Finding Adventure...

My first from-scratch project with my 3D printer

After much research on 3D printers, I settled on the $750 "CTC" one off eBay.  It's a clone of the original Makerbot Replicator, and I suspect it's made by the same factory that originally made the Replicator for Makerbot.  Makerbot has moved on to fancier and more expensive units, but in my research I just couldn't seem to justify the extra cost for the final product.  In fact, I looked at possibly spending at much as $15,000 on a printer, and yet still settled on this $750 unit.

It really seems like you have to step up to $20,000+ printers to do significantly better things than this CTC printer can do.  You would need to be running it constantly, and I'm merely a hobbyist who was looking to learn a few things and perhaps make a few things that could really be used in the real world.

I started out printing a few things I found on Thingiverse.  I'm kind of surprised more people don't just grab things from there and pay to have them printed at sites like Shapeways.  Before I bought my own printer, I did do 3D model of an enclosure I wanted and had Shapeways print it.  The service takes several days including shipping, but it's not terribly expensive and the quality is quite good.  But all it did was whet my appetite to be able to print my own things NOW.  Enter the research and the purchase of the CTC printer.

The first few prints included some mediocre iPhone cases as well as a cool little GoPro mount, seen here:

Not the most complex thing, but it actually works pretty well.  Here's one used to adapt my mountain bike headlamp to work on the GoPro mount of my bike helmet:

The material is VERY strong and fairly lightweight, too.  If there's a downside it's that the color palette is a bit limited and the time to print is pretty slow.  This little item takes about 25 minutes just to print, but setup and everything included makes it more like an hour for the first one and about 35 minutes for each one after.

 A fun thing to do is add a second video camera on the bow of the boat.  Unfortunately there's no good way to do that on these particular boats (and we've tried several different sit-on-top kayaks for surfing, and these seem to work better than most for a 200 pound adult).  So I set out to make something that would work in place of the grab handle in the front.

Here are the parts as I designed them in Sketchup:

 And assembled in place with a GoPro on the boat:

Normally the boat would have a small piece of plastic down where the string connects in this photo attached with a short screw.  I removed that and took the handle off that piece and put it on my GoPro mount.  Then I bolted everything through with a long bolt into the original hole.  It seems every bit as strong as before, except now there's a place to put a camera.  I normally use a chest cam for the best action, but a camera pointed back at the rider is a fun view, too.

There will be more almost-interesting things coming from my evil lab, but not until after the beach.

Brute Electronics

I may or may not have blogged about my AEV Brute before:

It's basically a 2006 Jeep Rubicon with a stretched frame and custom bodywork from AEV to make it a pickup truck. It's also got some other goodies like a 5.7L Hemi, 4.5" long arm lift kit, 37" tires, winches on both ends, etc.

I recently spent some time updating the electronics in it, though. First up was a new stereo headunit from JVC very similar to this one. All I wanted was something that had a built in HD FM tuner and front panel USB port that would operate my iPhone, and this one has it. We added a rear AUX input, too (you'll see why later). The real beauty of this headunit, I think, is that you have the choice of iPod control with the unit or you can leave the control on the iPod/iPhone itself. I prefer the iPhone interface, so I use that. The dash speakers were upgraded and I had a custom rear speakerbox built by the fine folks at Beechwood Metalworks:

That's the AEV logo in the speaker grills. Awesome work. The amps are buried inside the cabinet.

Next up I needed to add my HAM radio. The model I chose is the Yaesu FTM-350R. It has built in APRS functionality with the optional GPS unit, and it's a dual transceiver with crossband repeat functionality. All that adds up to allowing me to relay my mountain biking position from a small handheld through the more powerful mobile unit in my truck. In real time. I mounted the display, speaker, and GPS in the roof of the Brute:

I used a RAM bar mount and arm to mount directly to the top of the rollbar. Then I just used zip ties to mount the Yaesu external speaker to the rollbar. Finally, I put the GPS module in the alpine window for a great view of the sky. The main unit of the radio was mounted right on top of the speakerbox:

The microphone can just lay over the center console and I can use it perfectly. The wiring for the unit runs through a grommet in the top of the speakerbox. I haven't done it yet, but eventually I plan to wire the unit so that it turns on and off with the ignition switch unless I override it with a relay and switch I'll put in.

