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Holy cow...

So a week ago a writer for Wired.com contacted me about the fireflies, having found them through the Maker Faire. I exchanged a few emails with some details, and, well:

www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2010/05/electronic-fireflies/

This is more than I'd ever hoped for! Just wow.

(Good thing our website is now live. As of last night, that is. Nothing like the last minute to give you heart failure.)
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Baby pictures! As go all things engineering, continual changes and updates keep happening. So, for the show, we will have two different types, and here they are.

The one on the left is from the pilot run and is the previous design. The one on the right is a preproduction run, and it's what they will look like from here on out. It's about an inch across and weighs but 7 grams.

There will be 125 of the older design. There are 1200 of the newer ones in the works, though it's expected that there may be only about 180 of them finished by the show. If the gods are truly smiling, a few more might make it. If they are frowning, though...

They're lead-free, mercury-free, dolphin-safe, nuclear-free, contain no harmful propellants, and dipped in weatherproof epoxy.

Click through for larger images:





No rest for the weary. The web site due date is Thursday, and the dark-booth needs attention!

See us at Maker Faire!
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See us at Maker Faire!

Just found out that our booth will not be in the Dark Room, as they are not having one per se this year. Instead, they will put us in the main hall (the big boxy building) which has better foot traffic, at least. But it isn't dark, not the least bit. This means we have to rework the booth to make our own darkness!

We need to be able to make it dark enough to show the fireflies doing their thing while still being open enough to get people's attention as they pass. I'm expecting an ambient room light intensity of at least 200 lux, which could be up to 1000 if we're too close to the entrances, whereas the fireflies don't start to come on till well under 20 lux. Yipe!

We'll have to make some kind of dark box around the whole booth, or something. Maybe use an easy-up and cover the whole thing in dark cloth? Put out some kind of awning over the front to shade that area (assuming the Powers That Make will let us do so)? Any other ideas, anyone?

In other areas, prep for the Faire is rolling along more smoothly. The web site is being reworked by [livejournal.com profile] colletteshorses  and two of her school chums. She has worked out the credit card and PayPal systems, and I'm finishing construction and testing of the first run of 100. I have a manufacturer friend lined up for the follow-on run of 1000, which he says should easily be done by the show. I'd really like to have all the parts and boards ordered once a few details get worked out in the next few days - in other words, Real Soon Now (TM).

The Maker Faire is approaching at a rate of 1 second per second, which nevertheless seems awfully fast from here.
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See us at Maker Faire!

Yes, that logo means what you think it means. [livejournal.com profile] colletteshorses and I are all official and stuff for displaying the fireflies at the Maker Faire in San Mateo. The name of our little company is Humble Earth and we expect to be set up in the Dark Room, as the little fireflies aren't exactly a big deal out in the sunshine...

I've got a pilot run of 100 fireflies in the works right now, and we have to plan our booth and get something neato going. Selling price is still TBD, as we have a lot of calculations to do in order to try to just break even.

More info (and begging for assistance/assistants) to come as we get closer!
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Seeing as how much fun the Great Handcar Regatta was last summer, I decided to don my railroad engineer's outfit and give the Steampunk Expo a try this past weekend. I was only there on Saturday, but what a fun time.

As [livejournal.com profile] acanthusleaf already mentioned, there were quite a lot of things going on. She kindly allowed me to leave some stuff of mine in her booth, so that became a home base of sorts.

I went to a number of presentations and panels. One was on a history of steam power in general, another was on Victorian World's Fairs (many very amusing images from that one), and a panel on bringing the maker culture to the masses. That brought out some interesting points, and one of the big takehome thoughts for me was the gradual intrusion of zoning laws and activity/business permits that various communities and counties put up. These are of course meant to preserve a certain quality of life, but they have the unintended consequence of driving out most hands-on activities.

The outside steam pen was small but well stocked. The flame-shooting snail car was there (complete with small child enthusiastically yanking the fireball ropes), a calliope, various vehicles, running sterling and steam engines, and one steam-powered three-wheeled vehicle, somewhat in the manner of Cugnot's carriage. I never did find the person who created it, and didn't see it running, though it clearly moved around during the day.

The highlight was the visit to the Neverwas Haul creators, Shipyard Labs. Their hospitality was grand, their ideas were expansive, their shop mind-blowing. The place was enormous, and [livejournal.com profile] acanthusleaf and I were there for at least two hours, digging through the heaps and mounds of sheer awesomeness that awaited us at every turn. There were dozens of past projects, many still in working order, monstrously huge tools (for example, a 4-ton drill press from the Alameda shipyards with over 40,000 hours on the meter!), scrap parts and ingredients haphazardly organized, and an overwhelming air of idealistic innovation. Scrappy ambition built the place and creative exuberance keeps it going. It just made me want to grab a torch and start building things. I could easily see losing myself in a group of people like that and having the time of my life doing it. I consider myself to be thoroughly boggled by our visit.

