Automated Undercover Mouse Postmortem

Last year I automated a cat toy and attached a Fitbit to my pudgy housecat in order to see if I could lower her weight. Eventually that cat did slim down to a normal weight, but it was ultimately due to low-tech methods; we got a new cat to chase her around and changed her food to a more healthy variety.

A reader emailed me inquiring if my modified Undercover Mouse still worked after so long and, if not, what shape the gears were in.

My modified Undercover Mouse worked for about six months. This was not six months of normal use but six months of relentless, automated, “wait two hours, randomly actuate for fifteen minutes, repeat” punishment. As time wore on I noticed the toy getting quieter and weaker. Eventually the wand would refuse to move but I could still hear the tiny electronic whine from the motor.


To my untrained eye, the gears look okay, so I would theorize that the little hobby motor suffered from some kind of internal wear. The toy likely did not break down from rough play by the cat, but instead by the 95% of those six months when it was running without the cat.

Given the ridiculous use that this little motor was exposed to, I would say it performed admirably.

Now it is time to order a new motor, and expose this toy to the new cat.

Ever Wanted an Online Tool to Create Heroku-like Names without Heroku or Bazaar?

Well here you go.

Introducing Colourama


A few weeks ago, I needed to make some color choices for a project. I decided to give COLOURlovers a try, and after I had spent an hour staring at pretty colors, I realized that I could make an amazing app just for staring at pretty things on COLOURlovers.

After a few weeks of tinkering and polishing, Colourama is the result. It’s free on the App Store. Go check it out.

How Much Exercise Does an Indoor Cat Get?: Week Six

I now understand why Snickers loves this toy so much and yet this love fails to translate into higher activity numbers: Laziness.


Speaking of laziness, I grew tired of having to track down the cat, remove her collar, un-tape the Fitbit Classic tracker, charge it for a few hours, and repeat the process in reverse every single week, all while losing (precious) data about the cat’s every step. Thankfully Fitbit now makes a perfect solution to my obscure problem: the Zip, a cheap, tiny, lightweight tracker with a battery that lasts six months.

Snickers with Fitbit Zip
The magenta Zip even matches Snickers’ collar. Note the blurry red wand at which she is staring.


Daily breakdowns (14 Jan to 21 Jan)
Daily breakdowns (14 Jan to 21 Jan)


Week summary (15 Jan to 21 Jan)
Week summary (15 Jan to 21 Jan)


Thirty day graph.  Zip activated on 18 Jan.
Thirty day graph. Zip activated on 18 Jan.



  • The daily breakdown graphs are visibly different after the Zip tracker was activated (9:30 on Friday, 19 Jan). The Classic and Zip trackers are both designed to count the steps of humans, and cannot be expected to accurately measure the exact number of steps of a twelve-pound quadruped, so this difference between the two is understandable. The general patterns of activity are still apparent so the Zip still seems like an excellent means of measuring general cat physical activity.


  • Tuesday evening (6:30-9) was the final recharge break for the now-retired Classic tracker. No more recharging! Woo!


This has been -and continues to be- a tremendously fun silly little experiment. Recently I have been busy working on other frivolous software endeavors, and my time for cat-entertainment-engineering has been limited. I will probably not do another detailed analysis post for a while; at least until I have built something new and had the opportunity to test it on the cat. An iPad app is halfway complete, and I’d like to do something with lasers.

In the meantime, you can continue to watch Snickers’ progress -every day- on her Fitbit profile.

Screen Shot 2013-01-24 at 5.43.49 PM
Cut-throat competition



  • The beginning, wherein I attach a Fitbit tracker to a cat
  • First week of data, when I learn interesting things about how my cat spends her time
  • Second week: introducing a new toy
  • Third week: automating that toy to (hopefully) provide the cat with more exercise
  • Fourth week: laughing hysterically at the resulting toy improvements and wondering if they are having an effect
  • Fifth week: looking at the results