red echo

A web journal by Mars Saxman: my life, reflected and filtered

September entries

Archived Entries for August, 2004

August 29, 2004

I'm all packed up and ready to go. I leave for Burning Man in half an hour. The heap of gear on my living room floor is a bit overwhelming, and it doesn't even include the remaining skybeam parts. It'll all fit, of course, but my backpacker's conscience keeps suggesting that I might really be better off leaving half of it behind...

Oh, well. It'll all work out, and I think it's going to be fun. I also think it's going to be exhausting and sometimes miserable - but this time I'm ready for it. I've made few plans beyond finishing the skybeam, watching the burn, and staying alive; mostly I'm just going to wander around and see whatever I see.

I'll see you, dear readers, in a week - back on September 7th.

August 28, 2004

one last project

Now that I've spent all but the very last day before leaving for Burning Man working on the skybeam, it's time to consider all the gear I need to bring for my own survival and comfort. To my relief, the list of stuff remaining to purchase is pretty short: mostly food and water, plus odds and ends like extra razorblades and a box of wet wipes.

I'd still like to get my hair cut and colored before leaving; we'll see whether there's going to be time, I guess.

August 27, 2004

Turner's Corner at the Showbox

August 26, 2004

Today was one last exhausting day of work on the skybeam. I built one last detail - the 2x4 base for the blue bike - then disassembled everything, chucked it in the back of the rental van, and hauled off to Beacon Hill as quickly as I could. I arrived in plenty of time, as it turned out, since the camp that is hauling all my gear on top of their school bus was still in the "everything strewn on the driveway" stage of their packing operation.

The lamp assemblies and motors I'll take down to the desert separately. I still need to finish up the motors; I bought a couple of 3-inch pipe sections I plan to epoxy on to the ends of the motor shafts so they won't slip off the bicycle tires. I also picked up a little WD-40; I'm going to try lubricating the stuck motor, and if that doesn't work I'll take a trip down to Grainger and look for a replacement.

There are dozens of ways this could all still go wrong, but I actually feel pretty relaxed about it. It'll work, or it won't; either way, it's out of my hands and I'm out of time. I'm just going to go down to the desert, put it all together, and see what happens.

Which leaves you, my loyal readers, with something of a cliffhanger: you'll have to wait til I get back to see whatever became of this project.

August 25, 2004

Skybeam project update

The truck that's carrying the skybeam parts down to the desert leaves tomorrow evening, which means that I need to have the skybeam done by tonight. Alas, I have not achieved completion. The welding is finished, but I'm having trouble getting the bike wheels to spin the motors the way I want them. Furthermore, the plastic bag I wrapped around the red bike's motor to protect it from rain tore apart in the wind sometime last night, and now that motor is mostly frozen up. It was a mail-order item, so I can't just go down to the store and buy another one.

I did, however, succeed in lighting up one of the bulbs: Jesse cranked away on the blue bike while Amanda held the bracket in place, and I held the wires on to the lamp. It took some fussing around, but when we finally hit it, WOW was it ever bright. I have been afraid that I would get to the end of this project and have nothing more to show for all this work than a dim orange glow, but I'm definitely not worrying about that anymore. There was a fair amount of slop in my gearing calculations but it was apparently all close enough. One bulb by itself is too bright to look at; the effect when all three of them fire up is going to be really impressive.

But I still have to get all the pieces together, and there just isn't any time left. I think I am going to ship the bikes down sans motors and reassemble everything when I get there. That will give me three extra days to weld on a bicycle gear or epoxy on a length of pipe or whatever it is I end up doing, and a chance to either fix the water-damaged motor or locate a comparable replacement.

August 24, 2004

It's raining today, off and on. Of course it shouldn't be surprising that it would rain in Seattle, but the season shifted from summer to autumn virtually overnight. I feel a little disappointed - I spent the beginning of the summer visiting New York, and the last month preparing for Burning Man; summer itself seems to have zipped past in three or four weeks. When I get back from Nevada, the year's descent back to the cold and dark will be well underway.

Perhaps I feel like I missed out on summer because I spent this one so much differently the last several: I haven't gone hiking or kayaking even once. I did spend one weekend camping, and went out sailing with Luke and Colleen, but that's been the extent of my outdoors activity.

August 22, 2004

It's a clear evening after a rainy morning. Cold air, grey skies, beautiful Seattle weather. I rocket home on my bike, cranking hard for the sheer joy of it, flying down the road as fast as the cars. Put the bike away, walk up to my apartment, toss jacket and shoes in the apartment, sprawl out on my couch with a book; barely have I begun to read when I hear the hiss of rain as the clouds open. Ahh, perfection. Time to brew a cup of tea.

