Red Echo

March 28, 2012

Running linux on an 8-bit AVR: the author thinks his hand-wired board “may be the cheapest, slowest, simplest to hand assemble, lowest part count, and lowest-end Linux PC”. It is certainly a contender. Of course he accomplished it not by running Linux directly on the AVR, but by writing an ARM emulator – ludicrously slow, but it apparently does work, to the point that you can boot bash and execute commands.

I’ve occasionally fantasized about building a parallel computer using an array of STM32F103 chips – they are 32-bit ARMs running at 72 MHz. They have no memory manager but I had a similar idea for using VMs… it’s hard to see what the point would be, though, other than the experience of building something that is technically a parallel computer by hand.

March 27, 2012

I met up with Dan Ryan over at ALTSpace and did some radio hacking tonight. He showed Ava and me how to disassemble, reset, and configure the Ubiquiti Nanostation Loco. You can get batches of ’em on ebay in unknown condition: out of the ten I bought for $60, two worked, six are broken, and two more still need to be tested. Not bad for an hour’s work.

The plan is to use these as part of the new Seattle Meshnet project. It’s not related to the old Seattle Wireless group, but it’s a similar idea: we’re building an unlicensed citywide wireless data network, which will support data sharing and perhaps even act as a backup Internet connection.

The web site is very awkwardly laid out, but there is some useful information in it: a 72-volt electric motorcycle conversion using six lead-acid batteries and the nearly-standard Mars ME0709 motor. He claims top speed of 45 mph and range of 25-30 miles; that’d be plenty for my commute.

Home-built PCB drill press using a Micromot 50 instead of a dremel, the latter apparently having insufficient precision. This is not a CNC device, but hand-operated.

March 25, 2012

Legit is another frontend for git; this one focuses on simplification of the branch operations.

March 18, 2012

Exploring Eastern Washington

Ava and I spent the weekend roaming around in Eastern Washington, taking hikes out in the channeled scablands. We dipped our fingers in Soap Lake, let the wind knock us backward from the edge of Dry Falls, cruised through quiet little towns, and walked for miles through cliff-walled canyons watching the birds soar overhead.

March 16, 2012

CycleXchange offers a variety of custom CB750 parts.

This is not a surprise, but it’s interesting to see an institution as mainstream as the NYTimes finally recognizing it: the USA has a serious problem with the way it welcomes visitors.

Americans may be surprised by the conclusions of a 2006 survey by the U.S. Travel Association, which found that foreign travelers were more afraid of United States immigration officials than of terrorism or crime. They rated America’s borders by far the least welcoming in the world. Two-thirds feared being detained for “minor mistakes or misstatements.”

March 15, 2012

Commercial electric motorcycles are popping up all over the place: the Native GPR-S is a product of Electric Motorsport, which has been selling EV components for a decade or so. It’s actually more of a kit than an actual bike: for $2500 you get a rolling chassis, which you can fit out with whatever combination of motors and batteries suits you.

It only works for Arduinos which include their own USB interfaces, but this bit of software synchronizes source code up to github every time you upload the binary to the board. The idea is that you can later plug in any arbitrary Arduino board and recover whatever code was last flashed to it, even if you have completely forgotten what project it was originally for.

March 14, 2012

My bike reaches π miles

The Moto Preserve in Brooklyn is a shared workshop / storage space for motorcycles and scooters. No idea how their financial model works but it’s neat to see a hackerspace-like operation for greasemonkeys.

March 12, 2012

Using a Raspberry Pi with Arduino

I started a Pinterest page for motorcycle design ideas. I didn’t want to flood this blog with dozens of other people’s photos of other people’s bikes, but I do want to collect all the little bits I find so I can refer to them later.

Following up on the idea that in the future everything will be a coffee shop, here’s a Make Magazine blurb about a Japanese cafe which offers laser-cutting services.

The NYC district attorney’s office has subpoenaed Twitter for records of protestor communications relating to Occupy Wall Street.

Once again, people, you cannot trust a centralized service for your communications, because the Authorities can and will exert pressure on the organization which runs the service. It doesn’t matter how “secure” they are or how much fancy encryption they use; they will cave when the cops show up.

March 11, 2012

Motorcycle project frame

This is the Honda frame I bought last week and it is going to be my new motorcycle. I chose this one because its construction is simple and sturdy and has a large engine compartment I can stuff full of batteries.

