Peanut Butter Jelly Time Banana Cosplay, Red Sound Box

Peanut Butter Jelly Time Banana Cosplay, Red Sound Box

For the 2018 Supanova pop culture convention in Brisbane, Australia I had the crazy idea to make three very similar costumes following three rules:

  1. Internet memes
  2. That are at least 15 years old
  3. Involving a giant banana

I still can’t believe that I managed to get three costumes out of something so restrictive.

To go with this costume I made a red sound box to play music that I could dance to. That’s mostly what I want to write about on here, but let’s just get the costume photos out of the way first.

Friday’s costume: ring ring ring ring ring ring ring, BANANAPHONE!

A man wearing a bright yellow banana costume, carrying a giant 75cm long inflatable phone. A black box with a big red button & speaker is dangling around his neck.
It’s not baloney, it ain’t a phoney!

Saturday’s costume: it’s Peanut Butter Jelly Time!

A man wearing a bright yellow banana costume, with white pom-poms in each hand. A black box with a big red button & speaker is dangling around his neck.
Where you at? Now there you go!

Sunday’s costume: Rejected by Don Hertzfeldt’s My Spoon Is Too Big (which, by pure luck, was re-released in 1080p just two weeks before the convention)

A man wearing a bright yellow banana costume, carrying a small bowl of cereal in one hand & a 75cm long wooden spoon in the other. A black box with a big red button & speaker is dangling around his neck.
I am a BANANA!

As you can no doubt tell, I spared no expense with these costumes.

The red sound box was one of those things that “should” have been easy, but because I used cheap Chinese parts & left it to the last minute, it became a giant cascade of one hack after another. The idea was to have a button that when pressed played a short piece of music to accompany that day’s costume variation. I wanted the front button to be super enticing so other people would want to press it, and nothing’s more enticing than a giant glowing red button. I eventually got there with everything, but it ended up way more complicated than I had anticipated.

The software on the box isn’t too complicated – press the button, music plays for a bit (just the first stanza). Press it again while it’s still running, it’ll play a little longer. The list of stanza stopping points was all pre-calculated per song. I’ll say right now, with anything like this it’s very important to consider how trolls could abuse what you’re building. In this case if someone ran up, pressed it a dozen times in quick succession then ran off, it only extended the music by at most one stanza beyond what’s currently playing – if you wanted to keep the music going you had to stay there and keep on pressing it as each stanza plays. And yes, many people tried doing that – much to their frustration when it didn’t work.

Here’s a numbered photo of the box’s innards, showing that copious quantities of hot glue & electrical tape are totally valid mounting & insulating techniques.

A small black plastic box with lots of electronics haphazardly thrown inside it
1) Arduino Nano 168p 2) 5V relay board 3) Red button light & microswitch 4) Capacitors 5) USB power bank 6) Speaker 7) MP3 board

Hacks & Slashes

Now for some of those hacks I mentioned:

