Thursday, August 11, 2011

Daytime Running Lights

Another speed bump in the road to our Canadian re-repatriation is the installation of daytime running lights in our vehicles.  This means that when the car is in motion, even in the daytime, lights must be on.  The argument is this is for safety, and yes it has some logic to it, especially at the witching hour, right before the sun goes down.


Checking around, I find these modules from the dealer are in the $300 range, which I found outrageous, so I set out to find a way to do it myself.  Canadian Tire, the quintessential hardware store of Canada, had a DIY DRL module for $40!  I bought it, installed it, and phhhht, it didn't work.  Reading the manual ;), I determined that for the Toyota Echo, I needed a different module.  Further research revealed that Toyota headlights are ground activated.  Ok, so don't use the headlights.  I've Googled it, and others have connected to fog lights or parking lights.  Apparently however, the inspector will not clear your vehicle unless the lens assembly actually has the characters DRL printed on it, and having a separate set of fog lights isn't allowed.  Groan!

Not wanting to order a module for twice the price from the manufacturer, and not wanting to pay $280 to Canadian Tire to install one, I set out to build one myself.

Reverse Engineering

Armed with a $3 automotive test light, I took a few readings.  There were 3 wires going to the headlight.  I pulled of the connector and probed each line with the common of the test light connected to the car's chassis. In the off position, each contact illuminated the test lamp, thus I recorded it as high. With low beams active, one of the connections was low.  With high beams, the low beam signal went high, and another one went low.

See truth table:

Headlights     1      2      3
Off               H      H     H
Low              L      H     H
High             H      L     H

With this logic, it seemed all I needed to do was get a relay to pull pin 1 to ground, activating the low beams.  When the low beams were actually on, it would just be a parallel to ground, so no foul.  However, if the high beams were on, I would be driving the headlight with L L H, which could have some ill effects.  I reasoned that in essence, this would allow for slightly brighter headlights, assuming that pin 1 and pin 2 were weak pull-ups and not actually driven high.  Might need a bigger fuse is all.


Well where I'm staying, there aren't any electrical tools, and the new job is mainly software where there is a healthy fear of hardware among the Doritos and Jolt Cola crowd, so I headed to the local Hackerspace.  ENTS, as it's called is located slightly NE of downtown Edmonton across from the Mustard Seed, and above a seedy joint called the Bohemian Cafe.  Perfect ambiance for a bunch of hackers to hang out at all hours working on projects as varied as polishing your beater's rotors, building a greenhouse control system, or perhaps a self replicating plastic printer.  Definitely a place to be for what I needed.

So after introductions, and an Asiago cheese encrusted Focaccia bread, Italian dry salami and swiss sandwich, I got right to work.  Oh, and I shared a bunch of bananas.  Monkeys are funny.  Rummaging around through a box of discarded photocopier circuit boards, staples of any hacker workshop, I found a 12V relay with a large coil and 30 amp contacts.  I knew this as it had a nifty clear shell.  Find!  A large coil is good because it means the current required to drive it will be low and thus not a tremendous load on the control signal I plan to use.  The contacts are perfect as the headlight fuse is rated for 10A, and I want to be at least 2X that to ensure I have longevity and don't need to use a hammer to unfuse contacts.  Why not just buy an automotive relay? Do you change a diaper when it isn't full?  No.

So I wired the common of the switch to one side of the coil and out to a black wire.  I ran the other side of the coil to a red wire.  Leaving the NO (normally open) contact where I attached a yellow wire.  Wrapped the whole mess up with some electrical tape, and took it outside for a test.

Proof of Concept

First I attach the black (gnd) wire to the chassis.  Next, I slide back the insulation on pin 1 of the headlight connector (low beam) , and connect the yellow wire.  To my amazement, attaching the red wire to the battery + contact, turns on the low beams!  Awesome!  Unfortunately the mosquitos were starting to carry me away, so I gave up for the night.

Next Day

First I stripped out the Crappy Tire DRL module.  Maybe it'll prove useful on the Nissan.  Next, I start probing around in the fuse box to find a signal that is only active when the key is in the Start or Drive position. Found it.  Connected the red wire to it.  Ok, all set.

Moment of Truth

Set the switch to start, and viola, the low beams were on, but unfortunately the drivers side one was very dim while the passenger side was bright as could be.  Further dissapointment came when switching to high beams and the passenger side was completely dark while the drivers side was full on.

Back to the Drawing Board?

Alright, so I take a break, eat some Strawberry Rhubarb pie, and think on it a spell.  There should be no reason it does't work.  Since the driver and passenger signals are slaved by design, the issue must be with the common feeding the drivers side.  With my handy dandy test light, I start checking the fuses.  Sure enough a fuse is blown, but not fully.  I then replace the 10A fuse with a 15A fuse, and the DRLs work, the low beams work, and the high beams work!!  Success!

Engineering is a process.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Cheese Louise

So I was at Target the other day and was to pick up a 2# block of sharp cheddar as I commonly do, especially such as it is, a universal ingredient, and does not require a great degree of effort to feed a starving bachelor who should be applying his time to packing and house repair instead of Culinary Repartee.  I digress.  I was struck at once with the dizzying selection of sharp cheeses by Cabot Creamery.  My passion won out and I returned to my mountain palace (pronounced pall-ass, although not in the 'buddy' sense) with my spoils.

Cabot Creamery is of the state of Vermont.  The first state in the union to abolish slavery.  A state that's only 7% American and 50% Christian.  The birthplace of the Mormon Prophet Mohammed Joseph Smith, and the biggest producer of maple syrup in the United Kingdom States.  None of which has anything to do with cheese.

This posting is to accentuate the relative merits and provide objective musings on the subject of fine supermarket cheeses from the dairy isle of a large multinational grocer.

Exhibits A-E

Fat Free
The Fat Free offering is a fairly bland moist cheese I would consider a medium cheddar.  Rather decent by itself and perfect for those who don't care for sharp cheddars.  Just eat it by itself.

Smooth Sharp
Surprisingly good.  Crumbly in texture.  A slight cheddar sharpness that melts quickly to a delicate creaminess.  I would serve this with crackers and perhaps a touch of olive oil and sea salt.

Extra Sharp
Moist texture.  Strong cheddar sharpness that melts slowly to a buttery nuttiness.  This would be great grilled as the flavors would hold up well and be accentuated by browning.

Seriously Sharp
Crumbly texture.  Indeed it is sharper and more lingering than the Extra sharp.  Again either for grilling or on crackers.  This cheese would work well with a fancy olive to juxtapose.

Best of the bunch.  Crumbly texture.  Complex cheese flavor, not particularly sharp.  Benefits from aging.  Perfect with a fine porter.

I have to give Cabot credit, they are cheesiry masters.  Each cheese was indeed distinct from the other.  They certainly don't hold up to the 4yr or older cheddars for complexity of flavor, but what can we really expect for $4/lb.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Total Nuclear Annihilation

This morning I had a good laugh Googling the correct spelling of Grey Poupon.  This YouTube video of an assumed teenager microwaving a plastic container full, is utterly senseless, yet, for some reason, brings me reams of laughter.  What I enjoyed most is the barely contained excitement, a manic giddiness, as something of value is destroyed.  This appears to be the same giddiness exhibited in photos of the Vancouver riots.

What is that aspect of human nature that has an entire school fill a courtyard with the buzz of an anticipated fight?  Why do we enjoy the UFC with blood spattered across the canvas?  How can we standby with un-contained glee as someone's private property goes up in flames?  Doesn't look good for the future of the human race does it?

Fascinating.... well as I sip my coffee and annihilate a slice of fresh homemade bread, here are a few other 'nuclear destructions'.  This might be better than 'Girls on Trampolines'.

Bottle of dry ice in the microwave
Nintendo 3DS
Gotta do the peeps ;)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Distribution of Loose Change - A Thought Experiment

Well here I am at our Alabama retreat.  I can't call it our home anymore as Catherine, Mya, Lucas, Ella, Russel, Fluff, JJ, SkyHigh, and Skyla, are in Canada and settling in well. 

Packing is monotonous, mind numbing work, especially with the additional paperwork required detailing the contents and estimated value of every single box for the pointy haired types of Canada Customs.  This job is almost as mind numbing as working for my former company, but alas, with a much improved management structure.  Yes, Catherine now wears the pants, and is the main, or should I say sole, bread winner.  She likes to call it crumb winner, but we all make our own beds, so we'd better lay in it; crumbs and all.

This post is more of a distraction, although, granted, it may sound like a crying out for help.  "Dogbert, please save me!".  Any-hoo,  I was emptying the piggy banks for packing and was curious what the typical distribution of coinage was.  From this and the weight of each individual coin, I could determine what I should expect per pound.  This is for US coinage only. Obviously every currency has different weights and in Canada for instance, we need to account for Loonies and Toonies.  I can attest that here in Alabama, there is no shortage of loonies, especially on Keel Mountain, yet, I digress, not the coin variety.

So lets assume that coinage is only provided when it is less than $1.  You might rarely receive quarters if the manager snagged all the dollar bills for a night on the town, but let's affirm that in the bible belt, this is a rare event.  Along the same reasoning, your not going to receive 2 dimes and a nickle, when a quarter will do.  Also lets assume the median value of all possible choices.  It would be interesting to see if the distribution was different if all your shopping was at Walmart and you only purchased things that ended in 86, but I like to keep my little OCD secrets private.  If your not following, you may not have received cashier training, or your mind is no longer capable of critical thinking.  I'm sure there are some great new YouTube videos of cute little kittens...

Ok, now that the Creationists are gone, lets get down to business.  I derived all this from here, but dumbed it down to my way of thinking - maybe the Creationists CAN follow along.  For quarters, we know that we'll receive less than 4.  So we should expect a median frequency of 1.5 (3/2) quarters.  For pennies, less than 5, so the median is 2 (4/2).  Now we only need to deal with the values of 20, 15, 10, 5, and 0.
  • 0 cents - no coins
  • 5 cents - one nickel
  • 10 cents - one dime
  • 15 cents - one dime, one nickel
  • 20 cents - two dimes
So out of the 5 possibilities, we see 4 dimes, and two nickels.  So, 4/5 for dimes and 2/5 for nickels.  In summary, for any transaction we should expect a medium frequency of 1.5 (37.5c) quarters, 0.8 (8c) dimes, 0.4 (2c) nickels and 2 pennies in change, or 49.5 cents.  Of course your not going to get change in half quarters or 2 fifths of a nickel, any more than you'll give birth to 1.2 children.  This is explained better in the source link.  It would be fun though to ask a teller for 8 half quarters to feed the parking meter :)  Now how much does a pound of flesh weigh?
  • quarter - 0.200 oz
  • dime - 0.080 oz
  • nickel - 0.176 oz
  • penny - 0.088 oz
Are you still with me?  As attentive as with a dominatrix, stiletto on your nutters?  Alrighty then!  So 1.5@0.2 oz, 0.8@0.08 oz, 0.4@0.176 oz, and 2@0.088 oz, or an expected weight of 0.611 oz at a value of 49.5 cents.  The equation 0.495 * 16/ 0.611 gives us the median value per pound of change at $12.96.

Now I have 21.188 lbs of change, so I should expect  $274.60 US or about $500 Canadian.  Don't you just love sticking it to Americans?!  I plan on taking the coins over to the local Coinstar.  Interestingly, Coinstar provides an online record of the amount of coins counted of each type.  I'll update this post with the results.

Mya and Lucas will enjoy the gift certificate for Amazon.com, but for now, I'm heading back to the mindless drudgery of packing. Ugh!



So the grand total is dun-dun-du-da, $265.31.  That is pretty darn close!  But wait, there's more.  If I subtract the 15.6 oz of Euros, Francs, Pounds, Kroners, and Loonies the machine rejected, plus one Alberta 4-H 75th Anniversary Commemorative coin and a marble, the original estimate is $274.60 - $12.64 = $261.96.  A difference of $3.35.  Amazing huh!  But that's not all.  If I further subtract the 3 dollar coins and 1 half dollar coin found, but not included in the experiment since they are fairly rare in circulation, 4 coins out of 2651, we arrive at $265.31 - $3.5 = $261.81.  This is a difference of only 15c! $261.96 expected and $261.81 received.  Unbelievable!

Now what do you say we factor out the weight of the dollar and half dollar coins?  Do we risk it?  Do we risk it?  Of course we do!  Unless, of course, you bet on this horse, then I'm truly sorry, but we must make sacrifices for science.
  • Half Dollar 0.400 oz
  • Dollar 0.286 oz
So 3@0.286 oz and 1@0.4 oz equals 1.285 oz.  This means a correction of $12.96 *1.285 / 16 = $1.04.  Subtracting this from our adjusted estimate of $261.96 brings us to $260.92. Compared to our actual of $261.81.  A difference of only 89c.  Sound and true, but that horse is dead.

