Archive for August, 2012

Monthly Subconscious: Snot Meteors

This grew from humble beginnings to span the side of the refrigerator:

Snot Meteors

Snot Meteors

In text:

I thunder huge snot meteors over my shoulder

at the levitating Martian corpse master’s scaly rocket crew

English is a recursive language: you can infinitely complexicate any sentence.


Rebalancing a Cheap Santoku Knife

So I bought a lurid green $8 Tomodachi Santoku knife at K-Mart, which was the first non-stick-coated Santoku-shaped knife I’d seen since that comment. It’s made by Hamilton Forge Ltd, one of those generic names that doesn’t produce any search results worth mentioning and so probably isn’t a real company:

Tomodachi Santoku knife

Tomodachi Santoku knife

The knife has a huge steel blade with a solid plastic handle injection-molded around a short tang, which put the balance point maybe 50 mm out into the blade. I didn’t like the feel when I waved it around in the store and really didn’t like how it behaved on the cutting board.

The way I see it, I can fix a too-light handle…

Pursuant to that post, I have a bag of tungsten electrodes, some complete with a glass seal:

Tungsten electrode with glass seal

Tungsten electrode with glass seal

Wrapping some masking tape around the glass, tapping it with a hammer, then sliding the tape-with-fragments into the trash got rid of the glass. The bulbous tip seems to be a stainless steel tube welded around a thin tungsten shaft, so I clamped it in the vise and whacked it with a chisel; tungsten is strong-but-brittle and cracks easily:

Fracturing tungsten electrode

Fracturing tungsten electrode

Of course, whacking a tungsten rod didn’t do the chisel the least bit of good, but it was about time to sharpen that thing anyway.

Why use tungsten electrodes instead of, say, ordinary drill rod? Tungsten has about the highest density you can get without going broke, getting poisoned, or dying of radiation exposure. That useful table gives elemental density in g/cm3:

  • aluminum = 2.7
  • iron = 7.9
  • lead = 11.4
  • gold = 19.32
  • tungsten = 19.35
  • osmium = 22.6

Can’t afford gold, not even I would put a lead slug in a kitchen knife, and I had the electrodes, so why not?

Waving a neodymium magnet over the handle convinced me that I could drill a hole slightly more than two inches deep without hitting the tang. I briefly considered drilling half a dozen smaller holes, but that started to look like a lot of work and I don’t have any suitable gun drills.

The business end of the electrode measures 1 inch long and 0.1375 inch in diameter. A hexagonal cluster of seven rods fits neatly into a round hole about 3×0.137 = 0.413 inch in diameter: quite conveniently a nice, long Z drill. So I clamped the knife between two strips in the drill press vise and had my way with it:

Drilling knife handle

Drilling knife handle

Actually, I spot-drilled with a center drill, then used a long step drill, stopping with the 3/8 inch step just kissing the low side of the handle, to get the hole mostly on center, before running the Z drill down about 2-1/8 inch. The handle walls became so thin that they flexed around the drill to produce an undersized hole, so I reamed it with a hand-turned 7/16 inch drill and the electrodes fit with no room to spare:

Tungsten electrodes in knife handle

Tungsten electrodes in knife handle

Yeah, that’s a crack in the top electrode: tungsten is brittle.

A dollop of epoxy atop the electrodes should seal them in place forever. I clamped the knife (in its color-matched scabbard) with the angled end of the handle water-level, so the epoxy settled in a neat, symmetric blob that looks better in person than it does here:

Epoxy seal over tungsten weights

Epoxy seal over tungsten weights

The epoxy forms a plug over the ends of the electrodes and (probably) doesn’t extend very far down between them, but they’re firmly jammed in a snug hole and (probably) won’t ever rattle around.

Seven electrodes weighed 32 g and, figuring the missing plastic rounds off to slightly over nothing, the handle now has 60 g of additional weight out toward the end, producing a knife weighing 185 g that balances near the narrowest part of the handle. It’s somewhat heavier than I’d like, but I can cope.