  • The cheap Chinese Arduino Nano’s (#1) that I had bought were supposed to be based on the ATmega328P chip, however when I plugged them in they were actually using the ATmega168P. The 168 has only 1024 bytes of RAM instead of 2048, and that’s not enough to read data off a microSD card & send it to an MP3 shield for playback. This meant I had to use a different music shield with its own on-board microSD card that accepts play/stop control commands. I probably should’ve bought the right Arduino instead, but hindsight & all that.
  • The second cheapo MP3 shield I tried had no on-board amplifier. I bought a cheap eBay amplifier for it, but for whatever reason the amplified sound quality was atrocious – worse than a fast food drive-through speaker. So I had to change to yet another music board (#7), this one even simpler – apply power, it played the first song on its microSD card, and it had manual buttons I could tap into to control it beyond that.
  • This worked great on a breadboard on my desk, but when all installed into the box there was too much electrical interference – likely because the speaker’s (#6) magnetic coil was right below the music board (#7). I could start the board, and control playback when it was playing music very quietly, but I lost the ability to control it or even stop it when playing music above a certain volume. Given I was running out of time and all I really needed was to just start & stop the music, I decided to use the sledge hammer approach. By which I mean I added a 5V relay board (#2) to manually supply & cut all power to the music board (#7) to control it that way instead. Insert an “I’m done asking nicely” reference here.
  • This worked, but only intermittently – the relay’s (#2) inrush current was large enough to cause the Arduino to sometimes reset from the voltage sag, particularly when running off the battery and not my bench power supply. So, I added a ceramic & electrolytic capacitor that I had lying around (#4), and this fixed the voltage droop problem.
  • …But it created another problem. The USB power bank (#5) I was using couldn’t handle the huge inrush current required to charge up the capacitors when you first turned it on. Rather than do something sensible like swap batteries or reduce the capacitor values, I wired them up so the USB bank went straight to the Arduino’s USB point (#1) but the capacitors were connected via the Arduino’s pins, in effect using the thin traces on my knock-off Arduino as inrush current limiters to the capacitors. This is what peak hack looks like.
  • The USB power bank (#5) had another issue – since this was a power bank not a power supply, it was designed for charging things, not powering devices. As such, it automatically turned off if it thought the device it was connected to was fully charged. The clever hack to get around this was to reduce the value of the resistor to the glowing red button (#3), making it use more current & shine brighter, and altering the button’s pulsing pattern. This was enough to trick the USB power bank into staying on. Remember folks, if it’s a stupid hack but it works, it’s not stupid.
  • For whatever reason, at the convention centre the button kept on accidentally triggering. Experienced cosplayers know that it’s always a good idea to shield, isolate & over-build anything electronic on your cosplay – the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre main hall is well known as having a lot of stray RF noise inside it during a con. As I had access to a laptop during the convention, I ended up modifying the code multiple times throughout the convention to incrementally harden it. I ended up adding my own external pullup/pulldown resistors around the place as I didn’t trust my knockoff boards to actually have them, I switched from a digital input pin to an analogue input pin for the button, I required reading a value of at least 992 out of 1023 from the button’s pin (which for a 5V system is around 4.85V or higher), for 200ms straight without dipping for even a single moment, to trigger the music. This still resulted in a random trigger every couple of hours. Dat RF noise.
  • Finally, hot gluing the speaker (#6) in place introduced a lot of reverb from mounting it by a mostly-solid method to the case’s fixed plastic. A sheet of ~1cm thick EVA foam was used as a decoupling spacer between the speaker & the case, and this solved all the bad audio quality issues.

If I had one piece of advice I learned from this project, it’s that knock-off parts from China can get you by if you’re on a budget or while you’re testing things, but for the final version I absolutely recommend purchasing the genuine products. This project would’ve taken me a fraction of the time it did if I had just spent a little extra for quality parts in the beginning.

(If I had a second piece of advice, it would be to set yourself a deadline well before something’s due. That way you’re not stuck hacking things together at the last minute from whatever you’ve got on hand plus what you can buy locally at exorbitant prices… But we both know neither you nor I are ever gonna actually do that one)

This audio box’s going to be disassembled shortly, because I need some of its parts for another project (and it also served as a semi prototype of yet another underway project… I have too many things in progress).

Happy hacking!

It's Peanut Butter Jelly Time!
It’s Peanut Butter Jelly Time!

Myst 25th Anniversary Kickstarter Book & Inkwell Rewards Review

Myst 25th Anniversary Kickstarter Book & Inkwell Rewards Review

The Myst 25th Anniversary Kickstarter rewards are finally getting sent out! Since I got lucky & somehow managed to be one of the first in the world to gain access to one, I thought I’d post some photos & a bit of a review of them. Particularly since I’m the guy who made the real Myst book, so I’m probably the non-Cyan-employee who has spent the highest number of hours obsessing over what this book is supposed to look like. Fair warning, this post is gonna be a bit long & a bit image-heavy, but that’s probably what you’re looking for anyway!


