February 14, 2012 — 2358

Old gasoline

I pulled the carburetors off the motorcycle today to start cleaning them, and found that I couldn’t get the float bowls off. Opening the top covers revealed that the CV diaphragms were also frozen in place for some reason — not good. After some pounding with a plastic mallet and some spirited twisting, I managed to get the float bowls separated from the main housing:

That’s…not a good sign.

Well, there’s your problem! Somebody tried to fill this bike up with molasses.

I’ve seen varnish in gas tanks before, and this…isn’t it. Petrochemical varnish is just a nice translucent yellowish coating that scrubs right off. I suppose this is the result of a decent pool of liquid gasoline sitting, without stabilizers, for thirty-two years in a static environment? Some kind of very slow natural polymerization run to an extreme. I bet that given another few decades — or maybe much longer — it’d become something resembling amber.

As fascinating as it is, the goo has to go, or this bike won’t run. I assume this stuff is still chemically similar to gasoline, and the can of xylene-based carb cleaner I have dissolves gasoline deposits, so I soaked everything in an excessive amount of the stuff and left it to sit overnight.

February 11, 2012 — 2327

Motorcycle project

I’ve created a separate page under Experiments for the work I’m doing to the motorcycle. I’ll keep posting about it on the main blog, but the detailed log will be found there in the future.

February 09, 2012 — 1708

Vroom vroom

Something new to work on!

1971 Honda CL350, the scrambler version (what would today be called a “dual-sport”) of the once-ubiquitous CB350. It’s been stored in a barn for the last 32 years. Has quite a bit of surface rust, but the underlying structure is in extremely good shape. The engine turns over and has good compression, the electricals work, the coil fires, the transmission goes through all the gears and, amazingly, the tires are still holding air from 1980. It needs new tires and chain for safety, of course, the forks make a bubbling noise, and new cables and brake linings wouldn’t be a bad idea…but I’m going to start by flushing all the fluids, cleaning the tank, and seeing if it’ll fire up with some new gas.

You may recognize this motorcycle if you’ve seen the recent version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo — the main character rides a modified ’69-70 CB350 with the headers from a CL, a café-racer seat, and a few other custom parts (below). I’m planning to keep mine mostly stock but I wouldn’t mind slightly lower handlebars and a different paint scheme…we’ll see!


So, a new project that is both fun, and highly sustainable! Taking something from the scrap yard and restoring it to its original functional state is clearly the most energy-efficient carbon-neutral kind of recycling there is; much friendlier for the planet than buying any number of Priuses. Ultimate feel-good stuff.

January 26, 2012 — 0219

That iPod drawing sure gets around

Sure, my work may be based around intellectual property, and technically these people are violating my copyright, but at this point I’m quite happy.





Recognize the technical illustration of an exploded iPod on those pages? I sure did.

Every so often I’ll Google myself and go through the first ten or fifteen pages of results to evaluate my online presence. I really recommend you all do this too, because of course the first thing people will do when they want to find out about you is head to Google. It’s good to know just what a prospective employer or colleague’s first impression of you is going to be.  Having a unique name definitely helps keep a clean online image; of the first fifty results for “Silvan Linn”, forty-eight are actually about me. Most of the stuff is relevant and positive, though I’ve had some success getting inane things I posted in high school under my real name removed. There are still a few dumb comments here and there in the results list, but luckily they’re quite buried. :P

So this time, I reach the seventh page and notice a result mentioning “iPod technical illustration”. The URL wasn’t a site I owned…what was this about? I click on it and find the first result you see up above. Fascinating — it’s still going.

That drawing started out as a project in High School technical illustration class. It was a pretty open-ended class, and I was free to practice illustration by picking stuff out of the parts bin and drawing it. The parts bin was mostly old lawnmower parts and the like, and I wanted something more complicated, so I decided to take apart my then-brand-new iPod and create an exploded view. At some point after finishing the drawing, I was proud enough of it to post it on SpyMac.com, which was an Apple rumor site back in the early 2000s. The user galleries there were mostly full of Photoshop renderings of potential Apple products; it would be great to see their archives again now that we know what Apple’s become. I remember, for instance, an “iPhone” concept that was a fat, oblong iPod with a capacitative rotary dial pad where the touch-wheel would be.

