Technical Difficulties from on Top of the Mountain
2006-02-27
  The most amazing customer support
People are quick to tell you about when they've had a bad experience with an airline, store clerks, a mechanic, or some snafu at the local restaurant; but our culture has become so focused on price that, let's face it, these days bad service is the norm. We're so cheap, that there's no money in taking care of us. When someone tells me they had an awful flight on Northwest, I'm thinking to myself, "so what." Tell me if you had a flight that was on time--that would be remarkable. Calling a business oh the phone has gotten so bad, that often you don't know what country you've connected to, and if the accent doesn't prevent communication, the cultural gap does. So when something does go smoothly, or I find I'm talking with someone that has any idea about the subject I'm enquiring about, its a pretty remarkable thing, and I think, worth mentioning.

But before we get to the amazing experience, a little backstory. Well, ok, a lot of backstory.

So I had purchased a miller XMT 304, along with a bunch of other welders; but in order to run the big machines right, you need 3-phase power. Unfortunately when we pulled a the dinosaur that was there before, it was only using single phase 480V and there weren't enough wires to use 3-phase. So a few days later I went and bought some solid #10 wire, and it turned out to be stiff enough that I was able to jamm it up through 30 feet of conduit (with three wires already in the conduit) and down into the outlet box behind the welder. Then I hooked up the wire to the 3-phase shutoff switch, wired in the welder, and it still was only single phase. Finally we broke out a volt-meter and verified that one of the leads feeding that panel was dead also. Sigh.

So, we back traced the wire upstairs to the main panel (which is not labeled), and after turning off just about everything in the shop, we found the breaker that was feeding it. Turns out its a 2-pole breaker, not a 3-pole breaker. Luckily the wire ran all the way to the panel, so the problem was just the breaker. But this was no ordinary namby-pamby breaker, this was a 3-phase 150A I-Line manly-man breaker.


Normal household breaker vs Industrial Breaker of DOOM.
[click through to large image for full manly effect]

Just to give you some appreciation for the difference in sizes we're talking here: the contact lugs on a normal breaker are designed to connect to a 12 or 14 gauge wire which is about the size of a pencil lead, and can handle a current of 15 to 20 amps. The lugs on this Square D breaker can handle wire so large, they don't have a gauge for it. Just the copper part is about the size of your average garden hose, and then there's a rubber jacket around that. Instead of a screw head, the tightening nut takes a giant 3/8 Allen wrench (the same size you use to unstick a 1/2 horsepower garbage disposal). Not something you're going to find in the average homeowner's toolbox.

Everything about this part is large. Including it's price, which is over $1,400. I found these breakers online in the Square D catalog. Well, almost. What I had was a KAB26150 and what I needed was a KAB36150, but the catalog didn't mention it. All they talked about was a KA26150 (2-pole) which was $1,463 and its big brother the KA36150 (3-pole) which was $1,820; and would supposedly solve all my problems.

Now, not wanting to spend twice as much as I paid for the welder itself, I turned to my solution of all things expensive: Ebay. There I found a wide variety of KA and FA (the smaller brother which goes up to 100amps) breakers ranging in price from $20 to $200. Still no sign of a KAB or FAB, but what the heck, it's probably not important anyways. I finally settled on a FA36100 (3-pole, 100 amp) for $52 and I figured I was good to go. Even that was overkill for the line, as only the single welder is on that circuit and it draws 18.3 amps at maximum power. The original breaker could have run an entire room full of welders and still not have broken a sweat.

So a few days later, the breaker arrived on my back doorstep, and the next day I went down and with the shop teacher took apart the main panel, and stuck the new breaker in. Thankfully I didn't electrocute myself, and after wrestling the main 800 amp shutoff switch back to the on position, we were in business and the welder was happy.

But that part number was still bugging me. What was the B for anyways?

On a lark, I decided to call and ask. So I pulled up the Contact Us page, got the phone number (888-778-2733), and called it. It started off with a typical voice mail routing system, "Press 1 for Motor Control, 2 for Automation and Control, blah blah blah." I pressed 4 for Circuit Protection, and then a guy came on the line.

"Hello, thanks for calling Square D. How can I help you."

  thinking I'd need to be routed to the right department/person, I started off somewhat high level:
"I have a question about a 3-phase I-Line circuit breaker part number."

