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Time-Lapse Video of Georgia Tech

March 18, 2009

It’s now spring break on the campus of Georgia Tech and I have plenty of studying remaining before I take the Fundamentals of Engineering examination (this test is preliminary to obtaining a Professional Engineer’s License).  I’ve been interested in doing a time-lapse video of the three main engineering buildings on Georgia Tech’s campus, so I multitasked while studying today and took photos of the buildings every five minutes.  Here is the time-lapse video created from the photos I took today:

The “MRDC” building is to the left, the “MARC” building is to the right, and the “Love Building” is visible through the alley between them.  To reiterate what I stated about “how I made it” in the youtube video info:

SOFTWARE: photos stitched together into a video with windows movie maker.
HARDWARE: one janky tripod made of parts found around my lab, and one Canon Powershot SD1000 Digital Elph. The Elph’s battery life impressed me: more than 160 “On / Photo Capture / Off” operations performed as well as full offload of photos with no battery death.
RECORDING: Photos taken once every five minutes from the hour of sunrise until the sun set behind the horizon (a little over 12 hours). The resulting 160 photos were played back at 0.25 second intervals. A duration of 0.125 seconds for each photo was a little too fast.

I think my first attempt at making a time-lapse video was largely a learning lesson.  I think the video was mediocore for a number of reasons.  Lessons learned:

1.  My goal was to get a “whole day” of architectural shadows recorded–from sunrise to sunset–but half of the day was overcast.  Unfortunately, this was the only day I had available to take the photos, so I had to run with it and hope for the best; luckily the sun came out after around 1 PM–but the video did not really get interesting until then.  Particularly since my subject was architectural shadows, I don’t think it was worth taking pictures when the subject was not around to record.

2.  Timing the taking of photos to the speed of the subject.  The photos in this video were taken at five minute intervals, which I think is just barely sufficient to capture the path which the building shadows followed in this video.  But cloud movement–a much faster subject which would have been interesting to observe–was MUCH faster than a five minute photo interval would allow.  I really enjoy the time-lapse vids which show the progress of clouds across the sky.  My video obviously couldn’t fall into that category.

This point also elucidates how much more “value-for-your-time” which the concept of “timing photos to your subject’s speed” can add for someone who is making a time-lapse video.  For this video, I was snapping pictures every five minutes for 12 hours straight…  But I think a much more interesting video which showed clouds forming up and scudding across the sky could have been made in just two hours, by taking a photo every thirty seconds.  This approach would have kept me completely busy for two hours, but would have created a more interesting final product.

3.  A more solid tripod–and a remote shutter button–would have helped a little.  I was using bits of hardware which I found in my research lab to make a “camera tripod,” and I think small wiggles in the video are due to the sloppiness in the base I had the camera mounted to.

Carbon Fiber Fender Fabrication with Downing Atlanta Composites

March 9, 2009

In the 27th day of the month of February in the year Twenty-0-Nine (as well as the Monday after that Friday) I went to the site of Downing Atlanta Inc..  Through someone I met through my “Creative Decisions and Design” class Teaching Assistantship, I had been put in contact with Jim Downing, a Georgia Tech graduate who heads up the operation.  Downing, Inc. houses Downing Atlanta Composites, Downing Atlanta Superchargers, and is also the home of Jim Downing’s SCCA race team. 

My master’s thesis, which I am currently working on at Georgia Tech, is focusing on fatigue in cross-ply carbon fiber/epoxy laminates.  However, I have had no personal experience with the manufacturing of composite parts (with the exception of ‘reading about it’ in a textbook).  Particularly with respect to composites, the method with which they are manufactured plays a large role in determining their eventual mechanical performance.  So, my ignorance of composite manufacturing methods would be a very large hole in any claim I could make about being an expert in composite materials–master’s degree or no master’s degree.  

Fortunately for me, the planets aligned themselves and the sun shone in my favor: Downing Composites has extensive experience in manufacturing composite parts, I was very interested in banishing my ignorance in this area, and Jim Downing had a need for an extra set of hands to prep some car body fenders for an upcoming race.  So it was that I spent a couple 11 hour days working alongside Jerry ‘Rabbit” Lambert–that unfathomable well of composite manufacturing experience–and Jeff, his youthful apprentice in The Black Art of Black Fibers.  All are great chaps to the last man and I owe them, big time, for this experience.   Particularly since they were all kind (and patient) enough to allow me to take pictures while we went through the process of making the fenders.  Since they allowed me to take photographs, I will record the process here for internet posterity.

Thanks guys!


