Originality..

I have a real weakness in my creative endeavors.. It’s originality. It’s not that I’m unoriginal, it’s that I feel like I have to be entirely original. My mind tells me that an idea that’s been done isn’t worth touching. Realistically, I know this isn’t true; almost anything can be improved upon. Regardless, I struggle with this.

Along these lines, I’m currently trying to decide what to do about my IBDC project. I spent a few weeks developing an idea, and have been slowly modeling it and working out details only to find that someone has already done something very similar.
So I’ve been working on a design for the International Bicycle Design Competition for the past few weeks. My idea targets 3rd world and developing countries by 1. allowing individuals/communities the ability to use this bike to pump/transport water and 2. charge cell phones, as they are becoming more important in lesser developed countries where many people don’t have electricity in their homes.

So I work up this idea. It’s a regular bike, with a rack on the back to hold a water tank. the rack can rotate down to form a stand (like a bike trainer) so the bike can be pedaled while stationary. The drive system for the pump and generator run off of a hub mounted disk, not dissimilar to a disk brake.

A couple of days ago, I’m googling around for info on pumps and bike parts, and I encounter this project:http://thecoolprojectsite.org/?p=845 (or here for more details on the build: http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A … df&h=fc315 ) Basically, it’s the same rotating stand idea. instead of the pump/generator on a ring/pinion drive system, they are run as a traction system from the tire.

My working model:
My preliminary IBDC bike.. not done..
So now I’m left wondering if it’s above board for me to continue with my project as planned, or scrap it and start over with 6 days before the submission deadline. I really don’t yet understand the social / ethical landscape of design enough to know for sure. I’ve posted the question over at core77, so hopefully I’ll hear back. In the mean time, I’m trying to come up with a new idea that I could knock out quickly.
All that said, definitely check out the link to http://www.mayapedal.org. Some really cool and useful projects made from junk. If I wasn’t stuck here, I think it would be a ton of fun to work on this type of stuff for people who could really use it.
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Designing bicycles..

So I intend to work up a submission for the International Bicycle Design Competition over the summer. You would think that this might be an easy task given the amount of time I spend on a bike as well as the amount of time I spend keeping up on products and emerging technologies in cycling. Sadly, it is not. I’ve a bit of “designers-block”. You see, it’s not enough to simply make a cool looking, functional bicycle; you need to have a gimmick. My experience in Industrial Design remains somewhat limited, but in the year I’ve been involved in it, it seems like the gimmicks are the fuel that makes things happen in most cases. So-called “green-ness” is a hot topic, as is helping 3rd worlders. (regardless of their thoughts on the matter!)

So I need a gimmick. I initially was on the “3rd worlders” band wagon until I did some research on what they actually need. Turns out it’s additional inner tubes and trustworthy mechanics. This is not to say that I haven’t considered turning my design eye towards those matters, but I rather feel like I’m reinventing the wheel.. er solid innertube, as it were.
I’ve got some business/empowerment ideas kicking around, and they might even impress the contest judges, but I really doubt it’d do much for the end users.

Banana beer

So I started the experimental banana brew last night that I’ve been mulling over for some time now. I based it off of a vague, traditional Ugandan recipe, but made some significant changes. Most notably, rather than using only banana juice in the wort, I used puree’d bananas. 2 reasons for this.. First, juice extraction seems time and yeild restrictive. While I’ve read that there are scientific methods to yeild up to 75% juice, I’m certain I can’t come near that. Secondly, the journal articles I’ve found regarding banana starch seem to indicate that it’s kind of “self worting”, ie: the ß-amylase breaks down the starches into water soluble sugar chains. This also means that it has high diastatic power, and can break down other starches, in my case, millet flour.

The most questionable aspect of this experiment is the amount of bananas I used. I was shooting for around 1/3 the total volume of the brew, (a 5 gallon carboy) which came out to be 5 bunches. This 1/3 figure was derived from the original recipe, but the 1/3 was the amount of banana _juice_. I expected the whole bananas to be less potent, but to also have a higher fermentable sugar output. since I have neither a metric or means for measuring these yet, it just called it even for the sake of experimentation.

