Monday, December 31, 2012

Loud Bicycle Almost Funded

Hey everyone, so a few more personal updates from my Loud Bicycle horn kickstarter campaign 91% funded!

Adrienne from Yahoo News wrote a fantastic article about the project including some general tips for hopeful kickstarters. Thanks cousin Amanda for making the connection!

I wrote a long and boring technical post describing all the scientific reasons why a car horn is just right to keep your ride safe. I'll try to boil it down to something more readable later but in the meantime you can see that post here.

I did a public demo of the horn prototype for some backers at the holiday party of the Ferris Wheel bike shop in Boston. I put the horn on a Yuba bike and people got to ride it around the streets. See some photos here and below.

Some stickers came in, and Eli and I put them up in Boston, NYC and my friend Marco from Italy put some up in Rome and took some pictures.

If you haven't yet, it would be awesome if you would share the link to the campaign sometime when people will be watching their computers

Thursday, December 27, 2012

DIY Immersion Circulator -- Version 1

I decided to upgrade my previous method of cooking sous vide. When I saw these plans for a DIY immersion circulator I was sold. After an Amazon shopping spree, I started assembling the stuff. I borrowed a Dremel (thanks Josh!) to cut the acrylic for the casing and did a dry fit before I started gluing anything:

I then glued in the heating elements and wired the thing up. It works!
Note the eggs in the bath below, at the ideal "soft-cooked" temperature. Thus far I've successfully made soft-cooked eggs and really good white meat chicken in this thing.

But, you'll notice a few things (serves me right for not applying enough critical thinking when reading the plans). First of all, there are wires hanging out the back. There's also a heat sink (metal fanlike structure) hanging out on top, attached to the SSR. The reason is because there's not enough space in the box to fit everything. Oops.

Furthermore, the way the heating elements are set up, I need to fill the bin way up with water or the elements will not be submerged and burn out. And, that's 120V stuff, exposed, directly above water. This isn't a good idea.

So, my plans for Version 2 of this is to put the control portion of the device in a separate container and run the heating coils and temperature probe separately. I'm going with the case from an old PC power supply (cooling fan included, for the SSR). Stay tuned for future updates.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Loud Bicycle Alive and Kicking

So the Kickstarter project is off to an amazing start with already 300+backers and 63% funding.

I was interviewed by the Local ABC Channel 5 News which actually aired on television.

There were plenty of other places that wrote about the horn which I've summarized with this cool graphic:

Also don't forget to check out the twitter stream here.

The NYC bikesnob wrote a lengthy, and hilarious but critical post about the horn and some other things here. Apparently Craig Calfee put another kind of horn on his bike.

And finally the giant step you see in the funding graph below cam when the horn was linked to from Boing-Boing.

Watching the progress very closely has been easy with the help of a few great tools. The graph above is from
Another cool site is

The kickstarter widget looks pretty nice too though it seems to have made the layout a little wonkey.

Thanks for all of you blog readers who have shared the link and helped get the project to where it is!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Shabbat on Chanuka

Phil Chernofsky pointed out in a comment on my Thanksgiving on Chanuka post that the civil year 1948 had no Shabbat (Saturday) on Chanuka. This surprised me, as Chanuka is 8 days long, so it must cross a Saturday at some point. However, looking at that year's calendar, it was true! January 1, 1949 was a Saturday on in the middle of the holiday, and the previous Chanuka happened entirely in 1947.  Phil commented that this occurrence is "more than rare; it seems to have only happened for that year."

