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Lightshow Project

Two years ago, I bought a Raspberry Pi “for the family” and we messed with it for a while, but it soon found its way to sitting a box in the closet.

Last year around Christmastime, I explored an idea that’s been floating around in my head on making a Christmas light display set to music. It wasn’t long before I found this post on making Christmas tree lights flash to music.

I became intrigued enough to order the solid state relay board that was recommended, and since they were cheap I purchased two. I think they came directly from China because they took several weeks to arrive. By that time, the new year had arrived, and my interest waned. I put them in the closet with the Pi, thinking maybe next year.

With the cooler weather and heading into fall, I’ve been thinking ahead and wondering if I couldn’t make those things actually work in a lightshow. As you can see from the video at the beginning of this post, things are actually coming together. It took me quite a while to sort out what needed to be done, and to get the information I needed to make things work. I was so excited when I actually got the first light to blink!

In the next post, I will write a step by step set of instructions of what I learned, so hopefully it can help save someone some time getting things set up. I’m nowhere near an expert on this, but am very happy that some things are starting to come together.


3-D Jack-o-Lantern

3D printed jack-o-lantern
3D printed jack-o-lantern

Here is a cool project we did last Halloween in my Visual Literacy class.  My student created a pattern in Adobe Illustrator from an image “Soul Eater Moon” which evidently comes from the Soul Eater manga. I’m not “with it” enough to be familiar with Soul Eater, but here is a photo of the scene that was used.

Here is the vector drawing that was created to use as a pattern.


Here is what the finished pumpkin looked like. The open areas provide the brightest light. The shaved away areas allow some light to be seen for a mid-value. The skin areas are opaque, so those areas remain dark.

Finished Pumpkin

Here is what the finished pumpkin looked like when lit up.

We took things another step forward and scanned the pumpkin using the handheld 3D scanner that the Mechanical Engineering Technology folks at K-State Polytechnic recently acquired. The scanner creates a model that can be used for 3D printing.

3D scanning a pumpkin


Here is the scanned pumpkin
Here is the creator of the pumpkin, Kyler Besher. Nice work, Kyler!

See more of our pumpkin carving work on our Flickr site.

Unity Object Rotation

One of the things that has caused me a bit of confusion while working with Unity3D is object rotation. I was working on a small project today in which I was trying to build a four-walled building using C# code. I knew how to build a wall out of cubes using a nested “for” loop. But trying to rotate the objects 90 degrees so I could build four walls, it took me a while to figure out. Back in my days of working with Flash, you simply set the rotation property to the degrees you wanted it to rotate. But that was a 2-D environment. Unity has 3 dimensions, so rotation is more complicated.

To rotate 90 degrees, I found this example from Instantiate a Rotated Object.

Instantiate (object, position, Quaternion.Euler(0, 90, 0));

So it is similar to doing a rotation in Flash, only you have to tell it the axis to rotate on. In the above example, the object is rotated 90 degrees about the y axis, exactly what I was trying to do. I was able to build four walls using this tidbit.

Four Wall Example




Soul2Soul: World Tour

Last week my wife Wendy & I saw the Tim McGraw and Faith Hill concert in Wichita, KS. This might sound like a pretty ordinary thing since people go to concerts all the time, but for us it was a special night. We’ve been married 24 years, and I can’t think of one concert we’ve been to that was similar to this one.

Our tickets came courtesy of, an organization that provides free tickets to active duty service members and veterans. According to the website…

Vet Tix provides tickets to events which reduce stress, strengthen family bonds, build life-long memories and encourage service members and veterans to stay engaged with local communities and American life.

I would say that in my case, it did just that. Because we have made the choice that mom would stay at home instead of working at a job while we raise kids, money has always been tight for us. Going to expensive entertainment venues just doesn’t happen much.

Concert Selfie

I also commute to work every day over an hour’s drive each way because we live in a rural area of Kansas. This means attending something like a concert is going to require some extra effort just to make it happen. Wichita is more than an hour beyond where I work, so the day of the concert, Wendy met me at work, and we continued on from there.

Our tickets were “will call” which I wasn’t familiar with the process, but it meant we had to arrive early and pick up our tickets at the box office. Our information said the doors opened an hour before showtime, so we arrived about 15 minutes after the doors opened. I was afraid there would be a long line to get our tickets, and another long line to get into the show. But it worked out that we got right in to get our tickets, and once we had our tickets, we’d already passed through security so we didn’t have to wait in line again.

We ate a bite of fast food through a drive-through on the way there, because we didn’t know what our options would be once we arrived. We laughed when we got inside the InTrust Bank Arena and it was like a ball game environment with dozens of vendors were there.

