Halloween: a holiday for gadgets.


Halloween: a holiday for gadgets.

For gadget lovers, Halloween is more annoying than weird. Mark Frauenfelder, editor of the magazine, talks about the most popular Halloween costumes and decorations, from spray-on foam spines and singing pumpkins to the fortune tellers’ outfits built on the seagway.


You’re listening to NPR’s SCIENCE FRIDAY. I’m Ira Flatow. We are talking about this hour about Halloween science, and this year is crazy enthusiasm – with a small motor repair, you have your LED lights, fake blood, fog machine, time, money and creativity, all of these will make every Halloween more smart than last time, more science and technology, this is what we are here to celebrate. We’re going to talk about crazy Halloween.

Maybe you did. Can you suggest a great Halloween project? We want to hear it. We’re looking for the most innovative ways to dress up Halloween 2009, from the simple things. I guess it might be very simple to re-create a jack with an LED, or you can create a hologram with some family video.

Maybe, as I said, you have a weird costume you created. Have you ever seen the iphones that two geeks on YouTube are wearing, those giant iphones, their jobs? Well, maybe you have something to work with.

My guest is mark frauenfelder. He is the editor-in-chief of Make Magazine. Welcome to science day, Mark.

Mr. MARK FRAUENFELDER (editor in chief) : thank you, ella.

FLATOW: really? Every year, will every Halloween be happier?

Mr. FRAUENFELDER: yes, I think it gets better every year, because, with the Internet, people can rely on past creations, learn from each other and expand. So there’s this rapid evolution. And you know, in those days before the Internet, people knew some standard tricks. But now, this is just an explosive thing.

FLATOW: well, let’s see what’s there. Our phone number is 1-800-989-8255. In addition, we are tweeting @scifri, @-scifri and Second Life.

So let’s talk about – what do you like best this year?

Mr FRAUENFELDER: well, I really like them, but I think my favorite is one of the most gruesome characters, this is the electric chair simulator, this guy set up a fake man looks like a human a black blanket over his head, the large electrode into his body. He sits next to a chair, looking like a voltage generator, and it tells a complete story.

All of a sudden, these sirens start to explode, and the lights start flashing, warning people to stand. And then you hear this huge noise, like a generator set off, and then this guy gets hit by this huge power. He began to scream, his body shaking, the smoke pouring from his body, the sparks flying. Then it gave up. You hear the generator stop. The man is just a little lame. The whole thing takes about 45 seconds, and it’s just a rivet. You can watch its video on YouTube.

FLATOW: is this what you want when you do the trick or treat at the door?

Mr. FRAUENFELDER: yes, of course – you know, the garage and the haunted house in the front yard.

FLATOW: that’s right.

Mr. FRAUENFELDER: it’s an opportunity for geeks to show off their stuff.

FLATOW: if you want to dig up something, can you do something simpler? I talked about leds. I think if you want to decorate your pumpkin, you can do this, right?

Mr. FRAUENFELDER: yes, of course. There are many simple little projects you can do. One popular one is making Cylon pumpkins. So you have a little row of LED lights that go back and forth on the eyes of the pumpkin, like this simple little thing. Or, from a small remote control car to the remote control, you know, turn an electric motor and give out a pie jar inside the haw lantern, just like that. There are levels. It’s open to everyone.

FLATOW: yes. What about clothing? Is there anything strange? I used this iPhone to mention these two people on YouTube — the really working iPhone costumes.

Mr. FRAUENFELDER: oh, yes. This is incredible. So, you know, they didn’t work that year when they made these iPhone costumes on a 37-inch flat-screen TV screen to mimic the screen. This year, they used a 42-inch flat-screen television, which was suspended between the legs of a car battery — the entire rise was 85 pounds. And they actually projected images from their iPhone (a real iPhone) onto a 42-inch screen. So it’s really useful. You’re seeing a real iPhone running – doing a lot of work for that.

FLATOW: I bet. Is there anything simpler, like a household gadget that many people are using?

