By Mike Sokol
As we are preparing for Halloween this year, I’m reminded of that one special Halloween in my early 20s when I went trick-or-treating for drinks at my friends’ houses. Don’t worry, I was walking … not driving. I had dressed up in a chrome jumpsuit from my glam-band days, put on a multi-colored wig, and built a set of frames for my eyeglasses out of LEDs that alternated between red and green spinning lights.
Yes, this was 1976 so these types of electronics had to be designed and built from scratch. But I wasn’t done yet, as I had also bought a weather balloon, a tank of helium, and lots more LED lights. Yes, I built my own UFO for late-night pranking.
The first part of this prank was pretty easy. Yes, I still had my silver jumpsuit from my ’70s band, Draco, including silver gloves – custom-made, of course, for a bit thinner version of my current self. And the LED glass frames were pretty easy. I did a little breadboarding (construction base for prototyping of electronics) with a 555 oscillator and rings of double-element (new at that time) red/green LEDs that would change color at whatever rate I wanted, depending on a little potentiometer. So I could crank up the speed of my LED eyes to show my interest or displeasure.
I even went to a local club’s Halloween costume night for some fun, and won a few free drinks. With that success, I took to the streets the following night in my silver jumpsuit and went trick-or-treating for drinks with my friends, who somehow knew it was me. (Really, how did they know that?)
However, the flying alien spaceship was another level of crazy. I found a source that sold meteorological weather balloons, so I bought one 3 feet in diameter along with a tank of helium to fill it. Then I built a red/green LED ring around it with a cap of fishing line to hold the LEDs in place. I then wired every third light onto circuit A, B or C, and built a more complicated driver that would do an A, B, C chase sequence. Finally, I hung a small speaker from a radio on the bottom of the balloon and ran the wires down the tether. I used a portable cassette player to play back a prerecorded tape of spaceship noises along with my voice saying a robot version of “People of Earth… there is no escape… surrender.” Now I was ready for action.
Once it got dark out and the fog rolled in, I just walked down the street in the silver jumpsuit with my UFO balloon 20 ft. in the air (yes, I knew to watch out for overhead power lines), turned on my LED lighting sequencer and started the “People of Earth” tape playing. Sitting a few dozen feet from the sidewalk in the middle of people’s front yards it looked spectacular and sure got a lot of attention.
There were a few screeching tires (but thankfully no crashes). And one house let the dogs out, but they didn’t want to attack an alien in a silver space suit. One of my friends lived in a 3rd floor apartment, so I was able to thread the balloon up the stairwell until it was right in front of his door before I turned on the lights and sound.
All in all, a lot of fun. I got to use some cool technology, picked up a lot of free drinks, and scared a few people. Hey, it was Halloween in 1976 and practically anything was okay back then.
Of course I wouldn’t do a stunt like this nowadays unless I could use a real spaceship with an anti-gravity drive. But I still don’t have one of those … or do I????
Happy Halloween, and let’s play safe out there….
Mike Sokol is an electrical and professional sound expert with 50+ years in the industry. His excellent book RV Electrical Safety is available at Amazon.com. For more info on Mike’s qualifications as an electrical expert, click here.
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