Sunday, March 29, 2009

Road Trip!

Well, this week I survived the cross-country trip with the family to visit the folks. Yes, both kids survived as well, and surprisingly I didn’t say “Don’t make me come back there” even once. All-in-all it was a pretty enjoyable trip. The kids got to see my old people, and I had the opportunity to sneak out and catch-up with some old friends. When we left we were ready to be home but still sad to leave, which (at least in my mind) is the perfect gauge of how a trip went. I mean, at least people weren’t chasing us out of town with torches and pitchforks, and we weren’t trying to tunnel out through the sump-pump under cover of night. So I thought that I’d run some of the vital statistics of the trip. So here we are:

Number of miles traveled: Just about exactly 2000 miles we put on the family truckster.

Gallons of gasoline consumed: ~95 gallons got us from here to there and back again.

Pounds of pre-historic plants and animals it took to create that gasoline: 18,620,000 pounds, or about the same amount of organic matter that would be found in a 100 acre wheat field.

Pounds of carbon dioxide that we pumped into the atmosphere: 1881 pounds.

Wildlife seen: If you leave out our visit to the Chicago Shedd Aquarium we saw pretty much the expected Midwestern laundry list of creatures (with one notable exception, and I’ll get to that in a second): whitetail deer, pheasants, turkeys, hobos, etc. The notable exception was that we somehow managed to time our trip such that we drove through the annual north-south migration of the sandhill crane. At first I noticed a couple of birds in the fields along I-80 in the middle of Nebraska, but then they swarmed in the hundreds of thousands in the air and on the ground. The extent of the migration was impressive to say the least. We must have seen millions of birds spread over at least 110 miles of that horrible state. You can check their progress here. As a side note, this is the second avian mass migration that I have been lucky enough to witness this year. In the fall hundreds of thousands of red-wing blackbirds flew directly over my house on their annual trip to warmer climes. That was amazing, but nowhere near the scope of the crane migration.

Notable road kill: Although we didn’t squash any wildlife other than insects along the way we did see hundreds of unfortunate little guys strewn about the highway. Most of them were of the hum-drum variety that appear to be sleeping along the side of the road, but there was one over-achieving piece of carnage that stood out from the rest. I came across it in the wee hours of the morning as we were entering Nebraska on our return trip. As I said, most road kill just appear to be bloated and resting on the side of the road like John Belushi after a week-long bender. However, this mess was not even recognizable as animal matter anymore. In fact I am only assuming that it was an animal (or a group of animals) although it could have just as likely been the scene of an accident between a tomato soup tanker and a fur-coat delivery truck. I mean, the fact that I nearly hydroplaned for a ¼ mile should give you some idea of the mess.

Strangest cargo: I like to drive at oh-dark-thirty when it’s just me and the 18-wheelers on the road. That way I don’t have to stare at cornfields all day and the kids can get some sleep. If I leave out the dozen or so milk tankers that I saw, which I think is both gross and weird there was one strange bit of cargo that stood out. On the return trip through Iowa I passed a flatbed trailer that’s sole contents was a single red tricycle, tassels and all. On the back of the truck was stenciled “Daddy’s Little Nightmare.” Needless to say, that’s a bit strange when you’re trying to fight sleep at four in the morning. Wonder if it was the new DoD experimental anti-aircraft trike that I’ve been hearing so much about.

Best political sign: Saw this one in DeKalb, Illinois – “Elect Jay Walker for County Transportation Commissioner.” I couldn’t even make that one up if I wanted to.

Best purchase: A Belkin power inverter for $30 from Newegg. Easily ran any of the myriad electronic devices that kept the kids and the wife quiet for the journey.

