31 January 2008

Remember: Make:NYC Tonight

Meet me at the fourth meeting of Make:NYC. I'll be showing off my alarm clock.

325 Gold St, Second floor, Brooklyn


28 January 2008

Environmental Sanitation Institute :: Toilets in rural India

I just received an email from an old college friend, Parth Thaker.

Parth is an interesting guy. He had a well-paid position as a software guy in Northern Virginia, and was getting repeated promotions. However, he decided to put that on hold and join Indicorps (it's like Americorps, but for India). Now he's in Ahmedabad, India working on sanitation issues. Parth, I salute you, since what you're doing is totally awesome.

I had understood before that sanitation and the availability of clean drinking water is one of the major issues facing the developing world. In fact, Parth, Kirill, Kedar and I entered an international design competition with a half-realized sensor network designed to improve water quality through monitoring. However, India's sanitation situation is more severe than what I had understood; the problems transcend infrastructure, and touch on class distinctions.

Indeed, I had heard about the Indian Caste System, but I thought it was a thing of the past. While it has been mostly eliminated in urban centers, Parth has informed me that it is still going on in many rural locals. In some such places, it is the job of the untouchables to serve as an active sewer system, by manually removing feces. I'll let you ponder a second on how demeaning that job must be.

Even with these laborers, the overall state of sanitation is insufficient, and illness related to sewage is a major cause of child mortality. In short, infrastructure is necessary. The Environmental Sanitation Institute (ESI) and Indiacorps are trying to do something about it. The reason I think these groups are so interesting is not just their goal (many groups share this goal), but also their approach.

If you go to ESI's website, they describe their various sanitation technologies. While I usually shudder at the concept of using technology to solve all the world's problems (i.e. do cheap laptops help children in developing nations?), I think the people at ESI got it right.

ESI presents a portfolio of the designs of several toilets and related technologies. The diversity of their approach is encouraging. They have designs that fit multiple scenarios, based upon amount of water available or need for fertilizer or a fuel source, all of which assume the lack of a pressurized water source or electricity. Some don't even assume the availability of pipe. I'll review a few of those here.

(1) The Septic Tank.
This is a per-family device, and so requires more investment by the community. Additionally, it requires that the tanks remain full of water, so it can only be deployed in areas with an adequate water supply. Requires 5 liters of water per flush, and must be dredged once every five years.

It has the benefits of leaking nutrients into the surrounding area, but it does not appear that the compost can be actively harvested.

(2) The Hand Flush.
Despite its unfortunate name, this design does not require you to flush with your hands. This is a the cheapest design, and requires little space, few bricks and no pipe. The user does his business into a pan, and then dumps the pan into the hole, so it requires only 1.5 liters of water per flush. Over time, excess water, gas and nutrients seep into the soil, but solid, stable compost can be harvested from the pit.

(3) The Bio-Gas Plant.
In addition to serving as a sanitary toilet and providing compost, this design will trap the gasses (a natural byproduct of decomposition) for use as a fuel source. These gasses---mostly methane---can be used as a smokeless fuel source for cooking, as well as for powering motors or generators. How cool.

This design is much more expensive, requiring many bricks and pipes. ESI's website claims that it will return its investment in 3--4 years.

(4) The Smokeless Chulla.
This design takes the previous one step further. It is not a toilet, but rather the design of an oven which runs on bio-gas.

Although the people of these regions undoubtedly already know how to build all necessary cooking equipment, this design has a hidden benefit. Because it burns bio-gas, it is smokeless (unlike wood or who knows what else). Ultimately, this design is less hazardous to the environment and the health of the individuals who use it.

Overall, I think ESI has a lot to offer not just india, but the entire world. These designs should not be viewed as "developing nation only," since there are definately parts of the US and Europe which would benefit from them. It just goes to show that innovative minds can create amazing things, even if they lack cash or if parts are unavailable.

The efforts of ESI are incredible, and I congratulate you on finding Parth. And Parth: good luck, and keep up the good work.

