Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Explaining Things to Children

I love getting questions from my kids.  Right now, they're 7 and 9. Answering their questions forces me to examine my assumptions and put the answer into a form that they can understand.

What's a Satellite?

Recently, the family was in the car headed down the highway.  We passed a news van headed the other way, and my youngest asked me what the stuff on top of the van was.  Absently I answered "Oh - that's the satellite dish". The followup question got me thinking: "What's a satellite".

Wow - how do I explain to a 7 year old that what a satellite.  The first things that come to mind are Geostationary orbits, a treatise on Kelperian Elements, or a diatribe on China's space program. None of this would work with my daughter.  Maybe you have some savant child that can calculate orbital trajectories in his or her gifted little head, but I was not that child and neither is my youngest.

Common Ground

My daughter is vaguely aware of my amateur radio work. She has seen the antenna I built, and has a high level understanding that I'm able to talk to people with a radio and an antenna.  After confirming that she remembered the antenna, I had to make sure that she new what space was.  Wow - that's a big subject (pun intended). "You know we live on a planet, right? And there's this black stuff up there called space?" Fortunately she nodded yes.  Phew.  I didn't have to back to fundamentals on that one.

Now it was pretty easy: "Honey, a satellite is an antennae that is up in space." So far so good.  Time to press my luck.  "The picture from the new reporter's camera goes from the big dish on top of the van to the satellite (that's way up there in space) then goes back down to the news station so we can see it on our TV."  I skipped over a lot of concepts that I was just dying to go into:

Ok, I was really getting off the beaten path with that last one.  Sheesh.  She kind of glazed over with the whole news station connection, but maybe I've planted a seed that will grown into a career as a satellite engineer.  Hey, a dad can hope, right?  The much more likely scenario is that she will bring up this conversation a year from now like it happened yesterday and I'll be left scratching my head wondering when we talked about satellites (and looking up old person homes that specialize in dimensia cases).

Keep It Simple

Trying to explain things that  I take for granted helps breath new life into things for me.  It's a fresh perspective to look at something like a satellite with a child's wonder.   Who knows - maybe she'll keep me from getting too jaded.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Abandoned Projects

It happens to the best of us. Or at least it happens to me: I have grand aspirations for large projects but I don't finish them. There are two projects that come to mind.

EV Bike

The was a neat project and I was committed enough to dedicate a blog to it: http://evbiker.blogspot.com/

In a nutshell, I wanted to turn my first motorcycle (a 1974 Honda CB550) into an electric bike  It wasn't running anyway and was in need of some serious restoration, so it seemed like the perfect choice. I took it apart down to the frame. The project progressed as far as a rolling chassis, complete with brakes.

Why did I abandon this project? Unfortunately, I didn't do my due diligence on the costs of the drive train   Getting batteries, a motor and a controller was going to be prohibitively expensive given how often I would actually use the bike. No big deal - I only invested about $20 in primer and paint.  The education I got on how the old Honda engines were put together was worth at least that. Combine that with the knowledge I gained from putting the frame and suspension components back together and it was well worth it.

Sand Rail

This was going to be a great father daughter project.  I had made some good progress, but some unexpected events came up.  Mostly, my family was tired of living in the middle of nowhere.  Plans were made to build a house closer to civilization. There wasn't going to be nearly as much room at the new place (it's hard downsizing from a 40x26 garage to an undersized two car garage).  I know, plenty of people do great work in two car garages, but combing the loss of my dedicated project garage and wanting to spend more time with my family - I decided to cut my losses and sell the project.

In reality, I actually made a few bucks off of this project. I hadn't invested much in the project other than the two original rails and was able to sell them for more than I had originally spent. The rest was tools (which I don't really count into the project itself because I still have them).  

Lessons Learned

There are a few:
  • Making a budget up front before committing is a good idea.
  • Just because you can do something doesn't mean you'll have the time.
  • Things change!  I had planned on having that workspace for the rest of my life. We're almost done building our new house, so we'll be selling that very soon.

Next Project(s)

Just because I didn't finish two major projects doesn't mean I'm going to stop building and tinkering. I do plan on picking smaller projects though.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Axle Nuts Off and Engine Out

Tonight, a couple of key things happened. First, I got the rear axle nuts off. That was a pain. Using my under powered pancake air compressor, I was able to get the left axle nut off. However, the other side was proving problematic. So, after watching a YouTube video on the subject, I drilled an extra whole in a bed rail I had laying around (well, technically it was sitting on top of the attic trusses).  

