red echo

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

August entries

Archived Entries for July, 2005

July 29, 2005

I've just posted my pictures from the Phoenix Festival. I didn't carry my camera with me while I was out dancing at night, so I have no records of the crowds listening to music or any of the pretty blinky stuff, but at least you can tell what it was like during the daytime.

July 26, 2005

It has been hot these last few days - it is well after dark, but the temperature is still somewhere north of eighty-two degrees, which is the highest reading my thermometer registers. Also, I am very tired; I did not sleep Saturday night, and for some reason the exhaustion accumulated over thirty-six hours of continuous activity skipped yesterday and descended upon me today. I got very little work done and have spent the evening laying on my couch reading.

The weekend was good. I feel some of the same dazed otherworldly fog I walked around in after Burning Man last year; my creative energies have once again been kicked into a boil, and my head echoes with schemes and ideas. Phoenixfest was much more Burning Man-like this year than last; perhaps the harsh, arid scrub-forest location had something to do with that. A beating sun, omnipresent dust, dry air, and the constant throb of music; if it weren't for the slopes, the carpet of rocks, and the strange, twisted, skeletal trees, it would have felt much like the playa. Some people found this reassuring and home-like; others felt that one weekend in such conditions was enough for the summer.

July 24, 2005

July 23, 2005

July 22, 2005

July 20, 2005

Happy Moon Day

On this day in 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon. Seven years later, in 1976, the Viking 1 lander set down in Chryse Planitia on Mars.

Here's an awesome QTVR panorama made from a series of photos taken during the Apollo 17 mission. I've seen photos from this spot before, but the ability to pan around and see the whole thing is something else. Yeah, I remember why I wanted to be an astronaut...

July 19, 2005

July 17, 2005

Dawn's Birthday Party

1614 5th Ave NW, Seattle, WA, twenty years later

July 16, 2005

Weird Genius/Real Science Fair

July 15, 2005

Entire school-style daypacks for $8.26 each. I'll bet I'd spend that much on raw materials alone if I tried to make a set of backpack straps. It doesn't say whether the straps are adjustable, but it's hard to imagine that they wouldn't be...

B&H has a harness arrangement designed for cameras; looks like it could be used to carry anything with a set of D-rings, though.

Here's a series of articles from a Yale Law School site called “LawMeme,” titled “Law School in a Nutshell”: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 (for some reason they are not linked to each other). This is a primer on reading legalese, intended for tech people; it starts with the notion that law-speak is a technical language like a programming language, and interprets the conventions accordingly. It's irreverent and very readable.

July 14, 2005

A bunch of folks in Montreal organized an army of zombies and attacked a group of SCA types at a local park. Mayhem ensued. Don't miss the shot of the zombie dance party at McDonald's. I want to do this! I'd try to organize a Seattle zombie raid if I could think of something to attack, and if I could think of a way to do it that didn't seem like copy-catting...

I've been wanting one of these for years: a keyboard with LCD keycaps. When you switch keyboard layouts - say, from QWERTY to Dvorak - the letters on the keys switch too. They don't demonstrate it, but it seems one could have the keys show their letters using the current text-input font, too.

Windstream Power Systems makes a pedal-cranked 12V generator for $497; they also offer a bike stand version, along the same lines as the ones I've been developing for the skybeam, at a similar price.

July 13, 2005

Painters have been working on my building for the last month or two, and they finally worked their way around to my top-floor apartment today. It's a brick building, so they're only painting the windowframes. I've left my curtains closed, but it's still a little bit uncomfortable sitting here listening to the loud scraping sounds of some random guy working eight feet away, just on the other side of my window. I hope he likes the obnoxiously loud trance music I'm playing in an effort to drown out the sound of his labors.

I spent another few hours working on the skybeam this evening. The mechanical work went well, but the electrical results were disappointing. I picked up some metal-cutting blades for the scroll saw at Home Depot yesterday, and they worked really well - much less work than a hacksaw, that's for sure. The aluminum bracketry went together as well as I'd hoped, and held the motor in place without any apparent strain. I misaligned the coupling disc very slightly, so the motor does wobble a bit, but the vibration does not appear to be any worse than what I've already introduced into the system by mounting a bicycle on it.

Unfortunately, it seems that I must have made a fairly significant error in my RPM calculations, as the generator produces only a fraction of the expected voltage. I need to get a proper multimeter and see what the actual voltage is; the auto gauge I was using did not register anything, and its lowest reading is 10 volts.

I'm not sure yet what to do about this. I'm going to try hooking the motor up to my drill and spinning it until the bulb lights up, just to get an idea of the speed required. There doesn't seem to be any such thing as a high-current DC voltage doubler, so I'm going to have to solve this problem mechanically.

Other things observed: mountain bike tires are a bad idea; they make way too much noise. The training stands are great; they make everything simpler, and they feel perfectly stable (much more so than I expected, given the narrow base). Shaft coupling is the trickiest mechanical problem; the roller shafts are thicker than the motor shafts. Do they make adapting couplers? Someone must, but I don't know where to get them. Halogen lights might not be the best choice; they are really bright, but they don't seem to light up at all until you reach some threshold voltage. I want gratification to be a bit more instant than that.

Here's a clever little flash game that just sucked up half an hour of my time. It's simple and ingenious: it presents a circle of randomly-connected dots, and you have to untangle the lines. Reminds me of soda constructor, for some reason.

July 12, 2005

Here's a map of all the wilderness areas in the U.S. This is of course only a map of the places that have been designated as wilderness by the U.S. government; there is a whole lot of open space out in the West that doesn't show up on this map. Nevertheless, if my experiences driving around Nevada are at all representative, most of that uninhabited land has been fenced, roaded, and ranched or mined, and really isn't wilderness anymore. There just isn't much left.

It was another mad scientist evening in the basement. I've been taking it a lot easier since my big push to get the rave-o-matic ready for Critical Massive, but the Phoenix Festival is coming up pretty soon and I'm starting to feel a little pressure once again. Splitting my efforts tonight between both projects, I started out spending an hour or so sanding down the rave-o-matic outriggers so they would fit into their sockets more smoothly. I ran out of sandpaper after grinding away about 3/32" of wood thickness; it will thicken back up a little bit once I've repainted it, but that still ought to make assembly and disassembly less aggravating. Next I did some tinkering with one of the skybeam generators. I have a design worked out for the motor bracket, and even figured out a way to reuse part of the squirrel-cage resistance fan as a shaft coupler, but it was pretty late by the time I got it all sorted out and I decided to save the actual construction for tomorrow.

There was an immigrant couple ahead of me in line at Home Depot. I've seen them a couple of times before, in the fasteners aisle, discussing some collection of nuts and washers at great length in an east-Asian language I didn't recognize. They were middle-aged, tiny, slim in a sharp-edged way; I probably weighed as much as both of them put together. Their way of moving caught my eye; they wove deftly under and around all of us tall, ponderous Americans, never making eye contact or bothering to maintain the usual degree of physical distance as they moved past. It felt as though they didn't even see us, as though we were part of the furniture, part of some other world than theirs.

They stopped to ask the checker a question while ringing up their purchases. I couldn't make out anything they said, and the checker had almost as much difficulty. Eventually she worked out that they wanted to know where a collection of drill bits was from, where it was made; she looked at the package - “China, it says it was made in China.” Instantly, without so much as a glance between each other, the man walked back to the shelf to put the item away, as the woman shook her head and explained that they didn't want it.

Their careful, almost fussy examination of every package they pulled off the shelf, their scrutiny of every bin of bolts and nuts, suddenly took on a whole new meaning. I can only guess at the story behind their personal boycott of the People's Republic; whatever it is, it instantly replaced my vague irritation at their eccentric obliviousness with a sort of sad feeling of sympathy.

July 11, 2005

Whee, my car works again. The mechanic swapped in a new replacement for the old new replacement starter, and the problem is no longer reproducible. Seattle really needs to get its public transit system in order, though: the bus ride over to West Seattle took over forty minutes, twice as long as the drive home, despite the fact that the West Seattle Bridge and Highway 99 were clogged with rush-hour traffic and I never got above 20 mph. If the monorail were finished, I could have taken it instead, and it would have arrived in less time than either bus or car; but a Seattle Times poll released yesterday revealed that 52% of my fellow Seattleites currently believe the project ought to be cancelled. Grr. Grr!!

July 9, 2005

Well, that didn't last long! I didn't even get La Bête all the way home before the starter quit again. Back to the shop for a new one... good thing it's still under warranty.

July 8, 2005

mrdux. mrnot! smr, cmwangs n edbdis? lib, mrdux.

It is mad-scientist weather in Seattle today - appropriate, as I plan to undertake a series of electrical experiments in the basement tonight. I am drinking darjeeling, looking at bus schedules for a route over to the mechanic's in West Seattle so I can pick up my vehicle, and trying to decide between the Infected Mushroom concert and the mojito party tomorrow night.