27 January 2008

A map of recent muggings in Prospect Heights, Park Slope

This is from the good folks at brooklynian:

View Larger Map

HOW TO replace the chamber in an American Lock Padlock

All too often you'll find one of these heavy-duty padlocks just laying on the street. Wouldn't it be nice if you could use this abandoned lock? Here's how:

  1. Drill out the old chamber. This will be much easier if you use a drill press.

  2. Open the lock. Sometimes this is really easy, other times you have to whack the lock against something hard so the pins will fall out. Try using a flathead to turn the chamber.

  3. Locate the screw hidden in the shackle hole.

  4. Unscrew it.

  5. Remove the retainer plate.

  6. Make sure you have all the pieces: the retainer plate, the screw, the nut, and the old chamber. You can discard the old chamber.

  7. Insert a new chamber, and reassemble. Make sure the new chamber is oriented as shown.

This is all easy, but you might ask, "Where would I find a new chamber?"

Well, it depends on your scenario. If, for example you have a key and lock, but your lock is otherwise damaged (e.g. shackle has been cut), you can transfer your chamber to another lock for which you don't have the key. Chambers can also be bought in bulk from the manufacturer.

Thanks to John at 123 Tompkins!

Idiotarod 2008 was farkin' awesome

Idiotarod 2008 :: At the fake checkpoint

I had a blast.

The race was all about misinformation. Despite what the website said, the race actually began in Chinatown. I went down to DUMBO, and met some people who were trying to set up a fake checkpoint. The goals was to waste the racers' time, and trick them into donning spandex--an instant disqualification.

So a trillion racers came to our checkpoint, drank, vomited, yelled, threw hommade flares at each other. What a blast. I followed some racers to the next few checkpoints, and then drank like crazy at the Moonshine pub in Redhook.
I definately want to participate more next year.

UPDATE: Here are some videos I took of the race, with my camera mounted on my handlebars.


And here's a video of dodgeball at the end in Columbia St.

26 January 2008

flashplayer 9 sucks

The 9 in 'killall -9 firefox-bin' is for flashplayer 9

Ever since I upgraded to flashplayer 9, the lifespan of a single instance of firefox on my computer has dropped from weeks to hours.

If you can avoid upgrading for flashplayer 9, I recommend avoiding it. It is bad software.

I found my bike's twin!

I found my bike's twin!
So, I knew this would happen eventually, and I've even been anticipating it. Finally, I have found a twin of my vintage 1977 Fuji S-10S.

Admittedly it has been stripped. All that remains is the frame, fork, stem and headset. Other than that, it is exactly the same, even the paint, even the scratches where a kickstand used to attach between the chainstays.

I am SO going there with a hacksaw.

A review of tonights Critical Mass bike ride

Well, overall I think it kind of sucked.

Don't get me wrong, I liked all the people I was riding with, and had fun talking to them. But you know what? If it's a ride of 10 people (in a city of 8 million), and one of the riders gets a ticket because his rear blinker was off (at least he had one) within the first block of the ride...

Meh. It was cold and windy and we were being harrassed by the cops and there wasn't a mass. But morale was high, and I only hope it's better next month.

More time lapse videos

This one features the Brooklyn Bridge.

25 January 2008

24 January 2008

The Turing Alarm Clock

This is an old invention of mine. I had trouble waking up for work, and traditional alarm clocks didn't seem to help. I learned to hit the snooze or off buttons in my sleep. The problem was that alarms are too easy to turn off, and so I set forth to create an alarm clock that challenges me to prove that I am awake.

How should it challenge me? Well, I'm from a math background, so the natural choice is with arithmatic. A problem like 23*17 + 6 will keep me thinking for at least 20 seconds; if the alarm clock makes me solve five in a row, then it can be sure I'm awake. There's no way I can learn to do this in my sleep.

The design is powered by a PIC16 microcontroller, which manages the user interface and keeps time. It displays the current time and the arithmetic challenge via a cheap lcd from all electronics.

