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Posts Tagged ‘DIY’

Update: cat boredom

I’ve added to the collection of homemade cat toys I’ve been assembling for Palu. An unexpected windfall arrived in the form of a bag of plastic Easter eggs—you know, the kind that has two halves so you can take it apart and put chocolate inside it. The egg shape gives them some interesting kinetic properties, i. e. they roll around in unexpected patterns on linoleum. This turns out to be mesmerizing for Palu, who has almost crashed into several walls while pouncing on plastic eggs.

Having found a stash of polyester stuffing, I also made a couple of catnip pillows out of an old sock—simply cut the sock into two sections, stuffed each with a bit of the stuffing and a pinch of ‘nip, and sewed them shut. So far, they have been ignored, although my sleepier cat Luta was huffing one earlier today, while Palu was too busy begging to be let outside to give them more than a cursory examination. I’m pretty sure there’s more than enough catnip in the toys to interest them—I can smell it myself—but they continue to spurn my efforts to amuse them.

My sister pointed out that the best toys are the ones you steal for yourself, so now that the house is strewn with them, maybe Palu will be able to entertain himself.

Gratuitous cat picture:

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Bored.

Palu, one of my two cats, is easily bored. As a result, he spends the three hours before every mealtime mewling obnoxiously for food. He also picks fights with the other cat and knocks things off of counters. I try to let him go outside as much as possible, but he sometimes gets in fights with the neighbourhood felines and will probably start spending less time outside as it gets colder. Since I’m doing the unemployed-and-living-with-my-parents thing, I’m bored too. So I’ve decided to kill two birds with one stone, and make Palu some cat toys.

First, and simplest, is a ball of tinfoil. Palu bats it around and chews on it; I will need to make a new one fairly regularly, I think. But it holds his attention for about two minutes at a time, and, if it’s especially close to dinnertime, I basically have to throw it at him to get his attention.

A step up: you know those envelopes with the plastic windows? They make an excellent crinkly sound! I tied a string around the middle of one and dragged it around for Palu to chase. Verdict: he’s more interested in it when I dangle it in the air rather than when I drag it along the ground. As before, he doesn’t seem interested in interacting with it when I’m not there to “animate” it. And when I tried getting him to chase it about half an hour before dinner, he lasted a few minutes before fixing me with a contemptuous glare and yowling, then stalking into the kitchen.

Hence, another step up: I dug up some of the old craft supplies from my childhood, glued a bunch of colourful feathers to a wooden bead, and tied some twine to the whole thing. I hung this off of a hat rack, and Palu started batting it and nibbling the feathers of his own accord. When I swung it around he went pretty insane, and even attacked it after I’d put it down. It’s now lost a few feathers. So, tentative success.

A small dose of catnip also occupied him for a good while, but I don’t think I want to drug him every day. Laser pointers are out, because they make Palu a little too hyperactive and terrify my other cat, Luta (who alleviates his boredom by sleeping). Future projects might include a stuffed toy (with a little catnip inside) and perhaps some bouncy balls if I can find them. Anyone have other cat amusement ideas?

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DIY underwater webcam

One of the fun parts about field research (and much lab work too) is making equipment for really obscure purposes on a tight budget. My pond enclosures, for example, are made of window screen sewn together with fishing line. This year the DIY component of my experiment had slightly wider applications and could potentially be a fun thing to do if you have a fish tank or a favourite local watershed that you want to film.

I originally decided to film the stickleback mate choice trials so that I could figure out how long to run them for. Last year, I had no fish spawn in the first 30 minutes, but more than expected spawn after 24 hours (including way more inter-species mating than there should have been). I decided to try four-hour trials but hoped that I could eventually cut it to two hours if most spawning took place before then. Since I didn’t want to disturb the fish during the trial, filming seemed like the best option. Filming the trials would also potentially give me more data—I could record not only whether spawning took place but when, and how many times the female checked out the nest before deciding to spawn. So I needed to figure out a cheap way to waterproof a webcam and anchor it next to a nest.

My supervisor found this tutorial. It’s a pretty neat camera housing design, really cheap, and surprisingly easy to do—I used a Swiss army knife for virtually every step. I bought the cheapest webcams I could find, and used some old body lotion containers. I cut a window in each of these and covered it with a piece of an old CD case. The trickiest part was rewiring the webcam – I had to make a hole in the housing for the cable to go through, then cut the cable, thread it through the hole, and reattach all the wires. To keep the lens from fogging up, I put some silica gel inside the housing to absorb moisture. I glued everything up with aquarium silicone (which woudn’t leach harmful chemicals into the pond). Since the housing was full of air, it was positively buoyant, so I attached them to dive weights to keep them on the bottom of the pond. The cameras were connected via a bunch of boosted USB cables (actually the most expensive part of the project!) to a laptop on shore.

The results were mixed. The cameras worked as well as could be expected (they were, after all, dirt cheap). But positioning the camera so that it faced the nest was extremely difficult. I tied a piece of fishing line to the housing so that I could move it around without pulling on the cable (which would dislodge the silicone and cause a leak), but this often ended up slipping off the camera—so I had to pull it up by the cable anyways. Fortunately, the first few times they leaked I was able to dry everything out and reuse them. Eventually, however, the cameras just died. Possibly next time I should try drying them out in a jar of rice instead of just air-drying. (“Next time”, yeah right.) I also probably could have come up with a better way to attach the weight and fishing line, but I decided not to worry about it. The positioning problem made it clear that I wasn’t going to get much data from the videos, so I changed my goal to just trying to get some decent video I could show in a presentation. (Research is all about redefining goals, a.k.a. lowering your expectations.)

I did get some statisfactory footage. Here’s a benthic male nesting in the open (ish). I ended up not using this trial because the female wasn’t actually ready to spawn, and, as you can see, the male’s nest is actually in sparse vegetation that I had overlooked when I put him in the enclosure. It shows some of the nesting behaviour well, though. The male is in bright nuptial colouration—blue body and iris with a bright red throat—and he pokes around at the nest and occasionally deposits spiggin. At about the 1:50 mark, he also swims through the nest, which is pretty adorable. (Oh, and there’s a backswimmer kicking around in there too.)

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(Or fingerless gloves, or glovelets, or whatever you want to call them)

I made my first pair of these two years ago because (1) I had a bunch of holey old socks that I was rather fond of and (2) my hands are always cold. Most of the hand/armwarmers I see in stores barely even cover the entire palm, and many of the models with separate finger holesĀ  also don’t cover much of the fingers. To my mind this defeats the purpose of keeping your hands warm while still being able to type/write/turn pages. Here is a tutorial for making your old socks into basic hand warmers. It requires only rudimentary sewing skills (because that’s what I have), and can be adjusted to cover as much of your hands as you like. (more…)

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