August 21, 2004

Kaos Camp Work Party


August 20, 2004

Today's progress: I built the generator mounts for both of the bikes and set up one of the spring tensioners. I would have finished up both but sunset was well advanced by then and I concluded that it was time to move on with the evening. My original plan had been to finish the red bike, generator and all, but Home Depot doesn't stock the correct kind of machine screws for the generator plate (it needs one-inch #10-24 bolts, and all they have are different lengths of #10-32), and by the time I figured out that I was going to have to make a detour by way of Tacoma Screw, the latter establishment had already closed. Nor was I able to locate a suitable rubber wheel to mount on the generator shaft. Aside from those hiccups, this part of the design has come together more or less without incident.

In the picture below, you'll see a hole in the center of the black metal plate: the generator shaft fits through here, pointing away from the camera. The generator itself will be bolted to the plate; the screws come back toward the camera from the opposite side of the plate. The whole arm swivels on the bolt at the left end; the spring attached to the chain holds the whole assembly pressed firmly against the bicycle's wheel to guarantee sufficient friction to turn the generator's wheel.

Remaining tasks: obtain a third bike and weld on a support frame; build a third generator bracket; bolt the generators to their brackets; install a chain on the red bike; install left pedal on the green bike; add wheels to each generator; weld bulb holders onto reflectors; run wiring; plug it in and try it out.

My bike headlight is definitely less bright than I had hoped, and I think I've puzzled out the reason. Nominal voltage in an automobile is 12 volts, but the alternator actually puts out 14 volts in order to charge the battery. I'm driving this light off a pair of dry cells rated at 6 volts each, for a nominal 12 volts, but the actual voltage drops over time; the flow reaching the bulb is probably more like 9-10 volts. Thus the dim, orangey light. The solution, then, is to stack three of the 6v cells in series, instead of two. 18 volts is high but not excessively so, and the system will spend most of its time running comfortably in the 12-14 volt range.

August 19, 2004

New generators

August 16, 2004

Bike lights installed

Skybeam progress

The bike headlight is a Signal-Stat 620-W, driven by a pair of Energizer #529 lantern batteries. Each 6v cell has a rated capacity of 26 amp-hours, and the light consumes 2.93 amps (which, at 12v, is about 35 watts); so the whole system should last just under 9 continuous hours. For backup I have a pair of Eveready 1209 cells, capacity 12 amp-hours, which should give me about four more hours of light. Hmm, I had been thinking of adding a second light, for a total of 70 watts, 6000 candlepower, and unlimited obnoxiousness, but if I do that I will definitely need to buy another round of batteries.

August 14, 2004

Kaos Camp Dome Construction Work Party

Jay trims the edge of the cardboard template we're making for the pentagonal dome cover pieces

First pentagonal piece, cut out and taped in place for fit; now let's make nine more

Amanda, Delaney, Lane, and Tony relaxing in the intermittent sun

Tony, Aaron, and Paul installing grommets (there were lots of grommets. Lots. of. grommets.). In the background Amanda works on the rocket spring-toy's nose cone.

We're all tired after eight hours of work, but we've built ten pentagonal pieces, eighteen triangular pieces, four skirt strips, and too many grommets to count: enough tarp pieces to cover both of our geodesic domes. Yay: this should keep us all from dying of heatstroke at Burning Man.

August 12, 2004

More skybeam work

I'm inching along but still making progress. The skybeam tower has two solid coats of chocolate-brown paint; that should be plenty to withstand the weather. I drilled mounting holes in the red bike's steel brackets and bolted it onto its 2x4 support beams, then painted everything red. I also cleaned up the stationary exercise bike a bit, then used up a rattle can painting it green. It still needs one crank and pedal, and I'm not entirely sure how to reattach its seat, but mechanically it's in pretty good shape.

The reflector dishes are turning out to be a big nuisance. I have six pieces of angle iron cut for light brackets, but I can't attach them to the top of the reflectors. The drill bits just won't bite into that polished stainless steel, even if I file it down first. I'm not completely sure what to do about this; perhaps I should ask Graeme to just weld the brackets on.

A solution for the bicycle headlight has occured to me. I'd hoped to keep it mounted closer to the body, so it won't swing around so much as I ride, but if no better design comes along I will just take a couple of automotive hose clamps, loop them through the light's swivel bracket, and cinch 'em up against the handlebar just to the side of the yoke. Actually, that could be cool - I could get a second light to match and mount one on either side of the yoke, for a motorcycle-style dual headlight.

August 10, 2004

Skybeam progress update

The can of lavender blue paint I pulled off the "oops shelf" at Home Depot turned out to be a sort of chocolate color when I opened it up today. I guess it had been sitting unused on the shelf so long that all the pigments had separated, and the one that floated to the top just happened to be a sort of sky-purple color. The new color wasn't at all what I had in mind but I slopped a coat of it onto the skybeam tower anyway; the wood needs some kind of paint and I don't have enough time left to be that particular about what kind. I had hoped for something a little more otherworldly than a simple brown, though, so I may go back and dust it with gold from a rattle can if there's an opportunity before leaving.

