Such a good quote

September 27th, 2012 by

I just came across this comment to a New York Times article. It is just so well written and perfectly conveys my experiences.

I've been a vegetarian for a long time. For both health and animal cruelty issues. But I don't preach; I just eat. Still, it's remarkable how vegetarianism angers folks. Really angers them. Especially the older ones. Somehow it's un-American. Many carnivores think I'm accusing them of something. Try telling people you're a vegan sometime. It's hilarious. Imagine a vegetarian running for president. A communist transexual would be elected before a vegetarian.

Speaking of which, I have explained what I eat and why so many times over the last few years that I've lost count. I never, ever bring it up but always need to be ready for the standard array of questions when I do not eat something with cheese on it.

No, I do not live in a tree with a spotted owl named Moonsparkle. Yes, I can eat mushrooms although they are not technically denizens of the plant kingdom. No, my shoes and belts are not leather due to the magic of synthetics. Yes, lions do hunt gazelle and all of that but they don't exactly have any other options. No, my cats and dogs do not eat animals and don't need to in order to be healthy and happy. Yes, I am physically fit with off the charts B12 and calcium levels, half the cholesterol level I had a few years ago and twenty pounds lighter. All of these, except for one, are real questions I've been asked. The vast majority of people are nice and polite, but some people just open up with a barrage of questions, usually seeking out some fallacious chink in the vegan armor.

If you're a question barrager, please take the time to read this extremely reasonable book written by a former Bush speechwriter or this short and sweet video (or any other Mercy for Animals video) and your questions will be answered. I'm happy to answer non-confrontational questions just to dispel the notion that vegans are the black-bloc wing of the vegetarians. But please, no more gotcha- or owl-questions. And I never plan to run for elected office.

Triggering traffic lights on a bike

September 1st, 2012 by

Today I learned how inductive loop sensors at traffic lights work.

The motivation was a traffic light on my route to work that never detects me. Until now I have been carefully positioning my bike into the middle of the loop. I had been assuming that it was based upon the movement of a small piece of steel somewhere on my aluminum bike inducing current in the loop. This concept fits with the fact that cars (large with lots of steel) reliably trigger loop sensors while bikes (small and usually not much steel) often do not. The solution then would be to stick a magnet on your bike. Problem solved right?

This is not how inductive loop sensors work, thanks to this fantastic writeup. They are resonant systems. The loop forms an inductor in an LC circuit that is driven on resonance (at 20-30 kHz usually). Any change in the inductance shifts the resonant frequency. What's great about this is that your car/bike is part of an oscillator. A car triggers the loop by being large and conductive, not large and magnetic. Your vehicle behaves like a shortened turn in the roadway inductor, increasing the resonant frequency of the oscillator.

Similarly, a bicycle triggers the loop sensor by decreasing the inductance seen by the circuit. The best way to do this is by bringing a large ring of metal to the region with the largest magnetic field. Your tire rims, unless you spent a small fortune on carbon fiber ones, provide the loops. But where should you position your bike? It depends on the way the loop is configured. If it's a simple square then you should position it directly over one of the long edges, not in the middle of the loop. If you can see two side-by-side squares in the pavement then you should position yourself over the center line where there are two wires carrying current in the same direction. If there are diagonal cuts in the pavement, just make sure that one of your wheels is over one of the diagonal lines. If the first link is too daunting, read this link (or either of these) for short and sweet diagrams.

It is impressive how many people think that run of the mill permanent magnets can trigger inductive loop sensors (myself included this morning). Loop sensors are normally designed to detect an increase in resonant frequency (i.e. inductance decrease). However, some fraction of loop sensors are configured to also respond to an increase in inductance and you can buy magnets on the internet that purportedly trigger loop sensors. So could you just strap a chunk of iron onto your bike frame? Probably not. If you look at the patent application filed by the Green Light Trigger company you'll see that the magnet needs to be ceramic, i.e. high electrical resistivity. As the excitation frequency increases the apparent inductance of a magnet decreases due to eddy currents which short it out. By increasing the resistivity of the magnet you increase the corner frequency up to which it looks like an inductor to the circuit. Some people on the internet claim that magnets don't work because only inductance decreases are registered. Others, who are trying to sell you stuff, claim that inductance increases are also detected and their magnets work. Either way, someone on the internet is wrong.

The frequency change required to trigger the loop sensor depends on a threshold that is programmed into the system. There is a tradeoff in setting the threshold - too low and cars in adjacent lanes might trigger a left turn light. Too high and bicycles and motorcycles will not be detected. This means that if the loop sensor is relatively small (< 10 feet long) then it's just a matter of adjusting the sensitivity. If you have positioned your bike properly and it still doesn't trigger then you should let your city know so that they can reprogram it. I haven't had a chance to ride through my problem intersection yet, but hopefully the power of physics will help me next time and if not, the magic of complaint forms on the internet will.

TLDR: Your bicycle rims are primarily responsible for triggering loop sensors. Learn where you should place your bike. If the loop sensor still doesn't work you should contact your city.

Farm Sanctuary’s new animal hospital

September 1st, 2012 by

Everybody likes getting their name on a wall

Certificate of completion

August 24th, 2012 by

Bam! I do surveys for NASA.


Wall mounting bikes

August 19th, 2012 by

We moved in the beginning of August. I'll post photos gradually over time.

One of the changes that we needed to make at the new house was where we store our bikes. I'm biking to work every day now and the new garage is detached from the house, so we decided to keep the bikes inside. But we have a lot of bikes - three full sized bikes plus my wife's folding bike, which luckily fits in a closet. Initially I was just storing them in my office on the floor, but they were taking up half of the room. So I found a wall mounting solution on Amazon. In order to pack the three ~23" wide bikes into a 54" wide space behind my door I needed to stagger them on the wall. This also meant that the bike mounts would be mounted on drywall rather than studs, so I ended up using toggle bolts (3/16" worked well for the Delta Leonardo racks that I used). Here's the result:

Leonardo bike racks

Stick a fork in me

June 10th, 2012 by

Despite the lack of activity here, I'm alive and well. I've actually been writing up a storm, something like a 650 page thesis, 200 pages of a book and two journal papers in the past six months. I also successfully defended in March, so am basically done with the PhD and just waiting for signatures on the thesis.

I also found a job, and will be starting at SiTime later this summer doing resonator design. Hopefully all of your electronic devices will be using silicon oscillators to keep time within the next few years. Between now and then I'm going to wrap up the book and take a little bit of time off. My wife and I will be moving to a more walkable area soon and staying in the Bay Area for the foreseeable future. With the majority of the writing behind me, expect to see more photos and posts here.

Kelvin the lap dog

April 8th, 2012 by

Mr. Big Boy by Joey Doll on

VU meter

January 10th, 2012 by

My amazing 17 year old brother made this vu meter from scratch. I'm ten years older and actually have an EE degree (who knew?) and could never do anything like this. Go Alex!

Happy holidays

December 30th, 2011 by

Thanksgiving for the Turkeys 2011

November 23rd, 2011 by

We went to Orland again this year for Thanksgiving for the Turkeys. Here are a few of the photos that I took. I also included a photo of Oliver, a calf who we met in 2010 and 2011. Oliver was abandoned and left to starve before ending up at Farm Sanctuary because male Jerseys are worthless to farmers except for veal production. You can see how much he grew in just a year - actually being fed will do that to you.

Oliver Again