The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

April 28, 2012

The Simple Joy of Playing in the Dirt

Filed under: Bellevue, Random Stuff — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 11:42 pm

As I’m sure is the case for a lot of people, my list of Facebook friends includes quite a few people with whom I made acquaintance over the years in the course of participation in various organizations, many of whom have gone off in various directions, mostly in the directions of getting married and starting families of their own.  This means that quite a few photos of their young children find their way onto Facebook, and even though I don’t think I’ve talked to some of these people in years, I still get to (sort of) watch their children grow up from afar.  Today on Facebook, one of these people posted a picture of their young son, who had apparently run off while on a walk in the park, and by the time they found him, he had waded knee-deep into a nearby pond, and left to his own devices probably would have managed to cover himself in mud.  Although I have no experience with being the parent of such a child, I suspect this is one of those things that seems pretty terrible at the time, but over the course of a few years manages to end up being funny.

Somehow, I get the sneaking suspicion that whenever the time comes that I have children of my own (a time that somehow seems a lot less distant than it used to)  it’s inevitable that I’ll find myself dealing with a similar situation somewhere along the line, and I’ll probably be just as horrified when it happens, only to think it’s funny later on.  Playing in the mud seems to be one of those thing’s that’s just buried somewhere in the Y chromosome, probably somewhere in the brain between the cooties and the disdain for vegetables.  Eventually most of  these traits manage to fade away.  At some point around puberty or so the whole Cooties thing manages to be conveniently forgotten, and eventually the combination of nutritional propaganda and the need to maintain some semblance of a figure manage to talk and/or guilt most people into eating their veggies.  In theory, as we grow older and become responsible adults we’re supposed to regard dirt as a necessary evil at best and something that should be avoided whenever possible.  And yet, regardless of where we end up and what happens along the way, this one never quite seems to go away completely.

Ominous, isn't it?

The place where I live in Downtown Bellevue could accurately be described as a reasonably high-end location.  After all, with neighbors with names like Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo and Tory Burch, it’s to be expected that the neighborhood should be reasonably nice.  And yet, in spite of the location, Downtown Bellevue also has a surprising number of empty spaces as well.  In fact, even the Bravern has a big empty hole between itself and Meydenbauer Center, space reserved for future construction.  I’m sure some ambitious developer envisioned another tower or two worth of high-end condos here at some point, but given the fact that it is highly unlikely such things could be built in a profitable manner at any time in the immediate future, what we have for the time being is a big empty field of gravel surrounded by chains on two sides and ominously large concrete walls on the others.  A couple of blocks away across from the Library, a 5,300 square foot lot smaller than some Downtown penthouses which still holds remnants of the foundation for a long since demolished single-family home was at one point earmarked for a 17-story residential tower where each story would be an individual residence.  The signs for that particular development came down months ago, and the lot now sits as another vacant hole in the ground, with no sign of the ambitious plans once laid out for the site.  Even Bellevue City Hall sits next to a vacant field which, for the time being, sits fallow.  For being a thriving urban area, Downtown Bellevue actually has quite a few holes.

And one of those holes happens to be right behind my building, in a vacant lot adjacent to the busiest street in Downtown Bellevue.  If I recall correctly, this lot used to hold a couple of single-family houses that had been converted at some point to businesses, and then eventually demolished in preparation for construction that never happened.  A couple of driveways to nowhere remain on the site, and currently the lot serves mostly as an impromptu parking lot presumably used by workers in the office building next door and retail customers for the various businesses downstairs in my building.  Because of the cars, only part of the lot is overgrown by whatever seeds happen to find their way onto this particular patch of ground.  A spurious footpath cuts across the lot, leading to the area where the cars are found parked during the day.  In recent days a sign has gone up announcing the impending construction of some sort of unremarkable mixed-use commercial/retail building starting at some unspecified point in the near future.  Aside from taking the occasional shortcut through the field while walking home from work at my previous employer, I’ve never had reason to pay much attention to this particular field.