Musical selections: I believe the type of music that you select for a long trip sets the mood for how well or how shitty things are going to turn out for you in the long run. And music is the one thing besides booze that has the power to keep me sane. So here is a list of artists that found their way onto Daniel P.’s media player for the trek across the Midwest (alphabetical by artist)- Bill Monroe, Borris Karloff (The Grinch for the kids), Bruce Hornsby, Buddy Holly, David Allan Coe, Doc Watson, Dwight Yokam, Earl Scruggs, Evanescence (A bit dated, but still good), George Strait, Hank Williams, Jr., Interpol, Jack’s Mannequin, John Mayer (Say what you want, but the guy can shred that guitar), Johnny Cash, Junior Walker, Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban, Kings of Leon (Their new album “Only by the Night” is a furious drum assault punctuated by the addicting song “Sex is on Fire”. A brilliant track.), Los Lobos, Marvin Gaye, My Morning Jacket, Pearl Jam, Ray Charles, Seu George, Shawn Colvin, Silversun Pickups, Sonic Youth, Spinal Tap, Steve Miller, Stevie Wonder, The Animals, The Beatles (George saved the trip with “Here Comes the Sun”), The Fixx, The Kinks, The Velvet Underground, The Who (An absolute necessity for any long road trip…or any road trip in general), Tim McGraw, Waylon Jennings, Wilson Pickett, Willie Nelson, Yonder Mountain String Band, plus a couple of Motown compilation albums. A little top heavy with the country greats, I know, but it seemed (and in fact was) fitting for a trip into America’s heartland.

Two additional notes that I would like to share:

First, I just want to say that if you drive a Crown Victoria, Caprice Classic, Dodge Charger, or New Chevy Impala that is either white, black or navy blue and you are not a police officer, then you are a complete douche hole. If you are in fact a police officer then it goes without saying. I mean, how in the wild, wild world of sports am I supposed to make any time on the road if I have to keep slowing down to the speed limit whenever I see your stupid fekking vehicle? It’s not funny. Your poor vehicle selection causes traffic issues and is the primary reason my middle finger is so sore right now. Trade the thing in so I can set my cruise control at mach 2 will ya?!? Geeeezus!

Second, Nebraska sucks. The state is 500 miles long for fek’s sake! I mean, if it wasn’t for you bastards that eat beef for every meal of the day then I’m pretty sure that we could just excise that state like a cancerous mole from the ass of the United States without even knowing it was gone. Alternate suggestions would be to pave the whole thing so you could at least get some sleep while you’re driving through it, turn it into a national toxic waste/ nuclear waste dump and landfill, or create a magic carpet similar to a moving walkway that you can just park your car on that moves at 200 mph so you can get through that time-sucking hell hole as fast as possible. And I don’t know what these people that complain about the U.S. being overpopulated are talking about. I was trapped in Nebraska for 1000 miles and about 14 hours and I saw maybe six houses. Plenty of room if you ask me.

There you have it. The Daniel P. Daniel family trip in a nutshell. We all had a good time, and for those of you that were part of it we miss you already.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Threading with SolidWorks

I'm sure you're sitting thre thininking how do I create realistic threads in a SolidWorks part. This topic comes up over and over again in my circles, so I thought that I’d put together some of the more popular ways to create a thread in a part environment along with some statistics and reasoning as to why one method would be preferred over another. It should be noted that this may not be a complete list of threading methods, since in this case there is more than one way to thread a cat.

Before you decide to cut threads into your part, a design decision must be made which determines the relative value of modeling the threads. Thread features are often very resource intensive at the part level, and that issue only magnifies when multiple parts are inserted into an assembly. The best policy, depending upon design intent, is to avoid modeling threads in SolidWorks if at all possible. Having said that, below is a list of six ways to model threads (same process for both internal and external threads) in order of increasing complexity of operations:

I. No threads. This is the baseline from which the other numbers have been extracted. Imagine a simple socket-head cap screw shape without threads.
# of features = 4. Rebuild time = 0.00-0.02 sec.

II. Cosmetic Threads. Go to Insert/Annotations/ Cosmetic Threads. This paints a visual representation of threads onto your feature. It also imports a thread callout into your drawing. This method does not add any features to your model, and it does not increase rebuild time. It is somewhat parametric as it will partially update with design changes. The disadvantages are that it doesn’t look very realistic, behaves quirky sometimes, and doesn’t show up in model rendering.
# of features = 4. Rebuild time = 0.00-0.02 sec.