The concert was a little bit like when you show up at the movies for announced showtime, and you have to sit through half an hour of ads and previews. The show was scheduled to start at 7:30, but I recall the opener didn’t take the stage until around 7:50.


Somewhere around 8:30-something, Tim & Faith finally took the stage. Oh, the lights and sounds, so large that you could feel it in your bones. It honestly felt like more of a rock concert than country. I looked and looked, but couldn’t find the tour bassist’s name. He was one of the most entertaining people I saw on stage. Totally into it; he rocked the entire show.

The whole thing was very  theatrical. The laser lights reminded me of the time I went to see Yes: Big Generator in concert in Tokyo. But this show was even bigger than that one, mostly because of new media that is available.


Video was a big part of the show. Some of it showed up on automated scrims that lowered and raised, and arranged themselves in different patterns to show video and video effects.

Light Show

Other video showed up on the big screen behind the stage. We were sitting so far forward in the auditorium, it was hard for us to see much on that big screen.
Light Show

But we were close to the performers. At times, really close, like in this picture of Faith Hill taken on an iPhone.Faith Hill up close

She was right there by us, and almost everyone had their phone out. Early on, I decided that the quality of my photos and videos wouldn’t be much to write home about, so I planned to put the phone away for most of the evening and enjoy the show. But when she came up right near where we were sitting, I had to try to get some kind of photo. I’m glad I did.faith1 faithTim stage

It was a great concert, and a wonderful date night out with my wife, something that is far too rare. It was very memorable and I thank the Vettix people so much for making this happen.

Old With New

Japan War

Yesterday’s Daily Create called for juxtaposition of old with new. As a starting point, it gave us some old Japanese & Chinese prints to work with.

I selected the above print, and used Photoshop to add in something new, the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush. The assignment offered “extra Internet points” for animating it, so I did that as well.

To animate an object in photoshop, I enabled the timeline. I pasted in the carrier on a new layer, after cutting it out with a selection made using the pen tool. I pasted it on to the post card. On the post card, I also cut out some of the foreground scenery and pasted it onto the topmost layer, allowing the aircraft carrier to sail in the background.

Using the timeline, I created new frames, and moved the carrier a bit to the left on each frame. My gif uses ten frames of animation. Once it was all completed, I saved using the export for web feature, saving it as an animated gif.

What I Learned Fall 17 Kickoff

It is a tradition at our school to celebrate the beginning of a new school year with a workshop for the staff and faculty. Frequently referred to as an inservice day, ours is affectionately known as the “Fall Kickoff.” I wanted to jot down a few thoughts about what I learned at ours yesterday.

  1. We went over the new policies at K-State regarding concealed-carry on campus. Yes, you read that right. In the state of Kansas, anyone over the age of 21 (with certain restrictions such as no criminal record) can carry a concealed handgun on campus. While concealed carry training is recommended, there is no law mandating such training.
    • Because of how our state law is written, the only permitted weapon on campus are handguns. Other weapons such as BB guns, blowguns, nun-chucks, etc. are not permitted.
  2. My friend and colleague Troy Harding, recipient of the Rex McArthur Family Faculty Fellow Award, spoke to us about the experience of working with teachers from the Junction City area on a technology education grant. He was inspired by their enthusiasm for and dedication to teaching. I hope to connect with these (and other great teachers from our region) hopefully through Twitter and #ksedchat. I used to be more involved in Twitter-based chats with teachers, and want to get back into that.
  3. We saw a fascinating video about Don Norman and his theory on emotional design. I wasn’t familiar with him before. I’m really interested in his ideas, and want to read some of his books now. See that video here:
  4. We toured all of the Aviation areas on our campus and learned about their degree programs. Among other things, I got to fly a drone and I saw the equipment for learning electricity/electronics in the aviation maintenance lab. droneThingI teach a week on basic electricity. These things could make a great lab for my students to try their hand at making basic circuits.
  5. electronicThing

Overall, it was a relevant day. Throughout the year, we are going to become familiar with all of the degrees offered on our campus. It was a good start to a new year!


Yesterday I attended the Kansas State University shindig recognizing this year’s promoted faculty. We have some amazing people working at this place. There were professors hailing from all over the world. Everyone was from somewhere else, it seemed, and I think that’s pretty normal in academia. It’s not very prestigious for everyone to be home-grown.

But I was there too. A Marysville High School graduate, from just up the road to K-State. A military veteran, recruited out of Manhattan, KS. A Cloud County Community College graduate among scholars from MIT and Harvard. And yes, proudly a graduate of, with my final degree earned at Kansas State University.

