I carefully read the instructions and then ordered the parts. But I already knew I didn't want to make the same shoes exactly. For one thing, I didn't want exposed wires and electronics on my finished product. When not turned on, I wanted them to look like relatively normal shoes.
For another, the original glow pattern and color scheme was purposely designed to mimic flames. This is stated in the code comments:
// The code below uses a blackbody palette, which fades from white toWhile "flaming" sounds good in theory, this subdued effect wouldn't do at all for a gay cruise. I programmed in some ostentation.
// yellow to red to black. The goal here was specifically a "walking
// on fire" aesthetic, so the usual ostentatious rainbow of hues
// seen in most LED projects is purposefully skipped in favor of a
// more plain effect.
Finding the right shoes took a while. I needed some sort of white-soled shoes with room to tuck the microcontroller and batteries that also weren't butt-ugly. I finally found these Levi's shoes at Macy's. Not only could the high-top sides be rolled down and zipped to conceal the circuitry, they were on sale for less than $40.
Adafruit Industries, the same company that designed the original Firewalkers. The first change was to see if I could get the same program and effects to work on their smaller "Gemma" micro-controller rather than the larger "Flora" which they used. I really wanted everything to fit under the folded down high-top flap.
After fiddling with this tiny controller for a while, it was working even better than I hoped. Then I had to experiment with about twenty different versions of the pressure sensor. The sensors shown in the instructions worked fine on the bench, but not so well once I put them in the shoes. In keeping with my desire to keep the shoes looking "normal", I wanted to tuck the sensor under the insole. But the pressure of the foam insole alone was enough to keep the sensor triggered. I had to make a more resilient sensor which would still provide a workable analog range to varying amounts of foot pressure.
This whole time – about two weeks of my night and weekend free time – JB looked on with befuddled semi-disinterest. This turned to thinly veiled rage when I accidentally scorched the countertop with my soldering iron. But when I was finally finished, I asked him to give the shoes a test drive. (That's JB in the video below.) I knew right then I was going to have to make a second pair. His pair only took one week to build and turned out even better than mine.
All-in-all, I'm extremely happy with the end results and can't wait to wear them at the Glow Party. That's assuming I can get both pair through airport security.