After adding the banana slurry, I added sterilized water with millet flour mixed in. (note1: don’t add flour to boiling water note2: the only place in town I could find millet flour was natures pharm) I then added a dry ale yeast starter that I had pitched about an hour earlier. The reason I went with this yeast was because I had it on hand, no other reason. Traditionally, the natural banana bacterias would be the sole fermentation agents, and may be something that I try later on, but for now I wanted to try and keep it as clean as possible. This included a dilemma as to whether I should heat the wort to try and kill the bacteria. (as I did with the last batch of cider) After talking to Belinda and Nancy about it briefly, it seemed like the heat might interfere with the natural starch->sugar process, and if my pitched yeast was strong enough, it would probably overwhelm the natural stuff anyhow.

banana beer in fermenters

banana beer in fermenters

There was little activity last night, but when I got up this morning I found a decent amount of off-gassing, as well as an airlock full of banana sludge. The brew had settled out and about half the carboy was traub. This is my main reason for doubting the amount of bananas added, but I’m hoping that the solids will continue to break down as the yeast works. To this end, I’m planning on agitating it daily, and I’m guessing I’ll be changing the airlock daily as well. My only concern other than the solids is the mystery esters that may be produced.. but then again, if I knew what was going to happen, it wouldn’t be much of an experiment.

The flatland bike project..

So for the past couple of months I’ve really been spending a lot of time on bicycle related projects. I pseduo-restored my childhood bike, an ~1985 mongoose expert, and I’ve also been piecing together a flatland bike.

I started with a 1999 Dyno Slammer frame and fork that I bought from another local BMX enthusiast. I was pretty into it because it’s got the “pac-man” dropouts which both protect and align the pegs. This should save me from bent axles. I also liked the amount of foot clearance behind the front tire.

From there I went in search of some inexpensive, used three piece cranks. I ended up getting a deal on some profile SS cranks. They came a little beat, but with a sealed bottom bracket, 3 DC990 brakes and a pair of Dia-compe tech-77 levers which I’d also been on the lookout for. The downside is that I didn’t realize that the SS cranks had an oddball size spindle, which turned out to be kind of a pain. They are the only cranks with a 7/8″ spindle, so I ended up having to machine out my sprocket and spacers..

I went crazy on www.flatlandluel.com and got a St Martin 26T sprocket, Odyssey Bar Mitzvah bars, a KHE Geisha/Sun Big City Lite rear wheel, clear Odyssey brake pads and red Twisted PC pedals. I grabbed a new Gyro GTX off of ebay, and got a pair of old school Odyssey Bermuda tires and 4 of the aluminum GT pegs that go with the special dropouts from www.bmxmuseum.com. A stem, seat, headset, front wheel and cables came from a donor 2000 Dyno Compe from Craigslist.

The parts I’m still waiting on include Odyssey Griswald grips
that match the pedals, a 27.0mm seatpost, headset cap and a chain.

The super cheap closeout prices at flatlandfuel have been really helpful in putting this project together, as was all the help and scores I’ve gotten at the BMX museum, and as usual, the help from Old Skool Cycles in Lafayette. I’ve been learning a lot about “newer” BMX technology from this project (even though it’s probably considered “mid-school” by most) and I’ve especially come to have a great appreciation for the Odyssey company for the amount of really cool/useful products they are making, and the research and development methods they employ in doing so. Back in the day, they just made Gyros and goofy looking brakes, but with offerings like Evolver brakes, Twombolt cranks and their 41 thermal steel treating process, they really seem at the front of the pack.

With any luck I’ll have this project wrapped up within a week. Perhaps some time riding it will make me forget about the crazy idea I have to build some Odyssey 7k-a/g-sport homer wheels.

Revising the entertainment center..

Due to a string of unfortunate decisions, I am a reluctant homeowner. Since buying the house I’ve either been too low on funds or too adamant to sell it to bother with any “remodeling”. Recently I decided that I ought to go ahead and make it my own since I’m likely going to be stuck with it for some time. I have started this process by setting out to remodel the living room, making it more comfortable for me. In the coming month I’ll be covering up the gaudy wallpaper with a new coat of paint, and installing new lighting and curtains, but the first step was ditching the kitchy wal-mart entertainment center that’s been there for 7 or 8 years, and replacing it with something a little more my speed.

I’ve had an old RCA console stereo in my basement for years that I purchased with the intent of converting to a stealthy, modern entertainment center. It was the foundation of this project. My brother gave me an old TV of his years ago, which I think came out of a dumpster. It served me well, but there is no place for it in the console stereo, so it had to be replaced. After courting a couple of LCD tvs on craigslist, I ended up grabbing a newegg.com special Corion/Digital Lifestyles 42″ LCD. It was larger than I’d originally set out to buy, but the price was really too good to pass up. I also got a Rosewill wall mount from newegg. The TV is pretty nice. reviews on newegg seem to go both directions, but my particular TV has a great picture, and has given me no problems. I even contacted their tech support to get some information that wasn’t included in the manual and had my e-mail returned in a couple of hours.. at 7p on a Sunday no less!

