Padd Solutions

Converted by Falcon Hive

Farewell http://me.clustur.com.

This week I decided to move over my blog to Blogger for a few reasons, but the main ones boiled down to spam and the inconvenience of hosting my own blog.

The spam problem was outrageous, I would leave my blog for a week only to find literally hundreds of spam comments. I'd write a script to weed out the new spam comments and I'd improve the anti-spam measures and CAPTCHA's. The next week the same exact thing would happen. Note to self and others: CAPTCHA's do nothing against determined spammers. I could require people to create accounts with my blog in order to comment, but who would go to the trouble to sign up just to comment?

I also got a little tired of keeping up a server for this blog. Our internet and power go out way to much for me to trust anything on my sites. My poor little server could never keep up when a site experienced the Digg or Reddit effect, either. I also found out the hard way that server motherboards will not survive nearby strikes of lightning. That was fun.


Well, it's been real. Let's take a moment to pour over all the great memories we used to have together:


OK enough of that. We live in the present. Over the next week or so, I'll be phasing out the site and eventually shutting it down, with the exception of a few data folders that might need to stay up. This is the first post not on the old blog. Here's to change for the better.
How a simple experiment reveals that colleges could care less about personal curiosity, and why they should care more.

If you’ve ever opened up a college application before, you know that the space for non-academic accomplishments is very minimal. I was able to fit only a few of such projects (eg. my websites and homebrew hydrogen rocket) in the provided college-application field. I decided to put the rest of my extra-curricular learning experiences online for colleges to click on. I compiled a list of the almost 100 other projects that I’ve completed in high school, and uploaded it to the Internet. I pasted the link to the “Additional Info” section of my applications, informing readers to please click on it to have a look at the many projects I’ve completed outside of class. I hit submit, and waited to hear back from the colleges. What happened next was interesting, startling, and most of all, scary:

When I threw that list up on the Internet, I sneakily knew all along that I would be able to track which college clicks on my link and when, by analyzing Apache logs and IP addresses. I checked these statistics every few weeks, and each time I grew more and more irritated with the entire admissions process. I had applied to 12 universities, including some known for their comprehensive admission process, and I was not seeing any clicks. A month went by. No clicks. Another month rolled around. Still, no clicks. It was now March, the month when most people find out their decisions, and no college cared enough to even look once at the strongest feature (in my opinion) of my application. This link was bold and impossible to miss. Obviously, the admission officers had been deciding to skip over my out of school accomplishments, as I had feared. By the time April 1st arrived, when my last school issued a decision, I had a grand total of 1 click. That’s right, a single click.

I will refrain from going into which colleges accepted me, because frankly, it adds nothing to my point. This article should serve as an observational study, not a complaint. The truth is, colleges are skipping over important information that matters a lot more than any score or grade or award. This system cheats everyone involved. The poorer students in schools with less opportunity for AP classes and test preparation get left in the dust. Those who spend their high school lives working towards the ‘ideal’ college admission resume (in other words, most upper class high school students) get cheated the most. They arrive in their trophy college having no practical experience and start way behind. Those noble few who do try to pursue individual interest outside of school also get cheated by the system. They get minimal recognition for it in the admission process and might wind up at a school not particularly well equipped for their curiosity. Above all, colleges cheat themselves by not accepting the truly passionate students who would excel in both college and the real world. (the type of people who would later donate millions to their alma mater, hint hint.) Think Richard Stallman, Steve Jobs, Linus Torvalds, Bill Gates. All of these world shakers had one thing in common: they all started hacking on electronics and computers long before they applied to college.

The entire college system faces a multitude of problems, but this one stands out as one of the most serious. If you work in admission, please take note. If you would like to read more about other aspects of these growing problems, I encourage you to pick up a copy of The Price of Admission (ISBN 978-1400097975). A friend of mine in the open-source scene also wrote a compelling paper on education in general and the problems associated with it. His name is Alex Gaynor, and his paper can be found at http://alexgaynor.net/2009/dec/02/a-few-thoughts-on-education/.