"Yes, what is it?"

  um ok...
"I'm changing out a breaker from 2-pole to 3-pole and its currently a KAB26150. I was wondering what the difference between the KAB and a normal KA was."

"The KAB has a bolt on the clamp that attaches to the I-line rails to increase its holding power. This is in addition to the lugs for the wire side. There are a set of black caps at the top, along the I-line edge the pull up and expose the screw head which you loosen to remove the breaker from the panel."
  wow, I'm impressed
"But in reality, you don't really need it. What's your application?"

"This is going into a school shop."

"Right. Then the KA should be fine. The KAB was just in response to a holding specification that GE came up with in the 80s to try and lock us out of commercial bids. But the the KA & FA series have been in use for over 20 years now and they've proved themselves in the market. You should be fine."

No redirecting to somebody else, no looking it up, just rattled right off the top of his brain. The explanation, how to use it, and the entire political history behind it. This guy new his stuff.

Yup, there's the cap for the screw head and up inside (way up, look for it ...) is the screw that tightens up on the power rail. How cool is that.

 
2006-02-26
  sparklines sparklines and more sparklines
I've been doing a lot of reporting and analysis on various collections of data where the number of samples ranges from the tens of thousands to the hundreds of millions and I just can't see how normal graphs could have remotely coped with this. At best they could have summarized the data, pointed out one or two facts, at worst they would just have obscured all meaning. The one answer I keep applying over and over is ...

Sparklines.
It shows the littlest detail, while at the same time lets you step back and see the forest for the trees (or the trend from the data). I'm worried I've found the golden hammer and will forever reduce every problem ahead of me into a nail, but it seems in this case to be a good fit.

At the same time, I'm also trying to refine my rendering of these things. The original method with an entire <TABLE> in every cell was a little heavy handed and of course didn't work at all on my phone. For the example up above, several of the strips are just single height bars of different colors which I was able to do with <TD> blocks using width and color control in the TD tag. Even creating the entire strip ends up being child's play in perl:

$chrt .= "<TR height=$ht>". join('', map { "<TD width=1 bgcolor=$color[$_]></TD>" } map { $_ || 0 } @{$h->{$_}} ) "</TR><TR height=2><TD></TD></TR>\n" ; Where $h->{$_} contains the array reference for one strip, and $color[$_] contains the color for the integer value at that point. Could have used names in the hash array, and a hash for the colors, but several years of assembly programming back in ancient times still leave their mark on me today.
I even got more daring, and did some variable height stuff using rowspan. The tick marks under the graphs are a trivial example. You want something like this:


Which you can do with a couple of <TR> where the larger ticks just stretch across rows. (I've magnified the effect here a bit, but its easy to change just by changing the heights of the three different TR's. Not wanting to type much, I generated all this with a little perl as well.

my $ticks= "<TR height=4>". join('', map { "<TD rowspan=$_ colspan=2 bgcolor=black></TD><TD colspan=28></TD>\n" } ( 3, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 3, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, ) ). "</TR><TR height=1><TD></TD></TR><TR height=2><TD></TD></TR>" ;
Growing the bars up is a little more tricky. I tried a couple of things for the battery life chart, and finally realized that you sort of had to fill in from the top. First you treat the top row as special, and you fill in every row with the inverse of the height of the bar you want (with a special case for bars that go all the way to the top). So if your graph has 10 steps, you go across the top row filling in blank bars of height 10-f(x) for each spot (and filling in solid bars for those places where f(x) = 10). Then after that you just step each row filling in just the bars that are that high.

So if for instance, my data points were: 6, 8, 2, 3, 1, 0, 3
My first row would have six blank bars of height, 4, 2, 8, 9, 10, 7; then the next row (row 9 counting down from the top) would have nothing in it, the next row (row 8) would have one bar of height 8, next row would be empty, next row (row 6) would have one, and on and on:

<TABLE border=0 cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=0> <TR height=4> <TD rowspan=4 width=4 bgcolor=white></TD> <TD rowspan=2 width=4 bgcolor=white></TD> <TD rowspan=8 width=4 bgcolor=white></TD> <TD rowspan=7 width=4 bgcolor=white></TD> <TD rowspan=9 width=4 bgcolor=white></TD> <TD rowspan=10 width=4 bgcolor=white></TD> <TD rowspan=7 width=4 bgcolor=white></TD> </TR> <TR height=4><TD> </TD></TR> <TR height=4><TD rowspan=8 bgcolor=blue></TD></TR> <TR height=4><TD> </TD></TR> <TR height=4><TD rowspan=6 bgcolor=blue></TD></TR> <TR height=4><TD> </TD></TR> <TR height=4><TD ></TD></TR> <TR height=4><TD rowspan=3 bgcolor=blue></TD><TD rowspan=3 bgcolor=blue></TD></TR> <TR height=4><TD rowspan=2 bgcolor=blue></TD></TR> <TR height=4><TD bgcolor=blue></TD></TR> </TABLE>
And once again, I found the solution to implement this was rather simple:
  ## first row pass $txt= "<TR height=1>" ; foreach (@$data) { $txt .= ($_ >= $steps) ? "<TD rowspan=$steps bgcolor=$fg></TD>" : "<TD rowspan=". ($steps-$_) . " bgcolor=$bg></TD>" ; } $txt .= "</TR>\n" ;   ## fill in pass foreach my $level (reverse 1..($steps-1)) { $c= $cols->[$level ] || $fg ; $txt .= " <TR height=1>". join('', map { "<TD rowspan=$l bgcolor=$c></TD>" } grep { $_ == $level } @$data ). "</TR>\n" ; }
Sigh. Now that I can see what I'm doing, I see I have a lot to do. Better get to it.
 
2006-02-20
  The trouble in owning a home
After college, I moved out of the dorms into my first of many apartments. I figured I had entered the real world and was the master of my own destiny. Actually I was only partially correct. I was paying someone else to keep the roof over my head in one piece, and the things within the walls in their place (what limited facilities my first meager place had). Later I would realize what a sheltered life I lived back then.

washer waterfall I now own my own home, and all the trouble that that brings with it. Today's particular adventure was a loose drain hose on the washing machine (the connection was not a very good design--ah the joys of using the builder with the lowest bid) which managed to get about half the wash water down the drain, and the other half down the wall and all over the floor.

The washer and dryer are down in the basement, which is almost all concrete. Almost, except for the sheetrock wall right behind the washing machine. Still, being eight feet below ground level, I've had dampness and even the occasional puddle on the ground, so the damage was not extreme. No servers were fried, and no priceless equipment was ruined. A couple of cardboard boxes got wet, along with some particle board shelving and some throw rugs.

With a little re-arranging and a few minutes with the shop vac, things were on the road to repair. But at this point, with everything moved away from where it had been, I realized a lot of it should probably go somewhere else, so it was an afternoon of shuffling stuff here and there and tucking things away into different places than where they had started.

Par for the course when you have your own place. I just hope I never have to move.

 
2006-02-18
  Digital beats analog
I was one of the first ones to get a digital camera. Back in the stone age of digital cameras, I couldn't really afford one of the high end ones, but Kodak finally came out with the DC20, a low end camera and I was all over it. The pictures were 493x373 and it stored about 24 pictures in its meager built in flash, but it was less than $400 and I got one.

Kodak DC20

Sure the picture is worse than a $10 web cam these days, but this was 1996. I took a bunch of photos with it, and given the limited bandwidth back then, the image size was just right for the web (nobody was trying to print digital photos back then). You couldn't go mad with taking pictures given its limited memory and the frustratingly slow serial interface for downloading the pictures (which would often get stuck), but once you finally got the data off the camera onto your computer, you were all set to take more pictures.

woolstar snow

So I got used to taking pictures even when I wasn't committed to the result, and thus discovered the freedom that is frictionless photos. Jump forward ten years, and now I'm doing the same thing with video.

While tape was a great step over film (shooting a motion picture, even a low budget one, is an expensive proposition just from the point of view of the film itself, even if you do use shorts), and digital data on tape with digital transport to the computer made things painless to move around; digital storage for video takes the process from some pain to no pain. And standing at the point of frictionless video is truly remarkable.

JVC MC500

Yes, I finally got the JVC GZ-MC500, a tiny little unit slightly larger than a tennis ball, that shoots video (and still pictures) on to compact flash and secure digital data cards. The thing is so small that every surface is covered with connectors and slots: battery here, charger there, video out down below, USB link around the corner, SD underneath behind the screen (which swivels up and out of the way).

