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Notes from the Bikelab


Issue #5 -- 1/16/91

by Steven K. Roberts


Copyright (C) 2000 by Steven K. Roberts. All Rights Reserved.



IN THIS ISSUE:
A few announcements
Home base quest
On-the-road Scenario

Hofstadter's Law: "It always takes longer than you think it
will take, even if you take into account Hofstadter's Law."
-- Douglas R. Hofstadter

A Few Announcements

Short update this week -- I'm in the jaws of overload. Every
piece of the project takes much longer than it should, and it's
starting to seem like I'm making a career of RUMP latches,
phone calls, and email. So there's not much hot technical news
for this issue, unless you count the arrival of a care package
of environmentally sealed connectors from LEMO, a trio of huge
trailer shockmounts from Lord Mfg, a growing CD library along
with a neat way to carry them, and intriguing sponsorship
possibilities from the madness of MacWorld.

In response to many requests, I am about to start the
open-house series in the bikelab. At present, this offer is
for SUN EMPLOYEES ONLY: I'll be hosting groups of ten or so
people a week, selected from a list of requests. Each
mini-open-house will be on a Friday afternoon at 3:00, and will
last 1-2 hours. To get on the list, please email a request to
wordy@bikelab.Corp and tell me who you are, what you do (in a
sentence or two), how many will be in your party, and if there
are any Fridays when you can't make it. The idea here is to
put together reasonably congruent groups of people, allowing us
to get into interesting focused discussion beyond bike
show-n-tell. Part of my job here is to share information,
ideas, packaging concepts, specific technologies that may be of
use to Sun, and relevant contacts, and this approach seems to
have much higher bandwidth than the occasional crowded speech
and its accompanying Q&A session. (What's in it for me, of
course, is access to your ideas, meeting interesting people,
and finding help on some of the projects.) The series begins
Friday, 1/25.


Home Base Quest

Speaking of finding help, there's a big quest underway at the
moment. As you may have read earlier, I'm hitting the road
full time on July 15 (only 26 weeks away). It would be
pleasant to just fling open the doors of this building and
pedal away, knowing that everything is under control... but
it's not that easy. I have a full-scale lab here with a lot of
resources, as well as an office that must be managed by someone
who becomes my universe interface. Suddenly it's time to start
working on finding the right situation.

Ideally, the lab will remain operational in a space of about
5-600 square feet, managed by a spirited techno-polyglot who is
in a position to benefit from my tools (CAD systems, laptops,
milling machine, development systems, inventory, ham gear, test
equipment, industry contacts, sponsors, etc.). The "job"
involves keeping the lab alive, acting as my technical support
base, shipping the occasional replacement part, commiserating
with me on the phone when I blow out a bifurcated widgetframus
in Corsica due to excessive refrangible densiosity, and
otherwise hold the operation together. If the lab can remain
here at Sun, so much the better: whoever runs it can become
the consulting liaison.

It would be nice if the office can remain coupled with the lab,
but it is not absolutely necessary. Again, I offer a suite of
equipment that can support someone's freelancing -- along with
enough contacts in the media to launch another whole career.
What's needed here is an intelligent generalist who wants to
present the illusion of stability to the world, participate in
all my relationships, run the mail-order business, do daily
email and matter-transfer, manage the finances, and otherwise
hold the whole affair together while I'm pedaling the planet
aboard trusty BEHEMOTH.

This must all be underway by April. If you are intrigued by
either or both, please write me a letter and tell me why.


On-the-road Scenario

Finally, I offer the following as a reminder (to us both) of
why I'm doing all this. It's easy to forget, you know: the
mysteries of the Road (lovingly referred to throughout my
various ramblings as "The Other Woman") sometimes seem pretty
abstract when I'm so deeply immersed in the technical side of
the project that actually having to pedal it seems like a
design flaw.

Recently, I sold an article to Marlow Magazine, a new
publication that debuts this month from the PC & Mac Connection
people in New Hampshire. The editor wanted something a little
more lively than my usual attempt to summarize the machine's
technical capabilities, and I delivered a piece that included
an imaginary scenario of a typical day on the road. Here it
is, updated to reflect the latest developments. Relax and put
yourself into this scene:


Hot sweat steams inside layers of polypropylene. The road,
winding and narrow, is a relentless 9% grade stretching before
you into the clouds. An occasional logging truck splashes past
with a roar and the smell of chopped fir. Sounds: rain
ticking ripstop, your own rhythmic panting, the soft clatter of
chain and derailleur, an occasional muted birdsong, your mate's
voice breathless in your ear via 2-meter ham radio, the soft
whir of a pump pushing coolant through the helmet heat
exchanger, the bike's speech synthesizer piping up to announce
system events or incoming calls. The heads-up display shows a
shimmering red scrolling map of Shasta County, your own
location a centered blinking arrow derived from the GPS satnav
system, tonight's campsite a slowly nearing tent icon. You
zoom out, and 32 miles ahead is a house; you double-click it
with the thumb mouse and a window opens, showing the database
record of an online friend you've never met. Too far... maybe
tomorrow night.

