The Big Think

August 25, 2016

Dispatch from the Future

Filed under: Technology — jasony @ 11:59 am

The world’s first network of fully self-driving taxis is up and running – Recode: NuTonomy, a self-driving company that spun out of MIT and is based in Singapore and Cambridge, Mass., has just launched the first-ever public test of a commercial fleet of fully self-driving cars.

August 11, 2016

Oh THERE’s My Surprised Face

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 3:00 pm

Surprise! Obamacare critics were right | Washington Examiner: “In an editorial, Investor’s Business Daily declared: ‘Obamacare is failing exactly the way critics said it would.’ The outlet explained that Aetna had already lost $200 million thanks to Obamacare, but had expected to break even in 2016. That didn’t happen, so the company will no longer expand into five additional states and is rethinking whether it will stay in the 15 states it already offers Obamacare plans.

Aetna is just the latest insurance company to deal a blow to Obamacare supporters and those who were forced to purchase plans through the exchanges. UnitedHealth Group announced in April it would leave most Obamacare exchanges, after expecting to lose $650 million from the exchanges this year.”

Previously vocal supporters could not be reached for comment.

I’m reminded again of the quote I saw online: “Even if it bankrupts America, we have the moral obligation to provide everyone with health insurance”. Not they didn’t say health care. So yeah, if you were in favor of this (or just unquestioningly supported politicians who were), when everyone was shouting that this would happen and you closed your ears and chanted liberal slogans. Yeah— you bear some of the moral blame yourself. And you wonder why people think liberalism is a rotting corpse? “Reality-Based Community” indeed.

August 8, 2016

Coffee and Education

Filed under: Education — jasony @ 12:02 pm

We just discovered a wonderful place in Colorado Springs called “The Principal’s Office”. It’s a coffee shop/restaurant/cocktail bar that is, quite literally, an old principal’s office in a 100 year old school. Limestone and brick walls, wide board wooden floors worn down soft, artisanal ingredients assembled by tattoo-bedecked hipsters. But the thing is, the whole place is super non-pretentious and fun, with amazing coffee.

Erin and I got to talking to the Tyler the manager and got a 90 minute education in really good coffee. The economics, growth, roasting, and techniques of making a stellar cup of coffee. Tyler is passionate about coffee. Not just drinking and brewing it, but roasting, sourcing, and caring for the entire global ecosystem of coffee. Did you know that coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world? Next to oil, coffee has the biggest presence in the global financial markets. And yet something like 2/3rds of coffee growers live in poverty. He’s passionate about not only educating consumers about the difference between a truly great, top-1% cup of coffee, but about educating everyone about how much good can be done in the world through making the economics of coffee better for everyone.

For instance, the soil used to grow coffee can also be used to grow cocaine. And if a farmer in a third world country can make 3 times the money for an illegal cocaine crop, why not grow it? But if he is educated in how to grow really great coffee beans and make much more for it, then not only do we increase the supply of good coffee in the world (for which he gets paid a higher price), but we organically decrease the commensurate amount of cocaine on the streets. And because of supply and demand, that cocaine is now more expensive to boot.

Tyler shared his passion with us, answering question after question about what he loves about coffee, why he’s devoted his life to this pursuit, the bigger picture issues surrounding the industry, and how he’d like to have an impact from the bean all the way to the coffee cup. At the end of the conversation he handed us what was probably a $20 bag of freshly roasted top-1%-in-the-world beans as a gift. Really looking forward to brewing some.

Tyler is on a mission, not just to brew the top 1% of coffee in the world, but to change the world. It’s amazing and inspiring what you can learn if you just ask passionate people a ton of questions and then let them take you on a journey.

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August 3, 2016

Life Savers on the Moon

Filed under: Space — jasony @ 5:42 pm

Some of the most incredible experiences come completely out of the blue. Today was such a day.

I’m a space nerd. I love space: NASA, the space program, space history, flying things, science, Mars, you name the space tech and I’m probably in love with it. So when we discovered a space museum in Colorado Springs, I knew we’d have to make a visit.

The Space Foundation Discovery Center is located on the western side of Colorado Springs in the shadow of Pike’s Peak. It features artifacts and displays covering the history and technology of space flight. A lot of it was already familiar to me, but some of it was new and unique. The museum is geared more toward kids (as most of these places are), so for the first hour or so the adults were outnumbered by the children by 10:1, with elementary age students sprinting around the place and now, shall we say, getting the full educational opportunities out of it. But once the school busses departed, Erin and I were left more or less on our own with maybe 20 people in the whole place. We went into the incredible “Science Sphere” room where four synchronized projectors throw a near-3D image of the Earth onto a 6′ diameter white opaque sphere. The illusion it creates is that of a perfect globe floating in the middle of the room with moving video representing weather patterns, airplane flights, tectonic plates, ocean currents, or anything else that the clever software can display. There’s a similar (albeit smaller) one at the Denver Children’s Museum. It’s stunning. I want one. This giant ball-of-Earth dominating the darkened room is overwhelming.

