Episode 92 — Garage Gear

garagegearAdam, Brian, Carmen and Jeff discuss tools they use for utility and enjoyment at home, where the cost-to-quality evaluation is slightly different than in the workplace.

  • Jeff’s collection of tools is rather ancient, as suggested by his 35 year old corded Craftsman drill, and his 20 year old cordless Mikata drill with rapidly fading batteries.
  • Going to big box stores (Home Depot, Lowe’s, etc.) a week or two after Black Friday is Brian’s suggestion for getting tools at a good price.
  • A hot air gun is useful for stripping paint, melting solder, constricting heat shrink, thawing ice, and bending plastic sheet.
  • Brian’s friend successfully removed 150 year old paint using a heat gun and a 5-in-1 painter’s tool.
  • It’s hard to beat the utility of locking pliers, better known as Vice-Grips.
  • While Jeff finds his Dremel rotary tool to be extremely practical, Brian has only succeeded in using his to “wreck” projects.
  • A router table accessory has increased the usefulness of Adam’s Dremel tool.
  • For larger scale projects, Brian and Adam find their angle grinders make short work of cutting and grinding tasks.
  • Carmen built his workbench using the 2×4 Basics system by Hopkins Manufacturing.
  • Butcher block countertops can be found at IKEA, although they are also available from other sources.
  • Many common tools can be found at Harbor Freight, Northern Tool, and Tractor Supply.
  • Supposedly, the average electrical drill is only used for a few minutes over its lifetime, although a valid study citation seems hard to locate.
  • Carmen is happy with his Harbor Freight Big Red tool chest, which is said to deliver good bang for the buck.
  • Adam Savage’s first order retrievability metric has led him to develop some very innovative toolboxes.
  • You can compare your desk layout with that of others in the Workbenches and Battlestations reddits.
  • Carmen alerts us to some well-considered workbench tips from Jeff Duntemann.
  • An impact driver has proven a useful tool for Carmen and Brian. Versions from Milwaukee and Craftsman are mentioned.
  • Although Brian believes no shop is complete without a Bridgeport mill, Jeff notes any big piece of equipment must be used regularly to balance the accompanying maintenance and opportunity costs.
  • Adam opines that one’s first drill purchase should be a corded drill, as it is not subject to changes in battery technology.
  • Rigol oscilloscopes are plenty good, say Brian and Carmen, for most home electronics projects.
  • Some improvements can be made to the Rigol scopes, however, if one has a sense of adventure.
  • A digital multi-meter (DMM) is a useful for troubleshooting most household electrical problems.
  • Common communication protocols for microcontroller-level devices include Serial Peripheral Interface (SPI) and Inter-Integrated Circuit (I2C), or “I-squared C.”
  • The Digilent Analog Discovery USB Oscilloscope is recommended by Carmen as being one of the better USB scopes. This model has also been reviewed on EEVblog by Dave Jones.
  • A ball-grid array (BGA) surface mount device uses small spheres on the bottom of the device to make electrical connections with the circuit board.
  • Brian has had good luck with low-temperature solder paste, available from Digi-Key.
  • Reciprocating saws, often referred to by the trade name Sawzall, have been put to good use by Adam and Jeff.

Thanks to Mark Hunter for the photo titled “Bosch GSB 16 RE Impact Drill.” Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 91 — Home Automation

homeautomationThis episode of The Engineering Commons finds the guys discussing the technologies, toys, and tribulations associated with wiring one’s home to the internet.

  • Carmen is holding off on constructing his own JARVIS (Just A Rather Very Intelligent System) personal assistant until he can construct it using nothing but solder and transistor-transistor logic (TTL).
  • Fermilab’s Main Injector Neutrino Oscillation Search (MINOS) project is cited by Brian when the subject of underground tunnels arises.
  • Neutrino oscillation is a quantum mechanical phenomenon in which a neutrino’s flavor (electron, muon or tau) varies as the neutrino moves through space.
  • Home automation underwent a sea change when the Nest thermostat was introduced, according to Brian.
  • Pushing the buttons on early TV remotes (specifically the Zenith Space Commander models) caused aluminum rods to be mechanically struck, thereby producing ultrasonic tones the television tuner could detect. (YouTube video)
  • We discover why VHF band TV channels go from 2 to 13; and thus why we no longer find Channel 1 on our television sets.
  • Carmen seems to recall a “documentary” called The Flintstones chronicling the use of dinosaurs to remotely change TV channels.
  • A sound-activated switch, called The Clapper, first appeared on the market in 1986. TV ads for the device included a “catchy” jingle.
  • Brian remembers Clapper ads running in series with TV ads for Life Alert, a service that would contact emergency services on behalf of it’s (usually elderly) clients.
  • Based on the recommendation of a friend, and not having any other reference to guide his decision, Brian started his home automation efforts using the Insteon ecosystem.
  • One early home networking protocol still in use is X10, which transmits information across power lines.
  • Split-phase electric power systems, common in the US, cause potential communication difficulties for X10 networks, as signals may not propagate between the two live legs emerging from the transformer secondary (output).
  • Although it once received a great deal of hype, the technology of supplying broadband over power lines (BPL) never really took off.
  • One means for transmitting digital data over telephone lines is digital subscriber loop, or DSL.
  • Microchip has recently introduced new products for communicating via the LoRaWAN protocol.
  • WiFi allows broadband communication over a substantial distance, but requires a great deal of power.
  • A low-power version of Bluetooth is known as Bluetooth LE, or Bluetooth Smart.
  • Smart home automation hubs allow devices of differing communication protocols to work together under the direction of a single controller.
  • ZigBee and Z-Wave are networking protocols used for controlling home automation devices.
  • We ponder the home automation technologies used in Bill Gates’ mansion, which is wired with 52 miles of fiber optic cable.
  • ZigBee has recently announced a new standard, ZigBee 3.0, that is intended to unify the various “flavors” of ZigBee networking technology.
  • The Amazon Echo can be used to control home automation devices with voice commands.
  • A recent episode of the This is Only a Test podcast discussed the Amazon Echo.

Thanks to Kristin Sloan for the photo titled “August 01, 2015 at 11:29AM.” Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 90 — Traffic Engineering

trafficAdam leads us through some key concepts related to traffic engineering in this episode of The Engineering Commons podcast.

Thanks to Prayitno Hadinata for the photo titled “LA traffic jam = daily occurence!” Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.

Practical insights for the engineering crowd