III. Simple Swept Profile. Draw a line following the temporary axis of your feature. Draw your thread profile. Do a Swept Cut, and choose Twist Along Path. Input the number of turns required. This is a very quick and easy way to cut threads into your feature. It is partially dynamic depending upon your sketch relations.
# of features = 7. Rebuild time = 0.06-0.09 sec.

IV. Revolved Threads. Draw your thread profile. Do a Revolved Cut around your temporary axis. Do a linear pattern of your cuts. Again, this is a quick and easy way to model threads. The disadvantage is that it is not an actual thread since the cut is revolved and not swept. This method serves to get the point across without being too resource intensive.
# of features = 7. Rebuild time = 0.09 sec.

V. Helix Method. Draw a helix that wraps around your feature. Draw your thread profile. Do a Swept Cut of your profile following your helix. This is a very realistic method for creating threads, as you can control the pitch, height, starting angle, etc. of your helix in a simple property manager. The major disadvantage is that helixes are notoriously resource intensive, and it is not dynamic. The amount of resource that swept cuts following a helix command depends upon many factors including the pitch and how/where the cut starts.
# of features = 8. As far as rebuild time goes, I got significantly variable results in the range of 0.20 to 45.34 sec depending on how I constructed the cut. With the cut starting 180° from the helix start point, I was able to reproducibly get 0.20 sec. rebuilds.

VI. Swept Surface. Draw a line following your temporary axis. Draw a line perpendicular with that line (in a separate sketch) that is collinear with the top or bottom of your feature (or wherever you want your cut to start). Pick Swept Surface and sweep the second line around the first with a Twist Along Path option. Match the parameters to your thread pitch. Convert the edge of this surface into a 3D sketch. This should essentially be the same as a helix. Draw your thread profile. Do a Swept Cut that follows the 3D sketch. Although this method seems like it is overly complicated at first, it has the benefit of being completely parametrically driven depending upon your sketch relations. It will update your cuts to your model changes. The major disadvantage is that it is a resource hog.
# of features = 10. Rebuild time = 18.33-19.86 sec.

If threading is something that you have to do very often then I would suggest creating Design Features and reusing them. If you use standard threads you can even create “Taps” and “Dies” that you can position in your parts and use the Combine Feature to remove the material where your threads should go. All of these design methods depend on the environment that you work in and what the intent of the project is. If this is something that you run into often I would suggest that you submit an enhancement request to SolidWorks and talk to your VAR about the necessity of a thread-creation utility that works similar to the Hole-Wizard. Then wait…patiently… Hopefully this helps, fellow SolidWorks geeks.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Roast Your Family

I will be making the long trek home next week with the family so I thought it appropriate to post a speech that I put together for a birthday party that my parents had a couple of years ago. They said they wanted to do a roast, and when I think "roast" I immediately think of the greatest team of comedians and put-down artists that have ever been assembled - the brilliant men and women of "The Dean Martin Roast" series. It is impossible for me to watch any of these roasts without nearly splitting a seam in laughter. I stumbled upon my attempt the other day as I was mining through old documents on my computer, so I thought that I would share. Here goes:

"What can you say about two people who are admired, revered, and loved by everyone? I can start by saying they’re not the people we’re honoring tonight. First of all I’d like to thank everybody for making it. I know some of us had to travel pretty far to get here, both friends and family. As for all your friends, they said you were out of this world. Oh, wait, I'm sorry - I meant "wished."

We’re here to celebrate both of your birthdays and remember younger times, which is getting to be pretty difficult. After all, when you were young the Dead Sea was just sick. My dad’s first job was as a bus boy at the Last Supper. And I never understood why my mom failed American History since there was so little of it when she was at school. Well, they say what you don't know won't hurt you. That makes her pretty much invulnerable. That twinkle in her eyes is actually the sun shining between her ears. There's a reason my mom is like this. She was deprived of a lot of things in her childhood. I believe oxygen tops the list.

