Tuesday, July 31, 2007


So, recently when I have been home alone during the day, working, I had noticed a buzzing sound in the apartment. Like a bug. Eeew. Convinced that a fly was loose in the house somewhere, trapped behind blinds or something, I had taken to working with an old rolled-up catalog by my side, ready to be deployed for fly-swatting duty. Occasionally, when I heard the buzzing, I would go on a search for the interloper, but I never found any bugs in the house. Very wierd.

Well, yesterday I got fed up. When the buzzing started up again, I tip-toed around, following the sound, hoping I wouldn't startle the bug into silence. I ended up in the corner of the apartment, behind our table, right by the sliding patio door. No bug...but...buzzing? Is my hearing just going? I mean, I'm 30....that is officially old, right?

Then I saw it. A wasp crawled out of its long, skinny nest that was IN THE TRACK OF OUR SLIDING GLASS DOOR OMG WE HAVE WASPS WASPS WASPS!!!!!! After a severe attack of phantom itching followed by some shuddering and yelling of, "Eew, eew, eew!!" I called the leasing office. So, here I am, waiting for the exterminator to come.

By the way, my wonderful husband was less than helpful. I triumphantly pointed out the wasp's nest to him when he got home from work, expecting him to recoil and get the phantom itches and shudders that I had experienced earlier. Except he said, "Oh yeah!" in a sort of excited, facinated voice, which was the ENTIRELY WRONG tone of voice for wasps. Horror, disgust, fear....those are the appropriate tones to take when discussing wasps that have decided to squat on your property. Then he walked off to get a snack. *Sigh*...boys!!

Well, it turns out that, perhaps, my dear husband was correct. The exterminator just arrived and explained to me that we have an organ pipe mud dauber wasp's nest. Apparently they are extremely gentle and almost never sting humans. He went ahead and removed the nest, though, and treated the balcony for me. So, now I feel kind of bad for disturbing their nest. They're flying around in that corner looking forlorn and I think maybe I'm a bad person. I might have to go out for lunch to get away from their accusing stares.

Movie Review: The Illusionist

(This review contains no significant spoilers.)

Alison and I Netflixed The Illusionist recently. Like The Prestige, this film is a 2006 period piece about stage magic and interpersonal relationships. The stars are Edward Norton, Jessica Biel, and Paul Giamatti. Here are my opinions.

What I liked:
  • The plot is quite intriguing.
  • It's not clear, at least at the beginning, what Giamatti's character's motivations and loyalties are. I enjoyed this ambiguity as well as the actor's portrayal thereof.
What I disliked:
  • The romance element seemed a little artificial.
Given the similarities in subject matter and date of release, I can't help comparing this film to The Prestige. That comparison is not entirely fair, since this is a very different film. That caveat aside, I found The Prestige more fascinating, but The Illusionist is certainly worth seeing. Overall, I give it 7.5 out of 10.

Movie Review: The Prestige

(This review contains no significant spoilers.)

Alison and I Netflixed The Prestige a few weeks ago. This film was directed by Christopher Nolan and stars Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, and Scarlet Johansson.* The Prestige, like the novel on which it's based, tells the story of rival magicians in Victorian England.** Here are my thoughts on this flick.

What I liked:
  • The whole cast turns in strong performances.
  • The nonlinear nature of the story is quite interesting, especially toward the end, when the different threads all come together.
  • The psychological ramifications of some events in the film are quite fascinating.
  • The plot takes some interesting turns during its course.
What I disliked:
  • The story is a little confusing in the beginning, since if follows three or more threads taking place at different times. (I must say that the nonlinear storytelling pays off in the end.)
  • There is one highly improbable piece of "science" in the film. (I'm willing to overlook it, since there is only one, and it contributes so well to the story.)
All-in-all, this is the best film I've seen in the last year. I found myself thinking about it for several days after seeing it, which is, I believe, the mark of a good movie. Go see this film. Overall, I give it 9.0 out of 10.

