Monday, January 23, 2017

CO2 powered pinewood derby car that works

My son and I enjoy Cub Scout pinewood derby car building and racing every year. We've built Formula 1 car for 2015 race. In 2016 we built a simpler rocket inspired car. This year we built Star Wars Ship.

These are all gravity driven cars. Starting 2016, we being adventurous parents decided to do a "no-rules" race the night before the official kids event. Last year I created my first CO2 powered pinewood derby car, but it did not work well. This year I wanted to make a working CO2 car, but unfortunately had serious time constraints and was not able to start my project until 12pm on the day of the race. This means I had between 12pm and 5pm to work on this project. I had high level design in mind, but have not yet worked out all of the specifics and implementation details, which frankly consumed about half of these 5 hours with the other half being actual work with metal and wood and testing the prototype.

The problems with last year's design were as follows:
  • The car weight without CO2 cartridge was 1.5 oz - way too light for the power of the CO2;
  • The location of the CO2 cartridge was incorrect - it was at the rear of the car and it caused front wheels to lift when gas was discharged (the car flew to the ceiling more than once);
  • The angle of the CO2 cartridge was too small - probably about 15 degrees to the horizon - this meant that vast majority of the propulsion was used for forward motion and too little for keeping the car on-track;
  • The starting mechanism was complicated and unreliable - it is almost impossible to consistently punch a hole in the CO2 cartridge with a sharp object. Many times it did not fire at all, at other times it missed the head of the cartridge, at other times the hole was too small or off center and it caused lateral forces and thrown the car off the track.
This year design fixed all of these issues:
  • The weight of the car without the cartridge is 7 oz;
  • CO2 cartridge is angled at 35 degrees, so a good amount of force is used to push the car into the track and keep it from jumping sideways;
  • Location of CO2 cartridge is almost in the middle of the car, so the pressure is applied in between front and rear wheels to keep car on-track;
  • Most important - the starting mechanism uses bike inflator, which punches the cartridge in advance and allows for fine control of discharge of gas - see picture below.

Now the question is - how to start the gas flow? I decided to make two metal "hooks" on both sides and connect them with bike tire rubber to press it to start the flow of gas. This can be seen in the video:

Here is how the parts were made:

As for the car itself - I planned on making a very elegant design, but being severely time constrained, had to resort to a basic rough bodywork made out of a block of wood:

In the end this design worked extremely well - it was very easy to operate and the car was about twice as fast as the next fastest car on the track :-). It could be made even faster with lighter car body and more aggressive angle of the CO2 cartridge, but this will require experimentation and time, which is in limited supply :-). The other thing to add would be an automatic start, instead of using manual start with vice grips. Perhaps next year...

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Dirty Dozen bike ride

On November 26, 2016 I participated in and finished one of the most epic bike races known to men - Pittsburgh Dirty Dozen. This race had first started back in 1983 when few cyclists wanted to showcase Pittsburgh's steepest and toughest 13 hills in one ride. The total distance is 55 miles, but the fact that it is done so late in November with the temperature being around 35 F and riding these crazy hills makes this race unique. The Canton Avenue with its 36 degrees climb is considered to be the steepest street in North America. Many pictures are available on the official website.

This was my first time and hopefully not the last time doing this race. The race started in four heats. I was in the 3rd heat and only made it into top 10 on one of the hills. The rest of the hills I was consistently in top 20 with the total number of people in our heat around 60. The race was very hard, but it was a ton of fun. Not having done this before, there was an added benefit of not knowing what is ahead and how long and steep each hill is. So I just rode balls out mode every time and luckily, made it on every hill without touching the ground. It helped that it was dry. Doing this in wet or snow conditions would make it sooooo much harder, considering that if you touch the ground, you need to start from the foot of the hill. Ouch...

See Google Album here.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Conquer the Castle Trail 25K race

Fantastic race today, but I am glad I did not run 50K or 100K :-). This is a very tough run on a trail full of roots, leaves, etc. could hardly see where to go and got lost handful of times when I missed markers, so I had to backtrack a little bit.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Long trip to China, Spain and Russia

In April and May this year I've made a long business trip and worked 1 week in China, 1 week in Spain, 1 week in Russia and at the end took a ten day vacation in Russia and was able to visit St. Petersburg for the first time.

This was my 5th time in China and I am always amazed to learn new things about the country. For example, Chinese folks shop in USA because electronics, clothing and all other stuff that is produced in China costs much cheaper in USA than it is in China. Who would have thought? During this visit the pollution in Beijing was pretty strong and there could be no way for me to run outside. So I worked out in the hotel gym. The rate of heart attacks, cancer, lung diseases and other sicknesses is very high in Beijing and many people are happy to live in much smaller cities to avoid pollution. Here is a complete album of photos from China.

Next I flew to Madrid, Spain. Since I have been in the city three times I spent most of my time on work or in hotel, but one night was able to take a good tour of the city with Saglara - an old friend of mine from school days who now lives in Madrid. She and her friend know the city very well and used to work as guides, so I had a personalized tour :-). Here are some photos I took in Madrid.

At the end of the week we went to a beautiful Spanish city Toledo. That was fantastic! The city is beautiful and with perfect weather and the festival going on there it was an awesome day. Having two folks who know and love the city was great and we all enjoyed it very much. Few photos I took in Toledo.

