Archive for the 'Inventions' Category


Thursday, March 19th, 2009

UPDATE!  Who huffs paint?  We huff paint!


Painting a bike takes almost as long as building one. And if you think working with spraypaint is toxic, try working with enamel clearcoat.  It is to gack!  Never again without my respirator.  (How many times have I said that before?)

But it sure looks perty.

I also completed the front wheel lace-up, and replaced that ugly granny-step with a small and sophisticated accessibility device:


(Original post starts here.)
Spring is in the air, and a young man’s thoughts turn to bicycles.  It began with LIGHTBAR cleanup, and my wife’s reasonable question: what are you planning with that big pile of dead bikes in the garage?

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Bamboo Dome Tips

Friday, March 13th, 2009
Fuller's bamboo dome, composed of RR and RB crosses.

Fuller’s bamboo dome, composed of RR and RB crosses.

I’ve found many online references to Bucky Fuller’s bamboo dome design, but no reports of anybody actually building it.  Here’s my impressions, and a few things I learned.  (But keep in mind that my dome fell over.  Caveat Surfator.)

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The MSL Clean Room

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

Dude!  Does this spaceship make me look fat?

(Pardon the mess in our clean room; the cleaner is coming tomorrow, I promise.)

As the attendees of Red Night at LIGHTBAR are aware, MSL is deeply committed to earth-mars friendship.  That’s why we’re sending jacked-up hotrods to the red planet!  JPL offers a sneak peek, here.

If this mission succeeds, we’re on-schedule to host LIGHTBAR 2020 on MARS!


Friday, September 19th, 2008

All my friends

When I applied for a public arts opportunity last summer, I suddenly needed to document, document, document.  Fortunately, on a beautiful Indian Summer Sunday in NE Portland, my dear friend Seamus agreed to come over and shoot some pictures of some of the crazy monsters in my basement.
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Video: Speed-Vest in Action!

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

Welcome, Teh Internetz. Thanks for the sudden bump of interest in the Speed-Vest. Since our original posting over a year ago, the vest has undergone testing in both MPH and KPH, traveled from Minneapolis to Portland to Vancouver and back, been damaged in a disco and reborn on the workbench. If you’re in Seattle next month, come check out the 2008 Pro Walk/Pro Bike Conference, where Brady will have the Speed-Vest on display.

Here’s some video of the Speed-Vest in action. That’s me stunt-riding, with Brady on steady-cam. You can also find it, with other updates at the newly-relaunched

(music by The Golden Greats!)

The Shining $PATH

Friday, March 21st, 2008

The search-path algorithm for UNIX is broken, and has been broken for a long time.

$PATH is fine for specifying bin directories; in fact, there ought to be just one $PATH per host, which all processes can inherit, rather than users having to set such things in their dotfiles. $PATH isn’t obsolete, but it needs help.

The problem is with interpreting the order of the PATH variable. The historic algorithm, implemented by the first exec() and its descendants, is to search each of the dirs in $PATH, in the order in which they appear, until a file matching the provided command name is found, and then exec that file. It’s a simple algorithm: fast, easy to implement … but it’s also the cause of a whole genre of UNIX aggravations.
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Set my iPhone free!

Friday, January 25th, 2008

Usually, if I can think of some software, the Internet has already written it. So here’s a list of the things an iPhone could do with the right 3rd-party applications — legal and otherwise:

  • Stream music from a computer running iTunes (or any DAAP server), optionally save it to my iPhone.
    • Google’s iPhone Remote can get you to the files & let you stream them, but the interface is crude & the security issues need to be addressed.
    • WeBot is fairly slick for over-the-internet access of music files, though it looks like maybe I must route the music through their servers even if I’m within range of my mac. But it might do the trick for my home song server. Still not really DAAP compatible, tho.
  • Stream music from someone else’s iPhone (a DAAP server), and/or let two iPhone users connect and swap songs manually.
  • Stream music from an iPhone to an AirPort Express via AirTunes.
  • Record audio.
  • Share pictures, audio, or any other kind of file between iPhones.
  • Stream internet radio via playlist files, or any other standard now in use.
    • — Seeqpod does something in this space — they send a quicktime audio file that knocks iPhone Safari into video-playing mode, so you get all the controls. It works, but Seeqpod also does a bunch of other meddling that gets in the way. Even worse, they seem to be missing a lot of the best stations, including many which already netcast. KFJC, KUSF, KPSU, KCMU … college radio, basically, is absent.
    • i’m amazed that Live365 doesn’t have an iPhone version of their site.
    • Other people must be working on this.
  • Remote-control iTunes on a Mac or PC, or some other server software that streams to an AirPort.
    • — Signal does this, although it’s fairly clunky
  • Make internet phone calls over a wi-fi connection for free.
  • Trace the iPhone’s location through the day, and create a time/location map using Google tools.
  • Attach a photo and an audio caption to a pin on a map, and upload that data to an online mapping community.
  • Option to save any web-embedded MP3/AAC/video files I view.
  • Sync via Bluetooth.
  • Use the built-in accellerometer as a pedometer, counting my steps.
  • iChat — free live chat, instead of expensive SMS.
  • Free SMS via internet anyway! End the farce of SMS charges!
  • A calculator with all the math functions, not just the four easy ones.

I’m looking forward to the SDK release in February.

named pipelines in unix

Tuesday, August 28th, 2007

while using a collection of filter and mungers and sorters to extract statistics from the apache logfiles in the traditional manner, it occurred to me that we really need a shell that’s able to create a thing called a ‘named pipeline’.

this is similar to, but not the same as, a named pipe. to wit: suppose my webserver’s filesystem is 80% full due to immense logfiles, and i am sifting those files for data. first, i have to combine them:

cat file1 fil2 file3 | sort | grep | munge > output

.. except actually file2 has got a bunch of crud from a previous egrep in it, and needs special treatment, so:

cut -d: -f2- file2 > file2.fixed
cat file1 file2.fixed file3 | sort | grep | munge > output

… only there’s not enough space on my filesystem for a second copy of most of the contents of file2, and anyway i’m only looking for a tiny percentage of that file.

what to do? well, named pipes are a handy unix-ism for this situation:

mknod file2.fixed p
cut -d: -f2- file2 > file2.fixed
cat file1 file2.fixed file3 | sort | grep | munge > output

that solves my space problem. only, i’m still re-running my sort over and over — kind of figuring it out as i go — and whenever i need to run it again, i have to re-start that stupid cut command. feh. what i need is the power of bash:

mknod file2.fixed p
(while true; do; cut -d: -f2- file2 > file2.fixed ; done) &
cat file1 file2.fixed file3 | sort | grep | munge > output

… which will re-start the command every time the pipe is opened for reading. that’s about what i want. only, instead of typing all this mess:

mknod foo p
(while true; do; cmd | cmd | cmd | cmd > p; done)&

i’d much rather just type this:

cmd | cmd | cmd | cmd |% p

when i type that special |% notation, the shell should first create the named pipe, then spawn a process to execute the pipeline into the named pipe, restarting it as necessary for as long as the shell is running and the named pipe exists.

in addition, it ought to have a mechanism for quietly halting when the named pipe is deleted, and maybe for automatically restarting such pipelines when they are found abandoned by a previous shell. and someone ought to be able to figure out what’s coming down that pipe without having to suck on it — i.e. there needs be a mechanism to inspect which commands are hooked to what pipes.

in short, the resulting named pipe ‘p’ is more than just a pipe, it’s a predefined pipeline that can be started and read from any time, but that consumes minimal resources until it is called upon. hence ‘named pipeline’.

(of course we’re consuming some memory here, with all those commands standing around blocking for output. but perhaps our clever implementation will avoid executing the commands until such time as their output is requested.)

if i was smarter or less lazy i might hack that %| syntax into the source of bash. but instead, i’m going to write a utility called ‘plumb’, maybe like so:

plumb p ‘cmd|cmd|sort|grep|etc’ # to create and start a pipeline
plumb p # to inspect
replumb p # to restart

sadly, the commands must be single-quoted, or the pipes escaped somehow, in order for this to work in the shell. but it’ll do for now.

making named-pipeline creation trivial allows me to construct what would otherwise be an unwiedly-long unix pipeline as a series of small, easily joined & inspected fittings. i can set up a large pile of sub-processes, each ready to filter the data another step, none of them consuming file space in the process of doing so, and with these craft my ultimate super-grep one step at a time.