By the way, having really enjoyed Memento,*** Batman Begins, and now The Prestige, I plan to check out the rest of Nolan's films.

* Keep an eye out for David Bowie in a small-ish but important role.
** Oh, and Colorado.
*** Thanks, Nick.

Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

(This review contains no significant spoilers.)

Alison and I saw Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End several weeks ago. Here are my thoughts.

What I liked:
  • The visual effects, especially those that created Davy Jones' crew, looked spectacular.
  • Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom turned in solid performances.
  • The final action sequence was quite fun to watch.
  • The film tied up the loose threads from the previous, second Pirates film.
What I disliked:
  • As in Spider-Man 3, there were too many plot lines to realistically address in one film, leaving many of then incompletely explored and the viewer somewhat confused.
  • A few plot points seemed stupid.
Overall, I give it 4.5 out of 10.

Movie Review: Transformers (2007)

(This review contains no significant spoilers.)

Alison and I saw Transformers a few weeks ago. Here are my thoughts.

What I liked:
  • It was great fun to see my childhood toys up on the big screen, albeit in modified form.
  • The visual effects in the film were spectacular.
  • Peter Cullen turned in a solid performance as the voice of Optimus Prime.
  • A surprising amount of backstory and motivation was given to the main human character, Sam.
What I disliked:
  • Many plot points were just stupid.
  • All the "science" in the film was ridiculous.
  • The dialog, especially Prime's, was melodramatic.
  • The film was very self-serving, from a species point of view. By this I mean that (a) the main character was human rather than an Autobot, (b) a human gets to save the day, and (c) there were many cases in which Prime or another Autobot expresses admiration for humans. Ugh.
Overall, I give it 4.0 out of 10.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Death: The High Cost of Living

Comic fans in the audience my be interested to know that a theatrical version of Neil Gaiman's graphic novel Death: The High Cost of Living is not only planned but also "moving along at a fairly decent clip."

Ripper Lives

A lot of news came out of Joss Whedon's panel at ComicCon. The most interesting bits to me are as follows:
  • Whedon is "finishing the score for a short film he'll be directing called The Serving Girl." It will be a---get this---ballet and will star---you guessed it---Summer Glau.
  • He's still working on Goners, though it hasn't been greenlit.
  • Whedon "and former Buffy scribe Drew Goddard have written a horror script together called A Cabin in the Woods." Whedon described it as a "horror film to end all horror films."
  • The oft-discussed Giles solo film, Ripper, is finally moving forward. Apparently, Anthony Stewart Head is on board with the project, which will be produced as a 90-minute TV movie by the BBC. Rumors have suggested that Ripper would be a prequel to Buffy taking place when Giles earned and was called by that nickname, but, given Head's age, I can only speculate that the film would take place after the series.

Vote for Newton!

Hey everyone! A couple of weeks ago, I saw a link to a pet photo contest sponsored by the National Sleep Foundation. It's called the "My Pet Loves Sleep Contest" and the idea was to submit a cute/funny photo of your sleeping pet. The contest organizers choose a handful of photos every week and people who visit the site have the opportunity to vote once a day for their favorite pet. The pet who gets the most votes by the end of the week wins the contest!

Well, as you might have guessed by the title of this post, I submitted Newton's photo a few weeks ago and he was chosen to be in the contest this week! Yay! So, please head over to this site and vote for Newton! You can even go back every day this week and vote once per day. :) I don't think we actually get anything (except bragging rights!) if he wins, but I'm still kind of excited. Yes, I'm a nerd.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Johnny D Bites

Fans of Johnny Depp in the readership---I know there are at least 2 of you---may be interested to know that Depp will co-produce and star in a feature-film adaption of the 1960s vampire soap opera, Dark Shadows.

Sylar --> Spock!

Tom just pointed out that the rumors of Zachary Quinto, Heroes' Sylar, being cast as Spock in the upcoming Star Trek film were, in his words, "more than rumors, apparently."

