Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Makes me proud!

Folks standing in light drizzle at 7 am to vote!

Our line moved quickly, though the drizzle did cause one real voting problem:

The ink pens used for our optical scan ballots is apparently water soluble. At least one voter had significant smudging of a bubble due to rainwater on her sleeve. She was issued a new ballot and her old one was invalidated. Hopefully this won't be a high-percentage trend, as this could exacerbate a shortage of ballots if turnout is unusually high (which seems likely).


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Miata Parts for Sale

This posting is for all of my Miata owning friends and former club-mates from the SD Miata Club. As much as I miss the SDMC after selling my Miata "Elsie" a couple of years ago, its time to face the fact that I'll probably not have another Miata anytime soon, so I need to sell the remaining accessories that have been hanging around in my garage.

I have the following items for sale. Please contact me with any questions you may have. I'll also arrange pictures on request.

Wheels: SOLD

Hardtop: SOLD

Flyin Miata MiataLINK ECU + Injectors:
1994-1995 cars only (*see below for 1989-1993)

This is a fully programmable REPLACEMENT ECU, allows tuning of spark, fuel, rev-limiter, even fan temperature! Used on a Normally Aspirated car, the MiataLINK is good for 5-10hp (with deletion of restrictive intake air sensor). Example here.

On a Forced Induction car, this is really the ultimate solution for making "the big power". The LINK ECU has seen as much as 400HP! Example here.

I am including all of the following:
  • MiataLINK ECU, mounted in spare 1995 ECU case, so you can keep your current ECU cased up as a backup. Basically a plug-in operation, just a couple of wires have to be moved in the harness. ($1546 value)
  • RC 550 Injectors, recommended for Forced Induction installations, includes Injector ballasts ($415 value)
  • Intake Air Temp. sensor
  • Optional knock sensor ($92 value)
  • Programming keypad, and all interface cables and manuals
  • Serial link adapter for use with Laptop or PDA ($80 value)
  • BONUS: Compaq PDA that can program and log from the ECU if you don't have a laptop. (Laptop and DataLogLab software recommended for initial programming).
  • * I also have an adapter harness to use this with the 1.6L ('89-93) cars. I've never used it myself, but this was built and used by the original owner of the MiataLINK that I purchased from. FlyinMiata doesn't officially support this option via tech-support, as far as I know, but for an adventurous 1.6L owner, this could be a steal of a deal.
Price: All of this would be over $2100 new, yours for $1400! (Negotiable)

Flyin Miata says this:

Total control. This fully programmable ECU (Engine Control Unit) gives you the ability to change everything from fuel and timing curves to the temperature at which your fan turns on. If you want to produce safe power out of a forced induction engine, it`s a must - so it`s included with many of our kits. Also eliminates the stock airflow meter for less intake restriction. Naturally aspirated cars benefit as well! This is the most popular engine management for the Miata, and for good reason.

The software that the ECU runs is written specifically for the Miata and is not available anywhere else. Instead of adapting a generic computer and sensors to your car, this will start up the first time and has been developed to make your Miata run as well as possible. To safeguard your engine, it will even go into a limp-home mode if the certain sensors indicate a problem. Naturally it comes with Flyin' Miata's full support by both phone and email.

Read more from Flyin' Miata Here.


Friday, May 02, 2008


Had a little trouble with RV parking (somebody in my spot), but the Camparu is all set up, so I'm off to explore until someone realizes I don't belong here!

-Sent via Blackberry

Summary only...

Arrived, time for dinner!

Whenever possible, eat local and avoid franchises!

-Sent via Blackberry

Summary only...

Bugatti near Buttonwillow

Nice finding to break up the asphalt.
-Sent via Blackberry

Live blogging Maker Faire

Heading out now, only about an hour behind schedule.

Added a ground strap to the CB antenna to try to lower the SWR a bit.

And so it begins...

-Sent via Blackberry


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Maker Faire Bound!

Well, I got approval from the venue for this year's Maker Faire to stay in the RV lot without an RV (sleeping in the Fraggin' Wagon), so I've ordered my tickets and I'm bound for Maker Faire!!

I've got friends-of-friends to visit, and fellow makers I've been corresponding with online whose wares I need to peruse, so I hope to see you there! Read More...

Low Budget Wine Cellar from Refrigerator

'Round my house, we love wine. A lot.

At one point we had so much wine in the house that in order to keep track, I wrote an Access database program I dubbed "Wine Collector" (in homage to my favorite DVD database product Movie Collector).

We aren't really snobs, we'll drink a big range of stuff, but some of the wine we have is pretty good, and we'd like to keep it that way. Unfortunately, commercial wine cellars (aka "wine coolers" or "wine fridges") are pretty expensive, especially if they hold any reasonable amount of wine. The smaller units are typically underpowered vanity items that only store one or two dozen bottles, and usually don't do it very efficiently. There are some exceptions of course, high quality under-counter jobbies made by reputable companies with quality refrigeration hardware, but these are nearly as expensive as the larger models of any measurable quality.

