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Happy High-Tech Halloween

10 October 2017
Image credit: Nathan Shields, Mathematical Association of America/CC BY-ND 2.0.

Albert Einstein. Source: Sophie Delar, via Wikimedia CommonsAlbert Einstein. Source: Sophie Delar, via Wikimedia Commons

Want your Halloween costume this year to reflect your enthusiasm for technology, but need some inspiration? We’ve got you covered.

Start first by considering the overall approach you want to take. For instance, do you want to dress up as a famous scientist? That could prove fun, and as elaborate as you want to make it—even if you might have to school a few people on who in the world you’re supposed to be. Or would you rather make a clever reference to something technology-related? That can often be done very simply—and with minimal preparation time, you could be the life of the party. Still another approach is to use your technological know-how to create super-impressive costume pieces, possibly even incorporating actual pieces of working technology into the costume itself. Granted, this could require the investment of a significant amount of time—but it’s certainly a great way to be a shoo-in winner of the costume contest.

Here are some bright ideas for each of those categories.

Famous People in Technology

  1. Albert Einstein. This is an obvious choice, given his iconic looks. Your local costume shop will almost certainly have a crazy gray-haired wig, along with a matching moustache and eyebrows. You could sell it further with a turn-of-the-century three-piece suit from your great-grandfather’s closet, or a simple white lab coat that you might possibly be able to borrow from the office. Or skip the fancy clothes and just write “E=mc2” on a name tag, or perhaps a mini chalk board you can carry around.
  2. Ada Lovelace. The author of the first computer program in history might not have the same name recognition as Einstein, but because she was also a 19th-century countess, you can really get fancy with the costume. The best-known portrait of Lovelace shows an elaborate purple gown, a flowing headpiece with a comb of flowers attached to a long strip of lace and old-fashioned white gloves. You could use fake flowers from a craft shop and lace from a fabric store for the headpiece; try rummaging through the bins of a thrift store for the gown and gloves. A yellow hand fan, also shown in the portrait, will sell it further—or you could go for anachronism and give her a tablet computer instead.
  3. Ada Lovelace. Source: Alfred Edward Chalon, via Wikimedia CommonsAda Lovelace. Source: Alfred Edward Chalon, via Wikimedia CommonsSteve Jobs. This one is absurdly easy, especially if you’re already a balding middle-aged man (no comments on the author of this article, please). Don’t shave for a few days, don a black turtleneck and John Lennon-style glasses and you’re good to go. Bonus points if you walk around eating an apple.

Technology References

  1. Inspired by The Office. Responding to my intra-office email request for Halloween costume ideas, one colleague sent over a picture of the character Jim Halpert from the mockumentary TV series, which showed the word “BOOK” written across his face. I'll give you a minute...I didn't get it right away, but once I did it certainly made me chuckle. And while we're on the subject, there are plenty of cues you can take from other pop-culture tech characters, as well: consider Sheldon's T-shirts on Big Bang Theory, pocket protectors and stand-up ties from Dilbert, a repurposing of the Einstein wig to create Doc Brown from Back to the Future...the list is endless.
  2. Email Thread. Another colleague didn’t want her inbox filled with a bunch of Halloween ideas, so she simply responded with “Please take me off this email thread.” Little did she know, this response would be the inspiration for another clever idea: Get some long pieces of thread and attach one end of each to a printed-out email, then attach the opposite ends to your clothes. When asked what you’re supposed to be, just say that you’re “part of an email thread.”
  3. Schrödinger’s Cat. The thought experiment that pointed out a paradox within a common interpretation of quantum mechanics is a rich jumping-off point for costume possibilities. Use makeup and dollar-store kitty ears to give yourself a feline look, and then use your imagination to communicate the state of simultaneously being both dead and alive. One way to do this, which is certainly appropriate to the concept, is to be inside a large hollow box; use a couple pieces of fabric to strap it around you comfortably. Then write “Dead” on one side of the box, and “Alive” on the other. You could also do this one with a partner, using two separate boxes. Just promise me that no actual cats will be harmed.

Incorporating Technology

  1. One interpretation of Schrödinger's cat. Source: Anarkman/CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia CommonsOne interpretation of Schrödinger's cat. Source: Anarkman/CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia CommonsMasks. Of course the local party store has plenty of options, but most of them are nowhere near as impressive as custom-made pieces can be. Check out this mask-making blog on our sister site, CR4; also check out DIY site Instructables for step-by-step details of making something like this incredible Iron Man mask, which makes use of 3D modeling and printing along with super-bright LEDs for the signature “glowing eyes” effect. A bunch more of CR4’s Halloween-related blog posts can be found here.
  2. Fiber-Optic Wearables. Instructables also has a marvelous set of instructions for creating a fiber-optic dress—apparently so successful that designer Natalie Walsh’s supplier, Ants on a Melon, now offers a ready-made kit for adapting the same materials to a variety of designs. Though on the pricey side (the kit is $159.95 and doesn’t include the base clothing to affix the fibers), the flowing multi-color effect is truly remarkable when seen in the dark.
  3. LED Suits. When video of a toddler’s homemade light-up stick-figure costume went viral, Glowy Zoey was born. The California-based company offers a variety of ready-made stick-figure costumes (list price $90-$130), a DIY kit ($100), and even the “Lumiblob,” an inflatable translucent suit that billows over 200 LED lights with its built-in fan ($85). Most of the products on the site are currently being offered at a discount—possibly because Halloween is only a few weeks away? Let's not forget that LEDs worked into costumes provide a built-in additional measure of safety for trick-or-treaters, too. By the way, these suits put me a little bit in mind of the light-up dance groups seen on “America’s Got Talent,” like Light Balance and Team Illuminate, albeit with less detail: The Glowy Zoey look is both impressively high-tech and delightfully goofy, which is always a recipe for success.

So, these are just a few ideas. You can certainly find plenty more inspiration on sites like Pinterest; try a search like this one, for instance. And here are a few more that other colleagues sent to me after I put out the call:

  • Source: Dark Shadow, via CR4/Engineering360Source: Dark Shadow, via CR4/Engineering360Ghosts of Technology Past: Work in references to technology of yesteryear, like vacuum-tube computers, Space Race-era rocketry, etc. This idea also provides the bonus of educational value, making it especially good for kids’ costumes.
  • Pumpkin Pi: This is a classic that can be done in lots of ways, with just two key elements: a pumpkin-colored outfit, and the Greek letter pi written on it. Be sure to accompany this with actual pumpkin pie if you’re headed to a potluck party.
  • Robots Gone Wrong and Other Engineering Disasters: This could be a ton of fun to explore. It could also be a handy excuse for when your elaborate costume doesn’t turn out quite as planned. You can always say “Hey, I meant it to be that way!”

Anyway, have a safe and happy Halloween. And please...post pictures.Designer Natalie Walsh created this fiber-optic dress, which you can learn how to make on Instructables.com. Source: audreyobsuraDesigner Natalie Walsh created this fiber-optic dress, which you can learn how to make on Instructables.com. Source: audreyobsura

To contact the author of this article, email tony.pallone@ieeeglobalspec.com


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