9 May 2021

Been learning Alibre CAD. Looking around on YouTube, there are many videos, but Joko Engineering’s 3-part series on creating a fictitious cylinder head was exactly what I needed (I learn best by following along). All that it required was starting and stopping his video about a million times, but at the end of it, I’d successfully created a cylinder head just like his—though unlike his, mine has sparkplug holes, which he left out for some reason, hah.

I then started in on replicating Midlana’s tube frame chassis. The thinking is that eventually, the supply of first-generation Miata suspension uprights will dry up, so I’ll need to provide revised suspension geometry to mate with the later generation parts. Doing that didn’t get far, though, because unlike the cylinder head lesson where I could follow along, no one was showing me what to do. Converting a line drawing to a 3-D rendered image isn’t playing nice, which is for sure something I’m not doing right. I asked around on the Alibre forum, and one extremely helpful user has sort of taken me under his wing, going so far as sending me a couple videos on how to create a simple tube-frame structure. That’s looking promising, so regardless of what’s in the future, rest assured that I’ll continue supporting both the Midlana design and its builders.

Over on the Midlana Builder’s Forum, I go into some detail about how, after creating Midlana, I’m at a bit of a loss about where to head next in terms of cars. As mentioned, Midlana’s performance is beyond my ability, so I see little point in making something faster. There might be something different, but probably not quicker!

I just enjoy building things, not only car projects. At the moment, I feel a draw toward designing and building a laser cutter so that I can finally make that dang wooden gear clock I keep mentioning. There are already plenty of videos on people making laser cutters, but that’s not the point. It’s something new for me, so there!

25 April 2021

Took Midlana out for a few hours; it was nice to get out of the house and into the fresh air. Apparently everyone else felt the same way, because roads were really crowded, us all just slowly bumping along from one red light to the next.

In other news, as I gradually approach retirement age, in addition to the pond and garden, I’ve been gathering tools to keep myself busy in the garage, and one of those is CAD software. Because I plan to use it for many years, subscription software is a big No, yet unfortunately, that’s where the industry is headed. While it may be fine for a business, it’s a no-go for someone with a hobby that doesn’t make money. Worse, spending $500+ a year for  a decade or two is just nuts. I asked around on machinist forums to see what they use, and it was a bit funny/annoying that they kept suggesting “great” CAD packages that are, you guessed it, subscription-based. I was even offered a  free copy of SolidWorks, as in, an older version that doesn’t check the license. I decided not to for several reasons, one being that it’s like Robin Hood offering you a free flat-screen TV; it’s not their’s to give. Older versions of SolidWorks are indeed offered online—on what look like really sketchy websites. The copy I was offered might be fine, maybe, but I just can’t in good conscience go that way. After more research, I chose Alibre. Yes, there’s FreeCAD, but I’ve read enough about it that I don’t want to mess with it. There’s also the free version of Fusion 360, but the manufacturer recently neutered it a bit, souring me on what they might do to it in the future, and their pay-for product is, ta-da, subscription-based.

So, what’s the CAD for? Well, if there’s another car project, it needs CAD, and I refuse to use Google Sketchup again, so it means coming up to speed on another package. So much is going CNC: lathes, mills, routers, laser cutters, plasma cutters, and off course, 3D printers. Since CAD takes time to learn, it makes sense to start with that first, so Alibre is already installed and I’m starting in on self-imposed training. Some of you may remember me complaining about how expensive it is to get anything laser cut. If I build a CNC laser cutter, what I would have paid someone would pay for a big share of making my own.

The thing is, all the above takes space, a constant struggle for anyone working in a standard-size garage!

2 April 2021

Yes, I know, it’s been a long time…

Midlana #2, built by Chris of Worcestershire UK, has passed all required testing, license plates are affixed, and he plans a first drive this weekend! Expect updates on his driving experiences in the Midlana Builder’s Forum.