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So Erin and I sat down and listened to the presenter, a 70ish year old man named Lou. Lou did a great job of sharing his love for space, showing off the incredible Earth projection (and Mars/Venus/Sun/Etc) and, since there were only five people in the room at the time, he let us get him talking about his background and experience.

Jackpot.

Because, you see, Lou no only loves space, he’s lived it, spending over fifty years working at NASA on various projects. When he casually mentioned being involved in the Apollo program, I knew I had to corner him for an impromptu interview. I think he saw how eager I was to hear his stories. At this point I usually ask my victim if I can buy them lunch and just ask them questions. People are always very open to sharing their stories, and I love hearing them, but unfortunately another tour group was coming in so even though I got to ask him a couple of questions I figured I’d never get the full interview I really wanted.

So you can imagine my joy when, a little while later and in another part of the museum, I felt a presence at my elbow and turned to find Lou standing there with big smile. He’d sought us out! He asked if we had a few minutes. What followed was nearly 90 minutes of absolutely incredible stories from the golden age of space exploration, from a man who, quite literally, was right there at the very edge of the envelope.

Lou worked on the Apollo program. Not just that, he worked on the LEM lunar landers. And as if that wasn’t enough to punch your Cool Card forever, Lou was responsible for everything that went in the Apollo LEM landers before flight. For every mission. He worked directly with the astronauts to make sure they had the gear they needed, stowed in the place they needed, and that each piece of gear met the payload and safety requirements of each mission. Need a shovel? Talk to Lou. Don’t know where Day 3’s dinner is stowed? Lou does. Can’t figure out where to stash the backup roll of toilet paper? That’s Lou’s job. So when a couple of astronauts bemoaned the fact that they didn’t have any Life Savers candy, Lou was on it. But it turns out that, even post Apollo 1, the Command Module and Lunar Module were both still flying with 100% oxygen. This is so the partial atmospheric pressure could be kept down to a modest 4.7psi instead of the sea level 14psi. Walls could be thinner (not as much pressure to hold in) and materials lighter, using less fuel on takeoff and allowing more payload. But, as Apollo 1 tragically showed us, sending a spacecraft to the moon on 100% oxygen ran the risk of fire or explosion, so any source of ignition had to be very carefully eliminated.

Have you ever gone into a darkened room and chewed on a Life Saver? When you bite down on a Life Saver it is just possible to cause a tiny little spark (for a magnified version of this, go look into a mirror in a dark room and chomp on a wint-o-green life saver. Sparks!). In your bathroom at home, this is entertaining. In the 100% oxygen atmosphere of a spacecraft on the surface of the moon, a single spark could result in a very bad day. On the moon, even these innocuous little rings of sugar can kill you. The engineers were so afraid of blowing up the LEM that they had the nutrition people absolutely forbid lifesavers to the astronauts.

Lou to the rescue.

Because, see, Lou wasn’t just supplying some anonymous mission with some sugary goodness. No, the guys who wanted a little candy break and who came to Lou to see if they could get one, were none other than Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. And when the First Men on the Moon ask you for life savers, well, you tend to ignore what the room full of egghead engineers and nutritionists say.

So Lou went and bought a pack of Life Savers, snuck into the LEM after the astronauts’ personal gear had been stowed (but before the LEM was loaded onto the Saturn V), cut into the plastic storage bags, and stashed a roll of life savers where they wouldn’t be found until the LEM was on the surface. Thanks to Lou, Neil and Buzz were able to have a little snack when they were, you know,… on the moon.

The only thing Lou asked in return? He made Neil and Buzz make the most solemn promise that, whatever happened, whatever distraction or emergency or moon maiden they might come across when they were on their history making mission, would they please promise Lou that they wouldn’t chew the darn things? He just couldn’t stand the idea that he might be responsible for blowing them up while they were out there.

Neil and Buzz said yes, the flight launched, and since Apollo 11 returned to Earth safely eight days later (minus one roll of Life Savers), we can know for a fact that they kept their word.

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Lou and me standing in front of a model of the LEM, which he helped design. If you’ve ever seen “From the Earth to the Moon’s” episode called “Spider”, Lou was one of those guys who worked on the LEM. Today I talked to a hero I never knew I had.

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July 30, 2016

National Review

Filed under: Quoth — jasony @ 11:23 am

National Review: “One of the reasons corruption is so hard to eliminate, particularly in the developing world, is that honesty is seen as a kind of betrayal. Bribe-takers like bribes, to be sure, but they also hate those who won’t take them — not just because the refusers threaten their livelihoods, but because such refusals remind the corrupted of that they had a choice.”

July 19, 2016

Quoth

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 8:12 am

Quote: “Once a nation acknowledges publicly that it is corrupt (as in national elections), that its people care only for what they can put in their pocket or stuff into their mouths, something terrible can happen.

There is a weakening. A listlessness, a nihilism, where personal appetites and longings for celebrity outweigh what was once understood as common virtue. And what comes next, inevitably, is a fall, and the frightened citizens rally around a strong and brutal personality who offers them muscular leadership. And what they once had is gone.

