Thursday, December 8, 2011

Rebel LED Headlamp

Avid followers of this blog (hi Mom!) may remember my earlier post about the project that I did to replace the guts of an old Petzl Zoom incandescent headlamp with a rechargeable battery and a high output quad LED array. It worked pretty well, the headlamp is now a real barn burner which I use regularly for running at night and outdoor adventures. While naturally the new electronics are pretty buttoned up (aside from slowly melting the bulb housing where the LED now sits; thermal modeling is not one of my strengths), the old Petzl case which I retrofitted has some shortcomings. Namely, it is big and clunky, having been designed for a much larger battery and incandescent bulb. The new electronic assembly makes it lighter, but I really need a redesigned case as well.

As it would turn out, my brother Trev is a mechanical engineer who likes building stuff, and he also has an interest in nighttime outdoor activities. He had been working on a headlamp project also where he was designing and building the housings but then using stock electronics, the inverse of my approach. So, we naturally decided to combine forces and build the ultimate headlamp. I have created a board which is an updated version of the one I did for the Petzl headlamp, it is in fabrication and should be back in a week or two. In the meantime, to allow Trev to start designing the battery housing I found some really cool software for exporting 3D models of PCB layouts from Eagle. Here are the results:

It exports into Google Sketchup, but from there you can export it as a .STL file which can be opened by Solidworks and other CAD packages. Pretty awesome! Trev has also been busy on his end, machining the LED housing and whipping out some CAD for helmet, head, and handlebar mounting options. He had them rapid prototyped by Shapeways, check out the results on his blog. We're pretty excited to see it coming together, I'll post some updates as we continue to build them up.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Costa Rica - Day 8

After rolling out of bed and enjoying a nice breakfast consisting off the remnants of the food we had purchased during the trip, it was time to head to the Tamarindo Airport to catch our flight back to San Jose so that we could spend a day exploring the city before flying back to Seattle on the next day. After a nice chat with the owners of Los Villas (Isabelle and Alejandro) we hopped in the BeGo and headed out in search of gas for a refill before returning it. We had assumed that Tamarindo would have a gas station, being a sizeable town, it does not. We had then assumed that Playa Flamingo had a gas station after having been informed that it did by a few travel websites, it once did but is now closed. One our last attempt before giving up and returning the BeGo with an empty tank we finally located one in El Llano, and then headed back to Tamarindo to return the BeGo. It was a sad morning to part with our trusted friend, Roanne even penned a heartfelt little tune called "The BeGo and Me" (ask her to sing it for you next time you see her). Here I am enjoying one last quiet moment with the BeGo before being shuttled off to the airport:

We arrived at the Tamarindo airport to find that it set a new record for most rustic airport we had flown out of (except maybe for a ski plane on a glacier in Alaska, but that doesn't really count as an airport). However, the single propellor plane that we would be flying on did arrive on time and looked quite new, so we happily climbed on board for the one hour flight back to San Jose. Here is the view out of the plane's window after we had boarded, at the only other plane on the airstrip that sunny morning:

We both had window seats (in fact, everyone did, because in a plane that small every seat is both a window seat and an aisle seat) and so were afforded some nice views of the countryside as we took off. Here is a view of the airstrip that we had flown from:

And another looking back out toward the coast:

We had a smooth landing in San Jose, and after disembarking (much more fun on a small plane like that where you get to climb down 3 steps onto the runway) we hailed a taxi and headed into San Jose for our final Costa Rican accommodations at the Hotel Grano de Oro. We have made a tradition of staying in an upscale hotel on our last night in a big city on our vacations, and the Hotel Grano de Oro was no exception, being an immaculately maintained building with really nice rooms, friendly staff, and a great restaurant. After a short snooze in our room we then headed out to explore San Jose, first making our way through a few markets and down some of the busy, pedestrian-only streets:

We then conducted a general walking tour of the city, making our way past the National Museum which had some nice outdoor sculptures with one of the granite spheres that archeologists have found in Costa Rica:

We also saw some nice outdoor murals:

And numerous other sights. As dusk started to fall we made our way back to our hotel, which had some nice outdoor Christmas decorations:

Costa Ricans seem to be crazy about Christmas, every hotel that we stayed in had Christmas trees already up and decorated, decorations on room doors, and all throughout the hotel. We had a nice dinner that night at the hotel restaurant which served French food (though not as good as the night prior in Tamarindo) and then headed off to bed.