The first day I was there we created the molds for the racecar fenders.  The second day I was there, we created the fenders using the previously made molds.  Unfortunately:

1) I missed seeing how they applied the base surfaces of gel coat to the “pattern” (the term will be explained shortly).  The purpose of the project was to get an additional 2″ of wheel clearance relative to an older set of fenders.  To accomplish this, the older fenders had been beefed up with Bondo to get the additional 2″ of fender height and then gel coat was applied to this beefed up fender…  The ‘beefed up fender’ served as the form and shape which the new composite fenders will take and this ‘base form’ in composite manufacturing is called the “plug” or “pattern.”  If the plug had had to be made from scratch (i.e., if no “older fender to apply Bondo on top of” existed), a plug would have to have been fabricated from a foam block or some other material which could be sculpted to the desired shape of the final part…  This shape would then have served as the pattern which gel coat would have been applied to.  (Bondo is a two-part putty: a polyester resin which, when mixed with a hardener, will set to a rock-hard consistency.  The user can apply the putty while it is still pliable, allow it to set, and then sand it to shape.  It is a very commonly used ‘plastic body filler’ which can be used to fill in or build up components which have been damaged or dented.  “Tooling gelcoat” will be explained later.)

2) I also missed the last few steps of the fender manufacturing process: adding the last sheet of carbon fiber cloth over the top of the honeycomb core.  Thus, I also never got to see the final product after removal from the mold :-(.  Jeff and Rabbit had also worked on the molds a little bit in my absence (on the Saturday and Sunday between the Friday and Monday which I worked with them).  However, the work I missed on those days did not include any steps which would have been crucial for including in a blog entry about ‘how carbon fiber fenders are made.’ 

DAY 1: Making the Molds

When I showed up on Monday morning, the first two things I saw sitting on a couple tables were a pair of these:



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Design Education, pt. II

March 8, 2009

As I explained in my last blog post, I am currently a teaching assistant for an engineering design class at Georgia Tech.  In that post, I showed an email which I had sent to my students, imploring them to think more clearly about the design process (and design tools), and I explained how understanding epistemology and possessing clear definitions of design concepts can enable this.  I received another round of reports from my students again this week, and they were MUCH better this time around.  I even saw that some of the students had explicitly adopted some of the ideas I had shared with them, and I’ll admit that it was exciting to see that I had helped them to think more clearly.  Amidst the usual frustration which is inherent to teaching a subject you love to questionably interested students, design education can be rewarding when you see you have gotten through to them.

However, unclear thinking was still evident in most of these new reports.  Specifically, most of these reports showed that the students did not really understand what constitutes the definition of the challenges of a design problem (this was a skill which should have been learned earlier in the semester).  In this latest set of reports they had to identify the technical challenges inherent to a design/build/test competition which they have to compete in.  The problem entails making a device which can A) knock over and clear two bowling pins from their “zone” in the competition arena, and B) deposit four plastic “salary” balls into a “bank” (A cylindrical rotating aluminum drum, two feet in diameter, one foot high, with a one foot diameter hole in the middle of the top…  There are also “swindler” bowling pins affixed to the rim of this rotating drum to complicate getting the balls into the “bank”).

Here is an email I wrote to my students to help them differentiate between “problem definition” and “definition of challenges” (as well as the joys of McMaster-Carr, the four-bar linkage, and ‘flexible design.’):

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Design Education

February 28, 2009

I am currently (Spring semester 2009) a teaching assistant at Georgia Tech for ME 2110, “Creative Decisions and Design.”  It is the Mechanical Engineering Department’s flagship sophomore design class.  It’s been fun to help teach this class because–duh–I enjoy the content: design engineering.  Taking ME 6101, the graduate level “Engineering Design” class in the fall of 2008, gave me a whole new perspective on design education, and really taught me to see the relationship between my interest in philosophy and design itself.  Design is ultimately a journey of epistemology–proceeding from the abstract to the specific.  Understanding how your brain works by having a good grasp of the process of concept formation gives you a strong sense of how to use your mind to effectively design a successful product.

My students recently submitted a set of reports.  They were pretty terrible for the most part.  I saw how so many of their problems could be traced to slovenly epistemology and lack of clear thinking, foggy problem definition,  and an amorphous grasp of the purpose of the design tools they were supposed to use (or maybe it was just laziness on their part–hopefully not though).  I chose to send them an email about my thoughts on epistemology, and tried to frame a discussion on an abstract philosophical topic in terms and examples which they could hopefully see relating directly to their design/build/test project, while also trying to justify to them why it’s in their own self interest to understand this seemingly unrelated topic.  Here is that email:

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Wally Yachts

February 24, 2009

Today’s feature will not directly affect many people.  Chances are, you probably won’t see one of these devices in your lifetime, and it isn’t even a device which is used to create something which you would eventually come in contact with.  But we can all dream that we’d ever come so close to this, which is practically a dream on Earth.  The aesthetically stunning appeal of the work which Wally Yachts is producing is worth an entry. 