I guess you couldn’t have been too smart if you married this guy. He has the face of a Saint... Bernard. His teeth are like stars. They come out at night. One good thing about your looks. I had the hiccups when I came up here and now they’re gone. When he was little he couldn’t play in the sandbox, because the neighborhood cats would keep trying to cover him up. His mom had to stop dropping him off at school because she kept getting tickets for littering.

His mom, she was no angel, either. When he was a kid, Grandma wanted to hire someone to take care of him, but the mafia was asking for too much money...And Grandpa, he’s so short you can see his feet on his driver’s license photo. But he's sensitive about his height, so don't tease him about it...or he'll punch you in the knee.

My mom comes from a tightly knit family, too. Her parents were very close. In fact, they were first cousins. Her parents loved her right from the start, though. When she was just one day old, her mother said, "What a treasure." And her father said, "Yeah, let's bury it."

Don’t worry too much about getting old, guys. You’ve got four great kids that are here to take care of you. Personally, I think Brandon will be a big help. There's a guy who always speaks his mind...which explains the long silences. He’s always healthy. He's never had a head cold in his life...I think it’s because germs can't live in a vacuum. He has a very calming influence, too. If you stand close enough to him, you can hear the ocean. He does drink a little bit, though. Last time he donated blood to the Red Cross, they used it to sterilize the instruments. And my sisters...well they’re bigger and meaner than me, and there are two of them so I’ll just move on. I’m no prize either. My nose is so big kids are always trying to feed it peanuts. I have a really low opinion of others, too. I consider them equals. On second thought, maybe you guys should start to worry a little bit.

I'll never forget the childhood memories I have with my parents, but I'm hoping the therapy will eventually work. All that I am, I owe to you guys. Luckily, I know a good lawyer.

In closing, I'd like to leave you with one thought... but I'm not sure you have anywhere to put it. I hope you guys have a good birthday, and thanks again to all of your friends that made it. After all, any friend of obviously a poor judge of character. All seriousness aside, I think you're really special. And I mean that in the Olympic way."

Well, what do you think? A worthy attempt? If you have any favorite put-downs you'd like to share, feel free to post a comment.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Caps Off to Recycling

Since I’ve become the new garbage/recycling guru in my group of friends it seems like people keep asking me questions about their trash. I can usually fend them off with a dismissive answer or a smart-ass comment, especially if I am married to them, but this week my wife asked me why plastic bottle caps are not recyclable. I didn’t have an immediate response, but my gut reaction was to say, “What the Hell are you doing out of the kitchen?!? Git back in there, and take those shoes off!” Once she bowed down to my obvious dominance I explained that I thought that they probably were recyclable, but there was probably a separation issue. After I thought about it for a little while I figured that there were too many “probably’s” in that response so I looked into it.

Initially, I thought that there must not be enough material of value to worry about since they are so small relative to the bottles themselves. However, around two million plastic beverage bottles are used every five minutes in the U.S. alone. That means that there are over 210 billion bottles consumed in the U.S. annually. If you were to stack the caps from all of those bottles on top of each other they would reach to the moon and back three times (~1.7 million miles). If they were spread out evenly, just touching each other, they would cover somewhere in the vicinity of 53 square miles. That pretty much chucks the quantity argument right out the friggin’ window there.

One of the major barriers to recycling the caps is obviously separating the cap material from the bottle material. Caps are generally made out of polypropylene (PP #5), which is recyclable. Recycled polypro is usually made into plastic items that have some strength such as rakes, buckets, barrels, etc. The bottles themselves are almost all made out of polyethylene terephthalate (PET #1). This material is generally made into post consumer products like fleece, polyester, carpet, prison shanks, etc. One huge problem with recycling is the separation and sorting of materials, and any labor lost on this task pretty much negates any monetary value of the material right off the bat. Currently, many plastic bottle sorting machines cut off the top of the bottles in order to ensure that there is no cross contamination of the PET material from the bottles with the PP of the caps. The cut-off portion of the bottles is then just landfilled. Contamination of one type of plastic resin with another will either destroy or seriously degrade the physical properties of the bulk material. One reason for this is that there is about a 100-degree temperature difference in the melting points of the cap material and the bottle material. As an example, one stray PVC bottle can ruin a melt of 10000 PET bottles. Some retailers will accept large bags of sorted caps for recycling, but it is pretty much just a marketing maneuver to get you into their stores since a couple of bags of worthless caps aren’t going to put a dent in the 210 billion that would otherwise end up in the landfill every year.

