed it to 25 times because it gets a good laugh and I thought he might have quite to quickly since 17 shakes is barely 3 seconds).

When I programmed RD-3D to walk I have him move at a slow pace because if he moves too quickly it is easier for him to fall over. So he would move at about 35% of maximum power.

MY THEORY (don't read this part yet if you want to try to figure out what YOU think the problem might have been, because I can tell you that my theory has been tested and demonstrated to be the source of the problem).

I felt like since the robot motor would drive him at FULL power, but not at 35% power then it might be that the battery was getting weak after 4 shows, but not dead. I decided to rewrite the code to have RD-3D move at a higher speed than 35%. Also, I felt like the laws of inertia might be at work a bit, too. I felt if I could jostle RD-3D into moving (like the start of one of his twitches) then the momentum might make him able to move with a lower powered speed.

In other words, I had him start at 100% for 1/4th of a second, then drop to 85% for 1/4th of a second, then drop to 70% for 1/4th of a second, then drop to 55% for 1/4th of a second, then drop to 40% for the last 1.8 seconds. The initial "blast off" is full power, but it is so short in duration that he doesn't actually jerk and you really can't even notice that he's moving faster for the first part of his trip.

So I rewrote the code, uploaded it to his little Arduino brain, and tested it out. I've been testing it for the past week or two using one of my "dead" batteries and that battery has now powered my little "astromech droid" through no fewer than 19 shows! That's 19 AFTER I thought the battery was too dead to work for the show.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Updates on RD-3D now that he's done a few shows

The one thing I've learned as I've really gotten into the Maker Movement is that rarely does anything work right the first time. You have to keep researching, learning, testing, and trying new things.

For example: the rubber bands that I use for tires on his tiny wheels. I had the hardest time gluing the rubber bands to the wheels. I tried all different kinds of glue, even rubber cement which is nearly perfect for gluing rubber. Nothing would work. But it turns out rubber bands are coated with a special powder that keeps them from sticking to anything, even glue and rubber cement. A quick rinse under the sink and presto, the rubber band tires can now be glued to the wheel!

Another problem I had was with the front forks. I designed them in TinkerCad using measurements of the button wheel I made with my calipers. I added a little "shelf" perpendicular to the forks that fit under the lower lip of the can to keep the forks steady.

Unfortunately I measured the width of the button in the CENTER and failed to account for the outer lip of the button which is a little bit fatter. No big deal. The button-wheel I measured was actually 2 buttons glued together, so I could still use a button, I just had to use a single button rather than the double I had wanted.

But then another problem arose. RD-3D started turning while he was moving. It was as if he were steering off-course. It seems that the little "shelf" I made didn't to as good a job as stabilizing the forks as I had wanted. So, I decided to go back and redesign the forks, making them wider (to hold a double-button wheel) AND to also improve the shelf so that it would stabilize with the can better. So I greatly increased the size of the shelf and also contoured it to the curve of the can which makes it nearly impossible for it to pivot around the screw like it had been doing. So far, so good.

But there is one more issue I've been dealing with. The 9 v. batteries I've been using seem to go dead after just 4 shows. There is NO REASON for them to die that quickly. I mean, they aren't DEAD-dead, just low enough that RD-3D can't move. His lights still turn on and blink quite brightly, and he has enough power to do his "shaking" thing (which turned out to be one of the funnier jokes in the show).

When he's supposed to move across the table, I can hear his motor struggling, but he doesn't actually move. I think I know what the problem is, and I'll report back on it whether I'm right or wrong.

Friday, May 10, 2019

RD-3D is Finally DONE!!

It is such a relief to have him all completed and know that he works like I want him to. Everything he does is programmable. That is, I can adjust how long the lights are on and off, how fast and how far he moves forward and backward. But it's all programmed BEFORE the show; sort of like how I memorize lines, RD-3D will have "memorized" things he will do.

For example, I'll ask him questions and the green light will represent "yes" and the red light will be "no." But he won't actually hear the questions, just wait a set amount of time and then turn on the green light for a second. Also, the shaking back and forth he does near the end of the video I think I'm going to use as a joke in the show. I'll say something like "Okay, we have an agreement. Let's shake on it," and he will begin to shake.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

My Robot has New Wheels and a Name!

New Wheels and a Name

So the robot toy I bought has lopsided wheels. That's by design. When he rolls forward, it makes him wobble side-to-side and it looks a little like he's walking. It's cute. I like it actually.

But when I stacked 2 cans on top of each other using the 3D printed Tin Can Connector I designed, it caused the top can to topple after about 6" of travel, or less than two seconds. So I made this wheel design that I hoped would fix the problem. I emailed the file to the library and went to pick up two wheels (mine are green) a few hours later. At first I thought I would only need one, and the other would be a back up. I thought a LITTLE bit of swagger would still be something sort of funny. But it was still too much for 2 stacked soup cans.

Fortunately, I had two wheels and so I simply attached the other wheel also! So easy, right?