The console in front of you carries both Mac and DOS
environments, with the former able to open under Multifinder an
X session to the SPARCstation (file server and CDROM mapping
workstation) behind the seat. The main display is a HyperCard
graphic user interface to the FORTH embedded control systems,
and you see at a glance that the battery is at 68% with 23.4
hours to discharge predicted at present sliding-average
rate... no solar power today. You touch a thumb button to
engage the head mouse, and with a subtle nod click on the ham
radio icon. A virtual front panel pops up, looking remarkably
like the Icom HF transceiver back in the trailer -- with a
click of another button it comes to life, while below your
awareness a trio of FORTH processors in the bike's major nodes
set bits in their audio crosspoint switch matrices to establish
a bidirectional audio link between radio and helmet. Your Ohio
friend is still chatting away on 20 meters... you break in at a
polite moment and let him know you'll be on from the campground
after dinner: will he have time to check some documentation
for you? There's a databook you never got around to adding to
the bike's microfiche library, and as Murphy would have it,
that's the one you need.

That issue shelved, you open a text window and add a few
thoughts to your article about this remarkable mountain range,
typing flute-like on the binary handlebar keyboard with barely
perceptible movements of your fingertips. You are actually
keying in macros, which are interpreted by PRD+ running in the
background on the T1000 that occupies the lower third of the
console. "otr" you key, and "on the road" appears on the
screen; continuing in this fashion, you appear to the system as
a 100+ word-per-minute typist, blazing away through a
FORTH-controlled matrix that masquerades as a standard
Macintosh keyboard.

A synthesized voice in your ear: "Satellite pass complete;
you have mail." Speaking distinctly, you say "read it" into
the boom microphone; the Covox interprets the command and the
Audapter immediately reads you a friendly note from a woman in
Australia, ported from Internet via a gateway in Silicon
Valley.

Another logging truck, too close! You touch a red thumb button
and the air horns blast -- the driver swerves and toots back.
Grr.
The road levels, the rain finally stops, and it's a downhill
coast all the way to camp. Occasionally you squeeze the
brakes, but never quite enough to engage the hydraulics -- the
bicycle control processor senses the pressure rise in the
system and directs the regenerative braking controller to draw
a proportional amount of power from the variable-reluctance
front wheel hub. This satisfies your braking requests, and
dumps a couple hundred watts into the power bus. Today it
recharges the batteries... on a sunny day, the excess power
would be passed to the solid-state refrigerator that cools the
thermal mass of drinking water... providing a heat sink for
your helmet cooler. It feels good to conserve scarce
resources.

An hour later you are camping, smells from the stove
intoxicating, the sweet buzz of healthy tired muscles
retreating in the glow of firelight, Gran Marnier, and a smooth
CD on the stereo. In its own tent, the bike waits, security
system alert and watching for movement. You can't relax yet,
though -- you have to consult an OrCAD file prior to the sked
with the ham in Ohio... you climb into your tent, and under
candlelight open an aluminum suitcase, flip up a small antenna,
touch a key to awaken the laptop, and sign on to the bike via
UHF business band packet datacomm. A few quick commands, and
you hear the Ampro PC's hard drive quietly spin up off in the
trees -- then the file enters your local system RAMdisk in
short 4800-baud bursts. Ain't technology wonderful? While
munching linguini with clam sauce, you peruse the schematic and
make a few notes.

Once you get the pinout data from Ohio and finish the changes
to the CAD file, it's time to ship it to your partner on the
design project. The final version will go out machine readable
direct to the printed-circuit fab house, of course, but this
one is for comments... you extend the fiberglass BYP (big
yellow pole) mounted on the back of the trailer, aim a
6-element 900-MHz yagi antenna in the general direction of
Redding, and via the laptop RF link direct the system to check
for clear cellular phone service. That established, you pass a
print capture of the schematic file to the fax software and let
the bike handle the details of sending it to a fax machine in
Boston.

While the cellular antenna is set up, you rlogin to your base
SPARC to send a long-overdue column to the alias and browse a
couple of newsgroups, then kick back with another little nip of
Gran Marnier for a relaxed evening of staring into the fire and
chatting with your sweetie. Ah, the outdoor life...

(And are you still wondering why I do this?)


Cheers from the bikelab!!!