Additional complications with caps are that bottles dry out faster with the caps off. Food contaminants are another big problem with recyclable materials. Also, the bottles are easier to crush without the caps. In fact capped bottles can explode and injure the poor saps that bale this useless crap for shipment overseas...As if their jobs didn’t suck enough. Also, the small caps tend to jam up the equipment that is used to sort and process the larger bottles.

So, I guess the short answer to the original question would have been, “Caps are recyclable, but they are too much of a pain in the arse to dick around with.” As always, I have to take the long way around to get back to where I started. Thanks for the inadvertent blog suggestion, Steph, and if anyone has anything else that would like to hear about, please let me know.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


Billed as a return to “Old School American Horror” Hatchet (directed by Adam Green) adeptly manages to recapture the essence of the slasher genre and splash it up on the big screen with a welcome mixture of humor, gratuitous nudity and gore. This is definitely not the modern Scream-style clean horror film that is cast with the actors from “Dawson’s Creek” or “The O.C.” Although it was released in 2006, it has the appearance of the direct-to-VHS horror films of a bygone era, and in an obvious nod to its predecessors and to the icons of the trade the movie has cameo appearances from Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger) and Tony Todd (Candyman). Even Kane Hodder (Jason Voorhees, Leatherface) plays double duty as both the father of Victor Crowley and the indestructible Victor Crowley himself, a grotesquely deformed oversized madman that survived being hit in the face with a hatchet by his father in a failed attempt to save him from a burning shack, in this brilliant throwback to the ‘80’s.

The movie opens as two unfortunate alligator poachers are unceremoniously dismembered by some unseen bad guy in the deep recesses of an uncharted Louisiana swamp. Meanwhile, the real story begins in New Orleans during Mardi Gras when a group of friends make a misguided attempt at cheering up our would-be hero, Ben (played by comedian Joel Moore), who has just broken up with his long-time girlfriend. Boobs and booze fix everything. Right, fellas? Especially boobs. However, rather than be constantly reminded of his lost lass’ honkers, Ben talks his friend Marcus (Deon Richmond, “Bud” from the Cosby Show) into going on a grabasstically disorganized boat tour of the local haunted swamps. Of course this lands them squarely into the middle of our boogeyman’s turf when the boat inevitably runs aground. The other unfortunate members of the tour include the expected laundry list of mismatched personalities, including a scam artist, his two hot dupes, a Midwestern couple, and a woman on a vendetta. Soon the one liners and entrails start to fly as Crowley hacks up our unfortunate crew in a multitude of creative ways. The gas-powered belt sander to the face is a particular delight.

The hilarious dialog and John Carl Buechler's outrageously gross special effects are a welcome change from the torture-porn films like Hostel, Saw, and Captivity that have been the rage lately. We’ve definitely been taking our horror movies too seriously in the past few years. The casting of a comedian as the protagonist and relying on the talents of Joel Murray (One Crazy Summer) as our scam-artist, Shapiro, definitely lightens the mood even as the body count rises and the amputated limbs pile up. Although Hatchet is not in the same class as Friday the 13th, Halloween, or Nightmare on Elm Street it definitely pays tribute to them without stepping on their toes. In the tradition of the indestructible antagonists of the past like Jason, Michael, Freddie, and John Kirby (Silent Rage…you didn’t expect that I forgot about Silent Rage, did you?) Victor Crowley does them all justice in the end. Hatchet is a welcome throw back to the low-budget slasher gore fests of the 1980’s, and I definitely look forward to Adam Green’s next attempt. Hopefully it will start a slow movement back to the grainy irreverent films that we’ve grown to love and desperately miss.