The antenna is mounted somewhat temporarily, currently. I just put it on a piece of aluminum and c-clamped it to the bed.

The final piece of this was to add mounts for my GPS and iPhone. I simply bolted RAM ball mounts into the tray on top of the dash. Then I used RAM arms and the Garmin 376C mount to put the GPS and iPhone on the dash:

Note the radar detector above the mirror. That's a Valentine 1, IMHO the best radar detector on the market. It's hard wired in to switched power. I used the visor mount turned around backwards and slid under the plastic trim that's above the windshield. To do that I had to take the curved piece off the plastic part that slides onto the V1. I then pulled the trim piece out some to get it in there, and reassembled. Then I used a small piece of sticky velcro to space it out to level it and help keep it from vibrating around.

Anyone who has tried to put a V1 in a Jeep knows that the suction cup mounts don't work well because the windshield is so vertical. It sits at the wrong angle. And the visor mount is fine except, well, you can't use the visor any more. There are mounts that hang from the rear view mirror that work fine, but they block your view significantly in a fairly important spot. This spot doesn't block anything (other than annoying sunlight that can penetrate over the mirror and isn't blockable by the visors, and that's a good thing!).

Here's a final shot that shows the XM puck that the Garmin uses. It's magnetic and stuck to the windshield frame. It's wire is perfectly sized to just push into the gap between the hinge and the windshield frame, which wraps around the corner and just goes into the door jam through the weatherstripping. It goes right into the dash and under the defrost venting over to the middle where it plugs into the GPS:

I'm really loving this setup. The speaker is right near my head, but nowhere I can hit it. That's good, since I can leave the volume low to monitor things while still having the radio on. The controls are very easy to reach and highly visible right above the visor. Yes, it's a lot of visible electronics for theives, but the Jeep is equipped with a full alarm system with power door locks and hard doors and hard top.

Also note that the XM radio on the GPS is piped into the stereo via that rear panel auxiliary input we put on the stereo. The beauty of the Garmin 376C with XM is that it gets realtime weather radar information via XM radio and overlays that on the GPS map. It also puts the turn-by-turn navigation information on top of the XM radio, so if you're using navigation and listening to XM you can't miss any of your directions.

It's possible that I could have used a serial output on my Garmin GPS to the input of the Yaesu HAM radio instead of installing the optional GPS unit. That solution would have taken more hours of work than it was worth given the relatively low cost of the Yaesu add-on. I also consider it a good redundancy to have two GPSs in a vehicle like this. The Yaesu doesn't do navigation, really, but it does show direction, speed, and position, and could be very handy if the Garmin fails. The iPhone has GPS, too, but I really don't feel great relying on that. It's another good backup, though.
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Review of the iPad

Well, I know everyone and their brother has already done a review, but I can't resist throwing my two cents in, so here goes...

I really like it. Why? The huge screen, relatively light weight, and incredible battery life. Okay, great, but what does it DO? Well, that's the big question now, isn't it? It's a great web surfing tool. Okay, but you've probably got something for that already. It's a great email reader, and a good email sending device if you mostly send short messages or don't mind adding the optional keyboard. Okay, but you probably already have that covered, too. It's a really nice picture viewing device. And video viewing device. And gaming device. And book reader. And calendar. And note taker. And a whole lot of things.

But nothing you can't already do with a laptop, right? Well, the thing is it does all that better than a laptop. Sure, there are things it won't do that a laptop will, but the things it does are all done exceedingly well. And in a light form factor with a battery that will last OVER 10 hours! Not many laptops can even come close to that.