The Myst Book

It seems to be pretty well made. It’s bigger than mine/Cyan’s book, but I kindof expected that might be required to make the ink well parts fit. To try and compensate for this the covers are thinner than the original, which I think is a fair compromise. I need to point out that the outside cover has been made with a lot more detail than is immediately obvious – this thing’s been constructed in enough layers to impress an ogre. There’s the plain bare cardboard, which is most easily visible through the infamous damage notch on the left. Then there’s the dark brown leather/cloth layer on the left side and on the two corner triangles, which has had both a bit of a shine and a rough surface added to it that roughly matches the shine & feel on the original book. On top of this is the main central texture as a normal paper print, and on top of that are sections that have been raised/embossed, and on top of that are sections that have been gilded. Some of the damage marks on the book aren’t just in the image’s print but are actual cut-out holes where one layer gives way to show a lower layer, which I think is all pretty darned cool. This applies to both the spine and the back of the book too – speaking of, the back of the book is what the back of Cyan’s actual book looks like; for once it isn’t just a mirror of the front texture like it is in all the games!

Speaking of just the front texture, it’s a bit different to what was shown in the Kickstarter. The Kickstarter version was a blend between Cyan’s actual well-worn physical prop book and my own replica, whereas this final version is mostly like Cyan’s one (and for what it’s worth my one was supposed to be my interpretation of what the Myst book might’ve looked like when “brand new”, mostly because luck meant I found a copy of the right book in near-perfect condition, which is why it had no damage). There’s a couple design points similar to mine – for instance the font used for the raising/gilding looks like it’s been modified a little from the original MYST font to straighten the serifs a little, the same as I did, which makes it look better when embossed or raised. The main image is also darker than Cyan’s actual physical book, and has had more damage added to it than Cyan’s book actually has, particularly around the edges. It’s worth mentioning here that back in 1993 Cyan did scan their physical prop book to use as a texture, however back then they modified that image so it had less damage in-game vs what it had in real life. This makes one more version of what this book is supposed to look like, and when you add in how it looked during Myst 5 I think I’ve lost track of how many different versions we’re up to now. 😛

The original 1993 version of the Myst book 3D model as shown in Strata
The original 1993 version of the Myst book 3D model as shown in Strata


Because I knew people would ask, I took a few photos comparing the Kickstarter Myst book to my replica Myst book so you can see the size difference. I also took a few photos comparing it to the original book Cyan used as the Riven descriptive book (The 1954 printing of the 1951 edition Webster’s Unified Dictionary & Encyclopedia if you’re curious). Turns out it’s much closer in size to Riven’s descriptive book than Myst’s linking book!

The LCD & Electronics


The book has been enlarged but the linking panel LCD has been kept the same size, so it looks a little smaller than it should be. However it’s sized so that on the lower tier versions the images on the game disc sleeves can be the linking panels themselves, so it’s not like they could’ve made the sleeves much larger. Its colours are bright & vibrant, its got a pretty fantastic viewing angle, and its brightness level has clearly been tuned so it looks “right” for normal indoor brightness levels – as in, it looks close to a window to another world and not a brightly glowing LCD, and it photographs very well. The video plays automatically when you open the book, which is cool, and the battery level indicator displays momentarily in the top right, which is nice I guess but I wish there was some way to turn it off. In case you’re wondering, it’s got a standard 3.7V 800mAh 2.96Wh Lithium battery inside which charges from the included USB cable at 1A. The best way to store this battery long-term is to leave it at around 50% capacity, which isn’t too hard to do given the book has a battery level indicator. Loading alternate videos onto the book seems like it would be easy but I haven’t tried it to see what formats or codecs it can handle. I like the “hidden” button markers that are smudges on the page, they’re sneaky. The speaker in the top right is a bit quiet, a bit tinny and seems to be peaking a lot – I haven’t pulled apart the electronics yet but I think it’s because it’s hidden behind the front paper. There’s only so much you can do when a speaker is obscured like that. I suspect a few holes in the paper would improve the audio quality but pulling that apart is another job.

Size comparison of LCDs between my replica and the Kickstarter version – almost the same size except for the aspect ratio

For what it’s worth, from experience I can say that there aren’t many options for suitable LCDs of around the right size with the right specs for a linking panel. Particularly if you want 15,000 of them, and you’re not willing to spend $80/panel. For reference the LCD for my Myst book cost $140USD, and that’s for just the raw LCD panel itself without any driver board, embedded computer to display content, battery, charging circuit, etc. Cyan only charged an extra $70 for the tier with all the electronics, so to pull that off at scale their choices would’ve been limited and I’m super impressed they managed to do it on such a comparatively tight budget.