If you’re considering building your own Midlana and live in the UK, you might want to contact Chris regarding his experiences, and maybe if you ask real nice, get a ride 🙂

12 January 2021

Just been working from home. With the pandemic going on, it’s hard to justify even going out for a fun drive. While the stay-at-home rules aren’t really being enforced regarding driving, and while being in an open top car is going to be pretty safe, it just seems better to avoid any potential situations. The virus is so unpredictable; one person will get it and have zero symptoms, while another will get it and be dead in a couple weeks.

Anyway, for work reasons I had to stop by a military base, and it was pretty funny seeing a Lotus Evora in the “Recruiting Staff” parking slot. I guess that’s one way to get people to sign up, showing the glamour that comes with the job!

In other news, a Midlana builder recommended F1 car designer, Adrian Newey’s autobiography, How to Build a Car. Being new to audio books I gave it a listen and it was very interesting, hearing all about both the design process and the issues involved in getting a car on-track. Just as interesting was hearing that many times, Ferrari would copy some new feature that they saw on other cars, couldn’t get it to work, so would then protest the teams using it. Nice…

2 Dec 2020

Builder Chris, in the UK, is working his way through the process in getting his Midlana road-legal. Here’s a short video of him backing his car out of the garage after successfully completing the MOT testing! Great job, Chris, and the car looks fantastic!

27 Nov 2020

Readers of the Midlana Forum are regularly kept up to date on the near constant discounts available for the Midlana book. This week, the publisher sprung a big 30% discount on us, good through 30 November only. If you’re looking to get the book, either for yourself or as a gift, this is as good a discount as they ever give, so best to jump on it quick.

If you miss out, they typically repeat the 30% discount again before Christmas, but normally it’s less. Go to the publisher, Lulu, and search for “Midlana.” It’s available in both regular and coil-bound binding.

27 Sept 2020

Our parent’s house sold, so the weekends have opened back up somewhat. I say “somewhat” because there are always honey-dos, but that still leaves some me-time, so Midlana was taken out for the first time in about six months(!) Everything was fine, until the engine was found to rev limit right at 4,000 rpm, so it was very likely happening by design… (always be suspicious of round numbers). Glancing at the sensor values showed that lambda (air-fuel ratio) was reading “1.oo” (another suspicious round number), which is fine, except that it wasn’t changing. I expected to find that I’d forgotten to reinstall the sensor. I panicked for a second when the sensor was found installed, but then discovered that I’d committed a cardinal sin: installing the sensor but failed to latch the connector. No harm done, but it’s a reminder to not make that a habit!

In other news, Tesla just came out with their  Plaid Model S (no kidding). What’s notable about this $140,000 sedan that can carry 4-5 adults is that it has around 1,100 hp. But what’s probably a historic milestone is that you can expect to be barred from many drag strips because it doesn’t have a cage or parachute, items required for 8-second cars, which is what Tesla claims it can achieve.

Drivetrain technology aside, I’m not sure that people spending $140K want something that looks the same as the 10-yr old $60K version. And even more importantly, as impressive as its 1:30 Laguna Seca lap time is, it weighs 4,500 lbs! That’s seriously heavy for a “sports car” of any sort, and all that weight/energy has to be dealt with via the brakes and tires. The brake solution is straightforward: go huge. For the tires though, they’re going to be a very high wear item if anyone takes it to a track day event. That said, tire expense seems to be ignored these days, and I guess if you can afford a $140,000 car, tire cost isn’t a thing. In any case, it seems like we’re very near the point where electric sports cars take over as far as performance goes; all it takes now are lighter batteries to seal the deal. Notice that battery range wasn’t mentioned. The above car has a 500 mile range, so limited range is no longer a reason not to buy one (cost aside of course).

14 Sept 2020

I was looking through the archives and was surprised to see that 10 years ago, Midlana was already complete enough that it was first tuned at the dyno shop. In other news, my brother was set to do the Virginia City Hillclimb again this year but it got cancelled, so he decided instead to get married, hah.