Thanks to Graeme's fabrication skills the first bike has now been converted to stationary operation. I changed the design at the last minute, making the whole thing a bit easier to break down for transportation; instead of welding on 4' wide steel rails, we used 14-inch sections I'll bolt onto 2x4s after arrival. I still haven't figured out how any of this will get down to the playa, so the smaller I can pack it the better. The bike still needs pedals, a new chain, a handlebar, and - of course - a motor. Whew! One step at a time.

Amanda pointed out that one of their neighbors was getting rid of an old stationary exercise bike, so Graeme and I dragged it into the back yard and thus saved ourselves a whole bunch of work converting another ordinary bike. It's one of the really old kind that uses a big fan to provide resistance, and it actually has a plain ol' bicycle wheel inside! That means that I can use the same gearing calculations and pulley hardware I had already planned on; all this thing needs is one new pedal and a bit of cleaning.

In addition to the bikes for the skybeam project, I've been keeping my eyes open for a bike I can actually ride. Saturday I took home a $20 garage sale special; after reinflating its tires and spraying on a nice new paint job, it's in good ridable shape, and I've been using it to whiz around town on various errands. Unless you count the playa bike I barely used at Burning Man 2001, I haven't ridden a bike since '98 or so, and I'm amazed at how much I am enjoying it. On hot days like this it is instant air conditioning: a couple quick cranks get you going fast enough to make a really nice breeze. I feel like my range has quadrupled overnight; I can get anywhere on Capitol Hill in twenty minutes or less. It's not too much quicker than using the bus, really, but it's free and there's none of that always-tedious waiting around business.

August 9, 2004

Burning Man overdrive

21 days til I leave for the playa, and there is still a seemingly endless list of work to accomplish. Actually, if I included the work I've already put in, I'm sure I'd have passed the halfway point already; but there's a thread in the back of my brain that's always trying to keep my schedule balanced and it's sometimes hard to make its increasingly shrill alerts quiet down. And in truth, I've already covered the essentials, save the food and water I'll buy just before leaving; the rest is pure entertainment.

Contrary to yesterday's somewhat optimistic headline, I need a little more than just two more bikes to finish the skybeam. I picked up some steel bars today that will form a bicycle support frame; I'll need two more of these, but I figured I might as well set up the one bike I have as soon as I can. While at Home Depot I saw a four-pack of those little solar lanterns - perfect! The skybeam ground structure needs some kind of safety lighting running at all times, so people don't trip over it while wandering around at 3 AM even if the main beam has gone dead; I'd planned to drive some LEDs off 6 volt lantern batteries, but this solution is just as cheap and lots simpler. I also dug through their reject paint shelf and took home a gallon of a color that's sort of a cross between sky blue and purple. I just wanted something random, vivid, and a little bit surreal, and this will fit the bill nicely.

Another random touch: I found a great big tractor headlight for my bike. I'm going to hook it up to a couple of those big square lantern batteries and drive around illuminating a humongous slice of the playa in front of me. It's going to be great.

August 8, 2004

Skybeam project progress

All I need now are two more bikes and a whole lot of welding.

August 7, 2004

August 6, 2004

Dam removal on the Elwha

Great news from the Olympic Peninsula - the two dams on the Elwha River will finally be removed, after disrupting salmon runs for a century:

After years of negotiations, the biggest dam-removal project in history is about to begin, promising to restore one of Washington's legendary salmon rivers.

Starting in early 2008, the 108-foot-tall Elwha Dam and the 210-foot-tall Glines Canyon Dam will be dismantled in stages, reopening 70 miles of prime salmon and steelhead spawning habitat. The Elwha offers a unique opportunity to fully restore a river since nearly all of the river's watershed is preserved in Olympic National Park, free from human impacts.

A total of 145 dams have been removed in the United States since 1999. No other dam that has been removed intentionally has come close to the size of either of the two Elwha structures.

Now, if only we could get something done about the Snake and Columbia rivers...

Ahh, the sweet sound of rain. Last week it was a heat wave; today I wake up to grey skies and a steady pour. I love this city.

August 4, 2004

At last, we've kicked the first alpha version of REALbasic 6 out the door. It's a couple of months later than we'd hoped, and there is still an immense amount of work remaining, but it's nice to finally get something out into the testers' hands. I feel like this will give us a nice boost in our development efforts; instead of just rambling on trying to get enough odds and ends tied up to call it "ready", now we have actual users complaining about everything it doesn't do.

We've rewritten the entire user interface for version 6, which is as big a change as the new compiler I was brought on to write back in version 5, but far more visible. Early reactions are mostly positive...

August 2, 2004

August 1, 2004

Photography at the Ballard Locks

July entries


photo © 2001 Stacie Mayes

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2003: Nov Dec

Wanderings in Black and Red (previous site)