As noted in my previous post, I have recently begun to take interest in my RC cars again after a lengthy hiatus resulting mostly from lack of suitable places to use them.  Now that the weather is getting better, I’ve been working on making a few upgrades to my E-Revo VXL to swap out some of the weaker stock suspension parts and replace them with more durable alternatives.  In the course of doing this, I found that it would be useful to have a location that I could test in, and it occurred to me that this field would be a decent spot to at least try things out and get a feel for how well things are working.  Trying not to look too suspicious carrying around an RC car in the elevators, I headed down to the field as it started to get dark one evening a few days ago and went for a bit of a test run… And immediately started kicking up a surprisingly satisfying cloud of dirt and gravel.  Not having had the space to properly run the thing for quite a while, I immediately wondered why it had never occurred to me to run it out here.  It also turns out that a small RC car blasting along in the dirt and kicking up big dust clouds is a surprisingly good way to attract attention from the neighbors.  I was actually surprised how many people stopped to watch, and how many “Where do you get one of those?” queries I have gotten while driving it in the dirt or doing some speed runs in the alley.

If there’s one thing I’ve gotten out of this experience, it’s something that I’ve known all along but largely forgotten:  There’s just something inherently satisfying about kicking up a nice cloud of dust or a big rooster-tail of mud.  Back in my younger days, I can recall a certain fascination with dirt, often scooping up handfuls of the stuff and throwing it up in the air just to watch the dust clouds drift along on the wind.  I can also recall finding clumped-up sand in the sandbox after a rainstorm and throwing it on the ground to watch the little “explosions” of flying sand resulting from the impact.  When I think back on those habits now it sounds kind of silly, but in the mind of a slightly precocious and easily distracted first grader I suppose it made sense in context.  Although I’m pretty sure I was never big on playing in the mud (my mother can correct me on this if necessary)  I can definitely see the appeal there too.  As responsible adults we’re presumably supposed to leave these things behind for the kids to deal with, but somehow the temptation remains, just waiting for some convenient excuse to indulge it in the messiest way possible.

September 25, 2009

Didn’t Mom Say Not to Do This?

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 6:54 pm

In addition to the chance to go see some auto racing, last weekend also provided a chance to spend a few days with my Dad and my brothers, including my younger brother Jason who lives down in Provo, and who I don’t really get to see too often these days.  As you might know if you’ve seen some of the posts I’ve made here in the past couple of months, he’s the one who got the whole RC car thing started, and since is the first time we’ve all been in the same place at once since we all got started on this, it was inevitable that RC cars would figure into the weekend’s activities.  Although a perusal of the relevant TSA regulations suggested that if we were so inclined we could probably manage to bring our cars in checked baggage, ultimately we all decided it was going to be too much of a hassle.  This didn’t stop us from spending some time wandering around to some of the various RC stores in the area though, and since my other brother (Jared) had been giving some consideration to picking up another one already, we soon found ourselves leaving one of the shops with a new 1/16th scale E-Revo VXL

Basically, this one is a smaller electric version of the nitro-powered Revo 3.3 that I have, and with the right batteries this thing can apparently push 60 miles per hour, and do other tricks like do a backflip from a dead stop.  As seems to be the case with most RC stuff, we managed to find a way to break it within the first ten minutes (broke one of the rear suspension arms reversing into a pallet at speed while messing with it behind a vacant warehouse near the hotel) but since it was still for the most part usable with a wire and electrical tape repair, we continued messing with it later on.

Aside from a general lack of noxious nitro fumes, this one also has a “training mode” that will limit the power output to a much more manageable speed than the normal settins would allow, which actually makes this one reasonable for indoor use.  When we got back to the hotel after a dinner at Pat’s BBQ in Salt Lake (it’s definitely a dive, but the food was quite good and reasonably priced,) we ended up setting up a little trials course out of whatever objects happened to be available in the hotel room, and took turns driving the E-Revo around it.  Here we see a number of the pillows and blankets arranged into a ramp up to the couch, which comes around to a couple of end tables and the ironing board.  This lead over to one of the two beds, which were bridged by my brother’s longboard, then finally over to a number of other pillows arranged as a ramp down to the floor and back to the start/finish line.

I’m not quite sure how the maid was going to figure this one out (it’s not actually one of the hotel’s blankets though, so it wasn’t going to be an issue for them.  As long as there isn’t any dirt on the tires they won’t leave any permanent marks  mark though.  It’s certainly not as easy as it looks to get around this though.  I suspect if we had tried it at home we might have found ourselves grounded for life (or a not insignificant portion thereof,)  That’s not to say we wouldn’t have done it though…  I figure the fact that my Dad was participating, I’m probably safe (for now…)  Just don’t tell the people at the hotel, OK?

August 13, 2009

It All Breaks Eventually.