1) Identify problem
2) Solve problem
3) All problems are GONE!!

Actually it's more like this....

1) Identify problem
2) Solve problem
3) Identify NEW problem and then go back to #2
4) Repeat steps 2 & 3 basically forever.

You see, now that I have these two new wheels, for some reason they don't get as much traction as the original wheels. Not sure why, but I found a solution to that problem also.

We happened to have a bag of size 64 rubber bands. They are the fat, wide (1/4") rubber bands. I cut them and used rubber cement to attach them around the wheel.

That didn't work because the rubber cement wouldn't RUBBER bands!! What?!

Then I realized that rubber bands are coated in a powder that keeps them from sticking to each other. I cut some new rubber bands (the first batch were covered with drying rubber cement) and washed them. Now the pieces stuck quite nicely. My wheels have TIRES!

I also broke part of one of my wheels and had to fix it with a gob of Gorilla Glue. I should not have tried so hard to CRAM the axle into the hub, but rather, should have drilled the hub out slightly to receive the axle easier.

Oh, and I now have a name for my robot. RD-3D.

That's because he's two cans of Chef Boy "RD" ravioli and lots of 3D printing.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Foundations of a Robot Puppet

While in my local Lakeshore Learning teacher supply store I spotted this little toy on a discount shelf and snapped it up. I "knew" I wouldn't use it (i.e. "thought" I wouldn't use it), but figured it might provide some inspiration for my own robot project.

Little did I know that it would become the basis of my show this summer!

First of all, this is a toy, and certainly NOT a robot. From an electronic standpoint it is a simple circuit with a switch, battery, and a motor; turn on the switch and it completes the circuit causing the motor to run until you turn it off.

But I liked two thing about it that I wanted to use: 1) The frame that holds the can, and 2) the gear exchange that uses the motor to drive the wheels.

But I wanted to wire it to an Arduino so that I could control various aspects of the motor. I wanted to be able to go forward AND backward. I wanted to be able to control the SPEED of the motor, and I wanted to be able to time certain things to happen (move forward for 2 seconds then stop for 5 seconds, then go backwards at half speed for 2 seconds, etc.).

Anyway, I have been playing with it. I am unsure of what I'll be able to do, but I was happy to notice that 10 oz. cans (most soup cans, Rotel tomatoes, etc) are about the same size as soda cans and will fit within the frame of this robot.

The downside is that I knew that one can would not be big enough to hold my Arduino and all the wires I might need for the LEDs, moving arms, etc. So I carefully measured the inner diameter of a 10 oz. can, got on Tinkercad and fabricated this "Tin Can Connector."

I'm not going to lie to you. This was very simple to create...and I still felt like a freaking ROCK STAR when I finished! And even MORE like a rock star when I picked it up from my local library (thank you Friendswood Public Library for being so amazing!!).

I'm even more inspired now than ever before about this summer's show. We live in an amazing time where we can sit at a computer, imagine something, design it, email that file to our local library, and for pennies per gram, pick up a perfect rendition of our imagination come to fruition.

I'm not mechanically inclined and never have been. So, when I tell you I'm nervous about finishing this project, it is true. But this first step was so surprisingly easy, that my confidence has been renewed. For a long time I kept thinking I should just BUY a robot that does what I need and be done with it. But I just couldn't bring myself to do a show about MAKING things while refusing to even TRY. So, if this doesn't end up in the show this summer, know that it wasn't for lack of TRYING!!

Friday, February 15, 2019

More on writing this summer's Robot-ish show

So the basic story for this summer (at least I THINK this is what's going to happen, but things change as the show unfolds), is that there is an alien that crash lands and we have to help him return to his home planet. There are several tasks, each exemplifying one aspect of maker space educational concepts.

 So there's an artistic component, a coding component, and a component based on physical construction. Not that any of the children will (or even should) recognize the educational work behind the scenes. They should just realize that they are totally capable of rebuilding the spaceship and getting their new friend (alien puppet) back home in time for dinner.
Fortunately we live near League City, so there's lots of NASA geeks that live here and sell some pretty cool looking gadgets at their garage sales. A lot of this stuff I have no idea what it does, but for a dollar or two I'll pick it up in the hopes that I can at least use it as a cosmetic embellishment on some of the stuff I'll be doing.

I know I said that writing a show is the hardest work I do, and it is. But it's also pretty fun!

Monday, February 11, 2019

Writing the new show: Take Me to Your Readers

Without a doubt, the hardest work I do is writing a new show. Marketing and scheduling and travelling and bookkeeping and graphic design are all parts of my job that are boring, difficult, or just not fun, but WRITING a show is, by FAR, the most difficult work.

The goal is that I come in and every joke is funny. The goal is that there's never a dull moment. The kids are laughing hysterically, the adults are laughing at how much the kids are laughing, and no one realizes how much they are actually learning. Until it's all over, and they think back about the jokes and the puppets and the magic and it dawns on them that it was all a "mini-play," a theatrical experience that conveys a story, and stories are one of the easiest ways to learn things.