We finally finished cleaning out our parent’s house and it’s now up for sale, so maybe I get back some of my weekend, which has me thinking about what project to do next, but I’m sort of going in circles. As was written earlier, the idea was putting a fiberglass 1930’s coupe body on a late model Corvette. That thinking is confronted with several issues: it’s not anything new or unusual (but, do I care?); I don’t have enough space due to the sheer volume of the parts; I currently want to keep Midlana, which is occupying the build space; because Midlana is being kept, its value isn’t available to fund the next project.

Then there’s wondering whether I should consider going electric, but that means sinking $$$$ (or even $$$$$) into just the drivetrain. There’s a ton of old Priuses (“Pre-eye”?) out there, potentially cheap donors for a play car. The thing is that I don’t want to deal with hybrids due to them having two systems instead of just one—I’d either stay gas or go all-electric. Once it’s finished, it’s essentially a rebodied Prius/Volt/Bolt/Tesla, which, okay, I guess. And then there’s not knowing how much weight can be stripped out of such a thing,  A Tesla Model 3 is around 4,000 lbs, so giving it the light shell and tube frame treatment might bring it down to what, 2,500-3,000 lbs? But then it’s essentially an electric Midlana. Since I already have Midlana, I don’t feel very motivated to convert it over because the driveline (motor and battery pack) needs to be designed around from the start. It would be a lot easier for a new Midlana builder to put such a driveline on his build table and go from there. Anyway, for me, I’d like something with more creature comforts, hence me going round in circles, hah.

6 Sept 2020

As I type this, it’s 106° F and is right on schedule, being the first week of September. Before it got really unpleasant this morning, I cleaned out the rat-poop infested workshop at my parent’s house, which finishes the worst part of the job. The house and garage are now about 98% cleaned out, so attention is turning toward making the yard a bit nicer before the house goes up for sale.

It’s a sad but necessary part of life, cleaning out your parent’s home, but so it goes. We’ve had several Zoom meetings with mom, her at the retirement home and us calling from her house. She’s both hard of hearing and has trouble processing sounds even when she does hear them, and between that and the typical laptop speakers, it’s not much of a meeting. She seems happy with the place, but did ask why she was there and when she could come home, and that’s when the feelings of guilt and deceit arise, but there wasn’t any choice in the matter. Anyway, seeing us seems to make her happy, and that’s the whole point.

(It finally dropped below 100° F just before 6PM)

16 August 2020

While I’d like to be driving Midlana, we’re busy cleaning out our parent’s house, hence the truck. The task that we were all putting off was cleaning out the workshop and behind the garage due to the huge amount of rat droppings. I decided to first spray it with a very fine mist of water to settle the dust, then blast it out with a strong water jet. Bleach was considered, but it leaves a very strong lingering smell, and we hope to sell the house sooner rather than later. Also, since both the workshop and rear of the garage are nearly fully enclosed, the bleach smell would remain trapped, so that was off the list.

The foul stuff completely filled a wheel barrow—it was bad. I dispatched four out of six mice that darted out as I lifted one of the million boxes, and two rat parents ran off, leaving a crying baby. I did not enjoy that but it had to be done. The rear of the garage is done, and the floor in the workshop, but with my brother being off enjoying a track day at Laguna Seca instead of helping out, means that he gets to deal with the workshop shelves, which has its own share of squeaking noises, scurrying feet, and droppings everywhere.

Next week I’m on-call, and between that and this, I feel like I’ve lost control of my weekends. I know that “this, too, shall pass”, but I look forward to returning to my own garage to piddle about, perhaps after this first heatwave of the year has run its course.

10 August 2020

Since moving mom to the retirement home, we’ve had two Web meetings with the place. The first took place one day after she moved in, and they said “Oh yes, she’s fitting right in, eating well, and making lots of new friends!” They included a few pictures of her, but suspiciously, her face wasn’t visible in any of them.  In other words, we suspected we were hearing BS.