Now, the content on the book. First off – the original classic Myst intro has been re-rendered at 30fps at the resolution of the book, so it looks amazing! 😀 The other content on the book is a bit of a mixed bag and honestly feels a little like they got half-way through making videos for it when they hit the deadline and abruptly stopped. There’s no videos from Revelation or End of Ages, and only a single video from Uru. You totally need to check out the Uru video, UruFly.mp4 – I don’t want to say any more, just play that one and enjoy! Cyanlogo.mp4 looks like a re-rendered version of Cyan’s original 1993 logo just for this book – the blurred text at the end is different but the model is the 3d model is the original one, and it’s crisp like it’s been rendered at the right resolution. There’s plenty of classic Myst, realMyst Masterpiece and even re-rendered classic Myst flyby videos, Sirrus/Achenar/Atrus videos, Riven flybys, and even Exile flybys (even if they are weirdly labelled “Energy” “Jnanin” “Life” and “Matter”)… But no Revelation or End of Ages. It’d be cool if Cyan offers a few flybys from the missing games for download in the future, but who knows if that will happen.

The “extra storage” section contains a bunch of high-res images in here which make me completely drool – I don’t know which have been re-rendered and which are from their archives, but a 4000×1000 pixel panorama of Gehn’s Age is beautiful, Gehn’s Stained Glass is something I don’t remember seeing before, and the 3692×3075 Channelwood photos are so clear I wish I could be there in person.

I hope I don’t get in trouble for sharing this, but it’s located in the book’s readme file, you can find it yourself by literally just searching myst.com for “myst” and 10,000 people are about to know this URL when their books arrive sooo I figure it’s gonna be public soon anyway – you can download a copy of all this from https://myst.com/mystbookfiles/. Get on it and enjoy those high-res images & exclusive re-rendered videos!

I don’t know the full capabilities of the video player but as a data point for you, the main video is an mp4 file with the video in H264 AVC encoded at Level 3.1 complexity, 800×480 resolution, 30fps, ~2367kbps, while the audio’s AAC, 44.1KHz, mono, ~125kbps.

The Inkwell & Pen

Oh man. This thing is gorgeous. My expectations have been completely blown away. It’s made of what feels like clear-coated brass, and there’s over a dozen separately-cast parts to this thing that have been assembled together into sub-pieces ready for your final assembly via the included screwdriver & two screws (I had four screws; I guess extra in case you lose some). It feels solid & heavy, it feels well machined, and above all it feels well made. The D’ni writing is cast into the actual mould instead of just engraving it. The legs are held on magnetically (which makes the legs handy to use to simulate closing the book while it’s open – the reed switch is in the middle center right). The top has a small plastic bottle hidden inside it to hold the ink (which you can access & completely remove via a screw on the beetle’s underside). And there’s even little rubber feet on the bottom of it – five of them, in fact – which wasn’t necessary but goes to show that every part of this had thought put into it, not just as a quick throwaway thing.

Assembly is pretty easy – the parts are all keyed so they can only go together one way. There’s only two screws involved, both different sizes, and that’s it. But just in case you can’t work it out there’s some instructions included too (the oil smudge on the front page didn’t come with it, whoops). The whole thing comes in a form-fitting foam box to keep everything in place & protected during shipping.

Speaking of the foam box, I’m pretty sure the inkwell is the reason why the book had to be enlarged. Here’s a side-on view of how some of the inkwell pieces fit inside the box. There’s not much width left over. I’m sure some clever 3-dimensional stacking arrangement would’ve been possible, particularly if you’re re-using some of the empty space from the other box, but that would’ve made it all so much more complex than it already is.

Finally, the dip pen. This looks like a standard pen with a beetle/ink nib marking on the sheath. It’s subtle, but shows that this is a custom part too and not just something they grabbed off the shelf to use unmodified. The included replaceable nib is a #5, because of course it’s that number. If you’re having trouble finding the pen, look below the flap on the bottom edge of the book.

Overall, I gotta say that I’m pretty happy with these rewards. It definitely feels like I got my money’s worth, and the end results are higher quality than anticipated. I’m one satisfied backer!

