We looked at how cordyceps fungus and viruses can appropriate and control insects to fulfill their own agendas and were inspired to create our own parasite for smart home systems. Therefore we started Project Alias to demonstrate how maker-culture can be used to redefine our relationship with smart home technologies, by delegating more power from the designers to the end users of the products.*
I’ve never been tempted by Amazon Echo or Google Home. First off, I like not needing to reboot light switches. And the privacy implications of these gadgets are stunning. There’s the obvious: if you don’t think they’re listening and harvesting data whenever they’re plugged in, you clearly haven’t been paying attention. The Alias project mitigates this exposure with a man-in-the-middle attack – it sits between you and the listening device and only talks to the listening device when you’ve told it to.
I’m still thinking it through, but Alias isn’t a panacea. All the things Google Home (for example) is asked to do: play music, turn off lights, adjust temperature, will leak back to Google and they can build an interesting model of your life using this data. That being said, a Cordycepian brain parasite for our cloud overlords’ bugs* is conceptual candy to me. (earlier Cordyceps post here)
I’ve been interested in kite aerial photography almost as long as I’ve been on the internet. I’m not sure how I got there, but I remember falling over Prof. Benton’s KAP page back in the days of usenet and listservs. I’ve flown a couple different kinds of drones, but the notion of a kite as the camera’s skyhook never stopped being attractive. As I thought about camera equipment for the trip, a KAP rig immediately suggested itself. Drones are heavy and power hungry; kites are neither of those things. I got the stuff together and yesterday – a day of 20 mph+ blustery winds – was the first sky trial.
KAP requires 3 things: a kite (and line obv), a camera with some sort of automatic or remote triggering capability, and a way of hanging the camera off the kite string. I already had a GoPro; they come with wireless capabilities and a phone app to control them. The kite was easy, too. Though I already had an old parafoil kite, I ordered a larger one (for better light wind lifting) with a monster tail (for stability). The last bit, the camera/kite interface, is interesting. I’m using a picavet (or picavet cross if you prefer). It’s named after its inventor, Pierre Picavet, who came up with the notion in 1912. Side note: the history and longevity of KAP is another thing that attracts me.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Yesterday was the first day that all the elements were in place: good wind, no rain and all the components rigged and ready. So off I went to a nearby (sodden) playing field complex. When I got there, I discovered that I wasn’t the only person with kites on their mind. This person was doing some dry land kite-boarding practice.
We spoke briefly – I wanted to make sure I didn’t get in his way – and I walked off to a different corner of the field. He left soon after; the wind was strong and out of the corner of my eye I saw him execute a nice landing after getting pulled a combined Olympic long/high jump distance by his kite.
I had a good time and came away having learned a few things: a mark of a successful outing in my book.
I need to spend more time with the GoPro phone interface. The interface is simple, but when you’re using it one handed with an angry kite in the other hand, well… And distance may or may not be an issue – again, tough to troubleshoot when one’s attention is divided.
I am going to experiment with more and heavier line. The kite came with a 300′ spool of 80lb line. I have a 500′ spool of 160lb line – it weighs more (boo!) but the extra 200′ will come in handy.
Don’t expect stable video when you are flying in a wind right at the top of your kite’s rating.
Here’s some barely-edited footage of the first flight; not great but there’s nowhere to go from here but… wait for it… up.
Logistics note: I’m planning on posting video to both Flickr (esp after they open up the time limit to 10 minutes) and Youtube. I realize there’s angst on the internet over how SmugMug/Flickr is handling the free account downgrade. I’ve had a Flickr Pro account for a long time for exactly that reason: lack of trust in the permanence of free internet services. And so the thing I pay for (Flickr) will be the primary drop and the “free” thing (Youtube) will be there as a secondary source.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I love two wheeled vehicles. My own riding has been restricted to bicycles for a long time, but I love looking at a nice motorcycle too. The presence of an engine gives builders freedom to be less minimalist and practical – expressed esp in the world of choppers. Last Saturday there were two bike shows: the Welcome East motorcycle show in Portsmouth NH and The Builder’s Ball handmade bicycle show in Boston. I spent time at both as I made my way back to Scituate.