What can't it do? Things like video editing, running Windows applications, or even someone every day tasks like running Quickbooks. Is there a killer application that makes it a "must have"? Not yet. But the thing you do get is the App Store, which will likely mean there will be a killer app or forty at your disposal soon. What do I dig now? The ABC app, the Wall Street Journal app, the fact that the email client in some ways is better than the OSX one, and how much better viewing video is than on the iPhone/Touch. The Blogpress app is pretty good for entries like this, but I had to add the picture using my Mac.

What doesn't it do yet that it will? Multitasking, a proper Facebook app (don't get me wrong, you can use Safari to do Facebook fine, but the iPhone app is better than using the web in many ways, and I expect we'll soon see an iPad app that's of the same ilk), and printing. There are some workarounds for printing from some applications, but hopefully we'll be able to print from the iWork suite. It just seems really odd to me that you can create and exchange documents so easily yet if you want to print one you have to send it to another machine first.

Does everyone need to rush right out and get one? Not really. But if you have a need for a space friendly device with good battery life that will let you surf the web, do email, and generally entertain you, I can't think of anything better. And heck, even the TSA is getting friendly saying it's not a big enough computer that they want you to take it out of your carry-on bag at the security checkpoint. That's worth something to me, right there.

One hole I hope gets filled is navigation. It should be MUCH easier for someone to build and market a dashboard friendly mount for this device so that the GPS enabled 3G version (coming in about a month) can be used as a navigation device (or the current version with an external GPS). The screen size will be much better than most of the off-the-shelf units, and the fact that it can also be your music player is an added bonus. I don't think it'll be more than a couple months before we see something like this on the market, and likely several somethings like this.

Can it replace a Kindle? Depends. If looking at "computer screens" for long periods doesn't bother your eyes, yes. If, however, you find that "computer screens" bother you and something like the Kindle's special screen doesn't, then no. It's a beautiful screen, but it is still basically "just an LCD." The Kindle is special in this regard, and if you need that particular feature of the Kindle then you need a Kindle. Unfortunately the only way to know if this device will bother you is to spend a few hours reading on one, but supposedly Apple does have a good return policy on in-store purchases. The iBook reader is a free application, and there are even some timeless classics you can download to it for free to give it a try. So you can, in effect, try it out for free to see if it will work for you. They've sold a half million of them in less than a week, so you might know someone who will loan you one, too. Nah, few people are going to let these babies out of their hands for quite some time.

-- Posted from my iPad, mostly

** EDIT: Shoot, I should have tried to put the picture in with the iPad. It's totally possible, and not even that hard. You just switch to your browser, find the picture you want to put in your block, touch and HOLD your finger on it, select "Save" from the menu that pops up. Then you have your image saved in your image library and can select it with the Blogpress app. Dang, should have known it was that easy!
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Apple's Fail and Win

First, the win: The App Store. With the App Store, Apple has setup the iPhone and now the iPad to be "game changers." If there's a piece of software that can make the device a winner, someone will likely create it and shove it into the App Store. And that amazing "community" (and it is a community of sorts, thanks to the fact that it's so easy for users to contribute and things to bubble up thanks to reviews and intelligent pricing) is what can totally shape demand for a product.

How did they do it? They created the hardware, then they created an operating system for the hardware along with the Software Development Kit (SDK) that any developer could use to very easily create an application, and then there is the relatively pain-free process of submitting your application to the App Store where Apple will sell it for you and distribute your revenue to you. Yes, I admit that there has been some problems between developers and Apple over problems with the App Store, but you have to admit that on the whole the model has worked very well for both parties. Apple does continue to listen to developers and add facilities developers need to continue to push the envelope, too.

Articles today about the iPad launch are pointing to the fact that a lot of people in line to buy first day iPads are doing so only because they'd "buy anything Apple sells" and thus are just lemmings. I submit that the App Store is mostly to blame for this kind of thinking, though. They know that there already are apps for it and there will be even more apps for it and are counting on those to make the device something they will treasure. You can already stream Netflix to it, watch TV from ABC, read USA Today and NY Times news, and it has complete eBook functionality including an App for those who already have Kindle eBooks. With most of that being completely free. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that they've already got the thing serving some pretty significant markets. It won't just be a success because of some lemmings.