If you read histories about great empires and how they lost their way — slowly, inexorably, the illness growing along the dull spine of what they once had been — then you already know what happens.

And if you don’t read history, it really doesn’t matter. Just watch some more TV or tweet something, have a drink and enjoy yourselves.”

And the Gods of the Copybook Headings are smiling.

July 15, 2016

Quoth

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 11:34 am

Quoth: “It is a measure of the corruption of the Democratic party and its ability to inspire corruption in others that John Lewis, once a civil-rights leader, is today leading a movement to strip Americans of their civil rights based on secret lists of subversives compiled by police agencies and the military. Perhaps it has not occurred to Representative Lewis that his mentor, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., also was on a secret government list, as indeed was Lewis himself under the watchful eye of J. Edgar Hoover.

The Democrats demand that Americans be stripped of their Second Amendment rights with no attention paid to the Fifth Amendment, to due process. They propose that Americans be stripped of their legal protections under the Bill of Rights even when they have not been charged with, much less convicted of, a crime. They propose that this be done on the basis of a series of secret government lists, whose contents, criteria, and keepers are treated as state secrets.

You cannot call yourself a ‘liberal’ and endorse that. You cannot call yourself a ‘liberal’ and endure that.”

July 14, 2016

Strong Man

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 7:55 am

The Moral Collapse Of The Republican Party:

“My vote doesn’t belong to the GOP. It is not theirs to lose. They don’t have a presumptive claim to it, as if it starts in their column by right and declining to give it to them requires justification. My vote is mine, and they must earn it by giving me good reasons to believe they are best qualified to govern. I refuse to honor the party of Trump with such recognition.

Not voting for Trump isn’t the same as voting for Clinton, unless I vote for Clinton, which I will not do. Not voting for Trump is a morally meaningful act. It means I can look myself in the mirror, sleep soundly at night, and look my children in the eye with dignity and self-respect.

It means that if and when the country is ready to welcome a new political movement of limited government and human dignity, a few—like Sasse—will be standing ready, unsullied by the catastrophe unfolding around us, ready to replace the nihilist apparatchiks who tried to buy a few more years in power by shilling for a neo-fascist.

This is a morally clarifying moment. Trumpism is unjust, foolish, and un-American. It was wrong before May 4, and it is wrong today. It is appalling—it is obscene—that a political party rooted in civic responsibility, limited government, and ordered liberty has so quickly embraced a strongman demagogue.”

July 9, 2016

The R2 Project: My Feet Are Killing Me

Filed under: The R2 Project — jasony @ 9:57 pm

Not my feet, actually. R2’s feet. When I look back on the 5ish years that I’ll spend doing this crazy project I believe that “Tig Welding the Feet” will probably be one of the hardest parts. I have spent 77 hours practicing TIG and used almost 500 feet of welding rod. Not sure what that translates to in actual weld length since there’s not a 1:1 relationship between rods and weld beads laid down, but it has got to be close to 1000 feet. In the last week I’ve spent nearly 15 hours under the hood welding parts. And, oh, what parts.

I’m currently working on the foot shell assemblies. These:

R2d2 feet

R2d2 third foot

There are two outer feet (the top picture) and one center foot (bottom pic). All aluminum. The side details are applied later, as are the vertical strips on the ends, but the rows of rectangles around the bottom skirt are part of the assembly.

So far it has taken 13 hours to weld up the center foot and it looks great. I ground it down (2 hours) and noticed that some of my welds hadn’t penetrated enough, so I had to go back and re-weld everything. I really hope that I did it right. Grinding isn’t fun.

The side feet (the top pic above) has been a real bear. Everything wants to warp and crack and the shape is just a crazy one to start with with a 3″ diameter curve and a delicate little edge on the backside (of this pic). Several times I found myself wanting to slap whoever designed this part. The curved edge in particular has been it’s own special joy. I tried to bend the part using a hydraulic press but just couldn’t get it to fit correctly, which meant that I had to toss the part and start over. This time I spent 13 hours milling the curve on the manual mill, as well as the bottom corner piece. Then when I welded it all up the pieces warped so badly that I had an air gap, so I had to grind most of the corner bit (which I had gotten accurate to .004″) so that I could weld in a patch.

This frustrating part has been bedeviling me for several weeks now, but I think I see a light at the end of the tunnel. I spent 11 hours at TechShop today (I had a 4 hour water jet class in the middle) doing nothing but welding. I still have to grind, but here’s what I did:

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It’s upside-down in this picture since I weld better right-to-left and that top weld was the last one I did. There was a point tonight around hour 5 where I felt like I clicked up to the next level. My coordination with the pedal, rod, and torch was much better, I was able to direct heat into tiny little areas without melting nearby edges or corners, and, most importantly, I even bridged a 1/4″ gap and created new metal to do it. That’s pretty advanced. Basically, even with my patch I still had a couple of spots that gapped. I had resigned myself to using lab metal to fill them in. However, I was welding so well that when I got to that spot I just said screw it and dove right in. In hindsight I could have really messed things up but I guess I was feeling confident. Well, I absolutely nailed it, adding in several cubic centimeters of new metal by pushing the rod into the puddle before it had a chance to drip or ooze away. I nearly whooped for joy! You can see the spot where I did that in the above pic. It’s the upside down corner nearest the camera where the curve meets the edge. I did a similar spot on the back side and got that as well. BOOM!

