Red Echo

June 27, 2011

Finished fleece jacket


I picked up a fleece jacket in the REI bargain basement a while back for some absurdly low price – $7 I think? The zipper was broken. I happened to have a spare zipper in my sewing box so I repaired it and have been wearing it ever since. A couple of months ago the jacket went missing. This was just after Ava and I moved into our new apartment so I assumed it was around somewhere and that it would turn up eventually; but several thorough greps later I still couldn’t find it. Much grousing about the situation later, I began to annoy even myself.

Saturday morning I resolved to count the jacket as missing and go replace it. I have a lot of backpacking planned for next month and I am definitely going to need a nice warm fleece. Instead of buying a new jacket I decided to head up to Seattle Fabrics, buy some polartec, and make myself something stylish. I picked out some charcoal grey and some brick red, some reflective piping, and zippers; about $50 worth altogether.

When I got back to the shop it was time for Shop Cleaning Day. (Rather late for Shop Cleaning Day, actually; traffic was terrible.) I put down the bag of materials and started cleaning. Ten minutes later, I picked up some random box of clothes I didn’t recognize and started pawing through them trying to figure out whose they were. Buried in the middle of the pile? My REI jacket, of course.

I still have no idea whose clothes those were but at least I have my jacket back. Having already gotten myself excited about the new sewing project, I decided I would press on anyway. Maybe I can pass the old jacket along to someone else who will appreciate it. A couple of things came up and I didn’t end up finishing the new jacket, but I got pretty far along. The body of the jacket is all finished, with zipper pockets and all. I reused the basic design of this vest, minus the fur trim; the body is mostly charcoal, with the side panels and collar lining of the red. The retroreflective piping fits into the horizontal chest seams and along the back side panels. I picked a big bold zipper which stands out as a design element, and made shoulder panels of matching grey ballistic nylon.

The sleeves will match the body styling, with a charcoal-grey outer panel and brick red underneath; I’ll fit some more reflective piping into the back seam. I’m also planning to design in some ballistic nylon elbow pads but haven’t figured out how that will work yet.

June 23, 2011

In the course of a conversation about speed limits and speeding tickets, I went looking for a research study I remembered reading about. Here it is: Effects of Raising and Lowering Speed Limits, a US DOT report from 1992.

Lowering posted speed limits by as much as 20 mi/h (32 km/h), or raising speed limits by as much as 15 mi/h (24 km/h) had little effect on motorist’ speed. The majority of motorist did not drive 5 mi/h (8 km/h) above the posted speed limits when speed limits were raised, nor did they reduce their speed by 5 or 10 mi/h (8 or 16 km/h) when speed limits are lowered. Data collected at the study sites indicated that the majority of speed limits are posted below the average speed of traffic. Lowering speed limits below the 50th percentile does not reduce accidents, but does significantly increase driver violations of the speed limit. Conversely, raising the posted speed limits did not increase speeds or accidents.

Since speed limits are shown to have minimal effect on driver speeds, we can say that the principal effect of a speed limit is to arbitrarily impede the flow of traffic when a police officer happens to be present. We can also describe speeding tickets as randomly-issued fines for driving normally when one happens not to have noticed a police officer in the vicinity. Speed limit laws clearly do not reflect the values of the communities they regulate, and are thus an example of bad, anti-democratic law.

Furthermore, arbitrarily low speed limits may actually reduce traffic safety. Later in the same study:

It is interesting to note that compliance decreased when speed limits were lowered and accidents tended to increase. Conversely, when compliance improved after speed limits are raised, accidents tended to decrease.

Perhaps there is a “boy who cried wolf” effect at work here: after discovering, through repeated experience, that traffic speed limits have nothing to do with actual risks, one might easily discount the value of traffic regulations in general, some of which may actually have some rational basis.

June 21, 2011

I haven’t even started working for Google yet and I’ve already run into some annoying big-company bullshit. Every Google employee apparently starts out with a week long orientation in Mountain View, which is fine – I’m looking forward to it, actually – but I’ve just found out that they expect me to pay for all the travel expenses myself. Sure, they’re promising to reimburse me later, but it still means I have to extend Google a short-term, zero-interest loan of a thousand bucks or so as a condition of employment. It’s so pathetically cheap – they can afford the fancy benefits package they were dazzling me with last week, but can’t afford to buy a plane ticket and book a hotel? Not cool. I am well aware that this kind of exploitative nonsense is common in the mega-corporate world, but I’d expected better from Google. I hope this is just laziness, something they picked up from other companies without really thinking about it, and not a true reflection of their management philosophy.

Oh, well. Perhaps I can turn the nonsense to my advantage. Instead of booking a plane ticket and a rental car, perhaps I’ll just ride down on my bike and bill ’em for the cost of fuel. It’ll cost less than a plane flight, I won’t have to deal with the TSA, and I’ll get to show up for my first day in style.