So I get the thing, unpack it, turn it on (it came with the battery half charged, instead of dead), start taking a movie of the kids running around, and my three year old comes up and wants to see. He's used to being able to see pictures on the digital camera as we take them, so I try to explain that this takes movies, not still pictures. "Zacky SEE it!" he insists. So I switch it from record to playback, bring up the clip in the menu and show it to him. He grabs my brand new toy, and goes running over to his brother to show him, "Look! Zacky and Max." He then goes on to replay the clip ten times in a row, finally handing the unit back to me after he's memorized every last bit of it.

There's no way I could have done that with a tape based unit. I would have been cringing at the first replay (just due to dropouts), let alone be able to explain the concept of tape shuttling with rewind, fast forward, tape counters, etc. Now the shot is the shot, and doing anything and everything with it is instantly possible. And my kids will never know there was any other way to do it.

 
2006-02-14
  Some small technical difficulties
The web site on which a large amount of my photos live, has been down for several days, for which I apologize to those needing access to those images. I end up writing about such odd stuff, that if someone else is unfortunate enough to be looking for the same thing, they end up on my page instead of somewhere more useful. If you want a picture of a Miller Maxstar 140, I'm not sure the first choice out of the entire net should be a welder sitting on the floor of my garage ready to go to camp. But the web is a fickle mistress, and so here you are (or at least here a couple hundred visitors a day end up after taking a wrong turn at Google.)

Since I was a unix head in college, I had to break with the crowd upon graduation, and bought myself a unix workstation for home use. Actually it was for work, but work was a startup based out of my one room 300 square foot apartment, so it was with me every waking moment. Actually I got two DecStations right off, and as soon as I could come up with more money, I also added an overpriced SGI 4D35. Over the next couple of years I added more machines, including IBM R6000 servers, HP 7000 RISC workstations, more SGI machines, and some Sun Sparc machines.

When it came time to put up a web server, a Sparc 2 was chosen, as the SGI's still had value running desktops, and the other machines were already dinosaurs. When it started getting long in the tooth (SunOS 4.1.3 never did have an ANSI C compiler for instance), I picked up some used Ultra 10s, one of which became extreme.infomagic.net.

It was handy having a ultrasparc for a web server. It never died, as cheaper PC hardware tended to do back in that day. Linux was already pretty popular, so there weren't to many script kiddies trying to hack into Solaris (I think we did get taken down once though). And every once in a while we'd need to try something weird, that was only available on Suns at the time (like this crazy environment from Sun called Java 1.0). This machine has served us well, but the new ISP has decided that it want to move all the hosted equipment to rackmount, so the Ultra went away on Friday.

Unfortunately I was travelling on Saturday, so I couldn't mess with it right away. I did manage to move some files around Saturday night, but didn't make a lot of progress until the following day when I started messing with the config files. After a couple false starts, I finally had the basics down and went to start things up, only to get:

(13)Permission denied: httpd: could not open error log file /usr/local/www/extreme/log/error.log.
I went and messed around with permissions set, users, etc. But couldn't make any progress beyond that. It didn't help that 'httpd -v' didn't return anything. Not very confidence inspiring. Finally I turned to google and got a hint from this article.
Subject: istalled fine (Fedora core 4) but HTTPD problem

> I can not get Apache (httpd) to start anymore..
> Looking at the '/var/log/httpd/error.log' it is showing me this:
> (13)Permission denied: httpd: could not open error log file /home/www/web1/log/error.log.
> Unable to open logs

> The directory is there, but the error.log file not!

Have you enabled the Fedora Security extensions or set an higher security level sa suggested in the howto? For me it looks like SE Linux or a similar extension is enabled.

It's the third image on http://www.howtoforge.com/perfect_setup_fedora_core_4_p2.

Turns out that SE linux is allergic to web servers. At least normal ones where you haven't locked down every possible directory, scripting language, and redirects. I'm sure its possible to get it working with selinux if you have a couple of weeks to work out all the issues, but if you're just trying to get it to work out of the box, the answer seems to be turn selinux off. So after a quick trip over to /etc/selinux/config and a reboot, httpd was up and running.

So images are back, mpaz4 is actually running three different web sites and a couple of other services, and as long as it doesn't reboot, everything will be fine (not all of the network-scripts are right, and so there's some handholding after boot to get routes and addresses up properly).