Once this piece is ground down (a long and messy job) I’m sure there will be a few spots that I’ll have to go back and patch up. Then I’ll have to grind it down again to finish the part. These feet have been a struggle at every point and I consider it one of the hardest and most satisfying things I’ve ever done from a maker/builder standpoint. I still have one more foot to go (ugh!) and it’ll be a month or two before they’re all ground down, rewelded, and reground. I’ll post pics then.

In the meantime, here’s a picture of the whole leg stack coming together. I ground the welds on the main leg box and it looks like one solid piece! That’s what the rest of them will look like once I’m done. This pic has the leg assembly, horseshoe, ankle, battery box, and foot shell. I stacked this together tonight and nearly cried. 🙂

TIG welding aluminum! Can’t believe it.

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July 5, 2016

Verdict

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 7:58 pm

“To be clear, this is not to suggest that in similar circumstances, a person who engaged in this activity would face no consequences. To the contrary, those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions. But that is not what we are deciding now.”

FBI Director James Comey

July 2, 2016

Lost Generation

Filed under: Education — jasony @ 10:46 pm

How a Generation Lost Its Common Culture | Minding The Campus:

“My students are know-nothings. They are exceedingly nice, pleasant, trustworthy, mostly honest, well-intentioned, and utterly decent. But their brains are largely empty, devoid of any substantial knowledge that might be the fruits of an education in an inheritance and a gift of a previous generation. They are the culmination of western civilization, a civilization that has forgotten nearly everything about itself, and as a result, has achieved near-perfect indifference to its own culture.”

June 24, 2016

Why Should Axing Due Process Stop With 2nd Amendment?

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 11:23 pm

Why Should Axing Due Process Stop With 2nd Amendment?:

“My objection to the no-fly no-buy proposal, while certainly based on Second Amendment grounds, is more broadly one of opposition to any system that allows almost entirely unaccountable bureaucrats to restrict constitutional rights without notice, recourse, or accountability. No matter how meritorious you believe your cause to be, excising rights at the behest of a government executive or agency should terrify any right-thinking person. If you think the terror watch list is merely an affront to the Second Amendment, you’re not paying attention.

It doesn’t take a lot of effort to create a gedankenexpriment where the erosion of rights embodied in the Fourth and Fifth Amendments is the next stop on turning the Constitution into a Chinese menu where one party removes rights from Column A and the other from Column B. Just saying, ‘But guns…’ doesn’t make it less dangerous.”

Short and worth reading.

June 18, 2016

R2 Battery Box #2

Filed under: The R2 Project — jasony @ 6:53 pm

Tig welded up battery box #2 today. Complete success! I did some quick and dirty JB weld spots to hold the loose pieces together while I did the tack welds. Unfortunately, the JB melted in spectacular fiery fashion (complete with noxious fumes). Good thing we have vent hoods. Ick. 

I did some fast reclamping and got the tack welds in. From that stressful step on, though, it was smooth sailing. Kind of contemplative and relatively easy. I also laid one bead down that looks as good as anything I’ve seen on the pro welding sites. For that 6″ I was a Weld Master. The rest of it wasn’t as pretty but will still do the job.

Also, I managed to get the hang of vertical welds! That’s huge as up to now I’ve had to figure out a way to position everything horizontally. Still not good at them but they’re not catastrophic fails.

So that makes all three ankles, both shoulder horseshoes, both legs, and both battery boxes welded up! Now I have to do the three feet over the next week or so. After that will come the grinding. Oh… the grinding. I’ll be at that for a long time. After the grinding I’ll have to go touch up some welds, but all the parts should look seamless.

Really pleased with my progress.

 

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June 10, 2016

Hey Bernie, I left Venezuela’s socialism behind for a reason: Voices

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 11:12 pm

Hey Bernie, I left Venezuela’s socialism behind for a reason: Voices:

“America’s new fervor for socialism frightens me. To be sure, the United States in 2016 is a world apart from Venezuela in 1998. Our economy is much more vibrant, even in its current weak state. America also has a stronger tradition of innovation, intellectual inquiry and individualism, all of which have initially lessened the impact of our creeping socialism’s many problems.

But those problems ultimately derive from human nature itself, and human nature knows no borders. In fact, the steady growth of America’s welfare state and government interventionism — different from that in Venezuela in degree, but not in kind — shows that this country is far from immune.

The concept of wealth redistribution is already widely accepted in America, and its popularity has only grown with time. Both economic and personal liberties have declined with the regulatory state’s advance, weakening the nation’s ability to continue its historically unprecedented march of material progress. Special interests and cronies, meanwhile, have become amazingly adept at using the apparatus of government to enrich themselves at others’ expense.