Disclaimer: Do not receive this essay as a rant on any particular institution. At the same time, I am not generalizing my ponderings to the entire education system. There are the honorable exceptions.

P.S: Thank you, UT Knoxville, for being the ONLY university thoughtful enough to click the link. I look forward to becoming a Vol next year.
I've been working on a new site on and off for the past month and the fruit of my labor has finally surfaced: hotsteeze.com.

Hotsteeze is an action sports site for logging (and sharing, if you want) tricks that you have learned. Skateboarding and other action sports, ever since they began, have been very disorganized. The best collection of tricks up to now has been all the videos scattered throughout YouTube. I've been working on cataloging as many tricks as possible. Hopefully, the database of tricks will provide a more conductive environment for discovering new tricks to learn.

Hotsteeze still has a long way to go to get to where I picture it being, but I hope to continue work on it for a long time.
I've been looking at "Code" again, and I decided to design functioning CPUs from what I learned in it. Normally CPUs are designed in HDLs such as VHDL and Verilog, but these languages take transistors out of the equation. Since it would be my first CPU, I decided to use Logisim because it had more of a simulation interface and let design with individual transistors. I put the fruits of my labor on my Github. The last design still needs a little of work, but all the other designs are fully functioning.



My next project is to design a more complex CPU using Verilog. I'll write up a dedicated post on it once I make more progress. For the time being you can follow the work at this Github page. I'm also planning on writing low-level code for the Beagleboard XM I got as a Christmas present.

Have an old black and white TV sitting around? I got mine after winning a raffle and it sat around for about a year unused until I decided to hack it up.

Background

Cathode ray tubes use magnetic deflection to influence the direction of the electron beam. The phosphor-coated screen emits light when it's hit by the beam. There are two electromagnets surrounding the tube - one for vertical motion and another for horizontal motion. As it turns out, these electromagnets are surprisingly easy to hack. There are a few tutorials on instructables for this, but I figured I would make my own anyways.

Words of caution

Isn't it fun when the warning section is as long as the howto section? Before I tell you to open up the TV, let me just say that TVs can be DEADLY if not handled correctly. There are high voltage capacitors in them that can hold a lethal charge for weeks after being unplugged. Don't risk it. They have the potential to severely shock you if you don't discharge them. There are many guides on the internet for this. You have been warned. This may be obvious, but note that the regular channels won't work unless you make some sort of switch or solder the wires back to where they were before. In other words, don't hack hack up grandma's old bunny-ear TV and think she won't notice next time she wants to watch Lifetime.

Git 'r done

On to the fun stuff: Open up the TV, and make sure the capacitors are discharged. Now find the magnetic deflectors and there should be 4 wires coming from them (2 for each of the 2 electromagnets). Cut these wires close to the TV's circuit board. Now you have the wires to control the beam. You can do whatever you want with them. I chose to thread them through a hole on the top of my TV hook them up to a connector. Once the TV is put back together, turn it on and you should see a single white dot in the middle of the screen. Don't leave this running unpowered for very long because a concentrated electron beam can burn the phosphor. This effect might even be intensified with larger TV's so be extra careful with those. Now hook up the deflector wires to a music source. I wouldn't hook it up to an iPod due to current issues, but a stereo works fine. It's possible to hook up a single channel to both the horizontal and vertical deflectors, or you can hook up the right and left channels to different ones. Play with the stereo's volume knob to get the deflection amplitude right. The final product should look like this:

Future improvements

Instead of only hooking up music sources and getting that crazy ellipse pattern, try hooking up a sawtooth generator to one axis. This will give you a cool oscilloscope-ish device like this. I bought a sawtooth-generating-IC for this purpose but I never got around to hooking it up to the CRT. Maybe I will soon...
Perhaps my favorite project I've ever worked on is my hydrogen rocket. The craze started when I stumbled upon an article by Dean Wheeler about launching bottle rockets that used hydrogen combustion rather than a bicycle pump for power. I had already finished a reliable hydrogen generator, so I figured this was a good project to put it to use. I didn't have access to some tools and materials that he did, but I found some other solutions that made it work. I'll document my findings here because I believe these types of bottle rockets do not receive the attention they deserve. As far as I know, Dean Wheeler's article and mine are the only two guides about these rockets available.