The drawing sat on SpyMac for a while. I’d forgotten that it was ever posted there until I got an email from this guy Leander Kahney, who said he was writing a book about the iPod and the culture surrounding it. He wanted to include the illustration; I said absolutely yes. It was pretty awesome to go into Chapters and see my illustration as a spread right across the middle of the book. A few months after the book was published, I got a call from the producer of a Discovery Channel show about “products that changed the world”; they wanted to use the image in that, too. I said yes again. And now I’m finding that it’s still alive on the Internet, appearing on blogs about the iPod and Steve Jobs’ legacy. That drawing sure has legs…I’m proud to be the author of what I suppose is the definitive iPod exploded view.

The drawing also got me a phone call from Jonathan Ive, which was one of the most awesome experiences imaginable for a nerdy high school Apple nut who wanted to go into industrial design…but I think I’ll leave that story at that.

January 25, 2012 — 1649

Arc welding results

I’ve gone to three of these welding classes so far. The first one was just introductory stuff, but in the second and third we’ve gotten to do some real work. The class starts out with traditional shielded metal arc welding — what people are usually referring to when they just say “arc welding”, where you have a consumable electrode that melts to supply the filler metal, and which is coated with a solid flux that burns to create shielding gas. It’s what the second guy in this post is doing. It’s fairly simple from a technological standpoint — just run 70-150 amps at maybe 40vDC through your electrode, strike it along the surface of the workpiece to ignite the arc, and get going. I understand that if you’re not doing anything too complicated, you can actually SMAW weld in a pinch with a couple of car batteries and jumper cables.

On the other hand, the proper technique is quite tricky, because you have to keep the electric arc at a steady length of about 1/8″ to get even heating…but the electrode is constantly melting to supply filler metal, increasing the length of the arc, so you have to steadily move closer to the workpiece. Get too far and the arc sputters and the weld fails, too close and you’ll fuse the electrode to the workpiece and short-circuit the machine. You have to keep the electrode at the proper angle even as it’s burning and you’re moving to maintain a good gas shield and steady arc performance. And to top it off, you can’t stop moving; as long as the arc is active, you’re dumping energy and depositing filler metal, so stay in one place too long and you’ll get a big nasty blob or melt a hole clean through to the floor.

But man it’s a lot of fun! Watching that 10,000° 100-amp arc roaring away, liquefying steel in seconds, is just too cool for words. And when you finish a weld and flip up the shield and the steel is glowing like a lightbulb from the heat…awesome.

Anyway, this was the second week’s exercise:

Just take a flat plate and run weld beads along it in a pattern, trying to keep the arc steady and the line straight, and learning how to leave off and pick up a bead again when the electrode burns out. I actually did this wrong. As it turns out you’re supposed to blend one weld into another, making the whole plate thicker, not build cornrows like I did. Apparently this is a common technique, though, when you need a thicker piece of steel than you have available: run welds along the whole upper surface until it’s thickened up, then mill the plate back down to a smooth surface. Odd concept but I guess it’s a good solution.

So, I made a bunch of plates like that, some with the proper blends. Last week was lap joints — overlapping several plates like a stair-step, then welding them together along the edges. Here’s the first, amazingly ugly, attempt at that:

Gross. Look at all those problems! The little arrowhead-shaped weld pools are from moving too fast, the excessive spatter and cratering is from too-high current, the thin spaghetti sections with no penetration are from an overly long arc. Some of it was also related to clamping the work piece at a poor angle, so the metal didn’t quite run where it was supposed to. The bottom plate is getting a little better, but there were still some nasty problems starting the arc (turned out to be an old, moist electrode) and nasty spots at the edge where I melted clean through.