I was getting tired of staring at the engine sitting there, so  I snapped and started lugging the thing out. As it turns out, the push rod tubes are incredibly fragile and I broke one open. That's when the water / oil / gas mixture started leaking out onto the floor. Awesome. I eventually wrestled it onto my motorcycle jack and onto the floor where it sat leaking for some time.  

Some kitty litter is taking care of the spilled fluids. However, the fact remains that the engine case is likely shot to hell because of water intrusion. No worries though - I got the whole setup (rail and all) for free, so nothing lost.  

Next up, I need to pick up some star bits to remove the half shafts.

Harbor Freight Axle Nut Socket Set
The bed rail solution
Success - the axle nut is off

Some spiders made this their home
The engine is finally out
Oops - the engine peed itself

Friday, September 21, 2012

Engine Guard is Off

With a little help from my angle grinder, I was able to get the engine guard part of the frame off this evening.   It was pretty straightforward. The only challenging bit was one of the bolts was too close to the frame to get a box wrench around and it (of course) rounded off with an open ended wrench. I made some sparks with my angle grinder and cut through the rusted rounded bolt.

I made some headway on the front end, but not quite as much as I expected. After taking off all 4 clamps on the front suspension (sorry - no pics yet), I found that it was welded to the frame.  *sigh*

The only thing holding me back from getting the steering assembly and tie rods off is a 19mm bolt (rusted, of course). Some hits from the impact wrench should take care of that, but that will have to wait for another day as it was getting pretty late. While working with the steering box, I found that it was filled with water.  That doesn't bode well for its condition. Fortunately, I have another steering box from my other sand rail that should work just fine.

Next steps: Finish getting off the steering assembly. Also, I'll need to come up with a new plan for getting the motor off the rail now that getting the front end off has become more problematic.

The motorcycle lift comes in handy again
Breaker Bar makes it easy

The Rounded Bolt

Thursday, September 20, 2012

It's Serious Now - the Wheels are Off!

Last night I had a few minutes to go out to the garage and start some actual work on the rail. She's now up on jack stands and the wheels are off. It's not a tremendous amount of progress, but I wasn't feeling all that well so I was happy to at least make a little headway.

This is the part of the project where the warts start to become more apparent. The studs on the rear drums are in pretty rough shape.  Some are snapped off, others are very loose. Not to worry - I was planning on replacing the rears with some shiny new disc brakes anyway.

Next to come off will be the engine guard. After that I think I'll attack the front steering and suspension. This is where I'll need to have a supply of zip lock bags and a magic marker handy to keep track of all the pieces. 

In case you're wondering about the engine, I'm planning on taking that out as soon as the front suspension is off. That should make it pretty easy to slide the engine on to my motorcycle lift and get it out of the way.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Simple Build Montor

It's not very sexy, and not nearly as cool as using an actual traffic light. But, here is my thrown-together build monitor built out of spare parts and my lunch container.  It's very simple - it's just an Arduino paired with a relay board.  I have a simple host program on my computer that examines the Cruise Control xml feed from our Team City server.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Rail is in the Shop!

The rail is in this shop

Finally! The sand rail is in the garage.  I originally tried to drag it in with my trusty mower, but it lost traction on the smooth garage floor.  One way to get the thing in the door would have been to go find someone to help. However, I'm pretty independent and wanted a way to drag heavy things in through the door.  Also, something tells me this won't be the last time I drag a disabled vehicle into the garage.

My solution?  Install an anchor in the floor that I anchor a come-along to.  


Installation couldn't have been easier.  First, I drilled a 3/8 hole for my 3/8" Red Head anchor. Then I inserted the first wedge anchor and put the ring in place to mark the second hole. After inserting the second anchor and tightening them both down (5 or so turns past where it starts to grab), I was done!

Note that I put the anchor on the far side of the garage (almost 40 feet away from the garage door) so that it doesn't cause a tripping hazard.

Enter the Rail

I took a couple of cranks on the winch, but my daughter did most of the work.  Once she saw the vehicle moving up into the garage there was no getting that thing away from her. She was on a mission.

The first hole

Hooked up a strap to the anchor

The Come Along.  Everyone should have one.

My daughter pulling in the rail
She' moving fast!
Finally!  We can start cleaning it up