plumb file2.fixed ‘cut -f2- -d: file2’
plumb sorted ‘cat file1 file2.fixed file3 | sort -u’
plumb sifted_a ‘egrep a sorted’
plumb sifted_b ‘egrep b sorted’
plumb formated ‘prettyfy sifted_a sifted_b’
plumb beer ‘mail -s “today’s traffic report” myboss@myjob < formatted’

what’s brilliant is, if i inspect ‘formatted’ and find an error introduced by ‘file2’, i can edit ‘file2’ to fix it, and ‘formatted’ will reflect the change without additional work or resource-consumption — an implementation of functional programming in plumbing, basically — thereby enabling:

00 17 * * * cat beer > /dev/mykle


Monday, June 18th, 2007




UPDATE 9/11/2008: Look ma!  We have a whole website for the Speed-Vest now — you can sign up for news about the V2 vest, get yer press-blurbs on,
and stay informed about the 2009 Tour De Speed-Vest!
Furthermore, we’ve now got video of the vest in action here.
But if you’re looking for some fairly nerdy reading about how to make one of these yourself … read on!

The SPEED-VEST is a bicycle safety device and advocacy tool which displays the wearer’s current speed on their back in easy-to-read lighted numerals. It improves rider conspicuity while legitimizing bicycle speeds on the roadway. Originally conceived by Brady Clark and engineered by Mykle Hansen, it just won the Hub Bike Shop’s Bike Gadget Contest in Minneapolis, MN.

The system consists of a wheel speed sensor, a wearable numeric display and a small computer that does the thinking. The computer is an Arduino: an open-source embedded computing platform powered by an Amtel microcontroller. It runs for 6 hours on a 9 volt battery, and is about this big:

in the palm of my hand.


The numeric display is made from electro-luminescent wire, supplied to us by El-wire glows brightly when supplied with a very small amount of high voltage, high-frequency current. It’s cheap, flexible and fairly durable. One AA battery can power the SpeedVest display for up to 6 hours.

... and it's pretty.


This project was my first foray into microcontrollers. Not knowing much about electronics, I imitated this circuit closely; however the Arduino platform, suggested by the members of Dorkbot PDX, was much easier to use than I had imagined and quickly became my new favorite computer.

I wouldn’t call the project arduous, but the most time-consuming aspect was probably soldering the circuit together on the Arduino’s prototyping daughterboard. Next time, I’m going to learn how to make my own printed circuit board.

soldering, soldering, soldering ...


Meanwhile, Brady designed a template for the el-wire digits, based on the digits in old Nixie tubes. It seemed appropriate — it’s almost the same technology, really. Since I had 12 pins to play with, and since you can only overlap so much el-wire, we put five digits on the right and seven on the left:

the stacked numbers template


We mounted the el-wire on a piece of black denim, taping on the template as a guide, using a technology the folks hipped us to: the Buttoneer. I don’t know how well it works for re-attaching buttons, but it’s great for this.

the buttoneer at work


We achieved sharp corners by running the wire behind the denim through a hole, and then back through to the front at another angle.

the view from behind


In order to display the SpeedVest for judging at the Gadget contest, we needed a mannequin. So, we borrowed another great piece of Internet advice. Witness below the birth of the creature known as “Packing Tape Brady”, made possible through the assistance of super-assistant Heather Anderson:

We were up most of the night before the event deadline: debugging code, writing up handouts, fixing bad solder, screen-printing text onto reflective backing, velcro-ing everything together, and arguing about the relative artistic worth of the digits zero and seven. The next morning, we got it all together and brought it to the Bell Museum with about 15 minutes to spare.


(Somehow we neglected to get a picture of it working — but it worked!)

Despite some excellent other entries (including the zoobombariffic Superman Bike!), we were tickled pink when the judges at the Bike-In presented Brady and myself with a $150 gift certificate from the sponsoring bike shop, the HUB bike co-op of Minneapolis. And what a gift certificate! This beautiful hand-drawn check would have been prize enough, even if it hadn’t been financially negotiable.

words don't do it justice.


The Speed-Vest will be undergoing speed trials in Portland, Oregon at an undisclosed test track this Sunday night. If you are interested in bringing the Speed-Vest to your town or event, or just want more info, please drop us a line:
info @ speed vest . com