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 1:52 am

Although I haven’t had as much opportunity to use my RC truck as much as I would like to since I’ve gotten it, I’ve found that in the somewhat limited time I have used it for it has held up surprisingly well.  For a number of runs now, the Revo has held up with no significant repairs needed, and aside from a fuel pickup glitch I encountered while out in the middle of nowhere, has functioned pretty much flawlessly.  This, of course, meant that I was just about due for some breakage, and on a relatively brief trip out to some BMX ramps up at the top of Education Hill near Hartman Park earlier this week, things broke.  All sorts of things broke, in fact.  On the plus side, I think I managed to put one of these things on the Christmas list of one of the bike riders who showed up while I was there.

A bad landing from a jump resulted in this bent exhaust header pipe, which by itself wasn’t really enough to put the truck out of commission, but it was enough to affect performance and bend some other things out of shape.  Expecting this to be a fairly minor (if somewhat involved) repair, I bought the replaement part and set sbout taking things apart to make the repair.

For comparison, here’s the part, compared to its replacement (one guess which is which.)  Note that the broken one also reflects a bit of mangling required to bend it out of the way of the screw that holds it onto the engine bl0ck. 

Of course, one problem is never enough, and if you dig down deep enough you’re bound to find more.  Sure enough, removing the engine from the block revealed that somewhere along the line, I managed to break the engine mount as well, requiring another trip to another hobby store to pick up one of those (and another $20 for the part.)  Breaking small metal pieces on this thing seems to be a considerably more expensive endeavor than breaking small plastic pieces.  After getting back from the hobby shop with that piece, I soon discovered that one of the bearings in one of the rear axle carriers had seized up (which would probably explain some of the damage to the wheel mounted on that axle.)  Following a THIRD trip to the hobby shop, I finally had the stuff to put it all back together.  Also while I had the whole thing apart, I also changed out the oil in the rear shocks to a higher weight, to try to help stiffen up the overly soft out-of-the-box suspension a bit more. 

Finally, after several hours of tinkering around uninstalling, reinstalling, re-uninstalling and re-reinstalling stuff, something mostly resembling an RC monster truck has once again emerged from the random pile of parts strewn about the desk, as seen in the first picture.  There’s still one pesky issue I need to resolve with the exhaust hanger, but other than that I should be good to go, and managed to get a couple good evenings of quality not-sitting-around-on-the-computer out of the deal.  It also provided a good opportunity to make use of the workbench-like object I’ve recently added to the room  This job would have been a serious pain to do on the end table in the living room where I had done my RC wrenching before I got the workbench, if for no other reason than the sheer quantity of parts strewn about and disassembled at one time.

June 28, 2009

My Toys Run on Nitromethane

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 1:54 am

These days, it seems that everyone’s got some sort of hobby.  Aside from the oft-cliched standbys like stamp and coin collecting, you can find people doing just about everything out there from camping to car collecting, biking to baking, or just about anythin in between.  Aside from blogging (which actually does take a fair bit of my time these days)  I have a tendency to be annoyingly indecvisive on the whole matter.  Throughout the years, I have gone through all sorts of different hobbies, and haven’t ever really stuck with any particular one for any length of time.  As you can see above, I’ve been through quite a few of them (although some of the stuff on there is just for illustration purposes.  I’ll leave it to the reader to determine which ones.) The problem with these old hobbies is that in a lot of cases they don’t just disappear.  On the contrary, they have an annoying tendency to accumulate over time.  Take for example my brief foray into arcade collecting (if you can’t find it, it’s the thing in the back.)  I actually got my arcade cabinet shortly after I moved into this apartment, and although I have nearly 10 different boards for it (one of the nice things about one of those is that just about every arcade game after about 1985 or so uses a standardized connector known as JAMMA so you aren’t limited to just the game that came in the cabinet,) I hardly ever use the thing.  Most of the time it just sits there taking up space.  Aside from my Xbox 360 which still sees occasional use whenever I feel like it, most of my older game consoles just sit around as well, occupying the top shelf of the closet in the den.  Over in my room, my old collection of Nerf guns sits in several large bins in the corner, while my golf clubs (purchased a couple of years back when my Dad and my brothers all inexplicably decided to take up golf) typically clogs up the entry hall closet.  I suppose if I didn’t live in an apartment I could just go stick all the stuff in the front yard and have a Great Big Garage Sale of Doom, but that might be a bit hard to pull off here. 