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Sylar --> Spock?

Rumors are afoot that Zachary Quinto, who creepily portrayed Sylar in Heroes, has been cast as Spock in J. J. Abrams' upcoming re-imagined Star Trek. I must say that I fervently hope this rumor is true. Not only does Quinto have the right look to play the iconic character,* but he also has solid acting skills. So, if you are listening, Abrams, make it so.

* Also one of my Star Trek all-stars and possibly my favorite Trek character of all time.

Though His Mind is Not For Rent, Don't Put Him Down as Arrogant

I happened to read a reference to the band Rush about 20 minutes ago. Then, 10 minutes later, I realized I had Tom Sawyer in my head. I blame Todd for this.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

It Works with Nectar and Ambrosia

I'm recently been enjoying using the spork that Ashley gave me. I've frequently found myself staring down at some concoction I had prepared, unsure of whether a spoon or a fork was the implement of choice. Then I remembered: I own a spork! And not just any spork, but a titanium spork. It truly is the flatware of the gods.

Run, CrossFit, Run!

I put CrossFit to a bit of a test today. The last time I did the "run 5k" workout of the day was on April 12. I haven't done that WOD the few times it has come around since then, either because I was planning something else, the weather did not cooperate, or some other reason that I can't recall at the moment. Anyway, I did the same 3.2-mile route again, and I knocked 1 minute, 42 seconds off my time.* I think that's pretty impressive, given that I essentially haven't run in over 4 months.

* I'm not going to tell you the actual time, since it's quite a bit slower than when I was running regularly, back at the very end of the second millennium.

Fine Dining

Thanks to Lisa, Amy, and Nick for joining us for dinner at Team Grondul World Headquartes this weekend. A good time was had by all of Team Grondul.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

How-To: Nitro-to-Brushless Conversion: Part 5

Part 4 can be found here.

We have finally arrived at perhaps the most interesting part of this how-to on the conversion of a Losi 8IGHT 1/8th-scale buggy from nitro to brushless/LiPo power: the installation of the motor, battery, ESC, and supporting components.

Here are a pair photos of the completed car without the body or battery:

This photo shows the 5000-mA-hr battery in place:

You can see a few important aspect of the car's construction from these pics:
  • I've put everything except the battery on the right side of the car or along the centerline. Id did so because, as I said, the battery is quite heavy. With the 5-A-hr battery shown, the weight is distributed slightly to the right, but with the larger 8-A-hr battery, the left tires carry more weight so I think my arrangement is a pretty fair compromise.
  • You may also be able to make out the custom speed-control mount/heatsink that I bent and cut out of 5052 (bendable) aluminum. I'm quite pleased with it; it places the ESC near the centerline of the vehicle and keeps the ESC running cool.
  • The little circuit board thermal-epoxied to the top of the ESC is a temperature sensor. I plan to put another on the motor. Since the transceiver and servo run off a 5-V voltage regulator, I added a voltage sensor---really just a pair of wires with a Rx/servo connector on the end to the setup. You can see the leads disapearing into the ESC's input connectors in the photos.
  • I've dispensed with the front and read disc brakes, which normally sit just ahead of and just behind the center differential. Instead, I'm relying on motor braking. It seems to me that disk brakes are more efficient, from a current-draw standpoint, but I just didn't have room for the servo that would actuate them.
  • As I mentioned last time, I had to grind the motor/diff mount down to fit under the body. (The part was actually made to fit the Losi 8IGHT-T truggy.)
  • Those of you who know me are aware of the significance of the number I've chosen to place on the wing.
Here're a few photographs of the car with the body on. I'm very pleased with this particular color scheme. It addition to being attractive---at least, in my opinion, which is the only one that matters---it has proven itself to be quite visible from distance. Incidentally, I wonder if Lokai and Bele could find common ground by agreeing on the virtues of this paint job.