They were happy to tell all and everything about their projects and plans. One of my big questions was simply, "Is there a group of people even half as wonderfully loony as you guys near Santa Cruz"? The answer was, "not really". There are a few artists and small groups working the same territory of the industrious visionary, but nothing remotely of the scale of Shipyard Labs.

All in all, a truly fun weekend. I'm laying plans for possibly giving a presentation myself next year. Probably something along the lines of railroads, steam engines, and trains and their influence on the Victorian aesthetic.

I'm going back!

(Edit: Fix typos. There are probably more.)
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 It's been a couple of weeks now, and I have more results from and thoughts about the Handcar Regatta.

The Past... )
The Present... )
The Future... )
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The good news: I had the best time of all entrants.
The bad news: I didn't win.

Why? Well, my fastest run was in one of the heat races, but I had mechanical failure (lost the chain) in the finals, which caused a crash.

Which means even though I set out to do only one of two things, in reality I did them both! Be the fastest, _and_ crash spectacularly for the collective amusement of the assembled masses. 

In the finals, my opponents also suffered a mechanical failure, but having the virtue of four wheels, they stayed on the rails and managed to limp past the finish line. Meanwhile, I dusted myself off, bent a few things back into place, got the bike back on the rails, re-set the chain, and (slowly) pedaled across the line a short time later.

It was oodles of fun. The entrants all had a real camaraderie, a sense of fair play and always helped each other out. It took a while to get things organized, but then things ran smoothly. There were many thousands of spectators, even though it was 100 degrees. Both [livejournal.com profile] acanthusleaf  and I battled the heat, and it was great to have a Racer's tent with lots of cold things to drink and salty foods. We both had a blast. There were loads of merchants, loads of steampunk groups and displays of wonderful inventions, and loads of general goofiness.

Pictures and such are soon to come. At this point, I'm exhausted and sunburned (kept sweating the sunblock off) and I will write more after I get some sleep and recover a bit.


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So here is the scoop on Sunday. The event itself opens to the public (it's free) at 11:00 AM.

There will be several heats of side-by-side racing. The first heat is at 12:30, the second heat is at 1:30, the third is at 2:30. Then there will be a break, with the fourth heat at 4:30 PM. The final race is after that, and will be between the two fastest teams of the day.

I'll be in the first race of the second heat, at about 1:30 or so. My contraption is called "Cyclotron", and the team name is "The South Pacific Coaster".

And 'heat' will be the word of the day - the weather forecast calls for it to reach nearly 100 on Sunday in Santa Rosa. Joy...

As for clothing, I kinda have it together. If it's really that hot that day, I'll be in modern cool clothes for the day, and perhaps I'll change to the railroad engineer outfit for my race. Or I might just stay in modern clothes for the race as well and wear the engineer's hat as a token gesture. That will be up to the meteorologists.

Racers need to be on site by 10:00, and I want to have some extra time for setting up the bike for the Santa Rosa tracks. So, at this point, I'm planning to bring everything with me to Bardic and to leave from there, spending the night at the event site. I know this messes up carpooling plans, but perhaps we can work something out?

BTW, the speed is improving. Some tweaks to the bike have further improved the stability and brought the time down to 37 seconds for the 700-foot run from a standing start. The better track in Santa Rosa might just allow me to trim the time a wee bit more. Maybe that will make it fast enough to be at least somewhat competitive...

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Since it's getting down to the wire, I wasn't planning on doing any real decoration of the railbike. But, it rained last week and has been foggy overnight lately, and the railbike parts have started showing some rust. So I disassembled everything, primed the parts, chose some metal colors (hammered steel, hammered gold, dark bronze, that sort of thing) and started in on it.

Turns out that the all-metal color scheme is really too subtle. Unless the viewer knew that the whole thing was modern steel, it isn't clear at all that there is anything interesting to the construction of the bike. Even with that, I decided that I really can't afford to have it in pieces for very long, so I reassembled it and am planning to do evening test runs for the rest of the week. It looks OK now, and of course it won't rust, so at least I won't have to worry about that.

The final tally for the event itself is 22 entrants (!). They're expecting the racing to begin around noon and take most of the afternoon. There will be two side-by-side tracks in use, drag-race style. It should be quite the spectacle.
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Pics... )
Vids... )
Speed... )
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I had a pair of birthdays earlier this week. My actual birthday was Wednesday, but [livejournal.com profile] colletteshorses had class all day and evening, so we spent some low-key time together on Thursday, too.