The second meeting was two days later and included her doctor, us, mom. and a representative from the home. At one point in the conversation, the doctor asked the home “how was her first night?” There was a pause just long enough that us kids glanced at each other, then the representative said “Yeah the first night was pretty rough.” Okay then…

I’m posting this so that when the time comes in your family, you can expect similar interactions with these places, businesses that are nearly or completely opaque. You only have their word about what’s going on inside, and especially in these cases, we can’t really believe anything mom says (it’s to that point now), so if she says they’re mistreating her, are they? How can we know? Due to privacy laws, such places don’t allow external video feeds, so we’re left in the dark. I joked that when we call, we should expect to hear, “Your relative is doing great… what’s their name?”

27 July 2020

Sigh, a big day, just not the kind you ever want to have.

Mom’s physical and mental health has slowly been degrading over the last few years.  We did the best we could, first taking care of her ourselves via welfare checks a few times a week (she’s still living in the same house that we grew up in.) After that became insufficient, we shared time with a caregiver, but it came to a point that “it was time.” She sees things that aren’t there, accuses people of things that didn’t happen, says that people are stealing from her (she moves things and forgets), and that strange people are visiting, and it just all painted a picture of where things were heading. We installed security cameras, which of course showed nothing, and suspect that at that stage of life, dreams and reality get mixed together. She also started having angry outbursts, which are easier to understand when viewed from her point of view: people saying things that don’t make sense, things that you absolutely “know for fact” that are wrong. Even so, things couldn’t be allowed keep degrading. When she told the caregiver “you must go home because it’s dark”, in the middle of a sunny day, we know that it was time.

And so, we lied, getting her in the car to go for a “drive to see a garden”, walking her to the front door of the rest home—like walking a friend to the gallows, it just feels very deceitful, and yet, it had to be done. Probably the saddest aspect of this is knowing that with her mix of being hard of hearing, having trouble processing sounds into words even when she does hear them, and being delusional, she’s going to have a difficult or even impossible time carrying on even simple conversations. We worry that she may retreat inward and just shut down.

Or maybe we’ll be completely wrong and she’ll quickly fit in. Uh huh.

That said, we’re extremely fortunate to be able to afford moving her to a rest home. I’m very aware that many people cannot and try to take care of their relative while still holding down a job. As tough as this is emotionally, it could be far worse.

Like I said when dad died, “I accept what’s happening but don’t have to like it.” And yes, the little voice in my head did ask, “so with both of your parents becoming delusional, what do you think that means for you?”

26 July 2020

With Midlana builders starting to complete their car’s bodywork, it reminds me that I need to update my blog. Background: This whole odyssey regarding the rear panel started after I damaged it and never got around to really fixing it. Instead, the area was used to add a diffuser and and to both extend the exhaust and add a muffler. So the area was being used, but nothing was done to improve the car’s look from the rear.

After a lot of thinking, the diffuser is being removed. Why? While they can work well—on a proper car—it looks odd and out of place on Midlana. Its value at anything less than track speeds is questionable (other than getting street ‘cred, hah). Its effectiveness isn’t helped by the fairly high 4″ ground clearance. (That said, the pictures of the removed diffuser do show the expected and desired flow, so it was doing something. One disappointment was that driving down a street with leaves on it, they never did jump off the street into the air.

Removing the diffuser shortens the car by about two feet, valuable garage space that I wanted back. I still like the original solid panel the best aesthetically, but I’m going with wire mesh to aid engine compartment ventilation. If you’ve ever dealt with woven wire, it’s much like cloth, where the edges can fray and fall out during cutting and installation. Having the wires welded makes the panel much easier to deal with. The one down side is that welded-wire mesh isn’t available in many sizes, with the largest wire being 0.03″, (0.7mm). I’d rather it be thicker for stiffness and looks, but oh well.