So what to do? Well, for us we did what a lot of people do, which is that we put our wine at risk. We stored it in the house, at room temperature and uncontrolled humidity. Where possible, we squirreled cases away in the tops of closets, etc., but generally, it was somewhere in the house. I don't even want to think about what this may have done to something like a 2001 El Molino Pinot Noir.

Then, I stumbled across some wine collector websites where some people had been converting old fridges to wine cellars. Either by hacking the existing thermostat, or using some sort of external controller, the unit can be setup to hold a temperature more appropriate for wine (about 54° for mixed reds/whites).

Luckily, I already had an unused fridge to start with. When we moved to our new home, we brought along our old refrigerator. The buyer of the old house didn't want it, and my wife really wanted to keep it because she liked the bottom-freezer layout. After arriving, however, we figured out that the proximity of the kitchen cabinets opposite the fridge location meant that we'd be limited to side-by-side configurations, because the sweep of the doors would interfere with the cabinet. Bummer. So that fridge sat in the garage, waiting for me to clean it up and sell it or convert it to the "beer fridge". Well, now it had a more noble (and wife approved) mission ahead of it: Wine Cellar.

With some poking around looking for an appropriate thermostat unit, I stumbled across and older model WineStat unit on eBay, and it was mine for an uncontested $10 bid. I'm not sure how much this model was originally, but the new digital display models are $170, so I think I did ok!

After cleaning up and sterilizing the inside of the fridge (it sat for almost two years!), all I needed to complete the transformation was a way to store wine inside.

The WineStat webpage has some interesting ideas about low-cost wine racking solutions, but I chose to go with the very reconfigurable "Tinker-Toy" style racks from J.K. Adams. As it happened, Crate and Barrel had these in their outlet store as "irregulars" for $19.95 for each 12-bottle kit. In this case, "irregular" meant inconsistent woodgrain color, which I was completely fine with. A "12-bottle" kit really means you get 16 "beams" and a whole pile of pins to configure however you please. With four of these kits (less one leftover beam and a few pins) I was able to build a solid 48 bottle unit that fit perfectly with room for air to circulate.

The wooden platform underneath was a leftover bit of oak cabinetry ply that flattens out the floor of the fridge box so the rack sits level. I had to cut a notch in the back left corner to clear the raised vent where cool air flows from the freezer to the fridge. A couple of quick mounting brackets made from aluminum keeps everything locked down and stable:

Then its just a matter of inserting the probe into the rack and plugging everything in. The probe should be centered in the box, its off to the side here while I finalized installation.

Most people don't realize that modern refrigerators depend on the thermal mass inside to help regulate the temperature. I tested the setup with several gallons of water in containers in the fridge and freezer boxes first. Once I was confident it would hold temperature, in went the wine rack, and shortly after, the wine!

Agitation is bad for wine, so I resisted the urge to pack in more bottles using the spaces in the door. Instead, I filled this area with the soda, beer, and other beverages that would have otherwise been stored in the pantry. Its not ice-cold refreshing, but its pre-chilled which saves work for the in-house fridge when items are transferred there for consumption.

Your fridge may vary, but during my bottles-of-water testing I found that in order to keep the fridge box at a wine-friendly 55°, the freezer box ended up cycling around 30-32°. This is below freezing, but not in a zone that I feel is safe for frozen food storage.

In order to turn this into a win-win-win situation, I'm keeping the freezer box filled with gallon bottles of commercial drinking water in PET containers (with room made for freezing expansion). This constitutes part of my backup water supply in case of emergency (my wife lived through the Northridge quake and we've been on evacuation notice for wildfires here twice in the last 4 years). Having additional ice on hand will also allow me to transfer to the in-house freezer to keep frozen food safe longer if we lose power during an emergency. Lastly, the frozen mass of water helps stabilize the box temperature as the thermostat controller goes through its hysteresis, which also lets the box stay "off" longer, using less power.

The only issue left to be resolved is humidity. 60-70% would be best for keeping the corks happy, but food fridges are usually pretty dry. For now I'll probably keep a small tin of water in the box, but I plan on investigating the humidifier units people use for large cigar humidors.

All up, I've expended less than a $100 cash and a few hours time to clean up the old fridge, assemble the tinker toys, and mount and test the system. More pictures with detail photos of some items are available in the album: Low-Budget Wine Cellar.

(04/21/08)UPDATE: I've added new photos to the album. You can see that our cellar is already full. Time to have a party! Read More...

Monday, March 31, 2008

Its like a grail quest, only -- not.

Well, the end of March 2008 marks the end of a quest of proportions both epic and trivial. You see, since sometime in the summer of 2001 or 2002, I've been trying to find a copy of a movie called "American Cuisine".

That summer, on a weekend when I was home alone, I saw this simple flick on one of the random movie channels that you get with a big cable package. Its not "the Lord of the Rings" or anything, but its a movie that falls into a genre that my wife and I enjoy very much - "Food Porn" movies. Any movie where food or cooking plays a significant role is destined to be a classic in our household. No surprise really, since we're serious foodies and we watch more FoodTV than any four other networks combined, SpeedTV included.

