17 Sept 2017

Two actual, real, car-related posts!

First, the composite bits are back! The painter said it took a lot longer to smooth them out than he expected – huh, and he wondered why I didn’t do the work myself. He took way longer than he said he would, and charged more than I would have liked, and yet it was totally worth it, psychologically at least.

As they sit in the pictures, both are just resting on the car. The front section has to get tucked under the windscreen frame and either riveted or screwed down. The rear does as well in addition to adding foam gasket material between the two pieces and around the intercooler. Also, looking into the inlet, the insides need to be painted flat black. As it is, it’s too easy to see how rough and unfinished the innards are.

In the other car-related news, my brother again attended the Virginia City, NV hill-climb. He sent several updates and while he doesn’t yet know how he did, he said there’s probably about a million dollars – literally – of wrecked or damaged cars. Several went off, several hit the banks or guard railing, and then there was someone who left the line in a McLaren of some sort, in launch control, backwards. I’ll have to wait and see if this isn’t a myth because I’d have expected the engineers to lock-out that from even happening. On the other hand, maybe they never considered anyone doing such a crazy thing.


10 Sept 2017

Still around – and still waiting for my composite parts to be painted(!)

During the morning walk I saw this unusual trailer. When I first saw it I thought that it used a hydraulic motor to drive the winch instead of electric. Looking closer though I couldn’t find any hydraulic lines running from the pump to the winch, so that wasn’t it. Turns out the winch is a traditional electric setup, yet the battery it ran from also operated a gas(!?) engine which drove a hydraulic pump. I followed the lines back down the trailer to a piston at the front, so, okay it’s a tilt trailer, but that’s not the most interesting part. That was the hydraulic motor at the back end of the trailer driving a drum upon which rides the trailer bed itself! I had no idea such a thing existed. Well that’s one way to load your broken race car back onto the trailer!

In other news, we’re been considering solar panels. I’ve ignored the idea up until now for what might seem like a lame reason. In the home improvement store chain “Home Depot” there are these really annoying salespeople pushing leased solar installations. My logic is that if they’re pushing that hard, it must be really good for them, which means one way or another, it’s really bad for me, so I ignore them. Recently a coworker had a system put in, but he purchased his instead of leasing. After talking to him I’m wondering why I didn’t consider this sooner. The short story is that over 25 years, the owner (at least in Southern California) will save approximately $120,000. Yes, really. The reason the salespeople push the zero-cost lease so hard is that they reap everything over and above the installation cost (or around $100,000 per customer over 25 years)… incredible.

Somewhat related, the pond is up and running; here’s a short video of the fish in their new surroundings, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n8Sx3o2s4rM

Thoughts have turned toward putting a cover over the filter and pump equipment, and also over the pond itself. How the above relates to this is that – me being me – I’m considering doing the solar installation myself. One issue around here is our “soil” is sandstone, which can be as hard as rock in areas. There is no access for heavy equipment where the panels would go and I don’t relish the thought of digging 24″-diameter 5-ft deep holes(!) for the solar panel mounts (6-12 of them depending upon mounting style). Thinking about the shading over the pond, I started wondering (channeling Jeremy Clarkson, “how hard could it be”) about building one to support the panels and have them do double duty as pond shading. Such a structure would be a fairly big deal though because with 20 40-lb panels, plus wind-loading, it’s not something to toy with (the consequences of having 800 lbs of expensive panels crashing into the pond would be a bad thing). Still, I know a structural engineer and will ask him if I could make trusses from chain link fence railing that would be strong enough to support it – I don’t see why not. The issue with digging holes would be simplified because there is access (for Bobcat-size gear) around the pond, so we’ll see.

Or I write a really big check and it just all magically gets done.