Next: some shots of the car with road tires---Pro-Line Road Rages---mounted in place of the dirt-track tires---Pro-Line Crime Fighters1 ---shown above. I also purchased some extra-knobby all-terrain tires---Pro-Line Badlands---for more rugged surfaces.

This last photograph shows how I measured the weight distribution. Yes, those are season box sets of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. And yes, that is the second Trek reference in this post, but I'm not some kind of raging Trekkie; these boxes were the first objects I could find that are all the same thickness, and very close to the thickness of the scale.

At this point, the conversion is done, and I'm quite please with the way it turned out. The car accelerates like nobody's business. The acceleration is far better than a nitro-powered buggy can produce, since nitro engines' torque peaks at many thousands of RPM, while the motor in my buggy produces full torque at zero speed. The vehicle also hits remarkably high speeds. I used Alisons GPS receiver2 to measure the top speed to be 41.8 mi/hr with a 14/48 pinon/spur and the road tires. (This test was done on a straight, nearly flat strip of asphalt with nearly no wind.) Additionally, the buggy remains flat---doesn't roll---in corners, and it can be slid very dramatically on smooth pavement.

I only plan minor tweaks from here on out. Here are some of the changes I'd like to make, in approximate order of precedence:
  • Adjust the motor braking. It's way too aggressive at the moment.
  • Add a second temperature sensor to monitor the motor itself.
  • Add another strap (or some other component) to the battery tray to hold the larger, 8000-mA-hr batteries in place securely and cleanly.
  • Replace the Deans Ultra Plugs I have on the batteries and the input to the ESC with 5.5-mm bullet connectors, like I have on the motor and the ouput of the ESC. Deans aren't really meant to be used over 50 amperes, while the 5.5-mm bullets can be run up to 200 amps.
  • Experiment with gearing. A simple pinion change to 15/48 should put the vehicle just under 45 mi/hr. If that doesn't hurt the low-end acceleration, I might go to 15/47. I suspect 15/48 will be close to the ideal gearing, though.
  • Experiment with the suspension parameters. The setup suggested by the manual is pretty good, but I think I should stiffen it up a bit, since the car is a bit heavier than the nitro version.
  • Possibly solder the ESC directly to the motor to reduce loss and improve reliability. I'm not sure if that step will be necessary.
I would be remiss if I failed to point out that I got a lot inspiration and information from the forum at RC-Monster. com. Users BrianG and glassdoctor, as well as Mike Cronin, who runs RC Monster, were especially helpful.

Your comments and suggestions are welcome.

1 Pro-Line's tire names, especially those designed for off-road racing, have a criminal theme to them. I addition to the aforementioned Road Rage and Crime Fighter models, there are also the Cell Block, Mugshot, Inside Job, and Dirty Harry. It not clear to me whether the Knuckles model counts.
2 We have named the device Garmin Tanzarian.

Part 6 can be found here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

How-To: Nitro-to-Brushless Conversion: Part 4

Part 3 can be found here.

After a couple-month-long hiatus, during which I pursued some of my other hobbies, I recently returned to working on the brushless conversion of my Losi 8IGHT 1/8th-scale buggy. And to posting about it on Industrial-Strength Science. This part of my how-to concerns selection of the electronics and associated parts for the vehicle.

The motive force for the car, and indeed the centerpiece of the conversion, will be a NeuMotors 1512/2.5D. All Neu's 1512 motors are rated at 1200 W of continuous power and 2500 W for 30 seconds. This particular motor has a Kv rating of 2000 RPM/V, which means that, with the nominal 14.8-V potential difference supplied by my batteries, it should spin up to 29,600 RPM. That should be fine, because the 1512s aren't meant to spin above 60,000 RPM. The manufacture claims that this motor is "86+" percent efficient. I'm not sure how they measure that---it seems to me the efficiency will vary strongly with voltage/current/speed---but the point is this motor is much more efficient than any brushed motor. Here's a photo of the Neu:

As I think I said before, a brushless motor running off a lithium-polymer battery is truly 2 great tastes that taste great together. The high efficiency of the BL motor combines with the high current capacity and low load-induced voltage drop of the LiPos to deliver lots of power to the wheels, propeller, or what have you. For now, I'll be running a MaxAmps pack consisting of 4 LiPo cells in series. Each cell has a nominal voltage of 3.7 V and a capacity of 5000 mA-hr, so this so-called 4s pack has nominal voltage of 14.8 V and a capacity of 5000 mA-hr; the capacities do not add. This pack is claimed to be capable of putting out constant currents of 20 C---that's 100 amps-for a 5-A-hr battery---and burst currents of 50 C---250 amps for 5-A-hr. The downside to this pack is that, even though LiPo cells have much higher specific capacity than nickel-cadmium or nickel-metal-hydride cells, this battery is just plane huge. You can't determine the size from this photo, but it will be apparent when I show it in place in the vehicle:

Because brushless motors have electronic, rather than mechanical comutation, a brushless-specific electronic speed control is required. I've chosen a Quark 125-B Monster Pro, which is claimed to be capable of sustained currents of 125 A and 10-second bursts of 180 A. Here's a pic:

The Quark ESC has a built-in "battery-eliminator circuit," which is simply a voltage regulator that allows you to pick off 5 or 6 V from the supplied higher voltage to run the receiver and servo, rather than including a small "receiver pack" battery to provide that lower voltage. This BEC is resistive and thus inefficient. In order to reduce power consumption, I'll be using a transitor-base switching regulator, which is more efficient. Here's a shot of this external BEC:

To disable the ESC's BEC, I simply cut the positive power lead coming off of it; since that BEC is resistive, I believe that mod should prevent it from sucking up current. I should point out that Nick taught me that resistive power supplies are less noisy than switching types, but, since I'm not trying to build a fiber laser for optical metrology---at least not today---I'm more worried about efficiency than noise.

The only part I bought that was specificly---more or less---made for this project is a motor/differential mount I purchased from Mike Cronin at RC Monster. This mount replaces one of the diff mounts and allows the motor and its pinion gear to mesh with the spur gear on the diff. I said "more-or-less" because the part was actually made for converting the Losi 8IGHT-T, the truggy1 version of my buggy. Since the buggy body is "skin-tight," while the truggy's encloses a lot of unused volume, I found that the mount rubbed on my beautifully painted body. So, I had to grind off the upper outboard edge of the mount. Here's a photo of the unmodified motor/diff mount; the modified version will be visible on the completed car:

To hold that ginormous battery in place, I also purchased a machined plastic battery tray from RC Monster. I modified this part as well, which I'll show you later.

I also custom made a mount for the ESC that places the speed control near the centerline of the vehicle. I don't have any photos of that mount, although I'm Brian with the overhead projector about it.

I mentioned before that I'll be using a Nomadio Sensor radio, which has several nice features, including telemetry and noise insensitivity. Here's a photo of the transmitter:

Part 5 can be found here.

1 A truggy, at least in the world of RC, is a "truck" that is really a modified buggy. Typically, a truggy has these features:
  • The chassis is a slightly lengthened version of a buggy's pan chassis.
  • The suspension ams linking the wheel to the chassis are lengthened.
  • The wheels arnd tires are truck components.
  • The body is similar to the stylized "stadium truck" body found at the 1/10th scale.

Take That, Puppy!

Here's a photo Newton on our latest hike:

He was quite energetic during the entire hike, but, as soon as we got in the car, he fell asleep in my lap. Here he is later that day, having clearly fallen asleep while channel surfing:

Monday, July 16, 2007

Relevant Comics

The two tech-heavy online comics I regularly read were quite relevant to my personal life today:
  • The boys at Penny Arcade have captured how I felt watching Transformers.
  • Meanwhile, xkcd has delineated the causes of Alison's use of profanity. Just replace "Mario Kart" with "mountain biking" and "seg faults" with "more mountain biking."

Friday, July 13, 2007

Squeekers Under the Fridge

Here's another metaphor I've started using after hearing one of Alison's many amusing stories. This metaphor relates to Ashley's pet hamster/gerbil/rodent:
Squeekers under the fridge, metaphor. Any person or animal who is perfectly content where he is and cannot be tempted to move.

Ashley in the Car Seat

Here's a metaphor I developed after hearing stories of my dear sister-in-law's toddlerhood:
Ashley in the car seat, metaphor. Any person who is so uncomfortably warm that she must remove some or all of her clothing, even if restrained in some way.


Ugh. Every time I run an errand in the real world, it ends up taking much, much longer than it should. Examples:
  • Not too long ago, I had to go to the post office, where I waited forever behind a woman who was clearly a close---and talkative---friend of the postchick wamaning the desk.
  • More recently, I ran into the grocery store on the way to work to pick up some barform---my mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks. Due to (a) the Poisson distribution of people arriving at the check-out line and (b) some problem with one customer's out-checking, it took excessively long to get out of the store.
  • Just yesterday, I stopped at the animal hospital to pick up some meds for Newton. The vet techs couldn't find the prepared package after 10 minutes of searching, because, it turned out, it had been assembled at the other location.
This is why, if I don't need something right now, I much prefer to buy it online. Sure, the total time required for the purchase is much longer, but the time spent on it is much reduced

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Lookie What Else I Made!

Check out my latest knitting project. I finished it last night and I think it's super cool. I made new shoes out of old flip-flops! OK, OK....I didn't have any old flip-flops so I bought a pair for a dollar at Target. Happy now? *sigh*

Michael actually found the pattern for these at the CRAFT magazine website and suggested I make them. At first the pattern looked really complicated, but I have found that sometimes if you just dive in, it all makes sense once you have the yarn in your hands. Anyway, here are some pics of my completed knitted espadrilles:

Cool, huh? As the woman who wrote the pattern suggests, they do end up feeling loose on your feet, so the ties are critical. They're pretty cute on, though, and are super comfy. Hopefully they won't fall apart the first time I wear them. :)

My New Sport...Falling Down!

Recently I have taken up mountain biking with Michael, which is becoming more and more fun, but has been quite frightening at times. It turns out there is a hierarchy of expletives that come out of my mouth indicating the difficulty of the terrain.

  • easy terrain, Alison is totally confident = normal conversation
  • slightly difficult terrain, Alison is a little concerned = "Oh Geez!" or "Oh Gosh!"
  • moderately difficult terrain, Alison thinks she is falling down = "Oh GOD!!"
  • Alison is in the process of falling down = "SHIT! SHIT!"

So now you know. If we ever go mountain biking together you'll have an accurate picture of my state of mind throughout the ride.

Despite my occasional terror, I have enjoyed the scenery in some of the places we've gone to ride. We recently went to Loch Raven Reservoir which was gorgeous and we saw tons of wildlife. Check it out:

See in the middle? In the water? I think that is some kind of wading bird...maybe a heron? Cool, huh? You can see it much better if you click the picture to make it bigger.

And this deer walked right past us across the path. She was not terribly shy.

Anyway, it was fun and I only fell down once on the ride. Woo hoo! Enjoy the pics everyone!

Monday, July 09, 2007

General Solutions Get You a 50% Tip

I know several regular readers will enjoy the latest xkcd comic.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Happy Birthday, Newton

Today is the first anniversary of Newton's birth. That's right, Newton is one year old today. Since dogs mature so quickly, perhaps we should throw him a bark mitzvah and say, "Muzzle puff, today you are a dog."

TV Review: Torchwood, Season 1

(This review contains no significant spoilers.)

Everything I said about the first episode of Torchwood applies to the Season 1 as a whole, so I'll give season the same rating I gave that ep. Overall, I give it 7.0 out of 10.