Lazer Tag Tuesday, Apr 28 2009 

Last weekend the girls and I went on a mini-break and of the many activities, there was “Laser Tag”.

Just hearing the words took me back to the 80’s.  I had played once before at a laser tag “place”, in the early 90’s, but my earliest memories go back to the mid 1980’s when Tone and I got the “home game” in the form of the World Of Wonder Starlyte.

My memory is terrible, but I faintly recall a few games played in Tone’s mom’s basement, most of which culminating in the classic stand-off, two player standing two feet from one another, waiting for the other’s target to re-arm.

We were both so excited about getting the gear, but I don’t remember playing with it more than once.

So, I wasn’t too excited about playing the game again, but the girls were so I gave it a go.  Needless to say, it turned out to be very cool.  Maybe it was because of a more “designed” playing field, but I think more so that it was impossible to take a shot and cover all your target zones at the same time.  More likely, it was because there were more than two people involved.

When I got back I did some homework on the subject.  Turns out that, thanks to the “internet” I was able to track down all sorts of cool stuff, including the original commercial:

I’m stunned by the design of the Starlyte pistol.  Twenty years later, it still looks modern.  I’m poking around on ebay to see if I can get my hands on one just to examine it.  I told the girls I’d see what it would take to play the game at home, and I don’t know if that will mean scoring some this gear, something more “modern” or building it myself, but this is a good place to start.

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Supah Computah Status 1 Wednesday, Apr 22 2009 

I decided that working on the Supah Computah (I was finally able to decipher the name written on the side) is going to be my reward for releasing my next iPhone app.  So, until I get it submitted, I’m going to have to ignore the SC project.

So the app, yes, it’s coming along well and I’m learning a lot about memory management and debugging using crash logs.  This is the first app I’ve written that’s had to store more than just configuration options so I’m learning a lot about object persistence, storage, lazy-loading, etc.  It’s all very cool stuff and I’m learning just how lazy working in a managed language (mostly C#) has made me about memory management!

I’m planning on having a beta version of the app ready by the end of this month (April) and if all goes well submitting the app two weeks later.  If all does not go well, then it’s going to be longer obviously…

This is the first application I’ve written for a “general audience” so it will be interesting to see how it performs in regard to sales on the App Store, how much promotion will be required/effective and what sort of ratings and response it will gather.

I’m also engaging my friend Tiffany to design an icon for me this time (as opposed to designing my own as with previous applications) so I am excited to see what she comes up with.

Supah Computa Chapter 0 Friday, Apr 10 2009 

Passed the smoke test…

Supacomputa Thursday, Apr 9 2009 

Inspired by BenHeck’s C64 laptop (and running across several HERO-1 auctions on Ebay) I have a renewed interest in resurrecting a Heathkit H89 dubbed “SupaComputa” and loaned to me by my friend Andy.

This is the best picture of this computer, ever:

Summer Fun

Summer Fun

Hybrid Zap Xebra Project Wednesday, Apr 8 2009 

Back in 9th grade my shop teacher explained something that has always stood out in my mind.  He told a suspicious class of “Ford-vs-Chevy” types that despite what car companies would tell you, you could make a car go 60 miles per hour with no more than 5 horsepower.

He went on to explain how, with the proper gearing (a transmission with many speeds) this was not only possible, but large trucks use just this sort of arrangement to haul amazingly heavy loads.

When I first read about series hybrid vehicles, this lecture came back to me.  Instead of using a complex gearbox, the series hybrid accomplishes the same results by running its internal combustion engine at a constant speed regardless of vehicle road speed.  When the vehicle is using very little power (cruising, decelerating, etc.) the surplus is stored in a small (relative to battery-only electric vehicles) battery pack; when additional power is required, the SEV’s motor can draw on this reserve to provide additional acceleration.

I first came across these vehicles while reading a book about electric vehicles around 1988 (published in 1981).  There was a small section on hybrid vehicles but the focus of the book was battery-electric vehicles (bev) and the idea of hauling around an internal combustion engine just seemed to defeat the purpose and spoil the elegant simplicity of the electric drivetrain.  Anyway, better batteries were just around the corner, right?

In 1999 Honda introduced the Insight hybrid to America.  This was a parallel hybrid; perhaps this is a good time to compare the two approaches.

While the definition of the terms are sometimes stretched, the key difference is that in a series hybrid, the wheels of the vehicle are driven by an  electric motor exclusively; in a parallel hybrid, both the electric and internal combustion engine can drive the wheels via any of several arrangements.  There are of course variations, but this is the key difference between the two.  The series hybrid is really an electric car, it just happens to use a generator in addition to a battery pack.