There was an an amazing range of bikes at the Welcome East show; a diversity that led to my favorite juxtaposition of the day: two bike conversions next to two superbikes.
My favorite was this perfect BMW. I am a sucker for Earles forks.
The Builder’s Ball was smaller but in some ways even more amazing. The attention to detail was incredible. Brian Chapman used spare spokes as chain slap protectors:
There needs to be a break point in the drive side rear triangle of Gates-equipped bikes so that the belt can be threaded into place. I’ve never seen the problem handled so elegantly.
There was also space for less Apollonian stuff. A bike chopper with what I assume is a combination running light and butt warmer:
And this amazing machine:
I thought at first that it was some sort of e-bike conversion. And then realization dawned: hydraulics! The owner was given the bike by its creator, a Worcester machinist, as he was heading off to a retirement home. The current owner has had the bike for two decades and it is still immaculate. I’d hang it on a wall if I owned it – art.
Locally, preparations for my bike trip continue. Today’s task is choosing books that will live at the Scriptorium in Breuklyn – Lotte and I are heading south tomorrow to celebrate my b-day with friends and fam!
Oh, come on. I’ve seen Canadian geese attack nuns. Canadian geese will attack any damn thing in their general vicinity, they are vicious and stupid and definitely got the memo that they were a legally protected species and tht THERE’S NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT if they repeatedly try to murder you. Geese attacking things definitely do not count for attack video compilations; it is not unusual behavior because they ALWAYS approach the world like a coked-up, steroid-addled teenaged athlete who hates his parents and has something to prove. It’s their default state. – Eyebrows McGee
That’s some serious dislike there Mr McGee.
Did a Canadian goose beat you up in High School? – ambivalentic
And the weirdest – bees attack drone. My current hypothesis is that the sound of the drone motors angers the bees – I can’t come up w/ any other reason for them to behave this way.
Gerry Anderson died last Wednesday. I’ve mentioned previously how important he was to me growing up. I’m not alone. Here is Neil Gaiman singing the Fireball XL5 theme last night (New Years Eve):
One more Fireball reference I’d like to note – Alan Moore made a great joke in The Black Dossier: “Allan Quatermain and Mina Murray steal a rocket named Pancake XL4. Each ship of the series is traditionally named after the manner of her predecessor’s destruction. The Mushroom Cloud XL2 and the Shrapnel XL3 are named as other examples of the Fireball XL5′s antecedents. The Pancake XL4 is destroyed by a collision with a mountain, exploding in a huge fireball and earning the XL5 its name.” *
Beausage. A nice word printed, less felicitous spoken, but the phenomenon it speaks of is the best – the marks of wear that come to good materials through use. Worn bluing where a shotgun is handled. Work boots well treated with bar oil and oak sawdust. And this:
Silent history. Wear your scars and dings proudly, people.
About dang time I posted on this! A couple weeks ago I did, as part of a Seacoast Makers outreach effort, a naturalistic vivarium how-to talk (otherwise known as a frog-and-pony show) at a favorite local plant place, Wentworth Greenhouses.
Yr humble correspondent, gesticulating.
It went quite well – decent turnout and no one fell asleep. I went through a viv build from start to finish: enclosures, substrate, backgrounds, lids and lighting, plants and, finally, animals. As you can see above, I brought a 16″ cube and (on top of the cube) a small carrier with a Phyllobates vittatus inside. The Ranitomeya ventrimaculata Iquitos Red that inhabit the cube are shy at the best of times; no way were they going to show themselves after a car ride.
Good Tuftian that I am, the slide show was just that – a bunch of photographs loosely related to whatever I was talking about. Luckily -strike that- By design I have accumulated quite a few build documentation pics and they were put to good use. I thought about posting the presentation here for download, but I think for the moment I’ll make it available on request: if you’d like a copy of the presentation in .odp/Open Doc Presentation format, send along an email addy or share a Dropbox folder with me and I’ll get you a copy. A few of the slide images after the jump.