I wondered if this was true, so, once again, I whipped together a quick Mathematica notebook to look into it (you can download it here). Once again, if you want to skip to the results, you can skip this whole description:

First of all, I use a day-of-the-week function, dow, from this answer on the Mathematica StackExchange site. I first calculate all the days of Chanuka in a given Jewish year:
Then, I run this over years starting from approximately when Chanuka historically occurred
chanukahs = chanukah/@Range[3961,5773];
Then, I find which days of the week these dates are:
Then, I gather all these dates in groups by the secular year:
cdowy = GatherBy[cdow, #[[1, 1]] &]
Finally, I select any year that doesn't have a Saturday in this list of days that Chanuka occurred on:
Select[GatherBy[cdow, #[[1, 1]] &], Length@Select[#[[All, 2]], # == Saturday &] == 0 &]

Sure enough, 1948 was the only civil year since the beginning of Chanuka till now that did not have a Saturday on Chanuka! So, it seems Phil was right.

But wait, there's more. What happens in the fuuuuuutuuuuuure?
We're currently at the dashed horizontal line. The next occurrence is in 2043 followed by 2100. The reason we haven't had any until now is because the Jewish calendar drifts around 4.3 days later every 1000 years, and originally the calendars were sufficiently separated that it was a rare event. Moving forward, however, it turns out, that it's actually a fairly common occurrence to have a civil year without a Shabbat Chanuka!
So, while 1948 was the first,  it's far from the only time there will be a civil year without a Shabbat Chanuka. And, eventually, in a few thousand years, the Jewish calendar will drift far-enough past January 1st that it will become a rare occurrence, yet again.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Loud Bicycle Live on Kickstarter

After about a year of hard work by a lot of people, the Loud Bicycle project is finally up on kickstarter.

Here is the link to the page:

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Special Escalator

As part of some renovations in the Fulton Street Subway Station they installed a new escalator:

And then, they covered the escalator with wood to make a fixed staircase. I think they're a little unclear on the concept. At least it's not out of order.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Kosher Ham Cheesecake

Last week I attended an early thanksgiving party.  It was a pot luck dinner and officially it was for people to have a thanksgiving without family, but really it was just an excuse to eat a bunch of food.  As it happens about two thirds of the food brought were deserts.  One of these deserts was "Honeybaked Ham NY Style Cheesecake."  I was rather surprised by this because I didn't figure that ham would go well with cheesecake, plus the box had an OU (Orthodox Union) symbol, indicating that it was kosher and dairy.
I was informed that in fact it was a cheesecake that was made by the Honeybaked Ham company and just happened to be kosher.  It is like the McDonalds danish that are kosher.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Reminder

This is just a reminder that next year is only one of 6 predictable times (8, if you're a Republican) Chanuka will ever fall out on Thanksgiving. See my analysis from two years ago. I also underestimated Steve Morse's tool. He recently contacted me and informed me that he did account for the change in Thanksgiving's date (serves me right for not looking at his site's source code). However, he did not consider the Republican Thanksgivings. He has also recently updated his site with some analysis on this issue, see here:

And, my original analysis is still up here If you don't have Mathematica, if you want to read that file, you can install Wolfram's free CDF player and browser plugin, available here

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Shed: Foundation

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I had designed a shed.  Now I have begun to build it.
The space that I started with.
I used 24 wood stakes to box in each of the four corners.  Then I used string, a level, and a square to map out a squared level space where the shed will be.
I then marked where the five poured concrete posts would be (two in the front corners and three in the back corners and center).  Following that I started digging.
After I dug the holes I cut concrete forms to length and put them in the holes.  Then I mixed and poured concrete and put in the anchor bolts (bolts to make sure the shed doesn't shift on its foundation.
All five post and bolts are in, complete with the left over concrete in a cut out milk container.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Loud Bicycle, CGP-Grey and AlanKey

I've been riding around with a car horn on my bicycle for quite a while, here is a video of me having some fun with it at the waterworks museum where I volunteer.

I will be attempting to make these horns available for others in the coming months. Hear more about it by visiting the Loud Bicycle website and keep updated about that effort by following the LoudBicycle Blog or FB or Twitter.

The music for this clip was provided by Alan Stewart, who has some hilarious videos on his channel. The one embedded below is about  another youtuber, cgpGrey who has some fantastic explanations of many complex and relevant things - like why pennies should be abolished.