 
2006-02-13
  Cool java
Went and placed an order today for some flash memory card readers, and mistyped my card number at first. The form caught the problem without even a submit, which means it had the code for checksumming right inline. So I pulled up the source and dug it out: &lt;script language="JavaScript" type="text/javascript"&gt function validateCreditCard(s) { var v = "0123456789"; var w = ""; for (var i=0; i < s.length; i++) { x = s.charAt(i); if (v.indexOf(x,0) != -1) { w += x; } } var j = w.length / 2; if (j < 6.5 || j > 8 || j == 7) { return false; } var k = Math.floor(j); var m = Math.ceil(j) - k; var c = 0; for (var i=0; i<k; i++) { a = w.charAt(i*2+m) * 2; c += a > 9 ? Math.floor(a/10 + a%10) : a; } for (var i=0; i<k+m; i++) { c += w.charAt(i*2+1-m) * 1; } return (c%10 == 0); } function validateCardSecurityCode(s) { var v = "0123456789"; var w = ""; if(s.length < 3) { return false; //alert('too short'); } for (var i=0; i < s.length; i++) { x = s.charAt(i); if (v.indexOf(x,0) == -1) { //alert(v.indexOf(x,0)); return false; } } return true; } &lt;/script&gt Very cool.
 
2006-02-10
  Time Travelling for Technology
I haven't really made great strides catching up on my EE Times reading. I'm still about 23 months behind. Still, I haven't fallen any farther behind, so I suppose that's a good sign.

Ran across this story in the March 08, 2004 paper:

Nanochip Inc, a startup developing a MEMS storage product somewhat similar to IBM Corp's Millipede research effort, said last week it has secured $20 million in second-round funding that will be used to take its technology to the product stage.

Gordon Knight, CEO of the 10-person startup, said the Nanochip technology is capable of terabit-per-square-inch densities, is not fragile, and can be rewritten billions of times.

IBM's read/write head addresses the entire surface of the media. "There are technical merits to both approaches, but I think our approach is more-manufacturable," Knight said.

Meanwhile, Nanochip has "a ton of work to do" to prepare a product for market, added Knight, who estimated that Nanochip may be in production by the end of 2005.

Excellent--its early 2006, lets see how they're doing.

Web site is is still there, but doesn't look like its been updated since March of 2004 when the article came out. Verifying that by browsing the image/ directory. Everything was thrown up 07-Mar-2004 except for one image that was updated on the 17th.

Web site has a phone number, so what the heck, lets call it:

"Hello, this is Kim." (not her real name)
"Is this Nanochip?" I ask.
"Yes."
"Are you still in business?"
"Yes."
"Are you still actively developing your high density storage solution?"
"Um. Yes."
"Ok, thanks."
"Thats all?" she asks.
"Sure."
"Oh. Ok. Goodbye."
This company was originally founded by Tom Rust who put his own money into starting it up as well as drawing on investments from so other personal investors. It doesn't sound like they've moved very far past the early garage days.

Probably confused the heck out of them with my call ...

"Who was that that called?"
"I don't know?"
"You don't know? What did they want?"
"They wanted to know if we were still in business."
"That's it?"
"Yes."
"Weird."
"Yes."
 
2006-02-06
  Accumulating a few things here and there (a novice's inventory of welders)
Looking back over last year, counting up stuff for taxes, I noticed that I had bought a few welders. Then I checked again, and realized I had bought a lot of welders. Like 10. You may be thinking, "why on earth does he need 10 welders." Well, I don't. But here is what I was thinking at the time.

Esab
Heliarc 160i
This was the first welder I bought back when I was rather poor but still wanted to get a welder. I had been buying up TIG part lots and so had already amassed quite a lot of torches, collets, tungsten, hoses, lava cups, etc. I figured it was time to get a machine I could use. I had borrowed a Maxstar from the welding shop before, but wanted high frequency start and a gas solenoid (so I didn't have to turn the gas on before welding).

Unfortunately I didn't have enough money for a working unit, so this item was purchased in non-working condition. But it came with schematics so I figured, "how hard could it be to fix it." Turns out that was not the right question, the right question should have been, "when am I going to have time to fix it." The answer so far? Not any time soon.

Trivia: This is actually a european unit which will run on 240V or 400V. At 400V it will put out 200amps.

HTP
Invertig 201

Shortly after buying the other broken welder, the startup I was working for got some funding; and because I am a cynical old crudgemudgion, I got a large check. A very large check. (How large? Well part of it I used to buy a highlander.) Another part of it I used to buy this and a big MIG machine.