July 7, 2005

Looking south on First Avenue

July 6, 2005

I've been reading South, Ernest Shackleton's account of his Endeavour expedition to Antarctica. The following paragraph grabbed my attention. It is May, 1916; Shackleton and two others have just arrived at a remote whaling station on South Georgia Island, and this is the first contact they have had with the outside world since departing the same island a year and a half earlier:

After breakfast Mr. Sorlle took us around to Huvik in a motor-launch. We were listening avidly to his account of the war and of all that had happened while we were out of the world of men. We were like men arisen from the dead to a world gone mad. Our minds accustomed themselves gradually to tales of nations in arms, of deathless courage and unimagined slaughter, of a world-conflict that had grown beyond all conceptions, of vast red battlefields in grimmest contrast with the frigid whiteness we had left behind us. The reader may not realize quite how difficult it was for us to envisage nearly two years of the most stupendous war of history. The locking of the armies in the trenches, the sinking of the Lusitania, the murder of Nurse Cavell, the use of poison-gas and liquid fire, the submarine warfare, the Gallipoli campaign, the hundred other incidents of the war, almost stunned us at first, and then our minds began to compass the train of events and develop a perspective. I suppose our experience was unique. No other civilized men could have been as blankly ignorant of world-shaking happenings as we were when we reached Stromness whaling-station.

This is one of the things that fascinates me so much about this particular expedition. Shackleton and his men left an England glittering in the Age of Empire, a Europe secure in its domination of the world; they returned to the birth of the twentieth century, a cataclysm that had already ended the Belle Epoque, changed the social, political, and commercial order of the world, and pounded a fatal crack through the foundation of the global colonial project. The world changed more in their two years away than in Rip van Winkle's twenty.

I've just finished revising the Rave-O-Matic site. I spent an hour and a half working on the machine today, rebuilding the pole anchor system, and rather than packing even more pictures onto that single page I decided to split it up a bit.

July 5, 2005

I've been using Wikipedia to look up information for ages, but I had no idea it was so easy to contribute. I assumed you'd have to create an account, log in with a password, and learn some complex management interface. No, it turns out you just click the little "Edit" button and start typing. Whee, their article on constructor functions just got a bit more comprehensive.

Moorage along the Lake Washington Ship Canal in Ballard

July 4, 2005

Here's a fascinating site all about urban density from some outfit called the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. The design is great - it's a clean layout and the information is organized well.

The plume of smoke from the fireworks reached south across the city

July 3, 2005

July 2, 2005

This is the kind of day that makes me feel fully alive. I got up late, had a dawdly breakfast, and went kayaking out on Lake Union with Sara. It was good weather: overcast, but not too windy. We cruised up the eastern side of Gasworks and into Portage Bay, admiring houseboats and waving at the tourists in the duck trucks. On the way back we threaded our way between the test course (where the enthusiastic owner of an old wooden powerboat was gunning it back and forth) and a sailboat race in the middle of the lake. After this I headed down to South Park for a barbecue at Diem and Angel's new place with a crowd of burners. There was food and conversation and creative music: the DJ played, among other things, part of an old read-along record for “The Empire Strikes Back,” with lots of R2-D2 chirps. Then back to Seattle for a brief stop in at Paul's birthday party and a tour of the sprawling co-op house he inhabits (with many interesting vestiges of its hippie past still visible). Over to Heden: wine and chat in the kitchen. I met a couple of Lauras and spent half an hour talking about kayaking with one of them; she told me all about the Gulf Islands - basically Canada's version of the San Juans, but less travelled and more safe. Eventually this party packed up into a fleet of vehicles and headed west for a couple of hours at ToST in Fremont. The music was an odd combination of live hand-drum playing, throat-singing, and sort of middle eastern style DJ music. Interesting, but not great and not exactly what some of us had in mind for dancing music, so Adam, Michael, Scott, Janet, Alexis and I split off and headed for Trinity down in Pioneer Square. Now that was some good electronica! We danced for pretty much two hours straight. The hilight of the evening came when a girl in a tiara walked up and, amid much blushing, asked me to dance - it was her bachelorette party and her girlfriends were armed with cameras and a checklist. Those ballroom dancing lessons from years back do come in handy every now and then! I pulled out everything I could remember of the east coast swing, and while I'm sure her state of inebriation improved the experience she sure seemed to have a good time. Anyway around three AM we decided enough was enough and headed back to Heden, where relaxation and absinthe were had, and the party was still going when I bailed out an hour later...

Go west

The emerald city at the edge of the world

July 1, 2005

Will “hooping” be the performing arts fad of 2005-2006, like fire spinning was in 2001-2002? It isn't quite dramatic enough for my tastes, but suddenly it's showing up everywhere.

June entries


photo © 2001 Stacie Mayes

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