My home country shows where this leads. So do other nations that have tried — and failed — to turn socialist dreams into reality. Like millions of Americans today, I used to have those dreams. I came to the United States after they turned into a nightmare. It frightens me to think what will happen as socialism becomes more popular here. Where else is there to go?”

Help us, Elon Musk. Your our only hope…

Leg Welding, Burned Boots, and R2 Takes His Pound of Flesh

Filed under: The R2 Project — jasony @ 10:40 pm

Major progress the last few days and I even got a decent little injury to show for it (more on that later).

I’ve been practicing my TIG welding for around 40 hours and decided to just go ahead and give the leg welding a try. Before I did that, though, I had to strip the old anodizing from the parts. I’d gotten the 1/4″ metal for free when I had the frame anodized black. The only downside was that the two sheets of free metal were clear anodized, and since you can’t weld anodized metal I had to strip the parts in a concentrated lye bath.

First a 10 minute dip in the hot lye solution, constantly agitating each part while the anodizing was dissolved (but not too long or the aluminum will be eaten away!), followed by a neutralizing bath in vinegar, then a water rinse/soak, then pressure washing each part to remove residue. At the end of this 4 hour process all the clear anodizing was gone.

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I doubled up on protective gear. Lye is nasty stuff.

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Then into the welding bay! It took me 5 hours to set up and tack all of the parts in the first leg just on one side of the leg. A tack weld is when you just do a quick spot weld in a few places to hold the parts together firmly– once they’re tacked you then go back over and run beads that hold everything together. Tack welds are a pain because everything wants to shift and slide around and it’s hard getting all of the loose parts to behave until they’re secured. And at the tolerances I’m dealing with I have to get them all positioned as close to perfect as I can.

This took me five hours to tack weld just one side. I was holding the torch sideways (a hard angle), I kept dipping my tungsten rod in the molten aluminum (necessitating regrinding of the tungsten), and just generally going glacially slow. It sucked. It was very frustrating. I felt like I’d forgotten everything I’ve learned about welding. It was a frustrating session.

But then yesterday I went back in and tacked the other side of the leg on and then ran beads. They weren’t the prettiest welds I’ve ever done, but once I got the aluminum hot it welded pretty well. Success! Felt great. No, it felt fantastic. Erin brought home some ice cream in celebration. Yum.

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Seven and a half hours…. for one leg!

Tonight I went back in to Techshop and set everything back up again. It generally takes me an hour to get the TIG bay ready to rock. I had to grind the edges of the 2nd leg parts, clean them with Alumiprep 33, rinse with water, scrub with a stainless brush to remove the remaining oxides, and then clean with acetone a final time.

Grinding:

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You have to have aluminum as surgically clean as possible, with zero oxidation, before it’ll weld correctly. Any contamination and things go south very fast. I decided to clamp everything together tonight before I tack welded and it went much faster. I was able to tack weld around the perimeter of the whole piece in about an hour and a half, then remove the clamps and run beads in a couple of hours. All told, I finished the second leg in just about 5 hours. Much faster

And something funny happened a few hours into welding. Suddenly all of this practice I’ve been doing the last few weeks just…. clicked. When TIG welding, you have to control the torch angle and speed with your right hand, the distance of the tungsten rod to the surface (around 1/16th inch separation is really hard to hold), the angle and speed of the aluminum rod you’re dipping into the molten pool with your left hand, and the torch power with your foot. It’s a lot to keep track of and if you change one of the factors then the equation alters and the weld pool does weird things. Tonight I was like Daniel-san after waxing on/off Mr. Miagi’s car for hours. Suddenly it just got a lot easier and I was like Neo in the Matrix watching the bullets come down the hallway. It was weird and fun and exciting. As a result I put down some of my best weld beads I’ve ever done. I could watch the puddle form and actually control where it was going. Things were predictable and I had a more subconscious sense of what to do when things went a little wrong. It was like that feeling when, after months on training wheels, you take them off and your body just “knows” how to balance on a bike. I’m sure I got great weld penetration down into the metal and everything cooperated. I got it, and it was a blast.

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One funny thing happened, though, when a glob of molten aluminum dropped free from the leg and disappeared between the slats of the table down toward the floor. Hmm… hope that doesn’t hit anything important. I then smelled burning fabric for a few seconds, then nothing. So I kept on welding. Later I noticed a 3/4″ long scar right in the top of my new Zamberlain leather hiking boot! So my right boot toe has a brand from R2. It’s not very noticeable and didn’t do any structural damage and kinda makes me smile when I look at it. That mark has a story. Kind of like the scars you get on an adventure: some you love for the stories they tell. No biggie.

The worse one today was when I was finishing up a weld and used my left hand (the one holding the super hot aluminum dipping rod) to raise my welding hood. Unfortunately, the rod got caught on the mask, popped up under my hood, and smacked me right in the upper lip.

While semi-molten.