The design is free and open source; do whatever you want with it.
If you wanted to make advancements to the design, may I suggest:
  • A battery backup. As it stands, you must have enough will power to leave it plugged in.
  • A radio? I suggest the Si4701 single-chip radio.
I will be demoing this thing at the next meeting of Make:NYC. Come check it out!


Meet me at IDIOTAROD this Saturday!

Whoo hoo I'm excited!!! The IDIOTAROD happens on Saturday, 26 Jan, 2008!dont-steal-my-shopping-cart

For those of you unfamiliar, the IDIOTAROD (compare to iditerod) is a traditional Brooklyn shopping cart race, and is prime ground to indulge in idiocy. Teams are encouraged to mod their shopping carts, though they must ultimately be propelled by a human dog team.

The race begins in four locations:
  • Long Island City: Water Taxi (hey wait! that's in Queens)
  • DUMBO: Water Taxi
  • Williamsburg: Water Taxi
  • Greenpoint: India St.
I will not be racing, but I'll be watching. I'll probably watch from DUMBO, though I'm tempted to watch from Williamsburg. See you there!

23 January 2008

Analysis of a business-major asking too much of talented people

I found this job listing on Craig's List. As a software engineer, it irked me in so many ways, I had to tear it apart. My commentary is in teal:

An entrepreneur is looking to partner with talented software developer

An entrepreneur is starting a software company which may become a future global success due to novel and unprecedented nature of its applications, and is looking to partner with a talented and initiative software developer who will become a CTO or a COO of the company.
Why should I believe your idea is any good if you won't tell me? Do you have unprecented past entrepenorial experience to impress a talented and initiative software developer? And what is an "initiative" software developer anyway?
An ideal candidate should be proficient in a wide spectrum of modern software development technologies involving but not limited to general web development, wireless handsets applications/web development, TCP/IP and networking, and database development; should have a good feel for technology in general; should be able to clearly articulate and communicate both in writing and orally; should possess a good sense of logic and common sense.
Standard fodder from every other job posting on craigslist. If you can enumerate all these things, why can't you make a prototype yourself?

But seriously, you aren't sure if your software engineer will have "a good feel for technology in general" or "common sense?" These are failings that software engineers typically associate with business people.
You will have to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), and after that you will be presented with the idea and very detailed technical requirements. Your input and feedback will be crucial. You will have to develop an initial version of the application which will serve as a prototype and as the initial production version. A rough estimate of the development effort is a few months. Your only compensation at this time will be a share of the company which is negotiable. Depending on the future company valuations, this may equate to a very significant amount, far beyond what an IT professional can make.
If you don't know how to program enough to make a prototype, how do you know that your technical requirements are "very detailed?" Because, from my experience, people without programming backgrounds can rarely provide such detail.

Experienced software engineers have trouble estimating projects. Isn't it a bit presumptuous to estimate development time at "a few months?" Do you have any idea how difficult it can be to cover all the nooks and crannies of an software application? No, of course you don't; you don't know how to write software.

The majority of startups don't survive (Yeah, I know, [citation needed]). As that is the case, you are saying "chances are, you will not be paid for this work."

And don't get so smug. We know that business people can make ridiculous amount of money off of our work, but you don't need to rub it in by saying it's "far beyond what an IT professional can make." Of the Fortune 500 companies, how many were started by a business major, and how many were started by an engineer?
This is a unique and once in a life time opportunity for that one person who is willing to take a chance if he/she believes in something and is willing to work hard for future success.
In other words, you think this is your once in a lifetime opportunity to strike it big.

IT professionals and software engineers work hard. You, however, hope that you'll get rich off of an idea and do little or no work. If you want to earn your future success, you should start knocking on doors at venture capital offices, and get some startup funds so you can hire a programmer to produce a prototype. You only need to do a mediocre job, and you'll probably get bought out quickly if your idea is any good.