With all the hubbub over James Cameron’s planned dive to Challenger Deep, a little attention should be paid to the first and, at this point, only people to make it to the deepest point in the ocean: Auguste Piccard and then-Lieutenant Don Walsh. They did it in 1960 on the bathyscaphe Trieste.
The Trieste was, essentially, a dirigible. It was mainly buoyancy cambers filled with gasoline (here water:gasoline::air:helium) supporting an untethered bathysphere; there’s a huge difference in compressibility between liquids and gases, so I’ll leave the blimp vs. zeppelin distinction alone. *saunters away, whistling*
The point of this post is an interview NPR did with Capt. Don Walsh. I was blown away. Check out his Wikipedia bio – adventure scientist extraordinaire – and yet in the interview (unsurprisingly), humble and thoughtful. I’d encourage folks to give him a listen either at the NPR link or here (right click and save the mp3 locally).
Tandems (bicycles-built-for-two-or-more for the uninitiated) are amazing bits of work. More than anything else, a good tandem is FAST. A tandem is not as heavy as 2 individual bikes, does not have twice the rolling resistance and, most importantly, has essentially the same frontal area as a single bike with two, three or even four times the power driving it. The increase in power without an increase in wind resistance explains the use of trips and quads for pacing (rolling windbreak) on the track before dernys came into the picture.
There are at least four different approaches to getting the power from 2 pairs of legs to the rear wheels.
The crossover front (seems to have been popular with French constructeurs):
The crossover rear (most common):
And then the 2 reasons for this post…
The single side rear (a single side front would be crazy – which means it’s been done somewhere). I found the Paketa V2r by googling racing tandem bicycle; after seeing the bike that ends this post, I was curious about what the current road racing state of the art might look like. I’m not surprised that the timing chain (the link between the captain and the stoker) isn’t a chain at all – belts are popping up in applications where the chainline doesn’t vary – singlespeeds and hub-geared bikes, especially. The biggest advantage that single side rigs have over crossovers has to do with cranksets. On a normal crankset, the left pedal/crankarm is reverse threaded. If it were threaded normally, rotational forces would tend to loosen things up. Since 3 of the crankarms on a crossover drive are on the ‘wrong’ side (both in front and the left on the rear on a crossover rear, for example), you need to purchase special tandem cranksets to get the threading right. On a single-side, the cranks are set up just as they’d be on a solo bike; thus, one can use a super light state-of-the-racing-art set of cranks. You give up the ability to use a triple chainwheel setup, but if racing is the goal, one presumably doesn’t need a super low gear. The folks who make the bike shown below make some other claims about their single side setup regarding torque and bearing stress that I have some trouble getting my head around. It seems to me that the stresses would just switch sides, not somehow balance out. That aside – still a pretty dang cool bicycle.
Finally, the bike that started me thinking about drivetrains in the first place. This tweet led to this photograph:
Which led to me learning about daVinci Design’s drivetrain. I’ll quote their website (I like the sound of jackshaft rather than intermediate shaft – feel free to substitute as you read):
The main component of da Vinci Designs’ ICS is an intermediate drive shaft six inches in front of the rear bottom bracket. The intermediate shaft has two single-speed freewheels on the left side that are independently driven by the cranks at twice the rotating speed and half the torque. On the right side of the shaft, four Hyperglide™ cogs drive the bike. The chain rings are half the size as those on a conventional tandem because of the double rotation of the intermediate shaft. The combination of 12-, 18-, 24-, 30-tooth driving gears equals 24-, 36-, 48-, 60-tooth chain rings. *
Wicked smart! Were I to spring for a tandem (good tandems are NOT cheap), this would be #1 on the list with a bullet. I wonder whether you could get away with eliminating the freewheel body on the rear wheel? After all, the captain and stoker are already decoupled by virtue of the freewheels on the jackshaft and keeping the ‘final drive’ rotating all the time would mean that the captain could shift even when no one’s pedalling. Da Vinci – call me. I’ll sign the idea over in return for just one of your gorgeous machines.