The next morning we woke up and after a delicious breakfast we packed our bags one final time and began our journey back to Seattle. We really enjoyed our time in Costa Rica, and if I had to distill all of the travel advice we would pass on into one sentence, it would be: Check out the rain forests and go surfing. Adios!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Costa Rica - Day 7

As you may have noticed in the pictures up until now, I uncharacteristically have a mustache. The reason for that is because I was participating in Movember, a month-long event in which brave men grow mustaches for the purpose of raising awareness for men's health issues such as prostate cancer. While I had semi-enjoyed my monthlong attempt at growing a mustache, as it was now December, the time had come to shave it off (much to Roanne's delight).

And, dear reader, while I have your attention, let me quickly explain my rationale in growing a standard-issue, no-nonsense police officer's mustache as opposed to something more elaborate. My explanation is motivated by criticism I have received along the way, particularly from my lovely wife who complained that I wasn't growing a "funnier" mustache. The reason for that is, in my opinion, by growing an obviously "funny" mustache with handlebars, soulpatches, or other accoutrements along for the ride, you are immediately communicating to the world that your mustache is intended only as a joke. By making your mustache so clearly ironic, you are dissociating yourself from it, as if you had an accompanying sign that said "don't worry, I never normally have a mustache". To me, it takes more bravery and courage to grow a "serious" mustache, so that when people see you they think maybe you always have a mustache and it is just your standard look. Anyway, enough pontificating about the philosophy of moustaches, here it is enjoying it's last few rays of tropical sunshine before the appointment with my razor and shaving cream (actually, with Roanne's pink disposable razor and some soap since I had brought neither a mustache nor shaving cream on the trip):

Here I am spreading the soap and getting ready to whip out the lady bic:

And finally, the pink scythe goes into action and makes quick work of the fruits of my Movember labours:

With my newfound cleanshaven look we were off to the beach, which was just across the road from our residence. Along the way we passed a pretty sizeable lizard:

And then made our way along a nice boardwalk through a lagoon:

To finally reach the beautiful white sand beach of Playa Avellanas:

Upon reaching the beach we had a stroll up and down it and then set up shop in some shade under a tree where Roanne set about her chosen activities of alternate reading and snoozing:

And I rented a surfboard and headed out to get pounded by the waves:

The surfing was a lot more fun here than the previous day in Playa Carmen, as it involved trying to paddle into real waves instead of just riding white water (which is pretty easy and not legitimate surfing). It was a lot more difficult and a lot more work, but there were lots of waves and not many people out so there was no pressure and on the rare instances when I did catch a wave it was really fun. Here I am paddling for a wave:

And here I am riding in to shore on the white wash, unfortunately the odds of me catching a real wave at any time were sufficiently low that it was never caught on camera:

We had the entire day at the beach so I was able to surf for an hour or so then come in and recover while lounging on the beach, and then repeat, broken up in the middle of the day with a delicious lunch at a beachside restaurant called Lola's (so amazing, I forgot to take any pictures but everyone should go here if they get a chance). The afternoon brought more of the same, here is my freshly shaven face posing with my approving wife during some relaxing:

As the sun began to drop the tide was nearing its high point which made for better waves in this location, as evidenced by the increasing numbers of local rippers out in the waves:

So, it was clearly necessary to don the rash guard one more time:

And head out to catch a few last waves on our final full day on the beach:

Good times! After returning the board we made our way carefully back across the boardwalk in the near-darkness, and headed back to our Villa. For dinner we headed into the nearby beach town of Tamarindo and ate at an amazing French restuarant called the Langosta Beach Club, also highly recommended. We then headed back to our Villa with the final notable event of the day being the discovery of a frog staking out the tap in our open air bathroom: