How a Programmer Works on a Soapbox Derby Racer

April 27, 2012

Once I knew I had a winning ticket for the race, I did what any programmer would do when getting started.

No, I didn’t make the t-shirt. I wrote a simulation.

Step #1 was to get the profile of the race course. Google Earth has nice support for generating a profile from a path:

Next was figuring out how to simulate the race. For every meter down the course, the profile lets me calculate the change in elevation, and thus the change in potential energy. Once I have this, and the mass of the vehicle, and the resistance due to wheels and air drag, and the moment of inertia of the wheels, then it was a simple matter of mapping from delta PE to delta KE:

And then I could turn these equations into code:

Finally, I could generate results with different weights, and graph them.

The sad result was that more weight == better results. Though I imagine rolling resistance isn’t linear with weight, as the “footprint” of the tread expands under increased load. Plus there’s the issue of being able to stop at the bottom of the hill…

Dad vs The Soapbox Derby Wheel

April 25, 2012

I’ve been keeping a collection of emails sent by my Dad, as he works in his shop to get a disk brake attached to our (small) wheels. I think it’s pretty amazing that he’s got the energy and persistence (at 85!) to keep working away at a problem until he solves it.

Two days ago:

I have been chasing my tail for several days trying to get the brake discs to rotate without ‘runout’ when installed with the wheel on my support brackets. I have gotten as close as +/- .005″; not good enough.

Each time I lapped the face the disc bolts to, and reinstalled the disc, I got different results. I tried adding shims to the bearing outer races – no luck.

Finally, tonight I removed one of the spacers from between the bearings and measured the length at 4 points with a micrometer. 1.0303, 1.0302, 1.0295, 1.0288. That calculates to an angle of 0.1836 degrees.

Now I wonder how to true up the sleeve. I don’t know which end is off. And I don’t know if my lathe and chuck are accurate enough. I can also chuck it in my milling chuck. If I grind off a little I will need to add a hard stainless shim type washer to compensate and keep the length to 1.030. I have shim stock in various thicknesses.

Yesterday was:

1) I checked out the lathe; it is pretty accurate.
2) I trued up the sleeves by chucking in the lathe and grinding with my Dremel. One end was off on each of them.
3) Brake disc run-out, and the wheel still wobbles!!

And today, victory!

Today it finally dawned on me that the top hat we made to mount the brake disc to the wheel really forms a backbone for both. The disc is pretty flexible; the wheels are made from fiberglass reinforced plastic which has a low modulus of elasticity. In between is the rigid metal top hat.

By adjusting the bolts to the wheel, I have the one wheel running less than +/- .002 instead of +/- .020. Now I am working on the face of the hat against the disc. If need be I can shim and get it accurate. The gap in the brake clamp is .090 with a little drag on the feeler gauge. The disc is .070 thick, leaving less than .020 total.

I’m glad he’s on our team 🙂

First rolling test

April 12, 2012

The Nevada City Adult Soapbox Derby event is approaching with frightening speed. Time to increase the development velocity of our Tube of Terror.

And it’s looking smooth and true…nice.

Though maybe not as aerodynamic as we’d want.

Dave Kleinberg RIP

April 11, 2012

Back in 1985, I was a young programmer at Apple who wound up spending time in Japan, helping Apple evaluate options for supporting Japanese on the Mac.

This nascent project became the focus for Apple’s new Pacific division, and a manager was dutifully assigned. A former sales guy named Dave Kleinberg. Great. Just what I always wanted.

And yes, there were some early impedance miss-matches, but by the end of the project he’d earned my respect. There were countless details outside the scope of just “gettin’ er done” (the coding bit that I cared about), and Dave sweated the details. We wound up shipping KanjiTalk 1.0 in May of 1986, and this wound up being the foundation for Apple’s long term success in the Japanese market.

As a side benefit, Dave gave all team members the best project tchotchke ever – the KanjiTalk Monolith:

Why the post today? A member of the KanjiTalk team just sent me the link to Dave’s obituary.

Dead at age 53 from lung cancer. We’d seen him a year ago at the 25th anniversary get-together, and he’d seemed fine. I wish I’d told him then what I just wrote now.

Grandama Dierker’s Button Collection

April 10, 2012

I grew up in southern California (Whittier), which is pretty close to Knott’s Berry Farm.

Back in the 1960’s, this wasn’t yet a typical theme park filled with roller coaster rides. There was a nice old-time feel to the place, with chickens and peacocks wandering around the parking lot.

We’d visit regularly, and every such trip included a viewing of The Button Collection.

My grandmother lived in Filer, Idaho and collected thousands of buttons over the years. Eventually an aunt finished off the collection and donated it to Knott’s Berry Farm, where it’s still on display.

Controversial front fork

April 4, 2012

My dad (who actually is a mechanical engineer) thinks this is kind of crazy.

But we have lots of confidence in our driver, who (as a snowboarder) has feet like hands.

Controversial front wheel