This thing has all the bells and whistles. 200A power, AC/DC, pulsing, wave balance control, HF start, blah blah blah. The interface is a little clunky to use, but it welds just fine. (Better then me, that's for sure.) It is also a european import from Stel, though its relabeled from the original (also imported to England by Murex).

Miller
Maxstar 140
2 x STL
2 x STH

While the HTP could do anything and everything, it wasn't a very mobile machine. Kind of like the ancient luggable computers from Kaypro, and compaq; packed up in a suitcase, resembling a portable sewing machine (back when they were made from cast iron). Yes you can get a 40 pound machine into the back of your car, but you're not likely to want to do it very often. So when I noticed that you could pick up a Maxstar for less than $500 from time to time, I suggested that the school should get one (or two, or three, or however many I could find).

I started out geting one STL for the school (with a nice case), then I saw a STH machine with a finger tip remote, so I decided to get that for myself. Then another 140 showed up that nobody seemed to want, so I got that as well, and then recently there was another one languishing around for $410, so I decided what the heck. So we currently have three at the school, and the one I was going to keep is now at my dad's house. That's because, I then picked up a 150 ...

Still, these are brilliant little machines, and with 240V sources, put out full power for whatever you want to do. They are amazingly quiet, and produce a very stable arc (unlike the older transformer based machines). At 110V they're limited to 90 amps, so I wouldn't try to stickweld that way, but for sheet metal work where you only need 40-60 amps, its more than adequit. Lift arc starting takes a little getting used to (you touch the metal, then lift off), but actually allows you to place the electrode exactly before putting down your visor (like you would do with MIG), so it works out pretty good.

Miller
Maxstar 150
STL

Right after I had picked up a 140 STH for myself, this unit showed up online in a case with a remote, for a price I couldn't refuse. What's better about it? Come on, that's easy: 150 is 10 bigger than 140. Actually, it has a number of improvements over the previsous model. For one it can drive TIG at full power even using 110V assuming the plug doesn't melt. It also has a gas solenoid, so it turns on and off the argon for you automatically (a definite help for me). Otherwise its the same profile and weight, and comes in a nice carrying case like the 140.

The STH has even more bells and whisles, including high frequence start, and pulsing. The HF start would be cool. The pulsing I could probably live without. Unless I'm willing to practise a lot more, I think turning down the power to 10 amps for something really thin is a lot easier then trying to get the pulsing settings worked out for some particular weld. Maybe its useful for stainless, so far all I've managed to do with stainless is create a tortured warped mess.

Anyways, this is my new favorite on-the-go machine. Now if only my argon tank didn't weigh so much.

Chicago Electric
WSM 130A

Now TIG machines are expensive, more so than any other kind of machine. For $200 I can pick up an acetylene torch kit, or a used MIG welder, or even a buzz box (AC stick). But for TIG you need to spend at least $500 for anything useful. Unfortunately there are a couple companies out there claiming you can buy something for less and still TIG weld. This unit is one of those. Harbor Freight will sell you this setup for $200 (+shipping) and you get what you pay for (or less).

The machine does 130 amps TIG on 240V (and 90 amps stick, I don't know why they even bother with this). This is the same power you can get out of the Maxstar with 110V. But it gets worse. The duty cycle at 130 is 15%. That's 90 seconds of welding, then take a 10 minute break. I'm not sure it can even handle doing a eight inch seem weld without overheating. Still if you're only aspirations are to melt some sheet metal screws and fix the crack in shovel blade, this might be up to the job.

So why did I get it? Well, I thought a used one for $120 would be useful for people to try it out in the shop and discover just how lame a machine it is. At least if they decided to still get it, they'd know what they were in for.

Miller
XMT 300
CC

While 200 amps is fine and all. Sometimes you need a little more power. And sometimes you just want to get crazy. For a few dollars more, this beat up, patched together, inverter-of-doom was willing to put out 375 amps, and was loaded with all the TIG extras like a solenoid and HF start. Unfortunately all the awesomeness is only for those studly enough to have three phase power. The machine will run on single phase, but is only rated at 225A in that mode. So unless I can talk the power company into running three phase to my garage (or I pickup a used 20HP rotary phase converter online), I might as well keep it at the shop.