Of course, the reason that I even bring this up is because just in time for Summer, the next one has arrived, in the form of a Traxxas Revo 3.3 1/10th (or 1/8th, it’s kind of hard to tell actually) scale nitro-fueled RC car.  It was actually my brother Jason who was the first to get involved in this, introducing me to it when I was down in Provo back in April.  Two of his roommates had HPI Savages (nitro monster trucks, similar in size to this one) while he has an HPI Firestorm (more of a dune buggy type thing, although since the bodies on these things are pretty much just for decoration it doesn’t really matter much.)  Although the things seemed to spend a lot more time broken than running, to someone who likes tinkering around with things and fixing them this is actually a feature rather than a problem.  I was told at the time that it would be my job to convince my Dad and my other brother Jared to get these (as well as my brother-in-law Terence, although that might be a bit of a stretch) but Jared actually ended up buying another Firestorm when he went down to Utah about a week after I was there.  After getting a chance to mess with this on some good offroad terrain and see all the stuff you can do, I decided to get one.  My Dad was also looking at these, and ended up with an HPI Savage X4.6 as a Fathers’ Day present last week.  This meant that technically, all the cool kids were doing it, so last week I oredered a Revo, which arrived on Friday. 

I imagine that for most of you reading this, when you think of RC cars, the first things that come to mind are most likely the toy RC cars that you’ll find lurking somewhere in just about any given discount store.  On the TV commercials, they make the things look like they can go anywhere and do anything (to a point, of course) but when all is said and done, you’re still dealing with products that are built like toys, and as a result are inevitably going to break somewhere along the way.  If it’s within whatever warranty came with the thing, you might be able to get it replaced.  Of course, just about any use of one of the things beyond maybe running it around in circles on the driveway is going to void the warranty anyway.   At that point, you’re pretty much out of luck.  Although there are some exceptions, replacement parts are generally impossible to get, and by the time something breaks you’re looking at a 1/8th scale paperweight.  While I was growing up I went through a number of these toy RC cars, and found most of them to be predictably disappointing (although it was kind of fun getting the dogs and/or cats to chase them around the living room every so often.) 

That’s where the Hobby-grade RCs come in.  First of all, we’re not talking dinky little cars running on AA batteries here.  These things are light years ahead of your standard toy RC car (and have the pricetag to match, of course.)  We’re talking big 1/8th scale RC trucks with actual nitro-fueled (well technically it’s methanol with nitromethane and lubricant oils added) engines capable of speeds over 45 miles per hour (and as much as 70 on the on-road model using the same engine,) 4-wheel drive with actual front and rear differentials, Full suspensions, and all sorts of adjustments and modifications to make.  Let’s just say that with one of these you actually can do all the stuff you see on the toy RC car commercials, and plenty more.  Granted, you’re still going to chew up AA batteries so quickly you’ll want to buy Duracell stock with one of these (the transmitter and receiver  take 12 AAs between them) but it’s a small price to pay, especially compared to what you’ll end up paying for the nitro fuel the thing runs on.  I didn’t say it was a cheap hobby now, did I?

Of course, even with all the fancy suspension setups and all the metal parts you’ll find in this, you’re still going to break things.  In fact, it is quite likely you’ll be breaking even more things on one of these than you would on a toy.  Fortunately, unlike the toy RCs, when you break this you’ll actually be able to find parts for it.  In fact, if you wanted to (and had a good chunk of change to blow on it) you could even build one of these from scratch using the parts available for it.  There are also so-called hop-up parts available.  Getting sick of breaking the suspension A-arms with your ridiculously huge jumps?  Get the anodized aluminum ones, and it’s problem solved.  Same goes for a lot of the other stuff on here.  If you wanted to, you could even just stick a new engine on the thing if the one on here isn’t fast enough for you (although after seeing what the thing can do just on the break-in runs, I can’t imagine why, at least not yet) or if you really wanted to go to extremes, you could even just convert the whole thing to electric (in some cases, high-end electric RC cars have even surpassed the nitro-fueled ones in a lot of ways, but can also be quite a bit more expensive.)  For some peonple, having something you need to fix every time you bring it out probably isn’t exactly their idea of a fun time, but for the gearheads in the family here such tinkering is welcomed.  Already I’ve learned quite a bit about how some of the parts in a car work (things like differentials and carburetors that I’ve never really dealt with before) and suspect I’ll probably have a few more lessons (painful or otherwise) coming as a result of my purchase.

Of course, none of this guarantees that six months from now this thing won’t be taking up space in the closet while I’ve moved on to  some other hobby (there’s been some vague talk of maybe trying to build a “cheap” racecar of some sort for some of the local track races and things like that) but for now, my toys run on nitromethane.

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