Monday, November 12, 2012

LED Retro-Hacking

If you've been around mountain bikes as long as I have, you probably remember halogen bike lights.  You know, the ones that sucked so much power (and turned it directly into heat) that to get more than a couple of hours of pathetic yellow light you needed a battery that replaced your water bottle?  (Don't worry, if this concept is new to you, you didn't miss much).   

Anyway, it turns out that I have one of these monstrosities in my basement, and being a die-hard New England cheapskate, it felt wrong to throw it away for something more modern.  A little internetting (yes it's a word), found these LEDs for a trivially small amount of bling, and I couldn't help but wonder if the gigantor heat-sink of old might be convertible to something usably modern.  

Spoiler:  it can.   and Here's how...

Step 1: Cut apart the original reflector and remove the bulb (yay, DREMEL).  

Step 2:  Solder some wires to the original pins and epoxy everything in place (forgot pic...)

Step 3:  Solder the LEDs in series on a little circuit board (I repurposed the board from an old garage door opener for this, cutting up the ground plane to make the layout I needed.  This was nice for heat dissipation too (then I forgot to take a picture).  Some thermal paste can be used here to make sure the board pulls heat from the LED, but it may not be necessary.  

Step 4:  Attach the power wires to the circuit board

Step 5:  Superglue the circuit board to the old reflector, which was ground down to have a bigger opening.  

Step 6: Superglue the base of the old bulb to the back of the circuit board 

Step 7:  Install modified bulb / reflector (with the right polarity!)

Step 8:  retake the night!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Goals, struggles, winning, not necessarily in that order

They say time passes faster as you age.  Nonetheless, I was more than a little surprised when I noticed my last post, which I feel like I wrote last month, was more than a year old.  The reason for the prolonged absence from [a variety of things, including] blogging, comes down to one word:  Priorities.

There's really nothing I like more than whipping up some good snark to plaster on the internet, but sadly, public equivocation on topics of human powered transportation wasn't, and is not, the path to a comfortable retirement, or even a hot lunch.  Given that I'm not the spring chicken I used to be (someone recently dared to make the joke that I was eligible to race with the masters!), entertaining you all had to take a temporary back seat to making some progress on my future.  This brings me to the topic of the post...

The last year has been filled with a lot of successes: a graduate degree, an awesome job and my best cyclocross season yet (despite being 100% on the race-into-shape plan).  While it may seem like all unicorns and rainbows, the last year has also been one of the most psychologically difficult ones I've ever experienced (life changes are rough like that).  In the process of climbing over the center-console to get between the passenger seat and the driver's seat of my own life, I learned a few things and, as is de-rigeur for this blog, most of them relate nicely to sport.

So... before I get back to being my snark-tastic, rambling self (don't you worry, California has plenty of fuel for that fire), let me share three things you should all take to heart if you want to kick some ass and take some names, on the bike or in your daily grind:

First and foremost, no matter how intelligent, talented and motivated you are, you will achieve nothing without well-defined, actionable goals.  In today's world we are inundated with choices.  A person can customize everything from the music on the radio,  to the way his car responds to pedal input.  Similarly, there are a zillion companies out there doing a zillion things in a zillion different fields.  With human knowledge doubling every few years, there's really no end to the number of things a person could choose to spend an entire career on.  If a person does not simply choose something, he can get lost in improving his personal radio station until he's old and gray, while never making an inch of progress.  There is no optimum, only the travelled and the untravelled road.

On the flip side, simply defining a goal can often be enough to achieve it.  I recall early in this year's cyclocross season, the team captain asked everyone to go around at dinner and define a goal for their next race.  After articulating the goal of a top 25% finish in my field (a result I had yet to have that season), I succeeded for the next three races running, starting the very next day.  It is all in your head, so you might as well point your head in the same direction as your bars (or career)...

Second, while focus is a priceless virtue, having laser beams for eyes can only go so far without some base[line skills] to back them up.  Wanting something is not the same as going after it, and while the former may be required to motivate the latter, desire alone is insufficient to achieve anything truly difficult; and can, in fact, be debilitating.   Dan Ariely articulates this beautifully in his book The Upside of Irrationality, with some experiments on over-motivation.  The short summary, if you want something too badly, yearning will distract you from the work you need to do to achieve it.  Worrying about bike racing will not make you faster as efficiently as riding your bike.  In the professional case, worrying about doing well in a technical interview will not get you as far as two months reading algorithms textbooks and coding practice problems (the latter DOES, in fact work, in case you were wondering).  Of course the latter is a big investment, requires planning and is difficult to be disciplined about, especially when you're spending half your time thinking about how badly you want to succeed and worrying about what will happen if you don't.

Enter #3:  You are not alone, provided you weren't a D-bag right up to the moment you needed something. (Translate: social capital is real, and you should build some)

Over the past year, as I was grinding through a thesis, some screwed-up relationships, a job search and an existential crisis or two, I came to find a lot of people who were genuinely interested in seeing me succeed, and would always go out of their way to give me a hand up in little ways when I needed it.  While some help came in the form of recommendations or job leads (and OMG thanks for those, btw).  The majority came in the form of intangible support.  A pint here, a dinner there, an extra fifteen minutes lingering in the street chatting after a long ride:  small gestures that communicate loyalty and camaraderie.     These gestures don't answer the interview questions or write the thesis chapters, but they give you the emotional stability that allows you find the answers on your own.  Value your friends, take good care of them, and they will take care of you.

Until next time, on the left coast!