So now my upper lip has a nice little burn mark and blister right smack dab in the middle at the very top. The lower lip got hit as well but didn’t get burned as badly. I hollered and hopped around for a minute, ran some cold water on it, and then hit it with some burn cream with 2% lidocaine. It’s numb right now and will take several days to heal and probably won’t scar. The joke around the R2 builder’s board online is that R2 requires a blood sacrifice every so often. Guess it was time. Working with 160 amps and 12,000 degree plasma, though…. it could have been much worse.

So anyway, the leg welds are done! I’ll need to spend a day or two grinding them down, but this is a huge step that I’ve been stressing about for over a year. I never thought I’d be able to learn TIG welding and seriously considered jobbing it out. I’m really glad I stuck it out and did it myself. So satisfying.

Next step is the foot assemblies and then the battery boxes. There’s still a lot of welding in my future. Once all that is done I’ll grind everything down (I am not looking forward to that day…those days) and then back fill any minor holes with Lab Metal, then sand it to a decent finish. I’ll still be throwing the legs on the mill for various operations (tapping, some more drilling, etc), so I won’t go crazy on the finish work until they’re all done.

Still, a really good week, in spite of the sartorial and facial scars. I’m really proud of what I’ve done.

Onward.

June 1, 2016

Outer Ankle Solo Welding

Filed under: The R2 Project — jasony @ 7:37 pm

I spent another 4 hours at the TIG welder today (for a total of 34 hours) and did my first solo TIG part! I did one of the outer ankles and it took me the whole time.

Once I got all set up and ready I took the ankle layers into the machine shop and used the 90 degree jig and a flat plate to stack the parts so that they lined up exactly. One of the issues I discovered on the center ankle that I did with Keith last week was that I rushed the setup and the ankle is now just barely skewed. It’ll still fit its mounting bracket but I have to persuade it slightly. No big deal since the part that’s off is up inside next to the frame where you can’t see it. The outer ankles are much more visible so it was more important that I get those just right.

Once the layers were aligned and clamped tightly I brushed them with the stainless wire brush and then some acetone to get them perfectly clean, then I hit them with 150 amps of TIG POWER! Since the parts were room temperature, and since aluminum is such an incredible heat sink (ever wonder why your pans are aluminum?), I had to concentrate all of that power into a few spots for almost four minutes before the part heated up enough to start puddling. That part got hot. Unfortunately, the Lincoln 225 TIG machine I’m using is rated at a 40% duty cycle, and after about six minutes it went into overheat shutdown mode.

Whoops.

So I had to wait almost 10 minutes for the machine to cool down before I could continue welding. Fortunately, the ankle part is so dense that it lost heat slower than the welder cooled down. Otherwise it would have been a losing race. Still, I managed to overheat the machine two more times before I finally got into the groove. I’d weld a few lines (about 3″ per line), then put the torch down to let it cool a bit and inspect my work. Eventually I got the timing right and didn’t have any problems after that.

The end result is that I welded up the ankle to a good degree. There are still some holes but instead of torturing the part with super high heat for another hour or two (which can weaken aluminum), I’ll eventually fill the remaining v-grooves with Lab Metal and then Rage Pro body filler (high end Bondo).

I’m going to grind down the welds and inspect them to make sure that I got good penetration into the v-grooves. I was using 3/32″ 4043 filler rod but suspect that many of my welds are just on the surface. If, after welding, this turns out to be the case then I’ll have to go back in and re-weld so that the part is strong enough and I don’t get stress cracks once it’s painted.

For the other ankle I’m going to preheat the part in the powder coating oven until it hits a 200 degree surface temp, then move it to the welding bay and start TIGging it immediately. Hopefully then the welder won’t shut down and I can get the welds done sooner and not torture the poor part.

I won’t grind the welds down until I get my super breathing mask in from Amazon. I figured $24 was a small price to pay for not inhaling aluminum dust.

After the ankles are done I’ll move on to the leg boxes, which look to be slightly easier (less heat-sink-ey since there’s less metal) as well as more harrowing since I haven’t been walked through the part by Keith. But I’m slowly gaining confidence and know what to look for. I might practice on some 1/4″ first, though, to see how it behaves. I’ll be right next to the edge the whole time and don’t want to blow an edge out. Oy.

I can say that the last 30+ hours has been tremendously educational, and Keith’s help was very, very appreciated. He wouldn’t take any money for helping me after I told him that I’d like to take R2 to a Children’s hospital. He just flat refused (he’s a softy). So I’m donating $50 in his name to the St. Jude’s Cancer Center via Baylor Tri Delta (that’s their sorority charity). I’m sure Keith will cry when I give him the card. 🙂

In the meantime, here are some pics from my work today. Pretty happy with progress, though it remains to be seen if those welds are deep enough.

IMG 2226

IMG 2227

Ankle attached to leg box! Box still has to be welded up.
IMG 2228

May 31, 2016

Education

Filed under: Education — jasony @ 8:13 pm

Oberlin students say bad grades are getting in the way of activism:

“The New Yorker claims that more than 1,300 students recently signed a petition calling for the college to eliminate any grade lower than a ‘C’.
The students complain that it is not fair to grade them on their performance in class because they are so distracted by their activism…

…Last December, for instance, Campus Reform reported that student protesters had submitted a list of demands to their school’s president, including one calling for hourly monetary compensation for activists.