The edge came from the factory reasonably sharp; a few passes over the sharpening steel touched it up nicely.

Early results: it cuts cheese perfectly, drifts to the right in melons, cuts wafer-thin slices from a loaf of my High-Traction Bread, and dismantles fruit with some clumsiness. Overall, I like it, although I could do without the bright green color in a big way.


Longboard Speed-Sensing Ground Effect Lighting

After our Larval Engineer tweaked the code to track the maximum speed for the current run, so that the color always hits pure blue at top speed and red near standstill, we can prove it happened: we have a video! It’s much less awful than the First Light video, but with plenty of cinéma-vérité camera shake, lousy focus, and bloopers:

Longboard In Action

Longboard In Action

That’s a frame extracted from one of the raw videos files using ffmpegthumbnailer:

for t in `seq 0 10 100` ; do ffmpegthumbnailer -i mov07117.mpg -o Longboard-$t.jpg -t $t% -q 10 -s 640 ; done

This view of the 3D printed case shows the power switch and the Hall effect sensor cable snaking out of the truck just below the near axle:

Longboard RGB LED Electronics - right front view

Longboard RGB LED Electronics – right front view

She filled the case corners that pulled up from the build platform with a thin layer of epoxy, getting a plane surface by curing it atop waxed paper on the shop’s surface plate, to keep the polycarbonate sheet flat. I didn’t have any acorn nuts to top those nylon lock nuts, alas.

The 4-cell Li-ion battery lives in the slice between the white aluminum plates, where it takes about four hours to charge from 3.0 V/cell. The Arduino Pro Mini lives behind the smoked polycarb sheet, where its red LED adds a mysterious touch. Maybe, some day, she’ll show the 1/rev pulse on the standard Arduino LED for debugging.

A view from the other side shows the hole for the charger above the circuit board, with the Hall sensor out of sight below the far axle:

Longboard RGB LED Electronics - left front view

Longboard RGB LED Electronics – left front view

Yes, the cable to the LEDs deserves better care. She learned that you must provide strain relief at cable-to-component junctions, which we achieved by pasting the wires to the board beside the LED strip with double-stick tape. The rest of the LED strip interconnections live atop similar tape strips. There’s nothing much protecting the LEDs or their delicate SMD resistors, but it works!

Actually, one red LED in an RGB package went toes-up and wasn’t revived by resoldering its leads. So we jumpered around the package, subjecting the remaining two red LEDs in that string to a bit more current than they’d prefer, and that’s that.

There’s a whole bunch not to like one could improve in both the mechanics and electronics, but it works! If you’ll grant it alpha prototype status, then I’d say it’s Good Enough; this is her project and she’ll learn a lot from how it works and how it fails, just like we all do.

Not shown: crazy-proud father…



Wouxun KG-UV3D Battery Contact Locations

Having gone to great pains to put the center of the contact studs on the GPS+voice case exactly at the center of the screws on the back of the radio:

HT-GPS Case - Wouxun KG-UV3D rear view

HT-GPS Case – Wouxun KG-UV3D rear view

I now discover why Wouxun used 7 mm square pads on the batteries: the springy contacts hit the pack so far off-center from the studs that they very nearly miss the heads on the 4-40 brass screws I’m using as contacts. This family portrait shows the radio, the battery pack, and the GPS+voice case:

Wouxun KG-UV3D - battery contact locations - GPS case

Wouxun KG-UV3D – battery contact locations – GPS case

The lines on the masking tape highlight where the spring contacts touch the case and barely kiss the screw heads:

KG-UV3D contact marks on GPS case

KG-UV3D contact marks on GPS case

Squinting at the marks on the battery case contacts (you can’t see it in the pictures), the contact line is maybe 2.5 mm beyond the centerline of the square pads. How this worked on the first case I built, I have no clue. For this version, I deliberately filed the heads a bit less and recessed them into the case a bit more; obviously, that was the wrong thing to do, as the connection was intermittent at best.

