Saturday, December 3, 2011

Anton's Coffee Shop

If you live in Springfield, MO, you are either an Aunt Martha's Pancake House person, or an Anton's person.  I've never been to Aunt Martha's, so I'm not going to do a compare and contrast piece between the two, but I can tell you that Anton's is awesome.

It's a little crowded, which is good, because the people who eat there are as awesome as you are, and they're sitting right next to you.  I've shared a table with people I didn't know before there, but that's rare, and it's only on that one big table they have.  You know the one.  It is extremely rare that I don't know someone eating there on a weekend morning.  Today I saw and talked to three people I knew.  Last week it was two, but I talked to them longer.  A lot longer.  They were probably sick of me.
This week it was Brandon, Nate, and Nick.





You can see from the pictures that it's a little cluttered, with all the menus stapled to the walls, hanging cookware, and whatnot.  Also, there's no clear windows. They all have plastic stapled over them.  Add in the jam packed people and you have a big fat dose of Anton's.  Enclosed, cluttered, crowded.  I know this doesn't really sound all that appealing, but you've got to experience it to appreciate it.  It's awesome.

The thing to eat at Anton's is the omelette. I get one with American cheese, onions, and mushrooms. Jenny gets the Jenny.  They're all really, really good.

So what else about Anton's? They only take cash, the bathrooms are really small, and sometimes you have to wait to get seated.  When you do have a choice of where to sit you should choose the back wall to the left of the cuckoo clock. The temperature is the most stable there. By far the warmest seat is the one by the stained glass windows. In fact, this morning they asked us if we wanted the warm table. I've never had to sit at the table by the door.

Edit: I went to Aunt Martha's the other day, and the building is cool, but the food is sub-optimal.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Picaxe Microcontroller

Ok, maybe you’ve heard about the Arduino.  A lot of people think the Arduino is awesome.  The Arduino is a programmable microcontroller with a bunch of connection terminals, the serial programming bus, an led or two, a 5v regulator, an oscillator, and whatnot all soldered to a small circuit board.  This post is not about the Arduino.  This post is about the Picaxe microcontroller, which is seriously awesome.  I know you’re thinking, “Whoa!  Wait a second!  Let’s talk about the Arduino; that sounds pretty nice!” but I’m not going to do it.  I’m a Picaxe guy.
What’s a microcontroller? It’s an integrated circuit (those little pieces of black plastic with the legs you see soldered onto circuit boards) that you can connect to your computer and program to make decisions based on electrical input on some of the legs to output different electrical signals on other legs.  It will continue to do what you programmed it to do even after you disconnect it from your computer, whenever it has a 5v electrical source.  It remembers what you programmed it to do even after you remove the power.

Let’s say you want an LED to blink every time you push a button.  You would hook your microcontroller to your computer, run the programming software and program it to blink the output of leg #1 every time the input on leg #2 is detected.  Then you would disconnect it from your computer and solder an LED to leg #1 and a button to leg #2, hook it to 3 AAA batteries (4.5v is close enough) and POW!  You got your wish about the LED and the button you’ve been dreaming about all these years.  You can also make it do more complicated things, like adjust a bank of servos based on input from a 3 axis gyroscope to control some autonomous flying vehicle, or something more practical like controlling the pump and heating element in your hot tub based on a temperature sensor.

So there’s like dozens of microcontrollers.  Maybe hundreds or even thousands.  I don’t know.  Why the Picaxe?  Let me tell you why:
1) It was designed to be used in education.  You program it in the Basic programming language, which is intuitive and easy to learn.  I taught myself Basic when I was in the 7th grade (on the TI 99/4A, which is also awesome) and it’s still the only programming language I know.  It’s also a bare chip, unlike the Arduino, which has tons of external components soldered to it already.  This means you have to learn to solder, when to use pull-up resistors, a thing or two about power supplies, and lots of other things that you really need to know to fully embrace electronics.  The Arduino is practically a device, as opposed to a component.
2) It’s fast.  The slower ones operate at 32 MHz.  MEGA Hertz.  It can perform 32 million tasks per second.  That’s slow for a microprocessor (like in your computer, that’s doing a lot of math) but crazy fast for whatever you need a microcontroller to do.  32 MILLION!
3) It’s cheap. The most basic model costs $2.95 from Sparkfun (Sparkfun is also awesome).  Yeah, you could blink that LED with a 555 timer IC from Radio Shack for $1.99, but seriously.  What if you want your LED to blink slower?  You’ve got to de- and re-solder your resistor and capacitor that sets the blink time on the 555, but you can just hook that Picaxe back up to your computer and adjust your blink rate to the millisecond.  An Arduino costs $30, so that's a lot more.
4) It's small. It seems like most of my projects need to fit inside something small, like 1" tube, or a wooden railroad train, and the Picaxe fits just right.  You can get surface mount microcontrollers that are a lot smaller, but so far I haven't needed anything that small.

So, is it the greatest microcontroller of all time? Probably not, but it is super easy and accessible, cheap, and very powerful.


Here's the datasheet: http://www.picaxe.com/docs/picaxe_manual1.pdf
Here's Sparkfun's product page for the most basic model: http://www.sparkfun.com/products/10803

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive - Greatest Repair Manual Ever!

How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive, A Manual of Step By Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot is the greatest repair manual of all time. All manuals for all equipment everywhere should be written with as much artistry, care, understanding, enthusiasm, and love as this one is.

There are many reasons why this book is so great, and I'm going to tell you about them, saving the most important one for last.
1) The art is just plain awesome.  Hand drawn semi-psychedelic illustrations by Peter Aschwanden (listed as Junipero Scopulorum in my older spiral bound version) are fantastic. Check out how a CV joint works:

2) They assume you are dirt poor, which you probably were if you were driving a VW back in the day.
3) They assume you don't know anything about anything, without being tedious when you already do.
4) They give you solutions that are "good enough", taking the pressure of being perfect off your back, unless you really do need to be perfect on something, then they tell you.
5) (This is the important one) They inspire and reinforce a connection between you and your machine that is rarely talked about. They ask you to get to know your car, to feel it and understand it's moods. Most people who live with unreliable machinery already do this out of necessity, but this book takes it to another level, and it's great.

This book fits perfectly with Volkswagens, being a clickity-clank type of vehicle. It's worth buying an older VW bug, just to get to use this book.  I'm not sure if this book would translate well to a new off-the-lot Honda, but if Honda supplied a book this good with a new Honda, I would buy one. No question.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Swisher Ride King Riding Mower

When I saw this mower in an older gentlemen's yard with a for sale sign on it, I knew I had to have it.  It is clearly awesome.  It's a tricycle, and the front wheel is the powered wheel, and it has continuous rotation so it steers exactly like a bumper car.  I laugh out loud every time I mow with it, which is every chance I get.  It's a Swisher Ride King, although I don't know the year.  I'm guessing somewhere in the late 70s to early 80s, but it could be as early as the 60s.  I really don't know.

video

Now, is it the best mower ever?  Not by a long shot.  The tricycle action makes it tippy, which causes scalping because the deck doesn't float. Also, I'm pretty sure the tipping is going to cause it to cut part of my foot off one of these days.  The traction is poor as well, so I have to mow side to side on my hilly front yard, because it won't go up the hill without spinning the front wheel.  Sideways on a hill = tippy, btw.  Lastly, the quality of cut is pretty bad.  My yard looks much better with my push mower, but I think I'm missing a piece of metal under the deck that contours to the blades, creating an updraft and directing the grass out the side.  I'll have to make something and weld it in.

With all that being said, it's still the most awesome mower ever.  It is insanely small and maneuverable, has tons of moving parts, looks great, and most importantly it's an absolute blast to mow with.

Here's a link to the owner's manual:

As long as we're talking about awesome vintage mowers, at the steam and tractor show I saw what the dude told me was a vintage Montgomery Ward branded Peerless riding mower, with a rear engine (which was missing) and joystick steering/throttle/brake control.  The mower deck looked like gold painted aluminum.  It was beautiful, but I can't find anything about it on the internets.  I kick myself for not buying it (only $50!).

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Introduction

Greetings!  I tend to get worked up about things that I find to be awesome, and there are a lot of them.  My co-workers suffer daily from me bothering them about whatever the latest thing is, and I initially thought that this blog might help divert some of that from them, but I'll probably still bother them anyway.  This blog is entirely self serving; a way for me to bother even more people than just my co-workers.