30 July 2017

I’ve always had a passing interest in hydroponic and aquaponics – growing vegetables without soil – but never enough to bother setting up a system. With the pond up and running we found ourselves with a spare IBC container and expanded clay pellets, left over from a previous filter setup. Since it was “free”, a test bed was set up; a small pump constantly feeds water to the container and when it’s within 2″ of the top, a siphon dumps the water. By doing so it avoids drowning the roots and also sucks air into the media, necessary for healthy roots. The pond water is nitrate-rich, being the final product of the biological filter. The setup has the additional benefit that the plants suck up some of the nitrate, so it’ll help cut down how often water has to be drained from the pond. The AN race car part on the siphon was an on-hand solution when constructing the siphon.

The last picture, yup, I actually took the car out for a drive – first time in eight months – she’s just as insane as I remember 🙂

24 July 2017

Took some time off and completed a number of errands/chores/projects around the house – including dropping the intercooler inlet ducting off at a paint shop. Yes, it really will get done! Was going to drive Midlana today but surprise – for the first time in about five months it’s raining on and off.

15 July 2017

So with my dad passing away several years ago, mom’s been doing well, until we got a call early this morning that she was in the hospital. In short, she’s fine, but there’s another story which could have turned out much different.

After the ambulance was called and they and the firemen arrived, they walked into a dark house, which was a good thing because it was easy to see that a built-in wall heater in the kitchen was glowing bright red. They estimated that the house was minutes away from catching fire, and due to its construction and where mom was, both she and her dog would have been goners.

The wall heater is an odd story in itself. None of us kids can remember it every being used (>50 years), and when we arrived 8 hours later it was still somewhat hot. Being an electrical engineer I wondered if they’d really shut off power and asked my sister to switch it on. With a loud pop and sparks shooting out of it, we turned it off!

To be absolutely sure this could never happen again (maybe mom absent-mindedly turned it on) we decided to cut the wires to it. (Dad didn’t label the circuit breakers well enough to figure out which circuit powered it, and that circuit probably powered other stuff she still needed.) When I took off the front cover we found something very interesting sitting on one of the heating coils, something looking like maybe a Pringles potato chip lid. Many decades ago mom used to run an in-home daycare and we suspect one of the kids slipped that lid into the heater. Given that it was never used we can’t figure out how this happened now, the odds that it was (ever) turned on, and that firefighters just happen to find it.

Life it fraught with little how-different-things-could-be moments.

4 July 2017

Yes, I’m still here, just busy (still) working on the the pond project, which is past the most laborious portion, which is a good thing because it’s getting into the hot part of the year. I do continue to be a regular visitor on the Midlana Builders’ Forum as there’s a growing group of active builders. It’s looking promising that there’ll soon be several more Midlana’s on the road, which is good news all around. It gives readers more input on the car than just from myself, and also helps spread the word that there’s life outside Locosts!

So the pond – it’s basically done, though it’s a bit like having a car project “90% finished” – meaning there’s still all sorts of odds and ends to complete. Since the last update:

  • We gave away half of our koi (15)
  • The remainder were transferred to the new pond
  • The old pond was filled in
  • The new filtration system has consumed vast quantities of time.

The new filter’s way more effective than the old system, which was completely passive but didn’t work very well. However, as my wife pointed out, “the new setup works better but doesn’t seem as reliable.” Yup, more moving parts means more stuff to break. The rotating drum filter has the main problem, or rather, my inability to design a dead-reliable unit the first time. This one’s been very much a prototype, with many changes being made even after it was “done.” (Just this morning I filled in about 8 unused holes in the housing just because.)

Drive motor #1 didn’t last due to the needed torque (when the drum is full of dirty water it’s several hundred pounds; even on rollers it’s very difficult to turn). About the time the chain broke, both were upgraded.

Drive motor #2 was, frankly, intimidating, producing so much torque that it could literally rip the filter housing apart – which nearly happened when the heavier-duty chain came off, which happened all too frequently. More and more modifications were made to try and contain the chain, which kept wanting to come off the sprockets. No matter how well aligned it was, I’d frequently come home from work and find once again it had jumped off. This stops the drum from rotating, it loads up with waste, and becomes extremely heavy. While the water finds its way around, the weight eventually broke one of the drum’s rollers, and that’s when I finally got fed up with a chain-drive setup.