Where does the App Store go next? Only Apple knows. I'm surprised they haven't tried to push it a little more for the Mac platform myself.

Now, the fail: Apple is far too limiting on the hardware integration side. They simply haven't embraced anything resembling an open model for allowing other companies to integrate the iPhone, iPod Touch, and now iPad in with their hardware. The first sign of this was how closed the Bluetooth is on the iPhone. It allows you to connect your iPhone to a Bluetooth headset, but the rest of the Bluetooth API is closed to third party developers. This means no Bluetooth keyboards, no syncing to a computer via Bluetooth, and no talking to a whole host of other Bluetooth devices that were starting to appear on the market. There were many $50 devices out there that were Bluetooth that manufacturers have now made into $150 wifi devices just to talk to the iPhone. This is not a win for consumers, obviously. Bluetooth is a perfect mechanism for a digital camera to get GPS information from your iPhone so it can geotag your photos, for instance. But Apple makes that impossible, even though all the building blocks exist already.

The problem runs much deeper than Bluetooth. Apple very closely licenses its dock connector, so anyone who wants to connect to it must pay Apple and go through a process to validate what they want to do with the device. So far this has been very limited. We've seen alarm clocks and a few basic stereo docks, but little more. Will we see refrigerators let you dock your iPad for easy recipe access and podcast playing? Will we ever see an aftermarket car stereo where the face is just an iPhone dock? Will we ever have the ability to control any aftermarket device via the dock part in a generic form? Ie. RS-232? There are currently a ton of possible industrial uses for the iPhone/Touch/iPad that we can't even try thanks to Apple closing up their serial port. The bigger problem is not the things I have thought of that we're missing, but the things the truly inventive hardware folks might find that would really kick some serious butt. They're not even trying, because they know Apple won't let it happen.

I don't know why Apple doesn't want third parties to let people control their devices with Apple products. Seems to me they've been a perfect mass market device that they'd sell even more of if they would. But for some strange reason they just won't embrace third party hardware like they have third party software. Could it be that they just can't take the step into a realm where they don't (and can't) have the level of control they have now with the App Store? I don't know, but it's pretty maddening to those of us who can see all kinds of awesome uses for these devices only to have an Apple roadblock in the way of making it happen.

Confusing the message with the delivery vehicle!

So, I genuinely love my man, Chris Grams. I'm pretty sure we first met when he was hired at Red Hat, but somehow we have several non-Red Hat mutual friends we've since found. I don't see Chris often (not nearly often enough, that's for sure), but I do follow him in the social networking scene. So when this post popped up on his blog, I had to respond.

Normally, one might respond to a specific post like his through the comment section of the original site. I'm not doing that because I haven't updated my own blog enough lately. pause Okay, that's not true...I'm really doing it here because I'm going to disagree with him somewhat vehemently yet at the same time I believe his general point is still valid. It's more the metaphor and some of the quotation I don't agree with. Oh, and I'm also putting it here because this is a topic that my Dad and I were discussing just a few days ago (no kidding).

I had already noticed a trend that traditional albums on vinyl (or LPs, as they are commonly called) had started to make a bit of a comeback. It's long been known that serious musicians haven't given up on tube-type amplifiers, either. In fact, there was a long period where there were no mass produced turntables being made, yet now you can walk into any Restoration Hardware and buy one (thanks to the fact that the Beatles stuff was re-released recently). Chris points this trend out as well, and goes on to give some of the reasons why people are going "lo-fi" (which is short for "low fidelity", the opposite of the trend toward higher fidelity sound systems based on digital music and such).