Next I flew to Russia and worked in Moscow for a week and then went to my parents and visited St. Petersburg with my younger brother. This was my first time in St. Petersburg and I was very impressed with the city. Here are 190 photos from the 4 days in the most beautiful city in the world:

Also see 54 photos from the Faberge Museum.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Sprint and Olympic race reports

2nd place in 40-44 AG
Here goes the summer. Athletically speaking this was a time of relaxation. I had no specific training goals, other than maintaining general fitness by biking on my indoor recumbent trainer 4 to 5 times a week (average of 150 miles a week), running 3 times a week (average of 20 miles a week), swimming a couple of times a month (yeah, almost no swimming this summer), and doing cross training about 4 to 5 times a week (for about 3 hours total). Overall I averaged about 12 hours of fitness per week this summer, which is a little bit less than last year.

YMCA Sprint Triathlon in North Park 

It was no surprise that my race result at YMCA Sprint Triathlon in North Park was slower than in the past. I took second place in my age group, but cramped very very bad in the last few hundred yards on the run and had to limp on one leg to finish (and was limping for the next few days as well). Lesson learned - if one wants to race fast races, one needs to train fast. The other thing to keep in mind is that I did not warm up properly for this race, nor did I take a gel or electrolyte before the start. I think these things could have prevented the cramp. 

Overall this was a well run event. I got beat by the guy who I found out to be a 2:45 marathoner. He also had a faster swim split, but slower bike split. Not surprisingly he caught and passed me on the run part of the course. On a positive side - I am pretty happy with my bike result - it turned out to be #9 among all 154 athletes. And this is considering that I never did a single intensity zone 4 or 5 workout on the bike this year - only steady effort in zone 2 and 3 while working on my computer in the office.

Mighty Morain Man Olympic Triathlon

This was my first time racing at MMM and my second Olympic distance race ever. Now I have done one IM, two HIMs, two Olympics, and a whole bunch of Sprint races.

What a beautiful venue for the race! The swim was in the Lake Arhtur and it was wet suite legal. No current, easy one loop and the water was quite nice. Not crystal clear, but decent lake water. The bike is very hilly - goes up and down constantly, very few flat sections. It got to be a little hot on the run, but half of the run is in the shade, so it was quite ok. The run is relatively flat on paved pedestrian lane with gentle rolling hills along the lake.

3rd place in 40-44 AG
I took one gel 20 minutes before the swim, then one more at the start of the bike and third at the very end of the bike. Sipped water before swim, on the bike, but not on the run. I consumed less than a bottle of water during entire race.

The swim was a mass start, but since there were not that many people, it was not too bad. I started at a moderate pace and just kept behind somebody in front of me drafting almost entire 1500 meters behind one guy who seemed to be going at my slow pace. I came out of water and took my wet suite on the soft grass before entering the transition area, which was all paved and this resulted in me having the fastest T1 among the entire field - always nice to be #1 in something :-).

On the bike I went steady effort - after doing my zone 3 in my office, I feel like I have single speed on my bike - no matter the race distance - it is just so ingrained. Good for long distances, bad for short ones... On the bike I passed a lot of people and when I entered T2, I was the first bike in! I proceeded to the run, but few minutes later I realized that this was impossible because elite men started Olympic distance few minutes ahead of me and there is no way I can be first overall in T2. I stopped running, looked at my watch, stopped it and found out that I only did 20.2 miles on the bike, instead of 26 miles, which meant I turned into T2 too early and cut a course short. In my defense, there was no map of the bike course on the website and the markings were not that great. I figured that I am disqualified at this point and decided to finish the 10K run just to get the workout. My pace dropped and I was just jogging now, at which point the race director passed by me on her bike as she was checking the aid stations and congratulated me with the lead. I told her what happened and then asked if I can finish the run, get back on bike and do this extra 6.5 miles to do a complete bike leg. She said it was ok with her. However it was now very hard to pickup the pace. I finished the run and without crossing the finish got on the bike, did my miles, got off and ran to the finish.

It turned out that I was 4th in my age group, but since the #1 guy in my age group was also #1 overall, we all got bumped one step up and I officially finished #3 in my age group. Looking at the results, my timing looks very weird because of this bike mishap:

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Murph Challenge on Memorial Day

Yesterday was Memorial Day - a day to remember and celebrate those who have fallen protecting our peace and freedom. This is widely celebrated in US, but in my mind this includes US and Russian and all of the warriors who sacrificed their lives for a good cause, protecting their countries and people, no matter the nationality.

One of those warriors was Michael Murphy, US Navy SEAL who died in the operation Red Wing in Afganistan in 2005 - only three years after enlisting with SEALs. I can only imagine how much he would have accomplished if he was still alive now. Rest in peace Murph.

He left a big legacy, with movies and books written about him, buildings, ships and swimming pools named in his honor. One of those things is the Cross Fit workout named after him (it was one of his favorite workouts). Participants compete on time:
  • 1 mile Run
  • 100 Pull-ups
  • 200 Push-ups
  • 300 Squats
  • 1 mile Run
  • all of the above wearing a body vest weighing 20 lbs.
This workout was one of Mike's favorites and he'd named it "Body Armor". Every year on Memorial Day Murph foundation is running an event, called The Murph Challenge:

The pull-ups, push-ups and squats can be intermixed and most people do 20 sets of 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups and 15 squats. This is exactly what we did yesterday morning with Matt and Ted. It took me exactly 1 hour to finish the workout and I am sore while typing it today. Matt and Ted were faster then me, but we all enjoyed it tremendously and I am sure I will do it again next year and try to cut down my time to 55 minutes.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Mad Dash 5K family race

Back in March Edward and I did a fun family race in North Park - it was a 5K Mad Dash. The weather was cold, but sunny and we had several hundred people - some doing 10 miles, 5 miles, and 5K.

This was fun and the best part was the sense of community and energy flowing in the crowd. This was Edward and I first race this year - we plan to do a lot more of these.

Before the start of the race - trying to get warm.

Stretching before the race

Queuing up for the start

Only 500 meters to go - the finish is in the background