Doesn’t it seem just a little bit strange that I was the stranger there, the odd one, being the Kansas native with the background I have? But there I was, a professor at K-State. So happy, and so proud to be serving the people of the state that I call home – Kansas.

Trip to the ER

The evening of Thanksgiving in 2015, about a year and a half ago, I experienced the worst stomach ache I’ve ever had. We were staying in a hotel visiting family, and I spent several hours writhing in pain on the floor of the room. No stores were open, and I didn’t have any stomach remedies with me, so I just sat there and suffered. I figured that I had over-eaten, and left it at that.

After that, not too long afterwards, it happened again. I figured that I was either eating too much, or there were certain foods that no longer agreed with me. So I began watching how much I would eat and tried to pay attention to the kinds of foods that would trigger it.

I figure over the past year and a half, I’ve had similar episodes of severe stomach pain 4-5 times, with some lesser ones thrown in as well. Sometimes, if I realized it was likely to happen, I could stave it off by going for walks.

Historically, I haven’t really been one for seeing doctors. I’d never been to the emergency room. The last time I was a hospital patient was when I was born. I knew something was going on with my health, but I didn’t know exactly what, or what to do about it. But after my last stomach episode, I decided if it happened again, I’d go to the doctor or ER.

Last Saturday evening, after a delicious meal of crock pot roast beef & potatoes, the pain started up again. It was the worst I’d ever felt. I was coughing, vomiting, and had unbelievable discomfort in my gut, a pressure that couldn’t be relieved. Finally, around 11pm, I decided to go to the ER.

Now the hospital is 15 miles away and I decided to drive myself there. Probably not the best decision to drive myself, but it was late, and I didn’t want to upset the family. I told my wife where I was going, and let the kids sleep. When I finally arrived at the hospital, it felt like it was taking forever to get checked in and answer all of their questions.

Oh, it hurt! But it seemed like it was taking forever to get any relief. Drawing blood. Asking questions. Trying to figure out what was going on with me. Finally, they gave me an IV and some pain killers and I was able to relax. I was getting woozy, and had to lie down. Soon, I was getting X-rayed and CT scanned, and with those results we knew I had a problem with my gallbladder, and it had to come out.

I had to go to another hospital an hour away to have surgery, so that meant I’d go for my first ambulance ride. I called my wife and told her to meet me there. I was so tired, I slept most of that ride. Once I got checked into the Salina hospital, there were more tests, more questions, and explanations about what was going to happen. I would be having emergency surgery. It was all happening so fast. Incredibly fast, really. In less than 20 hours, I would go to the ER, transfer to another hospital, have my gallbladder removed, and return home again.

Here we are, just before going into the operating room. I was obviously feeling no pain at this point.

Before surgery

I probably should have been more nervous about things than I was, but heading into the operating room, it only took a couple of minutes and it was lights out for me.

Heading to OR

It only felt like a couple of minutes later, and I was awake again and the surgery was already done. I was amazed that I was able to walk within a few hours after surgery. I was sent home on the same day. I was able to take my dog for a walk that evening. A big part of the speedy recovery is that it was a laparoscopic surgery done with cameras and four small incisions instead of one large one.

surgery scars
Gallbladder surgery used four small incisions.

The wifi was good in the room.


I used the walker to regain my legs. My daughter asked me to do a dab.


Recovery has been pretty quick. I’ve had some tenderness and soreness, but overall things are getting back to normal pretty quickly.

Valedictorian Etymology

Today I was reading Fulton Sheen’s book Life of Christ when I came across the word “valedictory” and I had no clue as to its meaning. That is what happens when you read Sheen, he is going to lay some big words on you and you are going to learn something along the way.

Sheen was referring to Mary’s command at the wedding of Cana to the wine stewards, “Do whatever he tells you.” These are the last words of the mother of Christ recorded in scripture. And being so, they are a clue to the meaning of the word “valedictory.”

When I want to understand the meaning and origin of a word, many times I consult the online etymology dictionary. So I looked up “valedictory” and I learned it means “departing words.” Ok, that makes sense; Sheen is referring to Mary’s departing words.

Intrigued, I dig a little deeper. Valedictorian is a common word stemming from the word valedictory. It means one who speaks departing words. Digging a little deeper, the Latin root words are Valere – “be strong” (like valor) and Dicere – “to say” (like diction).

Again, I had no idea that the job of valedictorian literally is to tell departing classmates at commencement to “be strong.” I thought it was just an honorific bestowed on the student with the highest GPA. I learned something new today.