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Building a Better Mousetrap

Anyone who has ever been tormented by a mouse will enjoy this semi-OT field trip today. And besides, there was some pretty spiffy hi-speed remote TTL flash involved in photographing the capture.

Imagine that you are a mouse -- an "outdoor" mouse. Specifically, you are the mouse pictured in mid-air, at left.

You live in chilly northeast of the US, and it is winter time. So, naturally, you might try your luck at becoming an indoor mouse for the winter. Except that you happen to live next to the wrong house.

Specifically, you live just outside of the nice, warm house of Jim Clark, the inventor of the PocketWizard remotes. And Jim is hunkered down in "no sleep" mode, working round the clock to finalize the design and launch of the new Flex and Mini units.

Long story short: Pick a different house to invade next time, Mickey.

You Don't Tug On Superman's Cape...

Those of you of a certain age will know exactly the song that was running through my head as I was listening to Jim's mouse-catching story. Jim Croce is famous for the original, but the link is to an excellent cover by Fretkillr.

To be fair, the little guy was just trying to stay warm. Only he had no idea that his nocturnal habits coincided pretty closely with those of a night-owl engineer. Especially one that already was consumed by the technical challenges of intertwining the new breed of remotes into the communication between camera and flashes.

Were it me, I probably would have just used a typical mouse trap. Or maybe a .410 guage. High nine for effectiveness, but low sixes on the PETA approval scale.

Jim, being an engineer, is driven to far more elegant solutions. Which is also why you don't see me designing cutting edge radio remotes, either.

First, Define the Problem

(All photos ©2009 Jim Clark, LPA Design.)

Using a light beam (correction: sound) trigger and a set of motor-driven wireless TTL flashes with PW Flexes, Jim set the bait and waited. Time after time, the mouse pulled off the heist before finally recording himself onto film (or, pixels.)

Editor's Note: The device was a WaveSensor, made by LPA.

Note the typical engineer's approach to bait -- just throw in some of everything and see what happens.

Remember, one of the cool things about the Flex/Mini is that it can crank wireless TTL at full speed -- up to 8 FPS. The pre-exposure communication burtsts do not have to happen, as the PW's hijack the communication between the camera and flashes.

Which is exactly made the above, 6-shot sequence possible. Jim just composited it into one frame for reference.

Then Design the Solution

Next, Jim set out to actually catch the mouse, "rather than just feed it," as he told me. And may I say that I love the walk-the-plank design of Jim's trap. It is humane (more so than mine woulda been) simple and it is darn-near foolproof.

And now that Jim had established the beam-tripper / wireless TTL sequence, he knew he could catch the little guy and catch him in a photo, too.

Here's the Wind-up...

• Mouse smells peanut butter. (Forget cheese -- they have a serious jones for peanut butter.)

• Mouse sees peanut butter out on nice, wide, safe ledge.

• Nice, wide ledge is in fact balanced to support only the peanut butter.

• Mouse heads for peanut butter, tips ledge.

• Ledge has conductive tape that starts the camera-firing sequence when it begins to tip. (Sorta like a low-tech version of the light beam device.)

• Mouse (hopefully) drops into large, kitchen trash can -- with wireless TTL flashes going off the entire time at full continuous speed. Schwing.

... And the Pitch:

My favorite part: The little guy's toes, stretching out to grab something -- anything -- on the way down. (Click the pic for bigger version.) And yes, the peanut butter did fall down into the trash can with him. Coulda been worse, right?

Five minutes later, cue the bone-crunching sound of a garbage disposal. Problem solved.


Actually, in addition to being a crack engineer Jim's pretty much of a softy, too. Which is why his worthy adversary is spending the remainder of the winter in this brand new condo, before being let out into the wild come spring.

Come to think of it, the mouse got cheese, raisins, cashews, peanuts and peanut butter, Not to mention a warm house with three squares a day through winter. Not such a bad deal, considering...


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