But the best stories are the hardest ones to write.

For me it's even more difficult because I have these other goals I add in about using puppets, using magic tricks, comedy for kids, comedy for adults, which books I want to talk about, and this year I'm incorporating some Maker-space concepts so I'm having to really learn some new skills as I literally have to build a robot for this show.

Keep tuned for updates. Right now I have to practice writing code for the Arduino that will be the "brain" for this robotic character in my show. Still working on a name for him...or her? Hmm, so much to think about.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

When Everybody Plays, We All Win

Does it reveal my biases that I already have a favorite commercial from this year's Superbowl and it's still more than 30 hours before kickoff?

Look, every now and then several factors overlap to give you something better than the sum of their parts. Beans: mmm, pretty good. Rice: not too bad. Rice & Beans: DELICIOUS!! So it is with a particular Superbowl commercial this year.

Without belaboring it, here are some of my passions & devotions that come together in this inspirational work of art. Yeah, I said that about a commercial.

I was a special education classroom teacher for almost ten years. For the past 15 years I have quietly volunteered my time as an entertainer for children at a monthly event that allows the parents an evening of respite while trained, compassionate volunteers take care of their children; children with physical, mental, and/or emotional challenges that most families never have to struggle with. So I am and have always been an advocate for children with these sorts of challenges.

I'm a gamer. I don't watch much TV at all, but I spend WAY TOO much screen time in Tamriel forging weaponsand armor that use as I rid the land of bandits and dragons. And when I'm not there, I'm in post-apocalyptic Boston or Washington DCeradicating the wastelands of raiders and super mutants. D&DOnline, pen-and-paper Pathfinder, sometimes I wonder if I spend more time in fantasy realms than in the real world!

And my degree is in Business with a heavy focus on Marketing. So I've always loved effective advertising. People love to complain about advertising, but that's because they are complaining about INEFFECTIVE advertising: when you are bombarded with stuff you don't want, need, or care about. Effective advertising is the opposite. We LOVE to hear about things we want, need, and care about. Clearly, the ad below is NOT relevant to most consumers. But I DARE you to watch and say you don't care.

Lastly, I happen to actually know one of the families in that story. I've known Owen since he was a little kid. I drink beer and watch football with his Dad. I've followed Owen through countless surgeries and emotional, fearful times. It's super exciting to see him as he becomes, sort of the face of Microsoft's new Adaptive Controller.

Anyway, here's the ad...

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

I also Present for Adult

Texas Author Julian Franklin speaking in Washington DC

This past weekend I was invited to lecture on two different topics at an international convention of children's entertainers. The event is called Kapital Kidvention and it brought in almost 400 face painters, body painters, magicians, clowns, balloon artists, jugglers, and puppeteers from all over the United States, Canada, Europe, and even Iceland! It's a particularly interesting convention for me because I was also invited to lecture at this event a decade ago the very first time the convention opened. Even though I don't speak publicly for entertainers any more, I felt a nostalgic sense of obligation to go back and see what it had become.

My head is still swimming with ideas I picked up. Whenever I wasn't speaking, I was sitting near the front row taking notes from the other speakers. It was an amazing collection of talent and I was both honored and humbled to get to be a part of the evening gala show with such world-famous performers as Silly Billy from New York City, Christopher T. Magician from greater Los Angeles area, and Duane Laflin and his wife Mary who have been headlining theater shows in Branson, Missouri for almost twenty years.

They were all amazing performances...but I was the only one with a puppet who can do magic tricks.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Magic Island Slated to Re-Open

The iconic “Magic Island” restaurant and live theater venue which first opened in the 1980s has been shuttered since 2008. However, all my magic buddies in Houston, and around the world really, are excited to hear that plans are underway (though slightly behind schedule now) to reopen the 10,000 square foot entertainment venue.

It would be difficult to count the number of times I've been to Magic Island. I used to go at least once every other week, usually every week. New acts were brought in twice a month and I made sure to go see every act that came through. Sometimes acts could only stay for a 1-week run and I'd go more often. Sometimes acts were so good that it was worth seeing them more than once.

I remember the food being good, but not great. However, the entertainment was well worth it all. Not only do you get the stage show that features world-class acts that you might otherwise never get to see outside of Las Vegas (where the tickets would cost 3X what dinner at Magic Island will run you).

On top of that, you get to see some amazing close-up magic. We magicians categorize the type of magic we do and “close-up” means exactly what it sounds like. It's magic that happens not on a stage, or in a large box, but rather, right in front of your eyes, and some times LITERALLY in your own hands. Cards, coins, tiny colored balls just larger than a marble, scraps of paper, and pieces of rope or string are transformed into the makings of miracles.

Keep your eyes and ears open for more information about the imminent re-opening date and then make plans to visit. You won't be disappointed.

Here's a link to a news article about Magic Island Houston Reopening.