Below is the theme song for CGP Grey composed by Alan Key.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Inspected Streetlights

Last week I shared the "No Apparent Structural Damage" sign on my office building after Hurricane Sandy. Walking around this week, I noticed these signs on streetlamps, too:

And, while my building was undamaged, the whole of the South Street Seaport was trashed:

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Solar Sillyness

In recent years PSE&G the main local power company has been installing solar panels on utility poles.  Many have long considered this to be a complete folly.  Well I am here to both prove them correct and show an inaccuracy on the PSE&G website about these panels.

During Hurricane Sandy a number of utility poles came down in my opinion largely due to the large sail like solar panel bolted to them.  All my simple analysis will exclude damage caused by solar panels and maintenance costs.

Hurricane Sandy is was caused me to start thinking about this.  I looked on the back of one of the downed panels and found out how much power they are rated for.  The panel was rated for a maximum of 200 watts (AC).  A MAXIMUM of 200 watts!  It also must be pointed out that this is when the solar panels are at 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit).  I will also assume that the price of this unit is about $650 as this seems to be the approximate price of a good solar panel in this wattage range.  Given all the things stacked against the solar panels like our climate, clouds, winter, and trees, I will assume (very generously in my opinion) that they generate about 50 watts for about 8 hours a day on average over the course of the year.  The manufacturer of these panels Petra Solar gives a data sheet for these panels and the dimensions are given as 66.14" x 39.40" or about 5.5 ft by 3.3 ft.  They also confirm the output of 200 watts, however the PSE&G website claims they put out 235 watts (DC), they do however have a 240 watt (DC) max INPUT.  This may just be do to me not understanding what they are talking about, but I rather suspect they like having a higher number on the site.  It will also be noted that Petra Solar give a limited 5 year warranty.  I will assume the panel has a 10 year lifespan (which is also very generous).

Its time to do some simple math (50 watts)*(8 Hours)*(1 kW/1000 W) = 0.4 kWh, so each day on average one panel generates 0.4 kilowatt hours (The average American household uses about 31.5 kWh a day).  So (0.4 kWh)*(365 days/year)(10 years) = 1460 kWh, which means that over the course of 10 years that panel will power one house for about 46 days (this is of course assuming that the electrical usage of the average American stays the same for 10 years, which is a very silly thing to assume).  Lets now calculate the cost of the power coming from that panel. ($650/1460 kWh) = $0.4452/kWh or 44.52 cents/kWh.  PSE&G rates(page 51) are 16.57 cents/kWh (NJ has on average the 4th most expensive electricity in the country).  This means that over the course of its lifetime the solar panel is 2.69 times more expensive than the normal grid power cost, in fact it would take 26.87 years for the solar panels to break even at current rates.

The final analysis shows very clearly that theses panels are totally stupid, and a huge waste of money.  These costs don't include the cost of instillation which with unions could increase the initial cost by 50%.  Additionally, this doesn't take into account damage they cause due to storms which can exceed the simple cost of replacing the pole due to property damage and people being out of power.  So basically they exist because uneducated people who can't do simple math think they are a great idea.  Oh also the government gave huge tax breaks for putting in these humongous wastes of money.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Fidelity Password Insecurity

So my company recently switched to Fidelity for our 401Ks and it looks like their password security is abysmal. They require minimum of 6 chars and a maximum of 12 ... which is shorter than my high-security password. The cherry on top: no symbols allowed! just alphanumeric, pretty crazy. My financial investment account is potentially less secure than my doodle account.

Thanks to some diligent commentators and we have learned that these passwords can be cracked in about 4 minutes by a computer.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Welcome back to Lower Manhattan

My new job is in Lower Manhattan. In case you haven't heard, Lower Manhattan got flooded in Hurricane Sandy:

When I finally made it back to work on Tuesday, this sign greeted me on the building's main entrance:

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Verizon provides my Internet, really?