Try, try again:

Getting a little closer. On the top piece you can see there were some bad attempts at picking up a solidified bead with a new electrode, and I moved a little too fast, but overall these had the right amount of penetration and were at least continuous. Not pretty though. SMAW welds will never be as pretty as a good TIG weld, what with all the scorching and spattering from the flux, though a lot of the dirt and gunk you see in the above shots would clean off nicely with a wire brush. Flux scorching aside, the ultimate goal is to get that sort of “stack of nickels” look of a really high quality weld, where each step is evenly round and aligned perfectly with the previous one. By the end I was starting to get the hang of it, I think:

Certainly not professional, but I’m pretty happy with those and with some cleaning they’d be okay for something non-cosmetic. Practice makes perfect!

Looking forward to next week…it’s always gratifying to learn new skills.

January 20, 2012 — 1821

New site up!

I’ve decided to officially bring my new site online! Much better than the old one, of course! In addition to the portfolio, I’ve added a better Research page and a new “Experiments” section for stuff that I’m working on but isn’t quite finished yet. I’ve integrated the blog into the main site so that everything is accessible from one place. The underlying content management system is WordPress, but the front-facing HTML and CSS is all hand-coded.

There are a few things that I’m still working on, but they don’t affect the stability of the main site:

1) Build a new photo browser. That section is temporarily out of order until I can work out something that I like well enough, but I think I have an idea; check back soon.
2) Write about the projects I’m working on that I haven’t bothered to document yet, and put them in the Experiments section.
3) Collect some of the posts from my previous site and flesh them out a bit. I wasn’t big on making updates on the previous site, particularly while I was working on my thesis, because it was a real pain to write long documents directly into nano…it’s just not a good page-layout program :P . So I may go back and, uh, retcon some of those two-line updates to be a little more descriptive, then stick them in the archives here where they belong.

So welcome!


[edit] Well, no transition ever goes quite smoothly. I thought I’d accounted for everything but moving the site from the test system to the live server broke all the image links. They should be fixed by now, though.

[edit 2] Aaand I’ve modified the portfolio index page so that it works properly on Internet Explorer. If you’ve got any experience writing HTML, you’ll certainly have come across some of IE’s, ahem, “quirks” — pieces of code that work perfectly in every other browser on the planet but fall apart if you load them in Internet Explorer. Somewhat surprisingly, it turns out this isn’t the result of poor coding on Microsoft’s part; IE actually follows the official HTML standards more accurately than any other browser. But this means that if you make little hacky workarounds in your code that don’t quite follow the best practices, the more easygoing browsers will render it “the way you probably meant”, while IE just falls apart. I admit it keeps you from being lazy, but man is it frustrating to have to go back and rewrite chunks of your code just to appease a browser that you don’t even use :P

January 19, 2012 — 2319

Lead and Gold Soundtrack

For a while I’ve had this video game called “Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Wild West”, a multiplayer third-person shooter set in the Old West. It’s got quite a pretty aesthetic — clean and slightly stylized, effectively conveying the mood of western scenery without being overly specific or photorealistic. I’ve always loved the look of the west, and this is a nice artistic interpretation.

I haven’t played the game in a while, but something that I do keep coming back to is the music. The composer has done a bang-up job of creating a score that I think is getting up there with Ennio Morricone. It’s not particularly bombastic like some of the Hollywood westerns, but it still captures the western appeal perfectly. Sometimes it’s triumphant, sometimes mournful, sometimes jaunty, but always seems to fit with the awesome (in the classical sense) landscapes and the self-reliant attitude of the settlers.

Yeah, I know that a lot of the appealing facets of the Old West have been more recently fabricated out of some sort of romantic nostalgia. The real West is probably closer to what you see in Unforgiven — cold, harsh and brutal. But who cares? Fun is fun, and this particular concept of the West has resulted in fun music.

The game development team is Swedish, so it seems kind of odd that they’d hit the mark of this very American topic so well, but I’m not complaining. I’m just listening to the soundtrack on repeat.

Main Theme
Devil’s Pit
Jacob’s Bridge
Prospector’s Peak
The Fort

Check it out.