To finish up, some supplementary material in the form of YouTube videos. First, you didn’t think I’d talk about tandems without embedding this, did you?
Some Paralympic Tandem Pursuit action (the stoker is blind or visually impaired). In pursuit races, opponents start of opposite sides of the velodrome and whichever team closes on the other, wins. In this race, there’s a full-fledged catch (5:35).
No tandems in this one, but it does serve to emphasize the importance of aerodynamics and, dang, team pursuit is just about the most graceful thing in sports.
Yesterday was the Sanctuary Arts Open House & Iron Pour Benefit. Ali Goodwin is fighting breast cancer and like so many in this nominally wealthy country is screwed when it comes to health care. Locals have been coming together to help on a regular basis – yesterday was one of those times. The pour was a ton of fun, the people were interesting, the weather was perfect – if only the reason for the event were different.
Warming the ladles
Mr. Swirly is an air blower that makes sure there’s a DRAFT
The macaroni art tile I made – I’ve been thinking about infrastructure quite a bit (credit goes to AdamGreenfield) so I produced a manhole cover.
I’ve remarked before (and probably will again) on some of the underlying similarities between bicycles and shotguns. And yet there’s a huge corpus around firearms (yr humble’s correspondent’s collection here), but nothing comparable in size and scope on the bicycle side. Perhaps the gun’s 500 year head start is responsible, but my gut tells me something else is going on. Be that as it may, It’s All about the Bike is a welcome addition to the not-large-enough-by-half bike as object genre. Robert Penn’s book is the story of his dream bike; he wanted a bike that was just so – not the absolute best of everything, rather the absolute best for his purposes. The book leads us through the choices he made, component by component. Along the way he detours into history – his past and the bicycle’s past – to flesh out the hows and whys of his decisions. Take frame material for example:
Crucially, steel can be repaired anywhere in the world by a man with a blowtorch and a welding rod. I know this, because I bent a steel bike in northern India, when I was riding around the world. I was slipstreaming a tractor on the Grand Trunk Road near Amritsar.We were going downhill a lick when I road into a pothole the size of a hot tub. There was no time to react. I had what American mountain bikers call a ‘yard sale’. The bike, panniers, sunglasses, water bottles, tent, pump, map and I were strewn across the tarmac. […] It took me an afternoon to find the best mechanic, or ‘top foreman’ as the locals called him, in Amritsar. Expertly, he removed the handlebars, the stem, the forks and the stressed headset from the head tube, while attendants handed him tools as a nurse attends a surgeon. Then he shoved a metal spike through the head tube and literally bashed the tubes straight again. It was terrifying to watch.
The frame requires a bit more attention on the remaining 7,500 miles, but gets him home. And:
In the alchemy of designing aircraft tubing, Reynolds stumbled on a manganese-molybdenum alloy that made wonderful bikes. In 1935, the company introduced ‘531’ tubing. It was considered revolutionary. Even now, British [and American] cyclists of a certain age go misty eyed and look towards the horizon just at the mention of ‘531’.
You get a taste in the quotes above both of the range of Mr. Penn’s inquiry and of his writing style. I found the book to be thoroughly enjoyable; style and subject both get an A. It’s a quick read – 198 pages of clear prose – and if you like bikes, highly recommended.
Two additional notes: 1) In spite of my pissing and moaning about the volume of bike lit, I recently bought a fantastic book of visual bike history (aka bike prØn). The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles is a survey of mostly-French mostly-randonneur bicycles from 1909 – 2003. Inspirational – especially as regards a: 2) Current project – I’m assembling a dream bike as well. I’ll post more in a month or so; I’ve built what I’m calling a voyageur bike on a touring frame – pictures/specifications/rationales to follow once the new ride is fully dialed in.