The nice thing about power is the higher the voltage, the lower the current. So while it would try and suck 60A out of my wall socket in the garage, it only needs 20A to run at 480/3Ø. That means I can use inexpensive 12/4 to make an extension cord for it and be able to wheel it around anywhere in the shop or out into the parking lot. Now I just have to figure out how to get power for the water cooler, and I can run a WP18 water cooled 350A TIG torch with it too.

Miller
XMT 304
CC/CV

Stick welding with quarter inch rod is fun and all, but if you've gone to all the trouble to regulate this much power, wouldn't it make sense to be able to switch over to holding the voltage steady so you could wire feed with it? CC/CV is the answer (constant current/constant voltage), and when this machine showed up in Vegas, I sent my friend Tom over with cash in hand to pick it up. There it sat for a couple of weeks until I found someone who had a friend that was coming to visit from Vegas, and we hooked this machine up this weekend.

It burns like a champ, has a nice digital display, and more modes than even I know what to do with. Unfortunately its just a power source. MIG welding requires a wire feeder, and there's no extra help for TIG. Sure you can scratch start or lift arc it, but I'd like the HF & gas control like 300 CC. Miller is happy to sell you an add on, but they want several hundred just for that, and then its only rated at 250 amps. At least the wire feeders I've seen recently are rated 600 amps 100% duty cycle. Gads.

So that was my plan this year, at least for TIG. (I'll save my MIG machine acquisitions for another story) Now I have more welders in my own inventory that the school has in their entire shop. Course I'm happy to keep most of them over at the school anyways. I've got keys, and I don't have to pay the electric bill. Mr Hess just shakes his head and wonders what I'll think up next.

 
2006-02-05
  Thinking way outside the box
Was wondering a little far afield while reading up on installing Ruby on Rails, and I spotted this funny looking thing.

Ah, a helicopter, you might say. But its not an ordinary helicopter.

The first thing you notice about the Kama K-1200 is that it has no tail. To make up for it, it has two main rotors. The interesting thing is that the rotors overlap--a lot. Kind of like egg beaters. The thing is also very narrow, just wide enough for one person, so it looks kind of like somebody smashed it in a vise or something. Using a light-weight high-power turbine, the helicopter (which weighs a little under 6,000 pounds), can lift its own weight in cargo (another 6,000 pounds); making it popular for crane operations, logging and other cargo operations.

Unfortunately for some reason, only 27 were ever made, though the company supposedly started up production of a variation designed for fire-fighting in 2005. Certainly an odd creation, but I'm always glad to see people thinking up unique ideas to age old problems.

 
2006-02-02
  Turning the corner
Another month's gone, so its time to see how we're doing on the burning of the pellets. Survived some cold spells, on, lets see, 2,000 pounds of pellets. Hopefully that's the peak of our usage as I've gone through everything from Home Depot, the last of the bags from Maverick, and have only a few of the old Walmart bags left in the garage. So the usage so far stacks up:

November  1,200
December1,720
January2,000
February?
March?/2

That's a lot of pellets. Luckily usage seems to be dropping off, thanks mostly to a warm turn of weather. While some Februaries are marked by highs of 20°s and lows around -10° this winter has been pretty mild. This weekend's forecast is a high of 60° and a low of 29°. Barely cold enough to freeze water. Still with only 20 bags left in the garage I should probably pick up one more load. Unfortunately most places have stopped carrying it already (you can't really store pellets for a long time, they get wet and mushy), and Home Depot is rationing what little they can still get. Well, hopefully I can pick up some tomorrow at craft day.

 
Life in the middle of nowhere, remote programming to try and support it, startups, children, and some tinkering when I get a chance.

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Blogroll
Paul Graham's Essays
You may not want to write in Lisp, but his advise on software, life and business is always worth listening to.
How to save the world
Dave Pollard working on changing the world .. one partially baked idea at a time.
SnowDeal
Eric Snowdeal IV - born 15 weeks too soon, now living a normal baby life.
Land and Hold Short
The life of a pilot.

The best of?
Jan '04
The second best villain of all times.

Feb '04
Oops I dropped by satellite.
New Jets create excitement in the air.
The audience is not listening.

Mar '04
Neat chemicals you don't want to mess with.
The Lack of Practise Effect

Apr '04
Scramjets take to the air
Doing dangerous things in the fire.
The Real Way to get a job

May '04
Checking out cool tools (with the kids)
A master geek (Ink Tank flashback)
How to play with your kids

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