January 17, 2012 — 0123


This, from last week, is what happens when you have an ice storm right next to Lake Ontario:

Eerily pretty, and pretty amazing to see a car completely encased in half an inch of ice. A chunk that came off the grille had a nicely rendered casting of the Ford logo inside.

A few days later, it warms up just enough for the ice to melt, and the water runs down into the low-lying areas. Then it freezes again. And you end up with this:


It’s as smooth as a skating rink — I would have absolutely adored that as a kid.

Well…it turned out to be a lot of fun at 25, too.

January 09, 2012 — 1452

Rockbox makes your iPod uglier

I didn’t even know that you COULD replace the software on an iPod. It’s an Apple product, right? What business do you have altering the Apple Experience?

I’ve had this little iPod Nano for several years now. As far as I’m concerned it’s the most elegant of all the iPod designs…tall, lightweight and slender, with just the right proportions. Makes my first-gen — which was the sleekest MP3 player you could get when it came out, of course — look like a brick. So I keep it around, mostly loaded up with the kind of powerful symphonic electronica that makes you want to drive above the speed limit. Still holds quite a good charge.

So when recently I got an album in FLAC (lossless) format I was saddened that I couldn’t stick it on the iPod. I could have transcoded it down to MP3, of course, but I thought hey — I wonder if FLAC actually does sound detectably different from a high-bitrate MP3? Maybe I could find some new firmware for the iPod that would add a FLAC encoder. So I looked around a bit and located this project:


Well, that was a surprise. Not just a firmware patch, but an entirely new operating system for dozens of MP3 players, the iPod foremost among them. So I downloaded and installed the new firmware and found that my iPod had suddenly gained a couple new codecs (FLAC among them), a proper graphic equalizer, a better file system, a bunch of apps — yes, really, apps — and a myriad of other interesting features. Neato!

Oh, and one other thing — it got a new interface. If you’re not familiar with the original iPod Nano interface, here it is:

But here’s what you get when you install Rockbox:

Sigh. I give the hardware hackers enormous credit for discovering how to completely replace the operating system on what has historically been a very closed platform, but — seriously? Does this actually look “good” to anyone, anywhere? I assume that what they were going for was “functional”, but it’s not even that, because the text is miniscule and the interface doesn’t maintain internal consistency (eg: for some inexplicable reason, whether the menu button takes you back to the previous screen depends on what the previous screen was).

I’m going to stick with it for now, because I’ve found that there are some settings to increase the font size and possibly remove some of the useless extraneous information, and it appears that I can install other themes that aren’t quite as ghastly. Nevertheless, this really shouldn’t be what someone sees when they first boot up their brand-new software for their formerly well-designed MP3 player. Yuck.

It seems to me like there’s a segment of the open-source community that almost revels in ugly interfaces, implying that if an interface is too pretty it’s only for n00bs or casual users or whatever — and then there’s another segment that just adores cramming in every possible feature in a big list with no thought given to mental load. I think that Rockbox is probably the constructive interference right at the collision of the two.

At least now I can listen to the Skyrim soundtrack in the car!

January 02, 2012 — 1321

Welding classes

I decided to sign up for a welding course at the local community college. Having only ever messed around with a MIG (“the glue gun of welders”) a couple of times, I thought that it’d be useful to learn the proper techniques to make really nice-looking strong welds with all the various technologies. I once was told that “one should always have a trade and a profession, because then you use both your mind and your body, and if there is no work in one there is bound to be in the other.” A profound insight from a wise person — they should teach that concept in high school.

So anyway, going to start taking classes on the 9th, learning oxyacetylene, SMAW, MIG and TIG welding. I always love learning new skills like this.

And besides, just look at these cool dudes!


n.b. These are both images from the Farm Security Administration, shot between 1935 and 1945. If you haven’t seen the series before (though I guarantee you’ll recognize some of the photos), I completely endorse spending a while looking through the database at the Library of Congress. Every photo in the collection gives you pause, but the color photos from the Office of War Information are absolutely stunning, showing just what a master with Kodachrome and a 4×5 can do.