NOTE: The oxyhydrogen gas described in this howto is often incorrectly called HHO and even Brown's gas. Nevertheless, the term HHO is widely used and it's a good abbreviation. Oxyhydrogen gas is essentially the 2 to 1 mixture of H2 and O2 created by the electrolysis of water. Unlike the ignition of hydrocarbons that also produce CO2, ignition of this gas produces only water and energy, nothing else. It is the purest form of combustion.

The rocket


The rocket is separated into three logical sections:
  • The fins, which screw onto the bottom
  • The combustion chamber, made out of a regular soda bottle
  • The nose cone, which can carry a payload and absorb impact

The fins

On many bottle rockets the fins are glued directly to the pressure chamber. This is mostly because bottle rocket launchers need access to the bottle's flange to hold it until launch. When I tried this method, I found that the hot glue I used weakened the combustion chamber because it slightly melted it. This never caused any catastrophic failures for me, but I still think it's not a very elegant solution. Anyways, this method is not necessary for hydrogen rockets since there is no pressure until it goes boom, so therefore the rocket does not need to be held in place. I decided to go with a modular fin design instead so I could easily change out fins, and switch them from rocket to rocket. The main body of the fin is made out of a film canister. I hollowed out the bottom with a Dremel so it was more of a pipe than a container. Similarly, I also hollowed out the screw cap so it looks like a ring but still has the threading. This screw cap ring fits nicely in the hollowed film canister, and I glued it in place with hot glue. Next you need to add the fins to the fin body. I bought some spare tupperware containers that I could use to cut out some nice and flat plastic fin shapes. I glued three fins onto the fin body at a slight angle. This angle is critical for gyroscopic stability because it spins the rocket during flight. It truly means the difference between a 50 meter and a 5 meter flight. Here are some pictures of the fins and how they attach to the rocket:


The combustion chamber

The combustion chamber needs to be able to withstand significant pressure, but only for the short period of time after ignition and expulsion of the water. My combustion chamber is simply a Mountain Dew bottle. Thats all. Other soda bottles will work, but never use water bottles because they often have thin plastic and a flimsy design since they are not built for carbonation. You can decorate your rocket however you want, but there are a few marks that you should add after some experimentation: the recommended oxyhydrogen and air mixtures. You will find out what these marks are for later in the launch process section. Go ahead and mark the "HHO" line 5cm down and the "air" line 10cm down.

The nose cone

The nose cone has several different functions. For starters, it makes the rocket more aerodynamic because otherwise it would be the butt end of the combustion chamber being forced through the air. Secondly, the nose cone adds a place to store a payload. Finally, the nose serves as a crunch zone to absorb the impact of 'landing' without damaging or weakening the combustion chamber. I use the term 'landing' loosely because the landing process is essentially a free fall then a crash. In theory the nose cone could be used to house a parachute system and avoid the 'landing' problem, but I have not attempted this. My nose cone is made out of the top part of another Mountain Dew bottle. I secure it to the combustion chamber bottle with electrical tape. You can store whatever payload you want by unscrewing the top and putting something in there. I found that the rocket can get better altitude if it has some weight (maybe about 50 grams) in the nose cone. If the rocket has no extra weight, the air drag will slow it down quickly.

The launcher

 
The launcher was the hardest part of the project to build. Dean Wheeler's design was much more elegant in my opinion, but there were some elements that I did not know how to build or did not have the tools to. Here are the parts you need to build the launcher (excluding basic tools like a saw and drill):
  • 1/2 inch PVC pipe
  • A small section of pipe that fits around the 1/2 inch PVC
  • 4 PVC end caps
  • 3 PVC T-joints
  • Wire
  • 4 ring terminals (2 for the exterior 2 for the interior)
  • Tubing to carry the gas (I used aquarium tubing)
The size of the PVC launch tube and supports does not have any exact size, but the smaller the better. You will find out later that the smaller the volume inside the launcher, the less time it takes to get the oxyhydrogen flowing. Also not that the launcher itself does not have to be pressure-safe. Only the combustion chamber and the tip of the launch tube will be under any pressure during launch.

Igniter

The wiring in the launcher is for the igniter at the top:

 
Two wires go from two different arms of the base and meet at the end of the vertical launch tube. They are sealed in with a fat blob of hot glue. These wires can provide a source of ignition in two ways. The easiest way for me is to just get a tiny steel strand from an SOS cleaning pad to act as a fuse that burns out:

 
Another source of ignition is using a gas grill sparking igniter that can be found at a hardware store. I found that these don't work well with long and thin wires because the spark jumped within the wire instead of at the end where I wanted it. If you want to use this method, which in theory is easier and more reliable, pick up some heavily-insulated wire. You might be wondering about the purpose of my ring terminals. They are just an airtight way to connect the external wire to the wires on the inside. I drilled a hole through two PVC end caps for both of the connections. To make a connection, I got a bolt and first threaded the external ring terminal (wire already crimped, obviously). Next I added the actual PVC end cap, and finally the internal ring terminal. A nut holds everything tightly together and keeps it airtight. Add some rubber as an extra layer in between for an even better seal.

 
 
I'll admit the inside is not a pretty sight after 2 years. This brings me to another point: use stainless steel whenever possible.

Tubing

The tubing is nothing crazy. The tube just goes right into the launcher and the gasses are pushed all the way up to a tiny hole drilled on the side of the vertical launch tube:

 
The best method would be to hook the tube directly to that tiny hole. This would avoid having all that dead space between the tube end and the hole, but I couldn't think of a good way to do it.

Ring stop

Pretty self explanatory. Just cut a pipe whose inner diameter is just greater than the launch tube's outer diameter, and put a screw in it. This holds the rocket at the right height until blast off.

The launch process

  1. Turn on the electrolysis unit and hook it up to the launcher, without the rocket on it. This helps clear out the air inside the launcher pipes so that when we do put on the rocket, it will be pure oxyhydrogen and not the residual air.
     
     
  2. Wrap a fuse to the ignition wires
     
     
  3. Fill the rocket with water
     
     
  4. Put the rocket on the launcher, with the hydrogen still flowing. Obviously, you can't just flip the rocket rightside up and put it on or the water would spill out the bottom. Instead, keep the rocket upside down and flip over the entire launcher and put the launch tube in the rocket's nozzle. Just be careful not to mess up the ignition fuse set up earlier. Now it's safe to flip everything over.
     
     
  5. The displaced water will trickle out of the bottom at this time. Let the oxyhydrogen bubble in through the small hole until the water level reaches the "HHO" line. Then disconnect the oxyhydrogen tube.


     
     
  6. Now hook up the tube to an air pump and add air until the water level reaches the "air" line. Then disconnect the tube.
     
     
  7. Take the launcher to the launch location while unreeling the wire. Don't waste time during this part because the water sometimes slowly leaks out. Run back to the end of the wire and hook it up to a power source. This will blow out the fuse and ignite the hydrogen. BLASSST OFFF!!!!!11 The flight time is usually around 7 seconds and the apogee is roughly 200ft for my model. The easiest way to calculate maximum altitude is to just time the flight and use the classic freefall equations.

Simulation

To calculate the temperature and pressure after combustion, use this thermodynamic model. The most comprehensive simulator for water rockets I've found is here. Help files located here. It was made in the stone age of DOS but it works nonetheless (plus it gives me an excuse to use my Windows VM). Simulation is good because it can help you find the optimum water to gas ratio. It also gives you some fun stats: According to the model, my rocket has a max speed of 56m/s (125mph) and and a max acceleration of 2472.5m/s^2 (250Gs). Don't put your astronauts in this one!

Later tinkering

Without a parachute, the rocket darts back to earth at a surprising (and somewhat intimidating) velocity. I found that if it fell through a tree or landed wrong, one of the fins could break off. So one innovation I made was to replace the rigid hot glue join for the fin with simply tape so it would be flexible and easily replaced. Using tape is definitely easier, but hot glue is probably still the optimal join.

Future visions

  • I think putting an altitude-triggered parachute system would be really cool in this case. I've thought about it but never really done anything with it.
  • Mad props to anyone who can build such a rocket out of metal. This could handle a larger oxyhydrogen concentration for extra thrust. I think I saw an aluminum beer bottle that had potential. Those fancy Sigg drinking bottles too?

Danger danger!

  • Without a parachute this thing is essentially a missile when it falls down, so keep an eye out!
  • Do not shoot at living creatures or other humans, although there's nothing wrong with some good fun ;-)
  • If there is a misfire, approach with caution and make sure the source of ignition is disconnected.
  • Don't skimp on ignition cable. My first try I used only about 4 meters of wire and my rocket blew up. In case you are wondering, I survived.

Common problems

If you need a demonstration of things that can go wrong, see this video. The guy managed to cover just about all of them in one launch attempt. I don't have much room to talk since my first launch went no better than his did (see picture below). Just keep in mind that getting a working design can be difficult and will certainly need some tinkering to fix problems:

Catastrophic malfunction (boom)

  
If your rocket blows up, don't be discouraged. It happened to me on my first launch attempt (pictured above). There are two main problems that can cause an explosion rather than a launch. First of all, make sure the oxyhydrogen is diluted with air. If you do not dilute the mixture, your plastic rocket will explode for sure. Secondly, you could be using a bottle not built to withstand pressure. Flimsy water bottles like the one above will fail very easily. My first launch attempt had both of the problems described above.

Help

I'm sure I haven't covered everything in this article so if you have any more questions just post them in the comments. I'll get around to answering them as soon as possible. Peace out and happy rocketeering!

It took me many many tries to design a reliable and cheap way to produce the hydrogen I needed. There are literally tons of videos of other people's designs on YouTube (just search for 'HHO generator', 'electrolysis', or 'hydrogen generator'), but some of the parts and processes were just out of reach for my budget. Some used custom-cut steel that was expensive to order. I finally found an interesting method that used off-the-shelf wall plates that were stainless steel. This video was the one that really gave me the idea. sirHOAX does a lot of great work with generators like these.

Anyways, stainless steel is a must otherwise you will end up with a brown soup of nastiness (iron oxide) after just a few minutes. I picked up a few of these wall plates from Lowes. I used a blank wall plate, but I also found a double-sized wall plate that would also work if someone wants more output from their generator. As soon as I got these I used a reamer to enlarge one hole per wall plate (the hole where the screw normally fits through) to about 1.5-2cm in diameter. This is so that I can bolt the plates together. One bolt for each terminal. The reaming process was long and rubbed blisters on my hand, but I managed (it was nowhere near the work I put into hand-sawing my wind turbine blades later). I had three wall plates in all, and one terminal happened to get two wall plates while the other got one. It doesn't really matter that much.

After reaming out holes, make sure to sand the plates so there is maximum surface area for electrolysis to take place. Then assemble the plates like sirHOAX does in the video. As with all designs, you will probably have to improvise since not everyone has the same materials. Here is how my plates turned out:


As you can see the washer I used has become very corroded, and eventually it will need to be replaced. If possible, use stainless steel for every metal part of the generator. Also shown in the above pictures is the tupperware container I mounted them in. Use the containers that have locking seals. If you use a normal container that just presses on, you will have leaks and the whole top might even pop off. Here's a closeup of how I mounted the plates:


I cut off a square of rubber band and poked a hole through it. I then put this in between the lid plastic and the nut. This ensures a watertight seal even though there are two holes in the lid. I also drilled a hole in the top of the lid to provide a port for the HHO. Ideally there would be one of these nozzles that hoses can attach to, but I didn't have one so I just force the clear hose through the hole:


You can use ordinary tap water for this, but if you need more production you can add baking soda as an electrolyte. I normally put two teaspoons of baking soda per liter. Salt also works but it precipitates this nasty green stuff. Don't use it. Next, just hook the generator up to a power supply suitable for your generator. Here is my setup before being switched on:


Flip the switch on the power supply and out comes a stream of HHO (perfect for igniting):