Sounds like a plan.

Depart: Pegasus Ice Runway, Antarctica ~ February 25, 2006
Arrive: Boulder, Colorado - May 27, 2006

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Spring has finally sprung around here - had a few rainy days followed by sun, now suddenly everything has turned green! Lots and lots of pollen around too, so that's kind of a downer...or maybe it's the benedryl that's a downer?

Spent yesterday morning playing around with the USB stepper controller thingy - put the last bits of it together and it worked as intended, so that's cool. Will see about getting the multi-axis aspect of the project breadboarded tomorrow most likely and take it from there. Yesterday evening we had an end-of-season get together over at the Josh and Leigh's (aka Profile and Almanac) place in Dahlonega, had a nice time hanging out with a bunch of friends until late, then ended up sleeping over there. Josh and Leigh have put together a really nice hostel over the last couple years, highly recommend it to anyone who's heading out for a backpacking trip in North GA!

Anyways, got up for a nice breakfast followed by a little bit of beekeeping out at Josh's new apiary, fun stuff! Cruised back to the house and basically got back into geek mode. Since I've been messing with these USB IO chips, I threw together an interface to run my dad's CNC table off a USB connection then wrote a quick driver to run it. Nice to be able to run the thing with a modern computer, our old system was dependant on an ISA IO card that's older than me, and a bunch of code dad wrote that's even older than that. At any rate, will likely play with writing some tools to cut out 3d releif maps out of wood or something similarally geeky over the next few days. Then, back up to the outfitter to swing back to being an anti-geek for a week or so, can't seem to find a good middle ground lately...

Thursday, April 27, 2006

So, the last week or so has been busy, probably won't get around to posting much on what I've been up to here.

Short and sweet is I spent the last week or so up at the store wheeling and dealing, and managed to pick up, among other things, a little gateway solo laptop for nothing but a little legwork. Back at dad's place now, been working mostly on electronics stuff, but increasingly getting financial aid and stuff done for school. Filed a FAFSA, made a bunch of phone calls (on hold with one of them right now in fact,) blabla. Have also registered for the WFR course (did that a week ago actually,) so that's lightened the checking account a teeny little bit.

Finished the layout for the first version of this little USB stepper board last night, will be turning it into fiberglass and copper in a couple hours. Just need to finish up a relatively simple layout for one of dad's projects so we can spin it at the same time. Also goofed around with rebuilding a laptop battery pack a bit last night, took some pictures of the process, but unfortunately I've not been able to track down a place that'll sell just the Lithium Ion cells that I need to the public, so will likely just buy a replacement pack for something approaching a hundred bucks. Suppose that's not a bad price really considering the laptop itself was free :).

The USB stepper controller layout, v1:
(a single axis card for the 4 axis controller, with pads and traces to toss in one of those Cypress USB chips and use the card as a standalone single axis controller.)
USB stepper controller, v1

Some will die in hot pursuit
In fiery auto crashes
Some will die in hot pursuit
While sifting through my ashes
Some will fall in love with life
And drink it from a fountain
That is pouring like an avalanche
Coming down the mountain

Saturday, April 15, 2006

End of day notes...

So, got the stepper controller part of this whole deal put together and working on a prototype board this evening, spent the rest of the day tracking down a current vector graphics drawing program and using it to get started on a PCB layout. For all the more complex PCBs I've made in the past, I used an ancient copy of Corel Draw 4 to do the artwork, which is a little inconvenient since it requires hooking up the old computer we've got it installed on to do board layouts. Corel 4 wasn't the ideal program to work with from the beginning since it uses a proprietary file format that nothing else on the planet understands.

Ran across an open source vector graphics program, Inkscape, which I'm super impressed with so far. Very clean and effective UI, I haven't noticed any glaring deficiencies or broken features, and the windows port works great! Haven't had a chance to test the linux version yet, but from what I've read it should work just as well. Very nice example of quality GPL software! Inkscape uses the SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics,) which is nice since it's open source and pretty well supported (firefox, for instance, can view SVG files.)

With the USB controller that I'm working with (a Cypress unit preprogrammed by Delcom Engineering,) I've decided to build the step pulse clock with discrete parts rather than doing it in software to get more speed and smoother movement out of the motors, so will be putting that together as soon as some more parts come in the mail... Guess I'll order that stuff tomorrow. The idea is to build a little D->A resistor network hooked up to the USB controller and tie the output of that to a voltage->frequency circuit. To count out the pulses, I'll have a serial->parallel shift register hooked up to the USB controller and latch the output of that into a down counter (unless there's a serial down counter on the market...) The clock on the down counter will be connected to the V->F circuit so that the USB chip can set both the pulse speed and count, but the actual timing of the pulses will be controlled in hardware. Should be able to impliment fairly smooth ramping using that method as well, looking forward to getting it all put together and playing with different options...

But, my eyes have been burning for a while, so off to bed for now!

So you thought this was just a travelog?

Spent a fair amount of this morning ironing out a few weird little problems with my stepper driver thingy, and came up with a couple potentially handy tips:

* If you leave a jameco (likely others as well?) prototype board sitting around for a while without using it, some kind of insulative crud just might appear on the contacts, giving you some really fun bugs to track down. Highly recommend at least dusting them out before use...

* Filter caps on the power rails for L297 s are absolutely essential - surprisingly even if you're playing with the control side of things and don't even have the power side hooked up! Had a weird issue where sometimes the chip would start up in "wave drive mode," which is essentially what you get if you imagine taking a half step switching pattern and remove the full steps from it. The motor will still step just like in regular full step mode, but with less power since there's only one coil energized at a time instead of the pair used when in full step mode. Adding a .0047uf cap between the power rails right next to the chip appears to have fixed the problem. Also going to play with an RC network on the reset pin to make a soft start sort of thing since this board is going to end up used in an electrically noisy environment (EDM machine?)

Friday, April 14, 2006

Settling back in

Not a whole lot of new stuff to write about really, but since I've got some time I figured it might be a good time to throw a quick post up here. Basically just been settling back into the same old outfitter groove. Work, eat, play, sleep, repeat. The sleeping bag is on order, should be here in another week and a half or so (they've gotta stuff it, then mail it,) crampons probably made it to the shop today, boots will be here sometime next week, small stuff came in a few days back.

I'm at my dad's place (half hour drive from Neels Gap) right now - have a few consecutive days off, so I'm down here helping dad with some projects he's been saving up and playing with electronics. Working on a USB interface, 4 axis bipolar stepper motor controller that'll be handy down the road as well as a pet project (the resistivity thing for those who know about it) that I've been tinkering with on and off for 5 years now. Unsurprisingly, after about two years of not doing anything fancy with electronics, it's taking a while to get back up to speed. Let the smoke out of a chip earlier today; somehow had it in my head that it was E=I/R instead of E=IR...

Think I finally managed to track down some info on how to get our hand-me-down industrial sewing machine up at Neels running, so I'm a bit anxious to get back up there and see if I can make it go. It's an oldish single needle lockstich Juki that was given to the shop by Dana Gleason (of Dana Designs) last fall, hopefully once we get it running we'll be able to do fancier pack repairs and make some new gear. Plus, it's a cool machine that would be that much cooler if we could actually do something useful with it ;) Also did my taxes and mailed them out this morning, isn't all this stuff exciting!?

Suppose that's all for now, might go through some of my later NZ pictures and get a few of them posted here tomorrow, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

toys, toys, and more toys

I've basically conceded to the idea that I'm going to work here for something on the order of three weeks and walk away with no more money than I came with, but a few pounds of some rather spendy toys. Big one is a nice green sleeping bag:

Also have a pair of mountaineering boots, some crampons, and several small items on order... Having a blast working up here in the gap again, and this time I'm living right beside the store, so that's pretty convenient. Saves on gas too! The plan at this point is to work here until I hit break-even, or somewhere around then, then head back down to Dad's place to play with one of my pet projects for a while. After that, I'll head from GA up to Damascus, VA for Traildays, then Hardcore, then off to KY to visit with my mom and friends around there for a while. A plane flight or two later, I'll be in Denver, CO then on the road to get out to Leadville for a WFR (Wilderness First Responder) course that'll take about 9 days to complete. Not sure exactly what'll happen after that, but it'll most likely involve finding a new place and job in Boulder in preperation for the school year beginning in August.

Got a job offer to work in South Pole fuels today, which sounds pretty interesting, but I'm still leaning towards going to college, so will likely end up passing it up. Does sound kind of neat though!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Alright, I know I've been a super-slacker on posting things here, but it's going to continue for a little bit longer. Basically just been way too busy to sit down and write anything resembling a comprehensive post about what's been happening since Dunedin. Baically, in a nutshell, Clair and I went from Queenstown over to Dunedin to visit with my friends Mat and Hermie for a few days. Next, we headed up to Christchurch for a couple days before heading out for a week of really nice backpacking around the Arthur's Pass area. Sometime between Dunedin and Christchurch, I started working out some modifications to my bigger plan, and after a few phone calls and emails in chch, I ended up deciding to leave NZ after only about a month of traveling around. A lot of different things worked into the decision, but I ended up deciding to fly out of NZ on April 2nd instead of leaving in early May. Had a great time traveling around, but wanted to get back into a slightly more stable lifestyle and it's working out a lot beter strategically to be back in the states a bit sooner for housing and employment sort of reasons. So, Arthur's Pass was a blast, then we went back to chch for a couple days then parted ways. Clair headed back up to the north island and I flew to LA. The flight from LA to Denver was a major pain, then the trip from the Denver airport up to my uncle's place in Longmont (where most of my stuff is stashed) was even more frustrating and inconvenient. But, I did manage to get there sometime early Monday morning, then spent the day taking care of 6 months worth of mail, sorting gear and stuff for my trip back east, buying a cell phone, and taking care of random chores. Caught a very early shuttle (since RTD was on strike...) down to the airport Tuesday morning, then flew from Denver out to Atlanta, caught the rail from there to a rendezvous point with my friend Bill, crashed at Bill's place for the night, then got a ride up to Neel's Gap (the outfitter I've worked at a bit in the past,) where I'll be living and working for the next couple weeks to get some new gear and maybe even a little cash. Going to pick up a decent sized pile of new toys, the big items are a -20f down sleeping bag (retail ~$640,) a pair of mountaineering boots (retail ~$250,) some crampons to go with them (retail ~$150,) and a bunch of relatively small items. Anyways, I'm visiting my dad's place at the moment, but at work (where I'm conveniently living as well) our modem is fried so I don't have a working net connection and therefore won't be posting anything else new for a while most likely. Will be figuring out whether/how the Mackenzie river trip is going to happen, looking at school stuff, getting signed up for a Wilderness First Responder course, etc over the next few days. Later!