Lots of words to describe relaxation... )

Yes, I'm getting older, but I'm having more fun!
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The last few days have been trying. I've been down a few side paths, but now I'm back on track (so to speak). 

Much mechanical mayhem... )

Another run tomorrow morning!
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So I took the railbike out for a ride today.

Pics of the adventure )
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What have I gotten myself into?

About a month and a half ago, some friends told me about the Great Handcar Regatta handcar-regatta.com. For years I've been kicking around the idea of building a railbike, and here was an opportunity. I sent in my registration, dubbed my soon-to-be-invented contraption "Cyclotron", and got busy at the drawing board.

My evenings are now filled with cutting, welding, finagling, and bludgeoning of metal, wood, and bicycle parts. What has emerged from the cacophony is in no way historic, whimsical, nor steampunk. But, it works - to a first approximation. There are some abandoned tracks near my house, and after several test runs, there is still a lot of refinement needed. Stability comes first, then speed. I'm a long way from maximum speed, and someday I'll want to be able to ride from here to Santa Cruz and back - but that's getting ahead of myself.

So, the day after Bardic (Sunday the 27th), I'll be in Santa Rosa at the race. [livejournal.com profile] acanthusleaf  will be along as my guide to all things steampunk, and I'll do my best to charge to victory. Or crash spectacularly. Whatever is more amusing to the collected gallery.

Either way, this is going to be fun! Heck, it's already a lot of fun!

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Yesterday, [livejournal.com profile] colletteshorses  and I fenced all day long. She is familiar with it, though this was a new technique to me. I have to say that while at the time it didn't seem like a lot of exertion, today I'm really feeling it in my shoulders and arms. She was saying that her feet were really worn out. At least we had (mostly) shade and the day wasn't too hot. The neighbors were probably quite bewildered by the sounds of clashing metal and our shouting to each other.

But, at the end of the day, we doubled the size of the horses' paddock. They are quite happy with their new fencing.
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Les Paul died last week at 94. If you're not familiar with his name, he was the Edison of rock.

Just about everything we do these days in recording and performing was either invented or deeply influenced by him. Things like, say, the electric guitar. Multitrack recording. Echo. Reverb. Distortion. Pitch and time shifting. Gibson licensed his designs and his name for the Les Paul guitar, a mainstay of rock for decades.

At his heart, though, he was a performer. He invented all these techniques to allow him to record the jazz and early pop he was writing with Mary Ford. Listening to their music now, it sounds almost quaint. But, 50 or 60 years ago, pulling that off was a big deal. I love what my modern recording systems can do for me, but it all really started with Les.

Today, anybody can walk in to Guitar Center with a few thousand bucks and walk out with a better recording studio than even the Beatles ever had. But, you can't get talent there. You can't get the chops to do a good job there. You can't get an ear for your vision, to mix metaphors.

Les Paul still played a weekly gig in New York all the way to the end. He will be missed.

Edit: And here is a commercial he did recently for Coors (!). Gives you a tiny glimpse of his playing.

 www.youtube.com/watch
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Fire! Fire!

The final tally from the Bonny Doon fire:

Number of acres burned: 7100
Number of houses burned: 0
Number of outbuildings burned: 2
Number of pot farms burned: 0 (officially)
Number of people evacuated: 2400
Number of horses evacuated: several dozen
Number of firefighters brought in: 2400
Fire engines: 300
Helicopters: 10
Tanker planes: 6
Bulldozers: 40
Governor visits: 1
Time till smoke clears, in months: 2

I knew things were getting out of hand last Thursday morning when, on my trip over 17, dozens of fire engines of all types and colors from all over Northern California were headed south en masse. The fire had started the night before and was already over 1000 acres.

Details and a picture... )
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We daytripped Crown. "Big, fat, hairy deal", I hear you shrug. Ah, but it was just a wee bit more exciting than usual. 

 

 

Here's why. )
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The passage of Prop8 made me feel more than a little ill. Much soul-searching was done in the name of trying to understand what more might have been done to stop it. This battle is not over, though I'm not too sure what to do now.

So I, too, hear much in this post-Prop8 world about boycotting Utah (!) and/or the Mormons, and/or stripping tax-exempt status away. This bothers me deeply.

While much if it is born of the frustration which is widely felt and the desire to "do something!" about the issue, it troubles me to see how broad a brush is being used here to paint "the opposition". Take a breath, take a seat, and pour yourself some of your favorite beverage.