This is a small experiment, but with over 2500 coins in the population, never the less, uncannily valid.

I'm interesting in knowing what others get using the $12.96 or $13/lb rule.  So you folks who've been hoarding your coins waiting for Armageddon, or making yourself look scary and unattractive by stuffing your braziers, get that change back into circulation.  Better yet, donate it to me, I'll take good care of it.



    Saturday, January 22, 2011

    Biscotti Experiment

    Mya and I decided to make cookies yesterday. She wanted white chocolate in them. We found some raw almonds in the cupboard too, and settled on Biscotti after sampling some store bought cookies we found.


    Googling, "Chocolate Almond Biscotti Recipe", we settled on this. After preheating the oven to 350, we sprayed a pan lightly with cooking spray and spread out raw almonds instead of blanched. When they started to smell nice, we took them out and let them cool, then chopped them roughly. Using confectioners sugar instead of granulated, the egg/sugar mixture reached the desired consistency in about 30 seconds. Along with the flour and leavening we threw in a tablespoon of cocoa for extra chocolaty taste. This batter really gives a mixer a workout, so I recommend you use a good food processor or finish with some hand mixing to keep from letting out your mixer's magic smoke. Fold in the almonds and white chocolate chips. We didn't have parchment paper, so just sprayed a pan and shaped the biscotti log onto it.


    The bottom of the biscotti was slightly burnt even before the top was done. We used a clean bright aluminum pan, so it should have been ok. Maybe the cocoa added too much pigment to the batter, so I'll try dropping the temp to 300 or 325 next time, start checking for browning at 40 minute, and reduce the baking time after cut to 5 minutes per side.


    I found the taste to be a bit eggy, which was surprising considering there are only 2 eggs. Maybe bad eggs, but they appeared fresh when cracked. I will try whipping up 3 egg whites next time instead of 2 whole eggs. Otherwise the taste and texture were perfect. The best part was the roasted almonds. The white chocolate held it's shape and flavors seemed balanced and not too sweet.

    Until next time....


    Thursday, January 20, 2011


    Sigh. I have now faced it, and it is true. I am unemployed.

    Strangely, I have been fortunate that this is the first time in 30 yrs. From my first job in Grade 6, a paperboy delivering the Lethbridge Herald, working demolition and construction with my grandfather in high school, re-inking typewriter ribbons, and working as an airport technician in college, through the NovAtel days, my own business, Texas, and now Alabama, I have not been out of work. A very strange experience!

    I want to sit with it a while longer, which is foreign to me in itself, however the US immigration nightmare, the lack of unemployment insurance entitlement (even though I paid into it), and no health care coverage, motive me to find a job. We have an emergency fund for this eventuality, so strangely the lack of money is not the primary concern.

    Also for the above reasons, continuing to live in the US is not a top priority either. We have lived here for 10 years and are still struggling to jump through the hoops for permanent residence. People die here and/or bankrupt their families because insurance coverage is woefully inadequate. The political system whether your in California, Alabama, or Washington, is completely stalled. Food quality, an ineffective FDA, and the ubiquitous use of high fructose corn syrup is causing health epidemics due to ecoli contamination, and high rates of obesity. The US has a huge target painted on it, and it's people are shooting each other for political causes, and it's hard to find a good hockey game with out an expensive TV subscription!

    Canada has it's problems too. You might die waiting in line for health services. Both you and your wife need to work at lower wages to pay the taxes. The tar sands are a huge environmental disaster that our children will need to deal with later. The oil economy is creating widespread inflation and overpopulation of our once sleepy little towns. Gang violence is at an all time high. And, I'm pretty sure I'd be frustrated with the Canadian complacency and political correctness.

    So I don't know what we will do. What I do know is I want to build a life where my family is together and happy. Where I can help my kids with their homework and go to their soccer games and recitals. I want to work with Catherine again. I want to have time for exercise, breath clean air, and eat healthily. I want to engage myself in a career that fosters creativity, integrity, strong communication, and respect. That's all.


    Wednesday, January 5, 2011


    Flying through a meadow low to the ground as the tall grass wisps randomly. A playful toss of her hair revealing a warm smile filled with laughter. A tranquil state among the tall trees of a silent forest. Moments cascading through my mind as I drift off to sleep.