Just a few of our favorites: "Eat, Drink, Man, Woman", (and its remake "Tortilla Soup"), "Chocolat", "Soul Food", "Big Night", "Like Water for Chocolate", and the recently added "Ratatouille". Even movies with tangential food themes or scenes of food porn like "The Last Supper" and "Goodfellas" are a treat.

So imagine my frustration when I saw, by myself, a cute little French-Food-themed romantic comedy starring one of our favorite actors, Jason Lee. Remember this was pre-TiVo (at least in our household). It turns out this movie was seemingly never released for the US market, and is exceedingly hard to find even abroad. I have been trying to get a copy of this movie to share with my wife since that summer day. Yep, nearly six or seven years. This movie isn't just not-released for America, but its also apparently out of print even in the markets it was intended for. The closest I've ever come is a German market disc on sale for $29. I didn't want it quite that badly.

Anyhow, a periodic search on eBay finally revealed my salvation. A Region 2, PAL-encoded, poor transfer of the movie with Polish subtitles, but salvation nonetheless. Fortunately my completely bitchin' Oppo DVD player is region free and PAL-to-NTSC converting, and the original English 5.1 audio is intact (the film was recorded in both English and French by the original cast). The upside of this movie being so hard to find is that apparently almost nobody else was looking for it. For 1.20 GBP, plus 4.20GBP shipping ($8.35 total, with today's craptastic US Dollar) I beat out one other bidder and this particular celluloid unicorn is now part of my collection. Huzzah!

Now the real question, will Kimberley actually like the movie? Read More...

Friday, February 15, 2008

Suck It, JumpDomain!

Among the artifacts of my former life as a builder of combat robots was my domain and website dedicated to my efforts: puppetmaster-robotics.com.

In the days before blogging (and the tools that made blogging easy), I tediously hand-coded build reports for robots I was building, and talked about the events I had attended and the bouts I had fought. During what became known as "the Great Newbie Flood", in which hundreds of fans of the Comedy Central Battlebots TV show suddenly joined the online community of bot-builders, I even penned a FAQ that became the standard reference text for answering newbie questions.

In the same way that I learned most of what I know about building such machines from the websites of others, I hoped my site would fill the same role. From the usage logs, I could see that I'd at least partially succeeded. While readership dropped off steadily after Battlebots went off the air, there was still a measurable amount of traffic to the build and FAQ pages. Interestingly, with the recent "Maker" trend, I found that readership was going back UP! So, I basically left the site up as an archive, as a record of what I'd done, and as a reference tool.

Now for the bad news: In 2002 I'd transferred domain registry and hosting of the site to JumpDomain, then a Tucows reseller, on the recommendation of a friend. For a while, everything was great, so my friend was definitely right to refer me. Then somewhere along the line it seems that the proprietor(s) for JumpDomain lost interest in the pet-venture. Basically the system runs itself, aside from a few bugs here and there... Support started dropping off, and in general service basically sucked. My friend eventually moved his domains away from them, but I waited too long, and by the time I was convinced to take my business elsewhere, it was too late. Puppetmaster-Robotics.com had fallen into the automated billing and human-less support abyss. As it turns out, one of the "bugs" I mentioned made it impossible for me to unlock the domain for transfer to another registrar.

So, every six months, I'd get an automated email telling me my credit card was being charged for the hosting service (at a rate that these days seems exorbitant). More importantly, once a year I'd be automatically charged for the renewal of the domain. Basically, it was automated extortion. Since I had no contacts to JumpDomain (their phone contact had long since gone dark, and the support portal never returned an answer), it was essentially a case of pay or risk losing the domain.

Until this cycle.

Through an interesting confluence of events, JumpDomain's automated system was forced to give out a little more information than normal, so that I could renew my credit card information. This happened right around the same time I finally had enough free time and a bug up my ass about getting the domain back that I devoted what turned out to be two weeks of effort into wresting the domain back from them. During my trial-by-fire, I called over a dozen phone numbers that were attributed to JumpDomain at one point or another (all dead, or belonging to some poor soul named Dave who wishes people would stop calling him looking for JumpDomain). Dave, if you ever read this, the reason you get called is because the BBB has your phone number listed for the (816) area code. JumpDomain used to have the same number in the (815) area code.

I submitted the obligatory support tickets, I did as much as I could do for myself (fortunately JumpDomain's system let me update the Admin contact for the domain), and I waited. On advice from my new registrar, I contacted JumpDomain's new top-level registrar eNom.com, who were eventually very helpful, after I made a few statements about their culpability for the behavior of their resellers, and how ICANN and the BBB would be hearing from me. That call netted me the Transfer-Auth code, and after that it was just a matter of time and DNS/Hosting setup at my new hosts.

So, to make this long story.... erm, end, I can finally say that I am now back in control of puppetmaster-robotics.com, and apparently free of JumpDomain's automated clutches. The only further possibility for trouble is that they try to bill my cards for domain registration or hosting I'm no-longer using, but at that point I'd be happy to sick the credit card people on them for fraudulent charges, and let them try to track those wankers down. Its still just an archive for now, but I think I'll go through and add a little new content here and there, since I just finished helping a couple of local high school kids build a robot for the Science Olympiad. But that's another blog entry....