Earlier this year, activist students at Brown University voiced similar complaints, saying their schoolwork was interfering with their activism efforts.”

May 30, 2016

R2 – First Welds!

Filed under: Uncategorized — jasony @ 9:06 am

I met with Keith at Techshop yesterday for a 2 hour TIG welding master class. The guy is a riot of old-school enthusiasm and energy and I learned a lot from him. At the starts of the session I showed him my practice welds (I have a plate of about 20 welds on it that I’m particularly proud of) and wanted to spend the time taking about the pieces I’d brought and how I would eventually weld them together. What does he see when he sees those pieces? How does an experienced welder view a part? What’s the best approach for clamping? What about cool down time?

He’d have none of this “planning” stuff.

Instead, he looked at my test piece with approval, said “you can weld”, then chucked the test piece aside, grabbed the horseshoe pieces, and said “you’re going to weld this…. right now”.

And so I did.

He did the first couple of tack welds to hold the part together, get things heated up (welding a part is much easier when it’s already hot), and generally give me a start, and then he handed me the torch and we went after it. If I made a slight mistake he jumped in and either corrected it or talked me through how to fix it, and then handed the torch back to me.

Over the next two hours we welded up the horse shoe and then aligned and welded up the center ankle. I feel really good about how things went, especially considering the fact that I didn’t think I’d be working on actual parts for a few weeks. Keith is a “get ‘er done” sort of guy that encourages students to jump in there and start even if they don’t know everything. I’m much more careful about parts that I’ve spent months and lots of money making, but Keith is kind of a whirlwind that you just get sucked up behind.

The hardest part of the process was the angles and orientation. I’d been planning on carefully laying out the parts so that the joint to be welded was flat and parallel to the ground. That way I could approach the weld exactly like I’ve done each weld in practice. Keith’s attitude was this is real welding! and he’d proceed to put the joint at some funky angle and then challenge me to do it. Sideways, angled, even upside-down at one point! Really awkward and tough stuff. And this was on my actual parts! It really freaked me out, but like I said, he was there to correct things when I got them wrong.

And boy,did I ugly up some of the welds. Black, splotchy, butt-ugly welds. They’re strong enough, sure, but I’ll be spending some real quality time with the grinder once I clean them up. Keith kept saying “don’t worry! You’ll improve!” and I kept saying “but I could do this if we could just lay it out flat!”. He’s respond with “no way! This is REAL welding!” and then make me bend myself into some impossible orientation to get ‘er done. It was stressful, but I learned a lot from the experience. The chief thing I learned was that, unless you completely destroy the metal with heat, you can fix just about any bad weld. Keith didn’t do much cleaning or anything and still managed some good welds. We talked pedal control, getting REALLY close to the puddle (he was probably 1/32nd from the weld with the tungsten!), using a different tungsten (I’d been using the red 2% thoriated and he recommended the purple 2% seriated because it holds a cleaner and more consistent arc), speed, power (150 amps!) and other stuff.

I got a couple of decent tingle/zaps from the setup when my left hand got soaked with sweat inside the glove. With 150 amps of 6v electricity, even with protective gear, getting a damp hand in the current can cause some discomfort. It didn’t hurt as much as it was just unpleasant. Some tingling like touching a 9 volt with your tongue. Lesson here is to take breaks and make sure you’re dry. But that’s hard to do when you’re in the Keith whirlwind.

So I’ve got both horse shoes welded and the center ankle. I’m going to mill up a special part for the center ankle to reinforce the mounting holes. I don’t think the 1/8″ of aluminum there is strong enough if R2 hits a good bump. It’s technically an “off spec” part but it’ll be hidden underneath R2 way up inside along the bottom of the frame so I don’t care. Better that than have the whole ankle shear away. An extra 1/4″ of aluminum there should work nicely.

No pics on these parts yet. I can’t have my expensive iPhone in my pocket when I weld lest I zap it. And usually I’m so tired and grubby after a 4 hour session that I just want to get home and take a shower. I’ll take pics later.

Next step is to do the outer ankles. I feel really good about my approach now that I’ve watched Keith do it. Then I’ll weld up the leg assemblies and then maybe the feet. I’ll leave the battery boxes for the end since they’re going to be a real challenge to align and tack up without them warping all over the place. Slowly, slowly.

Onward!

May 23, 2016

R2 Aluminum Pile

Filed under: The R2 Project — jasony @ 9:29 am

That’s a great big old pile of aluminum:

IMG 2199

What you’re seeing here are all the aluminum parts I’ve milled, water jetted, lathed, and otherwise mashed up since last September (really since about February). 

Starting from the left are the leg boxes, horseshoes, ankles (bottom left), battery boxes, and ankle bracelets. Then on the right hand side are the feet (all spread out on the table).