I just don't get it. These days one can record with incredible accuracy for cheap. There's simply nothing stopping you from sitting in a basement with a dog on the floor and getting a precise recording of "the best stuff." So why would you then dilute your "best stuff" by sending it out the door via what's not only lower quality, but adds errors (cracks and pops)? To me that's using lo-fi to help hide your own flaws that might happen in your "best stuff." And if you do that, aren't you being less "authentic"?

Okay, I do get why someone would want to listen to a 1966 recording via LP. In fact, I see both sides of that coin. There's obviously a market for the remastered stuff for the folks who don't care, but it most definitely is more authentic to listen to it as everyone had to in 1966. What I don't get is why anyone would want to do that with a modern recording. You're just diluting your own authenticity, in my opinion, by lowering the quality of your product intentionally. (And for the record, pun intended, I'm the proud owner of a Seeburg jukebox that sits in my basement full of original vinyl that I dearly love.)

I think you can be "real" as a musician and still release your music in unaltered digital form. I think you can be fake in recording in a studio, obviously. But you can also be fake by recording in your basement with your laptop, editing to high heaven, and then releasing on vinyl. The vinyl and the CD and iTunes are all just vehicles. The vehicle does not define the message. It can't enhance the message, but it can take away. So what's the real reason for the resurgence of vinyl? I think it's just a cool fad. Nothing more.

How a company markets is no different than how authentic a musician chooses to be. A company can go hire a big corporate ad agency and end up with a lie as an advertisement that's nothing more than actors saying what writers who are completely disconnected with the actual company tell them to say. Then they can edit to complete "perfection." But I think we've seen companies hire big corporate ad agencies and get "authentic" advertisements using real employees and real messages. We've seen plenty of companies get even more "authentic" by doing contests to let customers create their advertisements for them and show the winner during the superbowl! The spectrum is there, and a company can certainly do a good job of getting their message out in a lo-fi way.
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I'm a big HAM!

So a week ago I took the test for the Technician Class amateur radio license. I passed, and today I received my first callsign, KJ4RIC. I'll probably get a vanity callsign, but for now, that's my unique ID on the airwaves! Made my first transmission on the OCRA 442.150 repeater this afternoon thanks to a lot of help from Troy getting the radio setup properly. There's nothing terribly hard about it, but just a lot of little details to get figured out. Fun stuff!

Still getting my feet wet figuring everything out. Looks like some pretty neat stuff will be possible. At the very least I'll now be much safer when I mountain bike as I'll have communication capability pretty much everywhere.

Car racing heart rate data

So, I wore my Garmin 405 GPS and heart rate data logger during a session at the race track today. What's interesting is we did a "mock" race start during this session and I don't see any extra spike thanks to it. But my heart rate is in the 140's on average for the driving portion (had to start the data pretty early before even getting in the car and getting belted up).

That's actually a little higher than I thought it would be. Given the temperatures we see inside the car, it's easy to see why race car driving should be considered a sport. I can't sustain that kind of heart rate while paddling a kayak! Anyway, check out the data. I'm curious what others think. The dip at the end in speed to zero was a pit stop to change the rear wing angle on the car and then we went back out to see what effect it had.

(And in case you care, the 158 and the 223MPH speeds are data errors. Earlier in the day we were seeing 132 or so, but that's near the max that car can do at VIR.)
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iPod Fitness Earphones

So a lot of companies, including Nike, have fitness headphones and earphones for the iPod. So far, however, nobody but Apple has any with the controls built in (please send me links to other products if I'm wrong!). That's only important for users of the newest iPod Shuffle, because it only has a power switch. Everything else is controlled by the little "stick" on the right earphone cable, which basically has three squeeze buttons. That keeps the unit tiny and easy to pack away somewhere, as well as making it really easy to control while running or biking or whatever.

The problem with the Apple ones is that sweat can render the control useless until it dries back out. The other problem is that they don't like to stay in your ears (and Apple only has in-ear earphones, I believe). The ones that come with the iPod go in your ear, but not really into the canal. They won't stay in during exercise, in my experience. The higher end Apple earphones actually extend into the ear canal and come with three different sized cups. They work fine for a lot of stuff, and might work well for the right sized ears during exercise. For me, however, they wouldn't stay in while running or biking.