March 8, 2012

This article by Gary Shteyngart, a writer for Travel and Leisure, is one of the more evocative descriptions of Seattle I’ve ever read.

March 6, 2012

Yesterday evening was the kickoff meeting for the Seattle Meshnet project, which aims to set up a free, decentralized, community-operated data network across Seattle. About a dozen people met up at ALTSpace to kick ideas around and see how to get things moving. There was an immediate technical consensus on the idea of using CJDNS and Ubiquiti Nanostations, so the next step is to lay out a map and start putting up antennas.

I’m not sure how involved I will personally be with the hardware end of this project, but I’d like to participate even if I don’t help develop the architecture. This is something that ought to exist. I’m hoping to get ALTSpace on board with it; I think we could get permission from the building owner to set up an antenna pole in our courtyard.

After the Meshnet meeting I walked over to Offspring for another meeting, this one discussing a different sort of web: Kevin’s building a human-sized spiderweb installation for SEAF, using steel cable and custom-machined aluminum clamp nodes. I’m going to help out by developing a lighting system: an array of accelerometer-driven LEDs will make the web respond to movement, with little sparkles like dewdrops.

I didn’t get the prototypes assembled in time to show at the meeting, but it was easy enough to see how the parts would fit together and to test-fit them with Kevin’s sample nodes. It was useful; I’ve got a whole new batch of prototype parts on order from Digikey now.

March 5, 2012

I went out on another exploratory trip to Eastern Washington yesterday, checking out three more possible event sites. Ava came along this time, and we had a pleasant day poking around the back country. It was interesting, but as with my last trip it was ultimately inconclusive, and I am already planning a third scouting mission.

The first site was on top of a plateau near an OHV park. The road in is surprisingly good, and there are great little “peekaboo” views out over the wide-open valley as you ascend. When you get to the top the crest drops sharply down the other side, with a spread-out vista of flood-scoured channel lands… It’s a nice spot. The place I was looking for is securely locked away behind miles of barbed wire, though; there’s no way to reach it without crossing private land.

The second place is actually inside an OHV park: there are sand dunes next to a creek in a broad, flat valley, and camping is allowed, so I thought it might be suitable. I didn’t stay long, though; there’s a lot of traffic through the area, there’s no privacy, and the local authorities are trying to discourage party-like activities due to a former excess of drunken yahoo revelry.

Third site was really gorgeous and would be a lovely place for a large festival. It’s a large box canyon hidden away along the Columbia River gorge, basalt cliffs all around, totally private, with a nice easy road in. There are broad spreading grass fields, pocket meadows, low rock outcrops – lots of places to set up tents or stages or sculptures or whatever.

The catch is that there’s a locked gate a mile before the end of the road and a sign forbidding unauthorized vehicles. It’s not a park, but it’s apparently under some kind of natural resource management program, and you can’t just drive in. Bummer! I suspect there might be some set of forms one can fill out to gain individual access for some limited period of time, but it seems unlikely that they’d be willing to unlock the gate for a weekend and let dozens or hundreds of cars come in.

If I can’t find a better spot in time, I’ll use the little box canyon I found two weeks ago. It’s small, and open flames would be a significant problem, but it would otherwise be a good place to start. Still, I have two more sites to check out, and one of them even looks like it has a small dry lakebed….

March 3, 2012

Electric motorcycle project begins

I bought a motorcycle frame today from a guy up in Lake City who does vintage bike restoration. He’s got frames just laying around outside his shop, heaps of parts inside – it was clear he was basically just trying to clean up his shop a bit, so he sold me a 1973 CB750 frame for $25. He threw in a pair of shocks and a swingarm, too, just to get rid of them. Well, okay, I won’t argue with that!

My plan is to build an electric motorcycle around this frame. I picked a CB750 because it has a larger-than-average engine bay with secure frame rails underneath; it should be possible to pack in a lot of heavy batteries without additional reinforcement. I’ll use the Enertrac motor for the rear wheel and pick up a frontend from Bent Bike.

I’m not planning to pursue this with any particular haste. I have a lot of other stuff going on, after all… but I think this will be a fun tinkering project and eventually a nice way to get to work and back. I doubt it will replace my gas-burner, but it may become a weekend machine instead of a daily rider.

March 1, 2012

Glassblowing on the First Thursday artwalk