I opted to let Big Blue Saw cut the water jet files for the feet since it wasn’t that much of a premium and since they would replace any pieces that were messed up. Overall I think this was the wiser course even if it wasn’t immediately cheaper. It was cheaper in the case of the water jet making a mistake (something that happens about 10% of the time at TechShop). Even so, there are 90+ pieces of the feet (center foot and two outer feet) that have to be welded.

And oh, the welding. Most of the above pieces except for the horseshoe at the upper left still need to be TIG welded. There are 174 remaining pieces that will need to be cleaned, aligned, clamped, and TIG welded. I’m not sure of the total length of welds but it’s a lot and I’m sure I’ll be at it for months. Fortunately, except for two pieces, all of the machining and cutting is pretty much done for this year. Once the feet are welded I have to cut some pipe to size and then lathe, cut, and mill out a weird piece. Then once all of what you see here is done I’ll begin designing and cutting/welding the foot motor mounts. I think I’m going to do those custom but I’m still thinking about it. That’s for later.

My goal is to finish all of this by September but I still don’t have a good handle on how long the welding will take. I’m going to put in a few more 4 hour sessions practicing before I try and tackle an expensive-to-replace part. I’m going to hopefully get a one-on-one lesson with Keith at TechShop this weekend. He’s the good welder from my previous posts (one of the best in Austin). Then I’ll go through the pile of parts and start welding up assemblies from easiest to hardest, thereby gaining experience as I go. I suspect the battery boxes are going to be the hardest so they’ll be last.

I’m thinking that I’ll end up missing my September deadline as things progress since I haven’t even included time to correct the leg boxes on the mill (long story for a future post), drill and tap holes for mounting the horseshoes, drill out the ankles and install bushings (no idea how to do that), and probably spend two or three long sessions making the funky curved parts for the outer feet. Oh, and I also need to research how to remove anodization with a lye bath. Got some industrial strength lye (and a pile ‘o protective gear) to remove that but I’ll need to do a practice session on some scrap to make sure I have the procedure down correctly. 

Then it’s on to the foot motor assemblies, which I’m kind of looking forward to. I’ll need to commit to the motors (I’m thinking a pair of NPC2112 motors — they’re pricey but they represent “real” robotics motors instead of hacked up scooter motors). I’ll get those soon and then start designing the motor mounts. The feet need to be welded up first, though, so that I can make sure that I have enough clearance inside the shells.

Going to TechShop this morning for a 4 hour TIG practice session. I’m running out of scrap and will probably drop by Metals4U and get some .125” pieces (hopefully from their scrap pile) to continue practicing.

May 12, 2016

Harvard’s clueless Illiberalism

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 8:54 am

Harvard’s clueless illiberalism – The Washington Post: “Touring early America, Alexis de Tocqueville marveled at the people’s propensity to form associations for every purpose under the sun: ‘religious, moral, grave, futile, very general and very particular, immense and very small . . . to give fêtes, to found seminaries, to build inns, to raise churches, to distribute books, to send missionaries to the antipodes.’

Associational proliferation buttressed individual freedom, Tocqueville believed. As he explained, private groups are nimbler at orchestrating cultural and social life — ‘maintain[ing] and renew[ing] the circulation of sentiments and ideas’ — than government could ever be.

States ‘exercise an insupportable tyranny, even without wishing to, for a government knows only how to dictate precise rules; it imposes the sentiments and the ideas that it favors, and it is always hard to distinguish its counsels from its orders,’ he wrote.

Harvard University’s administrators should read Tocqueville’s book ‘Democracy in America.’ Their institution is not, strictly speaking, a state — it’s more of a state within a state, up there in Cambridge, Mass. In every other way, the school’s new crackdown on fraternities, sororities and a local variant, ‘final clubs,’ epitomizes the clueless illiberalism against which the French sociologist warned.

Harvard has concluded that, in response to sexual assault and other manifestations of gender inequity, it must reform campus culture. Single-gender social organizations are unavoidably discriminatory, President Drew Gilpin Faust noted, ‘in many cases enacting forms of privilege and exclusion,’ contrary to what Harvard stands for.

Being private, self-funded and, technically, off-campus, the groups can’t be banned; but they can, and will, be discouraged and stigmatized. Starting with the class admitted in 2017, no student members of single-gender fraternities, sororities or final clubs may hold ‘leadership positions’ in Harvard’s hundreds of officially ‘recognized’ undergraduate organizations. Nor may they apply for fellowships, such as the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships, that require an official college endorsement.”

Read the whole thing.

It’s interesting to me that suddenly the various groups who have been in favor of limiting freedoms they don’t agree with have suddenly become outraged when their own particular ox is up for goring. This has been the (sadly missed) point of the voices who have spoken out against Social Justice Warriors and anti-free speech people lately. What’s become of “I don’t agree with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it?”. It’s been flushed down the PC toilet. And now the next step is to deny under penalty of economic sanction the freedom of association that we take for granted in America.

And just so I preempt the people would would say “but Harvard is private! They can do whatever they want! Freedom of association is only a government thing!”: you don’t really get the bigger point here? But don’t worry, your ox is up for goring next.

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