Cyan logo music played on the piano

Cyan logo music played on the piano

If you haven’t already heard, Cyan are running a Kickstarter campaign for Myst’s 25th anniversary! For $99USD you can get a copy of all the games (including the elusive 3 & 4), updated for modern Windows & Mac computers, plus it comes in a box that looks like a Myst linking book. Or for $169USD you can get a book that has a small LCD screen as the linking panel that plays videos, just like a real linking book. Fancy!

It’s no surprise where part of the idea for a Myst book with a screen inside it likely came from. To quote Rand Miller (Cyan’s CEO and Atrus actor) from the Kickstarter Live AMA, “we’re doing a book with a real linking panel because we’ve wanted one ever since RIUM+ did his”. There’s nothing much I can add to that quote, really. 😛 I plan to do a full teardown & comparison of Cyan’s one once mine arrives (or maybe even before it arrives just based on the published specs), but that’s for a future blog post. For what it’s worth though, based what specs I’ve seen their implementation carries my personal tick of approval – it looks like it will do a fantastic job and make a beautiful product for a reasonable price.

But that’s not what this post is about. This one’s about music. It’s been over a decade since I last played the piano so I’m a little bit rusty, but I’ve dusted off the old skills for a very special purpose.

In honour of the Myst 25th Anniversary Kickstarter, I decided to transcribe & play a piano rendition of Cyan’s logo music!

It just so happens that 10 Instrumental covers is one of the #Myst25 Community Goals. And I have word straight from one of the people managing the Kickstarter’s community goals that the Cyan intro theme music counts. As such, here’s the files so you can play it too!

Cyan Logo theme PDF
Cyan Logo theme MusicXML
Cyan Logo theme MIDI
24-bit 96KHz FLAC of my piano rendition

A couple notes on these (pun intended) – both the chord complexity and their representations are sitting in the middle between being perfect representations and being easy to play. By this I mean that I’m skipping a few notes from the chords as I wanted it to be reasonably easily playable on an actual piano, and the timing in the sheet music isn’t 100% spot-on because doing that was far more complicated to describe & decipher than I thought was worth it. Feel free to adapt this to a different instrument, add or remove notes for your own personal style, or fiddle with the timing in the midi file if you’re only intending digital playback.

Play on! 🙂

“That 80s Time Travel Movie”, Brisbane Arts Theatre

“That 80s Time Travel Movie”, Brisbane Arts Theatre

The Brisbane Arts Theatre is putting on a parody musical called “That 80s Time Travel Movie” and I’ll give you one guess what it’s about. Naturally, my DeLorean was there for the Australian premiere! I thought it was pretty good; I love seeing new spins on the existing content and not just straight quoting or re-telling. Here’s a couple photos I took on opening night.

DeLorean out the front of the Brisbane Arts Theatre

Because promo shots look nice

Marty & George McFly in my DeLorean at the Brisbane Arts Theatre

Marty & George McFly posed and filmed a little skit in my DeLorean

Brisbane Arts Theatre fake prop DeLorean 1

I managed to swing behind-the-scenes access to the replica prop DeLorean they made. It’s a welded steel frame on wheels that has some additional wooden support bracing with painted corflute for the body panels. Given the very limited time & budget they had, they did a decent job!

Brisbane Arts Theatre fake prop DeLorean 2

The gullwing doors do actually open! You just have to be very careful when handling them. Apparently they caused a lot of problems for the set builders… If only they knew how much trouble they caused DMC, heh

Brisbane Arts Theatre fake prop DeLorean 3

The prop DeLorean divides into three pieces they can separate & wheel around individually. The people I spoke to weren’t aware that they actually did something very similar to this when filming Back to the Future – they had an “exploded” DeLorean they built with multiple layers to make filming internal scenes easier. Because there’s no easy way to physically fit Doc, Marty, Jennifer AND Einstein all in an actual DeLorean at the same time

Brisbane Arts Theatre Flux Capacitor

You don’t really see this level of detail from the audience, but the prop DeLorean does have a rough Flux Capacitor (made from flashing EL wire) with some random components on top

“That 80s Time Travel Movie” is showing at the Brisbane Arts Theatre from now until the 27th of March. Book your tickets at https://www.artstheatre.com.au/backtothefuture.