First, a bit about how I came across this company.  Several years ago I was vacillating between the pursuit of two different co-op positions.  On one hand, I had an interest in wind turbines.  On the other, a love of sailboats.  I chose to pursue the wind turbine route, and went to work for GE Wind Energy for, in total, four rotations–a little over a year.  In particular, the manufacturing rotation I did at GE was fantastic.  I was in charge of making assembly instructions for the machine head (box on top of the tower which houses the gearbox, generator, and control equipment) so I learned a LOT about heavy machine assembly.  It was a fantastically educational experience.  But while I was considering pursuing a co-op position in the sailboat industry, I was looking at various companies who design and manufacture them.  One of the ones I stumbled across was Wally Yachts.

And the beauty of these yachts blew my brain.  My three favorites:





The bulwark around the perimeter of this boat is unusual for Wally Design–their designs commonly feature decks which convey a sense of seamlessness with the ocean surroundings via a ‘flush deck’ design.  However, I think the bulwark only enhances the clean lines on this boat.  I regard it as absolutely gorgeous.  

Read more…

Best Show Ever Coming to DVD?

February 23, 2009

Every month or so I go onto Google and search around to see if the best show ever made is on sale on DVD yet. 

What is this best show ever made? 

Discovery Channel’s ‘How It’s Made,’ of course. 

I checked today and it is NOW ON SALE.  Except it’s being sold through ‘Discovery Education,’ which is their retail outlet for teachers…  Which is a niche market, which is somehow making Discovery think they will make money by charging $60.00 for a 30 minute show?  Teachers might not be buying these things out of their own pockets, but shoot, that’s mucho dinero for not so much show.  If I was a bean counter for a school, I’d call shenanigans on a teacher’s request to buy DVD’s at that rate–though my professional  bean counter opinion is that this show absolutely would rule as an educational tool.

Hopefully, this is the prelude to Discovery marketing the show to the public, at which point they will have to drop their prices because not even I, the most mesmerized How It’s Made fan, am willing to pay that.

As a warm-up for a post which I’ll be making in a day or two, check out how ship’s wheels are made.

When Value Identification is More Important Than Ever

February 16, 2009

As I laid out in this essay, the ultimate ethical purpose of design must be the promotion of the life of the customer.  This is never more important to keep in mind when designing than when the product being considered will be a tool which is of life and death importance to the customer.

It is a tragic fact that an astonishing percentage of the people on this planet live in grinding poverty.  As one way of quantifying this, the world population is about 6.8 billion people and fully 1.8 billion of them only have access to water within 1 kilometer of their home–not in their yard or house.  That is over a fourth of the world’s population which is wasting quite a bit of time walking about  in order to get water every day. 

Many see this as unmitigated tragedy.  When I see a large group of people with a set of very large problems, I see a place for boundless opportunity–for the improvement of human life. 

Many people earnestly are attempting to correct the unfortunate circumstances of these people’s lives through philanthropic endeavors.  This may assist some people on a small scale, but it will never correct things on a large scale.  No amount of charitable foundations can get problems solved like modern production techniques can.  With such an enormous market, the economies of scale are tantalizingly attractive and the potential product designs are intense endeavors in minimizing cost.  This is right where a Henry Ford, mass production type model is needed.

The reason I bring this topic up is an Economist article which I was forwarded by a friend.  It addresses the previosuly unsuccessful attempts which designers have made at creating stoves for the impoverished.  Previous attempts were successful exercises in context dropping.  Designers (from the first world) didn’t understand how these devices were going to be used (by people in the third world), so they didn’t think about how these devices should be properly made.  One example was the following:

After an initial wave of stove design that sought to reduce deforestation through improved efficiency, scientists and engineers have turned their attention to stoves that minimise the levels of noxious emissions to which stove users—mainly women and children—are exposed. Crucially, they have also recognised the need to take account of the way in which stoves are actually used… In the refugee camps of Darfur, the dough for the staple food, assida, requires vigorous stirring of the cooking pot. “None of the stoves we tested had been built with this in mind,” says Ashok Gadgil, the head of the Darfur Stoves Project. Only after the stoves were seen to tip over during cooking did Dr Gadgil and his researchers go back to the drawing board and refine the design.

As designers, it is imperative to get inside the heads of your consumer and think about the hassles they face, the values which are relevant to them (particularly given their cultural norms and income level), how they are going to use the product (not how you would use the product), and then design features which answer their specific needs–it is, in essence, the art of identifying the consumer’s context.

One company which seems to be off and running in the business of stove making, featured in that economist article:

Their stoves, to me, appear to be far too flashy for what these potential customers would value.  To really maximize profit–which is what will really help these people the most by attracting investors who are able to sell cheap, functional stoves to a large number of people who demand them–it would seem to me that designs are needed which are far more utilitarian.