Verizon is an internet service provider, but it stinks like a pea-brained Dinosaur.

I recently signed up for Verizon Fios, which is actually pretty good compared to what I had before but here are a few interesting things. When I wanted to unsubscribe from their spam emails I found they could unsubscribe me in 10 business days.

In 10 days I could walk from Boston to verizon headquarters in NYC and handhold them through setting up constant contact which would have unsubscribed me instantly.

Well I suppose that is okay, as long as the main part of the site works ... right? No.
The ads and nonsense were working full speed but the actual thing I came for? Broken. Also, notice the "helpful" web search tool at the top ... because I'm going to visit when I need to Google something?!

Maybe they really are trying hard to make things better, in video below it says that "Your bill is now simpler than ever." Great, I guess that is why you need six and half minutes to explain it.

Oh and one more thing verizon, you spelled my name wrong.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Welcome to Northern New Jersey

So, while Aryeh posted about what happened in Central NJ, up here in Northern NJ we still have no electricity. Fortunately, we didn't sustain any water or tree damage. Currently, our generator is powering the essential human needs: Fridge/freezer, sump pump, and internet connection. Unfortunately, that means a lot of waiting in fuel lines:
PSE&G currently estimates our electricity will be back by 11:59PM, Friday November 9th.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Welcome to New Jersey

As most of you should know, New Jersey was hit severely by Hurricane Sandy Monday evening.  My house just got power back about two hours ago.  The coast line was badly damaged, pictures of what is left of the boardwalks are all over the news.  I will show you what I did during the storm and what my area looked like in a walk around yesterday afternoon.
Playing Rummikub, by flash light, listening to classical music and drinking wine is not a bad way to weather storm.

 This tree ripped the road up.
 This was the worst damage I saw on my walk and based upon the way it came up it was self inflicted.
 You can see the new driveway right next to where the tree came up.  Based upon the fact that it is not ripped up we think that when it was installed they cut the trees roots.  This weakened it for the wind and when it came down it hit their house hard.
 In the top left you can see the top of the telephone pole is snapped and hanging down.  This tree snapped 4 poles.  This is the first.
 This is the next and it full exploded apart.
 The last one was at a corner and here it is sitting on the ground.  The one next over was very bent over.
 This is a tether cable from one of the poles that came down.  It is made up of seven 1/8th inch steel cables.  They are all snapped at a 45 degree angle as expected due to failure theory.  Metals under tension fail due to shear load.  Based upon the fact that there is minimal necking at the fracture site the cable probably failed under impulse load.  Say the pole it was connected to slamming to the ground.
 This pole appeared rotted.  We think that the bending and twisting moment on the street light caused it to fail.
If you ever wondered what was inside a street light.  It appears to just be a transformer and a high pressure sodium lamp.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A cloudless view of earth from space

I recently bought a used book over at the Davis flea.
Notice that there are no clouds... very odd ... but look when it was published:
1960! Yeah that is right before people went to space; it was before the Apollo program and photos of earth seen from the moon being distributed worldwide. Since then, artists do not made the mistake of drawing earth from space without clouds.

This picture from the Galileo spacecraft is a good example of what the view would really have looked like.

This blog post is based on another blog post I came across sometime ago, which actually had a picture of the book too. I would love to link them but I haven't been able to find it.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Mathematica StackExchange Swag

I've been a member of the Mathematica Q&A site since it started (I'm user #9). The site recently "graduated" from beta, and they gave away some "swag" to top users. Although I haven't been that active recently, I was early on, which placed me in the top 14% of all-time users, and qualified me for some swag.

So, a few days ago, I got a box from StackExchange:
How awesome is it that StackExchange's address is on Exchange Plaza?!?

Anyway, inside was a T-Shirt:
and some assorted stickers and writing implements:
Forget any academic credentials -- this is some exciting nerd cred!