Telecommuting is OK, flexible schedule is OK. An occasional meeting in NYC metro area is required. Once the company is funded and opens its offices somewhere around NYC metro area, a full time involvement is a must. A respective annual compensation will be set at that time.
YOU DON'T EVEN HAVE FUNDS FOR AN OFFICE OR TO PAY YOUR PROGRAMMER!!! How can anyone take you seriously as an entrepeneur?! Again, get off of your butt, get to work and go find some venture capital.
Please forward your credentials. Please explain how your expertise and qualities make you suitable to partner in this enterprise.
I could ask you to explain the same. I can prove I'm a software engineer. Can you prove you're an entrepeneur?

My anaysis is that the poster is either (1) some sort of scam to get the resumes of qualified people, or (2) a legitimate post by some idiot.

The prior is expected; the latter is laughable.

Free Heating and Cooling: Passive Solar

The solar chimney and trombe wall are two simple structures that can be added to any house, and which rely only on the sun and the eart to heat or cool a house. Totally green, and (in the case of the solar chimney) known for millenia, yet we never hear about these..

It's simple: the sun heats the air in a stategically placed chimney, causing the air to expand and flow upward. The pressure in the house is decreased, causing the higher-pressure air to be forced through an undeground tunnel. While underground, the air comes to the temperature of earth, approximately 55F. This not only cools your house, it also creates a nice breeze.

Those of you who are building your houses should keep this, and other passive solar/geothermal designs in mind.

China is where bicycles beat cars

From ChinaCarNews.com,

A person tried to drive their car through a college campus and hit a cyclists. Arguments ensued, and then a mob of angry students rioted and destroyed the car.

I love it.

21 January 2008

What can you do with a broken tap? Make a center punch!

Break a tap? Don't want to waste it?

A tap is made of hardened steel, and can last you many more years as a center punch.

Put the old tap in your lathe / drill press / whatever, and grind it to a 60deg point.

Since this was a pretty short tap, I drilled a hole into the end of a 5/16 rod and inserted the punch.

It works great.

20 January 2008

Meet me at Manhattan Critical Mass

25 Jan, 7pm, Union Square North

Meet me at Make:NYC

On 31 January, I'll be at the fourth meeting of Make:NYC.

Freegan Events Calendar

Here's a calendar of upcoming Freegan events in NYC.

Highlights include:
  • Trash (read dumpster diving) tour, 21 Jan, 9:30pm on 38th st & 3rd ave
  • As well as weekly bike co-op hours on Wednesdays 6pm-, and Saturdays, 2pm-

Seeking a back yard for metal casting

Back when I lived in Virginia, even a renter could have a huge park-like back yard. Here, I do not have one. As a result, I don't get to do metal casting any more, and I never get to use my welder.

So, I'm looking for a surrogate backyard for some fun freegan metal working... Beer would probably be involved.

Easy handlebar camera mount

This is fun. It's made out of two (2x) 5/16 bolts with washers, (1x) 1/4-20 bolt for the camera mount, and (a length of) 1/4" aluminum key stock. All of these parts were found on the streets of Brooklyn.

I use this to take time lapse videos of bike rides, such as:

Wind-proof toes

After you've patched those innertubes one time too many, you realize that you already have enough old innertubes repurposed as bungee chords. You need another way to reuse them.

At the same time, realize that winters in New York are really, really cold (I'm a Virginia native) and really windy. Although you can usually put ten layers on your hands, chest, arms, fact, whatever, it's pretty difficult to layer things onto your feet.

Enter the Wind-proof toes. Take one old innertube, and cut in in half, discarding the valve. Use one half for each shoe. The toe portion is about two 6-in lenghts of innertube, slit lengthwise.

Sew it together with normal needle and thread, or use a leather needle if you have one handy.

Welcome to cheaphack

cheaphack is a blog dedicated to my do-it-yourself hobby, assuming
that I have much more time available than money. As a result, a lot
of this site is about very cheap/free ways to hack things.

I'm interested in electronic, software, and mechanical hacks, as well
as various things which fall in between. For instance, I want to
build a lathe, but I might as well make it a cnc lathe to cover the
whole trifecta of hackitude.

So... no posts yet... please wait.