Nice tutorial on adapting ATX power supplies for use as a lab bench supply. 15 minute youtube video.

June 19, 2011

I got fifteen out of my sixteen to-do items finished yesterday. Lots of life-maintenance chores, mostly, but I also got a couple of projects wrapped up. I finished stitching together the custom Raggedy Ann themed laptop case for Candace M., and met up with her to drop it off. It’s made of neoprene, which is not the easiest material to sew, and I broke two needles when I veered off-course while sewing the zipper, so the fabrication is not as perfect as I had hoped… but, whatever, it looks good and it works, so I’ll call it a success.

Also finally installed that light switch in the ALTSpace machine shop. It was originally set up on a motion detector, which would annoyingly forget about your presence if you didn’t move around enough while working. We had jury-rigged a system of extension cords we could plug and un-plug, but it really just needed a normal switch. Which I have now installed.

I am now down to four open projects:

– a funky custom L-shaped couch for the living room
– animated, networked lights for the Shame Project
– controller for Hunter C.’s solar light project
– Radian

I haven’t been making any progress on Radian lately. I think it might be time to ship it. Perhaps I need feedback from real people to figure out what I ought to work on next.

For the couch, I am waiting for the roll of batting to arrive. We’ll cover the foam with batting, cover the batting with upholstery fabric, then staple it all onto the wood frame and call it good.

My goal was to complete the Shame Project lights by the end of June. I’m going backpacking in California for a good chunk of July, so I’d like to have any time-sensitive stuff out of the way before then. I guess that the couch project will be finished by then, too. So, I’m thinking I might have time free to make some interesting personal project for Burning Man.

I’ve been thinking of making a custom tent: a heavy-walled, light-blocking tyvek/canvas sandwich, with no windows and no zippers, seven or eight feet tall. The door would have an internal strut to hold it rigid, and a closure made of either velcro or magnets, with a wide flap: something I could open and close without having to duck and climb in, but which would still keep the wind and dust outside. A pocket on the side would let me install an HVAC filter, through which a fan could pull cool air, and an array of clips and D-rings attached to the walls and ceiling would let me hang up flashlights, a mirror, camelbak, headlamp, and all the other stuff that ends up scattered on the floor. I’m sick of going to Burning Man in normal camping tents, which just aren’t very good at dealing with Black Rock Desert conditions.

Another idea is a second try at the inline tricycle I tried to build in 2009. This time I’d use even bigger, fatter back wheels, and a much longer, more ridiculous set of front forks, and I’d weld the frame instead of trying to bolt it together. (Oh yeah: there’s a welder at ALTSpace now. Whee!) It’d have the same long banana seat chopper design, but it would be even more ridiculous looking.

Finally, I have a few pieces of playawear I’d like to sew up: a new-model fur coat, a leather/nylon-webbing/silk jacket, a stylin’ utility vest, this red-tan-orange striped three-piece suit….

Oh, well. We’ll see how much time I actually have for this kind of stuff after I get back from Yosemite. Perhaps the new Google job will soak up all the time I have – that would be a certain kind of success.

June 16, 2011

The Arty Bollocks Generator creates synthetic artist statements. An example:

My work explores the relationship between acquired synesthesia and life as perfomance.

With influences as diverse as Nietzsche and Andy Warhol, new tensions are crafted from both explicit and implicit textures.

Ever since I was a student I have been fascinated by the ephemeral nature of the mind. What starts out as hope soon becomes corrupted into a cacophony of lust, leaving only a sense of decadence and the possibility of a new reality.

As shifting phenomena become clarified through boundaried and diverse practice, the viewer is left with a statement of the inaccuracies of our condition.

It’s a pretty good little mad-libs program, though its limitations show up after just a couple of repetitions.

June 8, 2011

I bought Burning Man tickets today. Whee. It still feels awfully wintery to be thinking about going to the desert, but the first four tiers of tickets are already sold out, and word is that they’re going to cap the total number of tickets this year. I’ve heard similar rumours in years past, but this year they’re going so far as to say they’re not going to offer ticket sales at the gate, which makes me think they might actually mean it.

Last night I had a work party for the Shame Project lanterns. We built fourteen microcontroller boards, each equipped with four cheap current regulators. Each lantern will have red, green, blue, and white LEDs, and the controllers will be linked in a ring network. They will run an evolving rhythm pattern, and they will pass pieces of their “genomes” around the network. Viewers will see the animations drift together and back apart over time as the controllers mutate and then re-converge the data driving the rhythm pattern.

The work party was fun – I did a lot of prep work writing up instruction sheets with diagrams and explanations, and I designed a very simple, almost primitive board where all the solder points are easy to reach and most of the traces are on the opposite side of the board. It seemed to work; the skill level ranged from “novice” to “moderate” and yet we got all the work done ahead of time with minimal rework. I still have to test all the boards, but the manufacturing process was so smooth that my hopes are high.