Mr. FRAUENFELDER: well, I think one of the most popular gadgets is actually an old windscreen wiper motor. Because of the way leverage works and reciprocates, you can create ghosts, and you can try to jump out of a cage or a box or something like that. It’s a very popular thing to do.

FLATOW: yes, I think you can do that on your front door. You can put it there, you can swing the frame back and forth with that motor.

Mr. FRAUENFELDER: yes, yes. This is a very popular hinged ghost – all these things.

FLATOW: there are some very simple things on your website. What you show is simple, as simple as pouring a tombstone – it’s easy to do.

Mr. FRAUENFELDER: yes, of course. You can do this, or you know, made tombstone carved piece of polystyrene foamed plastic, then they are painting effect is very good, then use the – people to use the spray, to seal their outside the cracks on the wall, to prevent the draft, as a kind of expansion foam insulation.

FLATOW: that’s right.

Mr. FRAUENFELDER: you can use it to squirt out, and then expand, and then you can add wire chords, and then paint it red, and it looks a lot like guts and blood. So it’s a very popular thing to do, and then you spray it with clear acrylic to make it more shiny, even brighter.

FLATOW: yes. We went to Gus, indiana. Hi, welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

GUS (caller) : hi, thank you for taking my call.

FLATOW: go on.

GUS: it’s an amazing industry, a part of the haunted house industry, the professional outcome of things.

FLATOW: really?

GUS: I have been working here for ten years, over the years, I’ve seen – “the Internet is one of the most reason, but I have seen the electronic animation, pneumatic level improved, sensor, controller. This is – every year at the trade fair, we take part in the national trade fair, with new ideas, new characters, new companies to start and do well. It’s a great industry. Last year the haunted industry actually cost more than $7 billion.

FLATOW: $7 billion is bothering.

GUS: yes.

FLATOW: that’s disturbing.

GUS: right.

FLATOW: so they try to outdo their products every year.

GUS: absolutely. And the industry is free to share. You get a product, you go to buy someone’s product, and then let it do something that it never intended to do, or you know, to enhance it in a style that suits your appeal. So there’s a lot of that happening. There are some real creative people in this industry.

FLATOW: ok. Good luck, gus, and have a happy Halloween.

GUS: hey, thanks.

FLATOW: thank you for calling. 800-989-8255. Let’s go to Laura in brooklyn, New York. Hi, Laura.

LAURA (caller) : hi.

FLATOW: hey, there.

Laura: I have an e-animal rat.

FLATOW: an electronic animal rat.

Laura: yes. It’s big. I from a Halloween store bought a big plastic mouse, then a remote jeep, a jeep, then take off the chassis from the jeep, and then put the mouse on the vehicle body or the tank, it is very terrible. We painted the wheels black, so you couldn’t see them, and put the LED eyes on the mice. It’s creepy.

FLATOW: anyone trying to hit it with a baseball bat or something?

Laura: well, (inaudible). This is our first year. So we worry, because I love my mouse.


Flatow: I think it’s the first day of science, Laura.


FLATOW: but it’s great – because you can go to Radio Shack or any of these stores and buy a lot of remote controls.

Laura: yes, I mean, it was — I had to say my husband did it, but it was my idea.


FLATOW: I think according to your neighbor, the mouse looks real, a size rat, depending on where you live.

Laura: well, you know, when it’s dark, you really can’t say it’s a toy. This is – we tried it last night. It’s terrible.

FLATOW: you can give someone a heart attack.

Laura: well, I hope not, but yes. I have a feeling that we may not give up a lot of candy, because if they pass a mouse, you know, they will do so, but – then we have more horrible than the mouse. Yeah. -okay, that’s okay. but


FLATOW: this is another program, Laura.

Laura: sorry?

FLATOW: I think it’s another show.

Laura: yes, it is.

FLATOW: ok, happy Halloween.

Laura: ok. So are you. See you later.

FLATOW: it’s a very easy thing to do. I mean, mark, I mean, you just got a remote control and put what you want there.


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