What I originally wanted was direct-drive, where a motor and integral gearbox drive the drum on its axis with no chain or sprockets; the catch being that they’re very expensive. The sad irony is that I spent more on other approaches than just doing it the right way the first time. Even so, drive motor #3 was a compromise, a motor and gearbox designed for – no kidding- hog roasting. Running on 12V, it produces 60 ft-lbs torque and its unloaded speed is 5 rpm, or one rotation every 12 seconds. That’s a bit too fast but it came with a speed controller so it was backed off to 3 rpm, or half a rotation every 10 seconds. (Only half the drum is submerged so only half of it has to be cleaned each time.)

In the pictures below is the entire filter setup. The white and black pipes in the foreground are the drains and returns. The drum filter is the tan container, and the black container under the brown cover is the moving-bed bio section. On the output of that is a homebuilt UV light. The two brown barrels are sand and gravel filters, which filter what the skimmer catches and produces near swimming-pool-clear water. The black container next to the pond is waiting to go into its spot; it’s the “header tank” for the filteration system that every overflow and drain will lead to. It’ll hold a sump pump that can be directed to feed the future vegetable garden or the front or rear bank. Since we already have the water, may as well use it on the plants instead of wasting it.

So yeah, there’s still a lot to do, but as of this morning – finally – the direct drive is installed and working, so I can hopefully now work on the pond when I want to, rather than having to constantly babysit the situation during this transitional phase.

Working in the yard everyday means seeing various yard guests. This dragonfly was attracted by the pond so I took the chance he’d hang around long enough to get the camera. This 200 mm macro lens is pretty amazing, though being effectively manual-focus makes a tripod almost a requirement. I didn’t want to take the time though and just took a lot of photos and picked the best one. He was pretty skittish but I was able to get about two feet from him, which fills the frame with this lens. The fine detail in his wings and face is really something, but I’ve always thought macro photography of plants and bugs was pretty cool.

7 May 2017

Still here, still on the Midlana forum daily, not so much posting to midlana.com due to taking time off. It was surprising to realize I’ve been doing nothing but car stuff for oh, around 20 years so it’s a welcome change. Still working on the pond and it’s coming along well – even when I’m digging in the backyard and the voice in my head asks, “wouldn’t you rather be working on the car?” Mmm, nope, though I will start driving it again once this late-season cold weather and rain let up.

A couple non-car related pics. The first really surprised me, as here in urban Southern California, if someone says there are a couple turkey vultures in a tree, you just assume they’re wrong, or a bit nuts. Nope, they were right. I’ve lived here all my life and never saw these before around here. No idea where they came from but was happy they stayed in a tree long enough for me to go get my good camera and lens.

The hummingbird pic was taken with a really nice macro lens which allows shots like this at a distance to not spook the subject.

3 April 2017

Well it’s been a while!

Still burnt out working on Midlana; just thinking about finishing the sanding is enough to be happy about continuing work on the fish pond. A ton of time has gone into RDF V2.0 (Rotating Drum Filter). This one is a from-scratch kick-ass unit which should last for many years. The garage looks like a tornado hit, such was the cost of spending all the time building it instead of cleaning up.

With the filter nearly done, attention will turn back toward the fish pond proper; need to get all the hard work done before the hot weather arrives.

In other news, while walking the dog I saw this little guy sitting in the middle of the street, a very young bird just learning to fly. At that age they either don’t know yet what to fear, or just freeze when something comes close, but once on my finger he seemed fine, singing away. I put him in some bushes so hopefully he’ll live to see many days.

Once the garage is cleaned up I’ll finally have time to get back on Midlana. I need to drive it… it’s been sitting too long.

15 Feb 2017

I’m still here, just not doing much car-wise, but a lot related to the fish pond. As mentioned, a new rotating drum filter is under construction – bigger, badder, and overall better, I hope. The idea is it’ll be pretty much bulletproof and can be ignored for months on end.