The next step was assembling a home theater PC. At the onset of this project, I had planned to incorporate many source devices inside the console stereo, routed through a receiver and controlled by the computer via IR blasters. As I pieced together the configuration for my HTPC, I realized that I could make the computer do almost everything I need in the box. (save for the PS2) So, I ended up going with an ASUS barebones system with a 2G dual Allendale core proc. The ASUS was an awesome purchase – not only did it _exactly_ fit an existing knockout in the console stereo, the case is super operable and the integrated media connections were just where I wanted them too. It looks nice, works well, and with the newegg rebate, was really affordable. I got another rebate on 4G of quick memory too. The HTPC was finished off with a SATA hard drive and SATA DVD-rom, and an ATI TV Wonder 650 tuner card that I picked up on ebay. I’m currently using the on board video, and it works great. I may upgrade it pending future tuner card options. The ATI 650 was really the only boner of the project – the ATI catalyst drivers for XP are just plain inoperable. For this reason, I am running Vista Ultimate with the TV pack. The catalyst drivers are much better there. Compared to my old Hauppauge PVR-150 card, the analog tuning is pretty good, however, the interlacing is not awesome on a 42″ display. The HD tuning of the ATI, while functional, seems taxing on the hardware. I am considering dropping in the AverTV PCI-e combo card alongside the ATI to handle HD and let the ATI just do analog.. Or I may ditch the ATI altogether.

I had the TV on the wall and ran the HTPC for a month or so, tweaking it out and getting MCE happy. (I even installed a netflix “watch instantly” program that operates entirely in the MCE interface) It was time to hack up the console stereo. My inital modification plans were minimal. One side of the stereo was dead when I got it, and I was hopeful that it might be as simple as a blown speaker so I could use the existing amplifier. ..and it was, but the more work I did, the more crazy ideas I got. I think at the most complex, the console would hold the HTPC, D/A converter, a trio of homebrew amplifiers, a turntable, the PS2, reworked speakers based on Zaphs budget MTM plans, and a subwoofer. after getting through 95% of the woodwork and realizing the time I’d have to put in for the rest of that stuff, I decided to scale back and just hit the functional points for now, and revisit the others later. The woodwork was pretty basic, but since I was adapting an existing piece, everything had to be trimmed to fit. the Speaker compartments were sealed, a shelf was made for the HTPC and an access panel was cut for cabling. I’m going to leave it this way for a while, and re-think the speaker upgrade. I will probably still go with the Dayton woofers, but I think I’d be making a mistake by using a wave guide style tweeter in this console stereo. I think I am going to build a pair to his plans for my listening room though. Since space for a turntable is limited, I am going to hold off unless one of those 14×14 Denon’s makes itself available to me, or I find a good deal on a plinth mount setup.

Whats new in fans?

Recently the price per can on the soda machines on campus went up to 75 cents. I drink about 2 cans per day, so the 25 cent increase adds up to a tangible amount for me over the course of a month. On the other hand, a 24 pack of soda is around $7. Along these lines, I used to bring in my own soda and at one point bought a small “refrigerator”. it’s not a real fridge, just a plug in six pack cooler, but it seemed practical for the need. It worked for a while before the cheap fan on the peltier style cooling system crapped out and started making awful noises and randomly stopping. I could have just re-lubed it, but it would have gotten bad again.. so I stashed it under my desk and forgot about it until the recent price hike.

So the other day I dug this guy out and set out to find a quality replacement fan for it. Its a standard 80mm fan, just like computer power supplies and cases, so there were many options. While trying to find the cheapest ball bearing unit available, I stumbled across the Enermax Enlobal which is “bearingless” – the fan blade assembly contains a magnet which causes it to “hover” over the armature. The implications are that there is very much less friction than a traditional fan, and thusly, less power usage and less noise. This seemed ideal for my minifridge – I wanted it to be quiet since it’s right next to my desk. The airflow figure was good as well. I went with Amazon, as linked above, since their price was as good as most of the other places I found the 80mm enlobal online and I’ve been on a big Amazon purchasing kick lately. It was $14 and change shipped.

The fan showed up earlier than expected, and I went to work putting it in the fridge. The Enlobal has a three wire connector (with a 4 wire adapter included), but my fridge only had two wires, so I clipped the white speed control wire, soldered it up and put some shrink tubing over everything. That’s really all there was to it. I put everything back together and fired it up. True to the marketing materials, the fan moved air and was exceptionally quiet. (I think 14db is the advertised number). So far it works like a champ.

I think this is some solid technology that is not only more efficient, and more quiet than ball or sleeve bearing fans, but depending on production numbers could be less expensive than it’s traditional counterparts since it just has fewer parts. Another big plus is that the blade assembly easily pops off for cleaning. All of that along with a MTBF rating of 300,000 hours, this just can’t be beat.