Most of us have been to Utah. If you've spent any time there at all (outside the airport), you'll know that they are a deeply divided people, between the LDS and everyone else. What you may not realize is that the LDS is also a deeply divided people. I could go on about the old "I know a few [members of a group] who aren't like [the common stereotypes of that group]", but instead let me direct you here:

http://www.sltrib.com/Faith/ci_10798657

This is a column written by a longtime Salt Lake Tribune writer and Mormon. Yes, I like the way he says things, but I encourage you to also read some of the reader replies to the article.

I find some hope there. While the LDS organized its political efforts, there are plenty of members who disagree with their tenets. In the end, though, they weren't the ones who voted - a bunch of us here in the Pacific time zone did. Can we find support in the Mormons for civil rights? It seems unlikely, but perhaps, yes. But we have to approach them, not try to make them irrelevant. The anti-civil-rights voices have done a good enough job of convincing the population of the US that it's OK to think of a class of people as irrelevant, as less than human. Showing them that no, many of us are rather certain that it's not OK, and that these people are better people than the "official" humans is the way to change that.

(I have a longtime principle that no church should have any form of tax-exempt status, but that has nothing to do with recent events and everything to do with who gets to decide whether an organization is a "church" or not.)

Be that as it may, a carpet-bombing boycott isn't the way to teach. It isn't the way to promote understanding. It isn't the way to be effective. We have to work in an engaging way. A positive way. A convincing way.
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"Any trip which does not result in at least one good story has been a waste of time."

To Vytas, I'd like to exclaim, in my best Skipper imitation, "Thanks a lot!" Then I'd hit him over the head with my hat (after having found a suitably high surface on which to stand, such as, say, Uther).

At this very moment I should be in a large airplane, preparing to put my seat and tray table back into their fully upright positions and checking around my seating area for any personal belongings which I may have brought on board. I should be ready to take out my earplugs and experience the balloon-squealing roar of my fellow passengers as we collectively deflate the plane. I should be stumbling across the uneven floor of the jetway, filling my lungs with the scent of low-carb California-blend kerosene. I should be anticipating finding at least some of my luggage and heading off to dinner with Collette, Aimeric, and Chiara. I should be experiencing that half-heartbeat just as I open the door to my house, thrilled to both see my cats once again and to see how they have redecorated the place while I was away.

But, lo, I am not.

I am not on a plane. I am nowhere near home. I am not even moving. I have barely left the room in two days.

I have pneumonia.

This was to be the extended trip to Chicagoland to get together with my family for the holidays. My dad's mind is turning to mud at an alarming rate, and I won't have too many more chances to actually be able to talk with him in person during which he actually knows my name. My brothers are all in Chicago, and Autumn and I were going to spend a lot of time experiencing our particular extended family dynamic, while occasionally heading in to the Big City to see the sights it has to offer. All in all, we would have plenty of time for the traditional last-minute shopping, plenty of time for my pilgrimage to the Mecca of pizza (the original Giordanos), plenty of time for talking about everything or nothing at all, and plenty of brothers from whom to borrow cars.

We both came down with the flu the day before we left SFO. I could only wish that I had left any of my major organs in San Francisco, though it appeared I could most easily do without my lungs. Fortunately TSA took a look at us, a look at the plastic bag full of meds, and then another look at us, before dimly turning to the next people in line.

I don't remember much about the first three days or so here. We are in a nice B&B (shadyoaksbb.com) which is within rock-throwing distance of my brother Rob's house, but we were far too sick to go much of anywhere for much of any reason. Rob kept just bringing us drugs, and our inkeeper went out of her way to help. I could feel the warm breeze of recovery blowing my way when I was suddenly hit with a sizzling fever.

I knew I was in trouble when I could make out Collette using phrasings like "...104 degrees...", "...called your brother...", and "...emergency room..." I didn't want to make her feel put out, but I found that I had rather little energy with which to argue. The hospital had valet parking.

Jump forward to today, here, now. I'm back at the B&B. I'm propped up on pillows. I'm loaded with antibiotics, and I have supplies lain in for a long siege. I have Wifi.

I noticed Collette reading LJ and it slowly dawned on me that, hey, I have an account there, too. This means more stuff to read! And here I thought I'd run out of Internet.

Collette's flu has mostly been conquered. When her coughs get back up to ultrasonic range, it's time for more Robitussin. She has put up with a lot from me this past week, and only got a little upset with me when she found out how ill I really was. She said she is going to have to start treating me like one of her pets (hey, a promotion!). Then she said she'd have to ignore whatever I say and ascertain my health herself. That wasn't what I had in mind...

--

Everyone needs a first post. This one is mine.
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