I decided to take matters into my own hands and customize mine. I took a set of real earplugs (the kind that you squeeze with your fingers and stick in your ears where they expand to fit) and cut them to about the same length as the cups that came with the earphones. Then I used a soldering iron with a fine tip and melted a hole through the center. Careful here as supposedly the fumes from this kind of foam can be very toxic! Some trial and error and one wasted set of earphones (they're cheap in bulk!) got me a set that would stay on the earphones very well and also stay inside my ears just about no matter what I do. They also cancel ambient noise VERY well. That's great for airplanes and such, but BE VERY CAREFUL using something like this for exercise. I wouldn't use these if you run or bike on a road. I only use mine on trail and on a very tiny private road, and even then I'm VERY careful. You really can't hear anything else.

The problem with sweat was significant, too. There are probably a lot of different ways to solve this one, but the one I chose was to cut some clear plastic from a ziploc baggy and wrap around the button "stick." I made the plastic about an inch longer than the stick so it went a half inch on each end. Then I used some 3/8" dental rubber bands to go around each end to seal it up (thanks for the rubber bands, Shelley!). Seemed to solve the problem fine, and I can still use the buttons while running and biking. You can see everything below.

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Wii Motion Plus!

Yeah, so I'm following up a Health Care Reform post with a post about a video game system. So sue me.

But the Wii Motion Plus is very cool. It definitely adds more realism to the Wii controller for games that support it, and Wii Sports Resort is a HUGE improvement over the already much-loved Wii Sports pack. Not only do you get a new 18 hole golf course, but the game is much more realistic in the swing. I'm not sure I'm a huge fan of that now as I really liked the old game, but I'm guessing it'll grow on me.

The new games are pretty killer. The jet-ski game is fun, basketball rocks, and there are a ton of games I haven't even tried yet. Currently there seems to be no problem getting Wii Sports Resort (which includes one Wii Motion Plus controller add-on). Target had them in the video game section and a huge pile of them at the check-out line! What was missing was additional Wii Motion Plus controllers, however. Not sure if those are available elsewhere. I wanted Tiger Woods 2010, and they had that in stock both by itself and with one Wii Motion Plus, and the one with the WMP was only $10 more, so I got that so we'd have two controllers. So one can presume that additional WMPs will be fairly cheap when available by themselves.

So for all you Wii fans or those on the fence, get on this. You won't regret it.
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Hello, Apple, time to wake up!

Dear Apple,

Your anti-Google policies are alienating users fast. Last week it was reported that the Google Latitude application was rejected because it might confuse people with the native Maps application. Confuse who? The people that CHOOSE to download and install it? Please. Give me a break. So now we have to use a somewhat crippled version over the browser. But the point here is that the latitude functionality is something the native Maps application DOESN'T EVEN HAVE. Plus, the native Maps application is based on the maps from Google anyway. Just let us have our latitude without having to run it in the browser for crying out loud.

The bigger complaint here is Google Voice. This has been rejected completely and it's not likely it can be done as a web-only service. Sure, we'll be able to get to parts of it via the web, but you likely won't be able to make a voice call that way. You've already seen fit to allow for VOIP applications in the App Store as long as they don't use the cell data connection, just wifi. Okay, fine, but Google Voice is no different than this (well, except for being BETTER). Come on, let us have Google Voice. You really can't say this is a threat to AT&T service. If people would consider dumping their cell coverage altogether on an iPhone, well, they can already do that with an iPod Touch (yes, you need a headset currently, but rumors seem to indicate you won't need to do that any longer with the next Touch generation).

Come on, get with it, and let customers have the full funcationality provided by the hardware. Locking things up like this is playing silly corporate games at the expense of the end user and could only serve to make Android devices that much more compelling to us down the road. Don't go there. It's gonna bite you.
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