Also in the same area is the exhaust and muffler. The child in me misses the turbo whistle sound, so the muffler is coming off, reverting back to using only the turbo as the muffler (as the Dodge SRT-4 does, so I read). This cleans up the engine compartment, moves the pieces out of the way, gets rid of about 4 feet of heat-radiating tubing, and about 15 pounds from the worst location possible, aft of rear axle center line.

Lastly, I’ve been meaning to back off on spring rate. As it is now, it’s right on the edge of being too harsh for the street, So the rear springs were reduced from 600 lb/in to 400 lb/in, and the fronts reduced from 300 lb/in to 250. You may notice they aren’t being reduced by the same percentage. The front is being reduced less to ensure that any oversteer tendency is held in check, and because I didn’t have any 200 lb/in springs! The original reason for going stiffer was to make ensure that the rear suspension never bottomed out, but I don’t think that it did. Yeah, maybe I’m getting soft in my old age, or just being more realistic about what the car is and isn’t.

Back to the screen material for a second, which is stainless and currently unpainted. I haven’t decided whether to leave it as-is or paint it black. I think a solid panel looks better, and painting it black may make it sort of disappear, causing the car to again look like its back end is open. We’ll see.

22 June 2020

Though I haven’t been posting here much, things are happening on the Midlana Builders’ Forum. There’s is growing excitement as several builders are reaching major milestones, including getting their cars on its wheels, first engine start, and the beginning of final assembly. So if you’d like, wander over and take a look at the build logs to share in the fun!

16 June 2020

I’m still here, no virus, though I did have a nasty 24-hr flu that shares many symptoms. Just been working from home, and with the 1.5 hours saved everyday from commuting, the time’s been spent getting the 16″ f/4.3 telescope done, and it nearly is.

The design is commonly called a “hexapod”, and consists of six tubes assembled into three truss assemblies 120­° apart. There are several reasons to go this way over the more traditional 4-truss 8-tube design:

1. The telescope is collimated (aligned) solely by adjusting tube length. The tube assemblies are just like the toe control links in Midlana, with each using a left and right-hand rod end to set its length. What’s interesting is, once fully assembled, turning just the upper ends of the truss ends adjusts the upper assembly tilt, and turning just the lower ends adjust its location relative to the main mirror.

2. #1 means that the main mirror cell and secondary holder do not have to be adjustable, which lowers weight, increase stiffness, reduces cost, and make the assemblies simpler—sound familiar?

3. To some extent, focusing range can be adjusted by altering the upper-to-lower assembly distance.

The last point has consumed the most time. Every primary mirror has a unique focal length, this one is 68.7″. This means that from the main mirror, to the secondary diagonal mirror, and out to the focuser has to be 68.7″ inches, sort of. The catch is that the value gets modified if a “coma corrector” lens is present. Anyway, if it ends up being wrong (outside the range of the focuser’s travel limits), the strut tube lengths can be adjusted if it’s slight, or different length threaded Delrin tube inserts may become necessary. I started with one set and found that focus was off by about 2″, so a second set was made that was 2″ longer. What’s left me scratching my head is that it didn’t correct the situation by the expected 2″. The catch is that I may or may not have had the coma corrector in place, and probably didn’t use the same eyepiece. That’s another issue, that different types and brands of eyepieces all have different focal points. This means that before the scope can really be considered finished, all the eyepieces have to be checked to confirm whether they all come to focus… and one eyepiece (one said to have a strong focus offset) is currently back ordered.

In the meantime, servo drivers for tracking start targets are being installed. Some people consider such a thing a waste, but I find it annoying having a planet or star under high magnification drift fast from the field of view, and then the scope is pushed to follow it, only to then lose it. Anyway, that system will take a bit to learn.