Finally bought a router, a wonderfully versatile tool limited only by the user’s imagination. With the appropriate plastic cutter bit it worked great cutting up the HDPE (high density polyethylene) sheet. Below are various pictures of the new filter under construction; the drum was first to be built (looking oddly like an enormous air filter element). The stainless sprocket was cut with a water jet. The last two pictures show the effect of a vastly improved filter and UV – they were taken 4 weeks apart.

I post on Instagram (#Midlana1) about whatever I’m doing and am also very active in the Midlana Builder’s forum, which you can find the link to above. There are about a dozen Midlana builders now so stop by and read up on some of the threads.

29 Jan 2017

Strike one. Took the ductwork to the paint shop that painted the car. The catch is that I want to paint the ducting the lime green color that the powder-coater painted various trim parts with. I’m almost positive that the paint shop should have been able to cross the powder coat color code (RAL6018) to an equivalent liquid automotive paint code. I think they just didn’t want to bother since it wasn’t a big job. I’ll try taking a color sample to a regional paint supplier and I bet they’ll be able to do it. Rumor is that some places can not only cross it, but make up a batch of spray paint as well if the user doesn’t have a sprayer.

22 Jan 2017

So Midlana, really!

A couple people have been asking details about things, such as how did I extend the steering rack tie rods, and what are the attachment points for the wings. The first picture is of the tie rod extender and is simply a hollow tube inserted into the existing tie rod. The reason for doing it this way is that no machining is necessary; the hex flats and OEM threads are simply transferred to the outboard end of the extension, so there’s no concern about threading or having the threads pull out. Even the welds have a safety net since the tie rod was pressed into the extender and side welds added in addition to the normal welds.

About the wings, front and rear attachment points are as shown in pic #2-3. The rear wing support frame will have at least one diagonal to keep everything square under the wing’s down force.

So, the ducting. SoCal has uncharacteristically been getting a lot of rain (and snow), which means I can’t work on the pond. Even if it wasn’t raining, I’m currently waiting for a 4″ schedule-40 PVC elbow (11.25 degrees!) which isn’t here yet. What to do… well, time to pull out Midlana’s ductwork and finish sanding. “Finish” is relative and really means “sand until I don’t want to sand any more and am ready to hand it to the paint shop to finish.” Both pieces were finish drilled for the mounts and will be dropped off at the paint shop whenever I can get over there.

Oh, about the wings, part of my malaise has been the realization that because 5th and 6th gear are OEM, they can’t be trusted with the high torque of the turbocharged engine. This effectively limits Midlana to around a 140-mph and on some of the larger tracks around here, makes it uncompetitive. Since my brother and I have been talking about wings, I realized that the “low” top speed might become a non issue. That is, let’s say that the gears could be used and let’s speculate that Midlana could reach 160 mph (which is realistic since my brother’s car has similar power and lousy aero). Adding wings adds drag, so depending on wing pitch, that 160-mph top speed would be reduced by maybe a lot, possibly all the way down to 140 or so. This negates the need for 5th and 6th, but more importantly, allows a faster average lap time by being able to go around corners faster. That assumes I don’t chicken out – on legitimate concern is having the rear suspension bottom mid-corner. That would be an instant off and I’ve already done that and don’t want to repeat it!

9 Jan 2017

A coworker knew I built an odd-looking little car that looked something like some old British sports car. I sort of agreed, saying the front half does resemble something like a Lotus or Caterham.

He said he saw a little car that looked familiar and wondered if I’d recognize it, then showed me his cellphone picture. I burst into laughter and when he asked why I said, “A small British sports car on the side of the road with its hood up, that’s exactly it!”

2 Jan 2017

I figured a year-end update is in order given how quiet it’s been at this end – and no, I am not selling the car, hah.

Summed up, I’m burnt out from working on the same (though rewarding) project since December 2007 – 9 years! The years-long design and build, the book, having the engine blow up, the expensive and prolonged rebuild, the recent composite work, the sanding, all combined with our yard being ignored; it all kind of came to a natural decision point after the koi pond literally fell apart.

