Ian Charnas, Engineer


Cool Tools Show 285: Ian Charnas

Our guest this week is Ian Charnas. Ian is an engineer and YouTuber who co-founded Sears think[box], a 7-story makerspace at Case Western Reserve University that is free and open to the public. His YouTube channel features hilarious inventions like a real-life Mario Kart, an Invisibility Shield, and Rollerskating with a Jetpack. You can Ian on Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram @iancharnas.

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Show notes:

Microphone system: crucial for anyone creating podcasts, videos, any media!
[QTY 1] Rode Wireless Go II transmitter/receiver kit ($299) (comes with cable to connect receiver to your camera)
[QTY 2] Rode Lavalier Go microphones ($78)
Optional — [QTY 1] Rode SC15 to connect receiver to Apple lightning port ($25)
I’ve been making YouTube videos long enough, and they’ve got enough production quality that folks now ask me for advice and the thing that they ask me is what camera do you have? The answer is that the camera is not the most important thing. It seems like it’s the question we should be asking, but it’s really not about the camera, especially for video. If you take an iPhone video on a windy beach six feet away from someone who’s talking, good luck hearing them. But if you take that same scenario, just an iPhone camera or an Android camera, and you add a microphone so you can actually hear what the person is saying, suddenly you have what feels like a professional video. I have tried many, many different kinds of microphones and wireless packs, and I want to recommend a setup to your listeners. I’ve tried a number of wireless transmitter packs. By far the best one for the buck for me was the Rode Wireless Go. Rode is a company, they make microphones, they’re famous for it, and they started making this cute, little square transmitter and receiver kit. You put the transmitter in your pocket, you have the microphone snake up inside your shirt, just like you’ll see on television news broadcasts, and then the receiver is plugged into whatever you’re recording your video with, your phone, your DSLR camera, your mirrorless camera, what have you. This system just works flawlessly. The battery lasts three hours. It never experiences any dropouts or crackling noise or static. I’ve got a specific lavalier mic, it’s also made by Rode. It’s very inexpensive for the high-quality audio that it produces. It’s definitely broadcast quality.

Soylent Ready To Drink Meal Replacement ($37, 12pk)
I’m going to go a little controversial. There’s a drink that is a meal replacer out there called Soylent. If you remember the movie Soylent Green, Soylent Green ended up being people. This drink is a little bit healthier and there’s much less human content in the drink. So this is a meal replacer. It comes in a bunch of different flavors like vanilla and chocolate and strawberry. I happen to drink strawberry. It has exactly one-fifth of all of your daily nutrients that you need, your protein and your vitamin B. It tastes good, but not too flavorful, it’s slightly bland. But I lead a busy life. If you’re a doer, and if you take action, if you’re a maker, if you’re a media producer, throughout your day you could take an hour break for lunch, you could take an hour in the morning to kind of prepare your lunch and breakfast for the day, or you can just grab two of these bottles. What I find is that every day where I have one of these for lunch, or maybe one of these for breakfast and lunch, I’m saving an hour of time in meal prep and in cleaning up dishes, things like that. So for me, it’s trading a little bit of flavor, for a heck of a lot of time back in your life. They’re shelf-stable. They don’t need to be refrigerated. They do taste a little better if you refrigerate them, but I currently don’t bother. You can order them online or they’re sold in some stores.

Boomerang Email Plugin (Free app)
I used to be on a big inbox zero productivity tool kick, and some of them turned out to just be fads in my life. But one of the ones that really stuck was this email plugin you can get called Boomerang. Here’s how it works. If you are sending someone a message and you want to make sure that they reply, there’s a little button that you click, and a menu will come up and you say, hey, I want this to reappear in my inbox in two days, a week, a year, 10 years from now, in 30 minutes, whatever time you want, whether or not that person responds to me. That might sound like a niche feature, but a lot of folks will leave that email, maybe they’ll copy themselves or somehow they leave that email in their inbox, and you end up with an inbox full of things that you can’t really take action on. With Boomerang, it gets that out of your inbox. I can also send an email later. Let’s say it’s 3:00 AM and I’m sending an email, I don’t want people to know that I’m working at 3:00 AM because then expectations shift in a way that I don’t want them to, so I can say send this at 8:00 AM and let them think that I’m awake and productive at 8:00 AM instead of snoozing, which is what I’m actually doing. So I love this email app. It’s totally free as far as I know. You can install it into Gmail. There’s a mobile version you can put on your phone. It really makes sure that I don’t drop the ball on things while simultaneously keeping all that stuff I can’t take action on out of my inbox.

Swiwin Jet Engines
So with all this extra free time that you’re going to have drinking Soylent and Boomeranging your emails, I do a lot of creative engineering projects, things like invisibility shields, I’ve worked in groups on computerized waterfalls, musical Tesla coils. My latest project is where I attached a jet engine to my back and rode around on roller skates to see how fast I could roller skate. So I wanted to let your audience know that you, yes, you, can buy a jet engine. It turns out that in the United States there’s no restrictions on the sales of jet engines. These can be very small jet engines that fit in the palm of your hand all the way up to things that you could hug, like a barrel chested man size. They are a little bit dangerous, but if you’re into making things and you’re into a little bit of danger, or at least the appearance of danger and maybe not actual danger, you can now buy jet engines from the radio-controlled aircraft world. They come as small as a few pounds of thrust and as big as over a hundred pounds of thrust. A jet engine is an external combustion engine. So if you have a gas-powered vehicle, it is an internal combustion engine, which of course means that the tiny explosions happen inside of the engine. With a jet engine, you are exploding a fuel-air mixture and the pressure wave that comes out of that sort of constant explosion pushes these very, very hard metal blades, and that part of the jet engine is called the turbine and those blades are called turbine blades. Those blades will help push the air faster and faster in one direction and you will generate thrust. You can use different kinds of fuels in the RC hobby-style jet engines. Some of them accept diesel. Some of them accept kerosene. Some of them accept jet fuel. The secret that I’ll let you in on is that jet fuel, which sounds incredibly dangerous, and if you watch action films with explosions in them, looks incredibly dangerous, jet fuel is actually just slightly more refined kerosene and it has a lot less explosive power than gasoline. These jet engines will only set you back either somewhere in the $500 to $5,000 range, depending on how big you go. So for all the makers out there, start saving up. It’s incredibly fun. They maintain their resale value, so if you want to pick one up for cheap or get rid of yours and get your money back, eBay’s a great place to find those.

About Ian’s latest project:

During the pandemic, like many people, I got more into rollerskating than I had been. You can still maintain social distance while roller skating. In fact, if you’re not, you’re going to have a hard time roller skating. So it’s like the perfect pandemic sport, if you will. I bought this jet engine and I need to figure out what to do with it. So I did a little Instagram poll and I asked people who like my projects what would you like me to attach this jet engine to? I gave people some options. I was thinking, it’d be fun to make an Adam West era Batman pedal car and attach this jet engine where the jet engine goes in the original Batmobile car. It might be fun to put this on a kid’s Power Wheels vehicle, those little electric cars that kids ride around in, because the massively overpowered kids toy theme maintains my interest. But what people wanted was they wanted me to put the jet engine on my back and see how fast I could rollerskate Wile E. Coyote style. So that’s the project I did, and it was thrilling.


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