With the Insight, Honda proved that a hybrid car could provide value (in the form of increased fuel mileage), be reliable and be manufactured using mass-production techniques.  This opened the door for other hybrid vehicles to American markets and within ten years established the hybrid drivetrain as a common alternative in the same way you may have selected the four or six cylinder engine over the v-eight for fuel economy in cars of the previous decades.

However the mass-produced series hybrid (one that drives the wheels exclusively using electric power) remains elusive.  I find this surprising because, of the two arrangements, the series hybrid appears to be the simpler of the two with fewer potential engineering, maintenance and service challenges.

In 1979, Mother Earth News published an article about Dave Arthur’s home-built series hybrid and even produced plans for building your own.  While the article over-simplifies the system, and undoubtedly leaves out the engineering and operating challenges the car faced, the fact that it worked at all is impressive given the state of electric motor, battery and in particular, speed/charge controller technology at the time.

This has been a loosely-organized, rambling and somewhat stream-of-consciousness post so far, but the point is to give you some context for an upcoming project.

My friend Preston owns a Zap Xebra electric vehicle and recently approached me about adding a hybrid function to increase the vehicles range.  As it’s already an electric-drive vehicle, a series hybrid is the logical approach.  Aside from the implementation advantages of sticking with the electric drive arrangement, I believe the series hybrid is a superior approach to hybrid vehicle design and I plan to use this project to determine the validity of this claim.

Preston has expressed an interest in implementing this system using off-the-shelf parts as much as possible, to make reproducing the design easier for others.  I generally agree with this approach however due to the somewhat unique application, we may have to weigh the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of using existing components.

I’m currently in the process of researching all of the key components that will make up this system and collecting documentation.  As the project evolves, I’ll post updates, findings and results of experiments whenever possible.  If you have any questions, comments or ideas that you’d like to share, feel free to comment on these posts and I will respond as best I can.

Tea Experiment Complete Tuesday, Apr 7 2009 

I try very hard to set expectations correctly and deliver results on-time or ahead of schedule, but it’s not very often that you can wrap something up 75% ahead of schedule. In the case of the Tea Experiment, I’ve done just that.

The primary objective of the experiment was to determine if I would be able to use tea as my primary source of caffeine. In no more than four days.

What was found was that, while tea can provide an adequate source of caffeine (and in some cases, advantages over my traditional sources like coffee) there are other effects of coffee (in particular, digestive), which tea does not address and to the contrary, seems to have a negative or detrimental effect.

So while it was determined that tea is a sufficient source of caffeine, it cannot take the place of coffee in my current diet.

Day two of the tea experiment Thursday, Apr 2 2009 

Yesterday went better than expected, in fact during the day it was a piece of cake (other than remembering the plan).

I went out for dinner with my in-laws and almost ordered a Mountain Dew out of reflex, but remembered at the last minute because, in a bizarre coincidence, my sister-in-law mentioned something about yesterday’s post.

I did notice getting sleepy earlier last night (around 11:30pm) although that could be attributed to my unusually (even for me) small amount of sleep I’ve been getting the last few days trying to work a couple of apps through the App Store.

This morning on the other hand was another story.

Most days, (and especially days that I stop for fuel) I find an excuse to pick up a Monster on the way to work in the morning.  Drinking this during my ~45 minute morning commute, I’m ready to go by the time I get to the office.  This morning, with nothing in my system but a bowl of fruit-flavored cheerios, I was nodding by the time I hit the 20 mile mark.

Arriving at the office, I shook off the idea of taking “just a five minute nap” before I headed in.  Once inside, I quickly prepared my first cup of “Twinings Price of Wales” and watched my iPhone count down the 12 minute steep time (so far that’s working best for me).

Now it’s almost an hour later, and I’m feeling about the same as I would with my usual routine.  I’m considering adding 100-200mg of ginseng to my morning cup (or two), just to see what happens.

I have a lot of work to do tonight, so I’m going to try adding another cup after dinner to see if I can stave off that 11:00pm slump, we’ll see what happens.

April Wednesday, Apr 1 2009 

In this month’s experiment, I’m making tea my primary source of caffeine.

No coffee, no Slurm and little caffeinated soda*.

Some of you know that I’ve had a recent interest in tea, primarily because it is much easier for me to grow myself than coffee.  I never liked tea much, so I went on a quest to find something I could stand.  I settled on black, over-steeped English breakfast tea, so that will be my beverage of choice for the rest of the month.  I’ll check in occasionally with updates on my progress.

  • I’ll avoid drinking soda deliberately, but if there’s no reasonable alternative, such as at a restaurant, I’m not going to go across the street for something to drink.