Even with composite construction for the upper assembly, carbon tubes, and low-profile lower assembly, the overall assembly is around 65 lbs, enough that I don’t want to carry it, so wheels and handles are being added as well. After it’s fully operational and checked out, it all has to come apart for paint. While part of me would like a furniture-grade varnish-like finish, nope, paint it will be. I don’t want to deal with the time, mess, and smell that beautiful wood finishes entail, especially all the sanding. Been there done that with Kimini, no more sanding!

The little voice in my head did ask though, “A scope, that’s nice, so how does someone who has to be in bed by 9:30-10pm in order to get up at 5am for work planning to spend hours out under the stars?” Good question, but this project and other going-ons in the garage are about planning ahead about how I’ll spend my time in retirement, someday. Anyway, through dumb luck, it turns out that Mars is going to be the closest in its orbit to Earth this Fall, so I’m really looking forward to that.

Stay safe!

04 May 2020

I’m still here but haven’t been working on Midlana. Builders, on the other hand, are pushing ahead on their builds, and you can check that out on the Midlana forum. Locally, car events keep getting cancelled, and who knows when we’ll start risking ourselves in the name of fun again. Here in Southern California, activity and travel restrictions have lessened slightly, but it seems almost certain that by the end of all this, we’ll have all been exposed to the virus, it’s just a matter of when.

Our American culture is such that we sometimes don’t like being told what to do, and often involves mention of freedom and Constitutional rights. What protesters (including anti-vaxers!) don’t understand however, is that we’re dealing with a virus that simply doesn’t care. Wanting things to go back to normal is understandable, but that’s in conflict with a virus that only cares about finding its next host. What bothers me most  is how some people figure that because they’re young and don’t have symptoms (and even if they do), what do they care? Wow.

On the other hand, the damage to the economy is dire, and I heard a pretty good analogy that went something like: “We currently have a speed limit on most freeways of 65 mph, but we could save a lot more lives if we lowered it to 20 mph.” The reality is that there’s a balance between lives lost and the economy. If you ask the protesters, we passed that point long ago. On the other hand, if you ask a mom how much should be spent treating her critically-ill child, she’ll say whatever it takes. Where the balancing point?

Anyway, I’m fortunate to be able to work from home, which has brought to light a new situation, where it’s sort of like being retired,  but not. That is, everyday feels very much like the day before, and sometimes I have to remind myself what day of the week it is. Midi, our dog, is confused because he sees me sitting for hours staring at a laptop, when I should obviously be giving him walks or tummy rubs. He’s getting old and has really slowed down lately, not helped by him hurting his foot while running around barking at the increased number of people walking by. He’s sleeping a lot more recently, to the point that sometimes I watch him to see if he’s still breathing. Yeah, I fear that he’s getting close to the end of his adventure, and I really don’t like to think about that.

To end on some positive news, I am working in the garage, just not on the car. The new workbench has been put to good use, supporting construction of the new telescope that’s been in the works for a couple years now. In other news, the wooden gear clock project has been shelved, as cutting the gears and finishing the teeth is more work than I want to do. A CNC router was tried, but even it left a lot of chipped and frayed plywood. What I’d really like is to have it cut via laser, but the only place that returned a quote wanted $600. So, it sits.

9 April 2020

Between working from home, light but long term rain, and the virus, Midlana is safe in the garage on a trickle charger. If you’ve ever driven an open wheel car in the wet, well, you’re missing out. Perhaps you remember riding a bike without fenders through a puddle, and the sudden realization that you now have a muddy racing strip down the middle of your back. Only takes once to learn that lesson. As far as driving in the wet, anything off straight-ahead results in a shower, and even after the car is dried off with a towel, everything that can rust, does.

When weather allows, work continues in the backyard, replacing our 25+ year-old railroad ties with retaining blocks. When it’s rainy, I’m in the garage working on the new telescope 🙂

25 March 2020

It’s surprising to see an uptick in book sales. Maybe it’s due to people stuck at home looking for something to read, but I’m also hoping that it might be that people have the attitude that “this, too, shall pass”, and are considering building a fun car. Glad that I can help!