For the purposes of getting things working, I wrapped snippets of copper mesh tape (from NASA, according to the surplus blurb, with conductive adhesive) around thin chunks of conductive foam, then put them over the studs. The scars in the plastic came from an abortive attempt to get the springs far enough into the case surface to kiss the very edge of the studs:

Copper mesh on GPS case contacts

Copper mesh on GPS case contacts

There’s no point in having a contact patch on the near side of the radio springs, because nothing ever touches there. So the right thing to do is simply move the contact studs to the far side by 3 mm, centering them around the actual contact point. That means changing the PCB layout by the same amount. That’s easy enough to do, but … drat!

When I took the case apart to boost the mic gain, I replaced those neatly filed studs with unfiled pan head 4-40 brass screws from the same parts stock. The heads were tall enough to touch the radio spring contacts closer to their centers and make perfect contact. Not elegant, but better than that copper braid tape.

The one thing I do not like about the Wouxun battery packs: the radio contact pads are flush with the pack surface, so there’s absolutely no protection against casual shorts when the pack isn’t on the radio. The packs also sport four bare round contacts on their outer surface that mate with the charger, two of which make direct contact with the battery; those sit inside a shallow molded recess that helps prevent inadvertent shorts.

assume there’s a protective circuit inside the pack that turns off the current on a dead short, but I am most assuredly not going to test that assumption. When the packs aren’t on the radio (which they never will be, effective immediately), they sport a strip of tape across those radio contact pads.


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PL605060 Cells: First Charge

Five PL605060 lithium cells (prismatic, 3.7 V, 2 A·h) for the longboard project arrived and underwent incoming inspection. The lower curves show the as-received charge state (about halfway) and the upper curves show the first charge:

PL605060 Li-Ion Cell

PL605060 Li-Ion Cell

The crinkly sections come from me nudging the wires (held on by the most tenuous of alligator clip connections) and don’t really affect the results. The five cells charged to within a few percent of each other, which is Good Enough.

I hotwired each cell to the hacked battery case for the SX230HS camera and used the Canon charger:

PL605060 cell - charging adapter

PL605060 cell – charging adapter

As is turns out, that charger is rated for 700 mA current, exactly the same as the 4-cell charger we’ll use for the longboard battery, so the overall charge rate should be about the same. The Canon cells run around 1.1 A·h and the PL605060 is 2.0 A·h; I figured 2.0 was approximately 1.1 for small values of 2.0. The charge cycle required only a little more time than usual, which isn’t surprising because I stopped the discharge at 3 V rather than 2.8 or whatever.

Cell C has the highest discharge voltage of the litter, so I’ll conjure it into becoming an external battery for the camera (which prefers higher voltages over higher capacity). I’m not sure how to mount it; a case that screws into the tripod socket is obvious, but it would interfere with the macro lens adapter. Of course, I could just print another macro lens adapter with an integral battery case …


Don’t Leave Your Food Unprotected

This is the season for orb-weaving spiders, one of which laid a great web between a pole and the grass in the front yard. It worked wonderfully well to capture a flying katydid, but wasps got to the victim first:

Webbed katydid with wasps

Webbed katydid with wasps

Maybe a bird took out the spider? We’ll never know, but that katydid won’t go to waste.

This is a dot-for-dot crop from a handheld shot with the Canon SX230HS, macro setting, plus a dash of unsharp mask and gentle contrast stretching to knock the background down. It’s surprisingly hard to get perfect focus on a wind-blown object; this is the least awful of the group.

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Spider: Wrong Place, Wrong Time

I opened the grill cover before lighting it and this critter ran out of the depths:

Spider in propane grill

Spider in propane grill

It eventually crawled up to the gap at the lid, from whence it could bail out over the edge. I fired the barby and, alas, it scuttled in exactly the wrong direction: down its web and directly into the burners.

Made me feel like crap; spiders are good to have around.

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