The Reactable

February 9, 2009

As a fan of electronic music, I thought this device was particularly interesting.  Today’s device is The Reactable and it is a musical instrument–a synthesizer which translates all the functions of a typical synthesizer into an intuitive interface of blocks which are moved around the surface of a table.  The shape of the blocks represent their function: a beat generator, for example, or an audio manipulation of some type.  The blocks interact with each other to make modified sounds and their interactions are represented on the table by a projector underneath the table…  The projector represents the audio interaction as a visual link between the two blocks on the table.  Rotating blocks adjusts the ‘output’ of the block–increasing or decreasing the frequency or pitch of the sound from the block, for example.  A good video of the device is here:

As a guy who has no musical training whatsoever, I really dig this project because it allows a no-training hack to pick up music-making as easily as picking a block up off a table.  With a similarly intuitive computer connected to the table, which could feed in samples which the user has an interest in, this concept for human/computer interaction could become huge, not to mention make this a successful product on its own (and it looks like they are planning on getting a business going to sell this thing).

This project piques my interest as it relates to distributed collaborative design as well.  My graduate class in design focused quite a bit on distributed collaborative engineering, and the reactable is an excellent illustration of how clever physical design merged with an understanding of epistemology can make complex tasks happen far more easily with innovative technology.  This project takes a very abstract task–music creation–and turns it into a physical activity which a small child could pick up in moments.  This is powerful–technologies which are designed to help stimulate thought in terms of visualization are only the beginning.  Humans are more visual creatures than anything else, in that vision is the way we get most information to our brain.  The next most important sense in terms of leveraging for creating thsi technology would probably be auditory and then tactility.  It’s hard to envision technologies which would be useful to collaborative engineering that stimulated taste or smell.  Tactility might be hard to implement, but maybe that’s a conceptual project I could work on–how can the human tactile sense be used to enable collaborative design technology?  But I think visual is the most promising–that’s where a lot of ‘low hanging fruit’ ought to be, for technologies like this.  Study of how people interpret images; field of perception; the ‘variables’ of sight: color, brightness, shadow, depth, etc?…  There’s a lot of things to ‘play with’ when creating visual interfaces for people.

The area of Human Computer Interaction is something I need to look into.  I believe they have a group at Georgia Tech who specialize in it.

AFM Harvester

February 5, 2009

The device in this video is an AFM Harvester and it made me so excited:

Pure, uncut(!) awesome.  The background music makes me want to ride to the hills and render wide swaths of forested lands into building materials, paper, toothpicks, and easily farmed land.


  • This thing does, in about 20 seconds, what I imagine would take a skilled human at least 6 hours to do (though I’ll grant that those “Great American Lumberjack” guys could probably prove me wrong in that time estimate for meat-workers.  nevertheless, their brawn could never compete with the brains behind this thing.).  The amount of hard labor which this device saves people from–freaking awesome.
  • Imagine all the potential “input variables” which these designers had to account for when designing the machine.  A range of trunk diameters, wood toughnesses, tree heights and weights, different size limbs/different shaped canopies, how the falling tree will interact with its densely wooded surroundings.  They had to design for a level of robustness which could tolerate a spectrum of all of these things for a reasonable service interval and product lifetime, appropriate to a piece of “heavy equipment.”
  • Powered by hydraulics of the platform machine–no additional fueling operations.
  • It has a brain!!  From their website: “The AFM harvester head fells the tree with a chains[sic] saw, delimbs it and cross-cuts it to exact log lengths. It is usually equipped with a measuring system which allows controlling the cross-cutting process by dividing and optimizing the stem effectively using intelligent prognosis.


  •  Mounting the machine on the end of a multi-jointed arm, as it is on this excavator, at first seems a rather unwieldy and inefficent platform.  The benefit is that the arm allows many trees in the vehicle’ proximity to be reached–minimizing time required to reposition the vehicle.  The cost is: time spent waiting for the arm and excavator to swing into place. 
  • –> I suspect that, given the bumpy terrain which the platform has to operate in and the random placement of trees, the current “slow-moving platform/articulated arm design” will make more sense.  In such terrain, it may be more efficient to have a device which can easily be moved to the trees from the platform, as opposed to the device and the platform moving to the tree. 
  • That said, an accelerometer-based, PID controlled serohydraulic stabilizing mechanism might be able to minimize the time which the device spends swinging around in the air. 
  • To further minimize reliance on the operator, tree targeting and acquisition sensor control systems could be incorporated.
  • It can only fell trees in one direction efficiently (to the right of the excavator, in that video).  I may be wrong about this: the excavator could pivot to allow the delimbed tree to exit the device to the left.

More later!


First Post

February 5, 2009

I am a student of mechanical engineering whose career interests could be summed up by:

“Identifying and satisfying people’s values through the design of physical products.”

I love mechanical design.  This blog will be about incredible machines which I find on the internet and comment on, as well as my personal design work and thoughts on design theory and philosophy.