A few weeks back I wrote about Carter’s idea to make a Wind Turbine costume and hand out free compact fluorescent bulbs for Halloween. It was a great, great success. First, the picture:
and a few more in the album. Carter built it with some help from me, he and his friend Nicky gave out free CFLs (which is harder than it might seem), and we all learned just how much work there is to be done. (Update: 10/2008 — better options for CFLs now available)
Wind Turbine Costume Construction
The blades of the turbine were made out of foam-core board. We got the dimensions from a scale model we had in the house and I cut out the pieces with a razor knife. We glued it all together with regular white glue.
The blades actually turn, and this was a bit of a trick. We found an old paint roller handle, and a threaded extension pole that screwed right into the handle. We bent the metal roller so that when the extension pole ran down Carter’s back, the turning part was level and over his head. The plastic base of a compact disk case has a spindle; with some duct tape (and Lego’s for spacers) we made the spindle the right diameter for a paint roller cover (the part that you would paint with) to slip over about 1/2 way. We taped this contraption to the back of the foam-core blades, and thus had our hub — it could slide on and off the paint roller frame. This is engineering at its finest!
It just happened that Carter had a duct tape jacket lying around. No, really, he can make anything from duct tape, a skill learned from his cousins Max and Sam, and perfected since. His first duct tape jacket was a pullover, but that wasn’t very easy to use, so his improved version had Velcro buttons on the front for easy on and off. If you don’t happen to have a duct tape jacket lying around, any other jacket would do, but duct tape sticks well to more duct tape, so this was ideal. Not to mention pretty amazing :-)
So we taped the paint roller extension pole to the back of the duct tape jacket (with more duct tape, of course), adjusting for height several times. The jacket needs to be tight at the waist to stabilize the contraption. If I had a hacksaw, I could have shortened the extension pole, which was a bit long, but it worked out fine anyway.
The final part was the “tower” of the turbine, which we made out of white poster-board. This turned out to be an afterthought on our part, and we didn’t have a very effective way of keeping it attached to the rest of the device. More planning would have helped.
It was an impressive site indeed — a boy wearing a costume with wind-turbine blades that really turned. Neighbors handing out candy were sometimes amazed, and sometimes confused.
Free CFL Bulbs
I had bought a case of 60 Watt 2700K spiral bulbs from bulbs.com, at $1.99 each. As an aside, I see in my server logs that many people are looking for dimmable CFL bulbs, CFL outdoor floodlights, indoor CFL floods, “normal” shaped CFL bulbs, and so on which bulbs.com also sells. I have sampled them all — my main advice: go for 2700K color temperature which looks nice and warm.
Anyway, Nicky and Carter went door to door, trick-or-treating. They ran into a few unexpected reactions.
In the first few tries, people thought they wanted money for the bulbs, so they added the magic word “free” to the pitch. I think “Trick or Treat for the Environment” worked pretty well, with a follow-up like “please use this free compact fluorescent bulb to help reduce global warming”. Our original idea of “Switch or Treat” may have been too subtle for the conditions. They tried a number of pitches, and learned which ones worked. Some of the reactions were pretty surprising.
My favorite was a person driving by who recognized the wind turbine costume and rolled down her window to say “Awesome costume” — we handed her a bulb and she gave us her thanks and a smile. This was a nice way to start the night, since I think Carter and I were both a little unsure of how this was going to work out.
When knocking on doors, several people took the bulb and expressed their appreciation. But a few people said they didn’t know what a CFL light bulb was. One person said she had been meaning to go buy one, and give it a try. I saw at least several people reading the label and looking in the box as they walked back into their house. So if you are a neighbor reading this, please replace an incandescent bulb you use a lot with the one we gave you — you’ll be impressed at quality of CFL light compared to the first ones that were made, and it should last for many years. And if you are not one of our neighbors, replace a bulb anyway!
All in all, the boys handed out about 25 or 30 bulbs. Charlotte gave away a few more, and I put some in the bags of a few people who came to our house. If anyone wants a bulb, let me know, as we have 20 left, which is nearly a lifetime supply, I think :-)
Perhaps “Trick or Treat for the Environment” is something we could scale up a little for next year. If you’re interested, add a comment and I’ll see if we can do some bulk purchasing. Heck, maybe this could be a Veteran’s day gift, or a Thanksgiving present. A CFL dradle? CFL Christmas Tree Lights (actually, LED seems like a much better idea here). Flag day — come on folks, let’s get creative :-)
Work to Be Done
I learned a lot from this. For one, I am absolutely terrified of the kind of canvassing the boys did — they were spreading a message, and I realized that my blog here is a way to hide from the “in your face” kind of awareness building that the boys were able to accomplish.
It’s possible that in an hour or so, they were able to educate three or four or maybe more people, and perhaps ten or fifteen people will actually use the bulbs. This is pretty cool. I have a lot of admiration for the boys, who were very, very good, earnest, and effective.
I have to say, I was pretty amazed at how many people didn’t know what the bulb was — we purposely got the iconic spiral shape for easy recognition. But there were people, living here in Newton who appeared not to know what the heck these things were. We’re going to need a lot more Halloweens before we get every household in the US to replace a bulb.
But not to despair: the need for work to be done represents opportunity to do something good. I congratulate Carter and Nicky for doing something meaningful and important on a night that otherwise doesn’t have a lot of meaning.