You know me and projects; I got sucked into the technical aspects; the chance to bring the filtration system up to date, combined with the puzzle of how to do it well at a reasonable cost. The new filter system (drum-type particulate filter and moving-bed bio section) is now operational. To help bring the new system up, the existing bio media was transferred to the new setup from the old filter -the one previously mentioned that’s slowly settling into the ground at a worrisome angle. Until the new pond is ready, the existing pond will utilize the new system. While the new pond will have a gravity-fed filter, the temporary setup uses to the existing pump to push water to the new filter. It’s not optimum but it serves its purpose. With it running for five days now, the good news is that the drum filter works great – and the bad news is that it works so well!

There were two surprises: because the pond has never had a real particulate filter other than a settling tank, there’s all sorts of crap (both figuratively and literally) in the existing system. As a result, the drum filter quickly loads up and cycles the sprayers, as designed, which isn’t a problem. The issue is that the sprayers are loud – like someone next door using a pressure sprayer (I put up a short video on Instagram, see it and other stuff at @midlana1). Additionally, each time it cycles it produces roughly a gallon of yucky water and with it cycling about every 10 minutes, that’s 6 gallons an hour, or about 72 gallons overnight – that’s a big pail! For now I’m putting up with it and as the filter does its job and clears the pond, the cycling will slow though it’s too loud. I need to figure out how to hush it up a bit because it’s just a bit much.

Oh, and after building the drum filter, the drum itself may be modified. While it works, the plastic 55-gallon drum has a large “waste line” (being larger in the middle than than the top and bottom). As a result, the filter cloth took six hours to install due to all the wrinkles and folds. Also, watching it get blasted by the nozzles I worry about how long it’ll last. If a new one’s built it’ll have straight sides with polypropylene sheet for the ends and two layers of stainless mesh to contain the filter element, be it polyester or fine-mesh stainless. The stainless may last longer but there are reports that the wire has microscopic burrs that snag waste that the sprayers can’t dislodge. I’ll probably make it so either filter type can be used, making it so it’s far easier to replace than the six hours it takes now.

Redoing the pond has been a great education in project management and logistics. We don’t have a big yard so I can’t just pile the dirt up in one convenient place out of the way – it’s everywhere. The trick is doing things in the right order so I don’t box myself in. Oh and then there was discovering that we have roots everywhere, looking something like brown carpet under the existing pond liner. The good news is that they’re well-behaved, with them only following the liner but not growing through it.

Pond filtration has changed over the last 20 years and it was a big reason for the redesign. In the old days people used all sorts of media for the biological section. Once popular was lava rock due to its low price and really high surface area. Yeah, it worked great for several years until the bacteria plugged up all the pores making it no better than gravel. People also used pea gravel, again cheap, and an absolute bitch to clean due to the weight (and have you ever tried shoveling rock?!). Over the years, plastic media became popular and “bead filters” were the hot thing for a while. Picture an huge hourglass full of plastic pellets, periodically churned to clean. That worked fine until the pellets got so stuck together that cleaning no longer worked. The most recent iteration is a “moving bed” filter, basically 1000s of barely-buoyant plastic objects in a tank constantly being churned by air injection. It works really well because the air injection supplies the oxygen the bacteria need anyway, the constant motion ensures that the water flowing through the bed is fully exposed to the media instead of taking the shortest path from inlet to outlet, and the constant agitation knocks off the dead bacteria resulting in no channeling or clogging. Shown is the biological container in operation and what one of the bits of media looks like. It’s just a surface upon which beneficial bacteria can grow; an additional 12-cubic feet of the stuff is on order.

Anyway, to keep this remotely car-related, walking into the garage tonight Midlana looked rather menacing with the ducting so a picture was in order. It’ll look much more finished once painted and I know I keeps saying I’ll get around it but with the holidays past (businesses back to work), expect that the ducting will be dropped off at the painters soon.