Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Full article on bakfiets with six kids

An interesting read for how one American mum carts six kids around by bakfiets, and the reasons why she does it:

The bottom line: the bakfiets leads to a happier lifestyle, something that I can agree with.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Bike-powered USB Port for Phone Charging

As some of you may know, in my other life I am a humanitarian telecommunications research fellow, and leader of the Serval Project.  This means that I am quite interested in finding interesting ways to charge mobile phones.

Since I got the bakfiets, I have been eyeing off the dynamo hub that produces 2.4W of electrical power at 6V.  I am not the only one who has had the same thoughts.  In fact, there is a commercial product now that provides a powered USB port from the hub dynamo.  

But I wanted to make it myself.  So I had a look around, and found a post with a simple circuit to do the same job. This was a quick weekend hack, so I went to Jaycar Electronics to get the five components and a sacrificial USB cable, with the intention of using some spare breadboard.  I then discovered that I had run out of breadboard. 

But I still wanted to make it, so I used cardboard instead of breadboard, and poked the components through, bent the legs on the components so that I could solder them together the right way, and continuing the stationery substitution theme, used a couple of staples to bridge the distance in a couple of places, soldered it all together, and used the display packet from the USB cable in place of a proper project box.

The pragmatic albiet not photogenic result is below. Apologies for the poor focus, as my E7 phone has trouble focussing on things close up.  But hopefully you get the idea.

I then connected a couple of extra wires into the dynamo connector, and routed and cable tied some old phone cable to connect it all up.  The circuit and USB connector live in one of the pannier bags.

 You can see the routing into the pannier here. When I get enthused at some point, I will replace the highly obvious beige cable with something a little more discrete and black.

Then it was time for a test ride.  The elastics on the top of the cargo rack on the back hold a phone nicely in place.
I then set off to work and back, about a 45 minute return trip.  I knew from other's experience that about 8km/hour is needed to get useful output from the dynamo.  About 15 minutes of this trip was below that speed, as I plodded up the 130m climb to my work with Caleb on board, leaving about 25min - 35min of useful charging time.  I also forgot that the phone I used was set to have it's screen on while charging, which slows the charging time down.  Nonetheless, the phone went from 69% to 85%, proving that my cardboard and staple USB charger works.

Picnics and Australia Day

Just a few shots from picnics and outings around Australia day.

First up, you can pack quite a large picnic (including 7kg of watermelon) into a bakfiets:

The kids love waving their arms around in the breeze at the best of times, but lots more fun with flags to wave.

And even better with spinny things on a windy day:

Oh to be small again

Oh to be so small that you can stretch out in tbe back seat of a bakfiets.  Caleb is possibly even small enough to fit comfortably in an economy seat on a Boeing 747.

Free Parking at the Airport

As I mentioned in the previous post, I flew to Canberra this past week.

The whole airport dropoff/pickup/parking/taxi thing is always an added hassle.  There never seems to be a good solution that doesn't cost a lot.  Taxi's are great, but sometimes you have to wait a long time, and the cost is not insignificant.  Public transport really isn't an option if you are travelling with a big suitcase.  Drop-off and pickup can be tricky if you have small kids and the flights are at odd times (my return flight was scheduled for after 9pm), and parking at the airport for a week requires a second mortgage.  That is, unless you decide to ride your bike to the airport.

I forgot to take a picture of where I actually parked the bike, but it was in a space underneath the Qantas lounge at the Adelaide airport, next to one of the security staff areas.  This is a good place to park a bike for a few days, because there are always airport staff coming and going, and having a smoko.  Nonetheless, for the first time I actually used a 2nd lock on the bike, just to be sure.

I was travelling with a full 23kg 81cm international-size suitcase, a maximum cabin size wheely bag, and a suit bag.

I was surprised that it only took me half an hour to ride the 9km to the airport.  Coming home into a headwind was only marginally slower, at about 40minutes, including a couple of short stops to stretch some post-flight stiff muscles.

Coming home, I decided I would be a bit cheeky, and bring the bike into the terminal and load my suitcases directly in, rather than have to lug them out.  After all, a bakfiets is basically just a trolley with pedals. You can see it here next to the carousel.

No sooner had I parked there than an airport staffer came over, I assumed to tell me that I had to take it back outside (which I would have been happy to do).  Instead, it turned out he was Dutch, and apparently he had posted a picture of the bakfiets parked at the airport the day I flew out, and it was causing much interest among the local Dutch community on Facebook.

A couple of minutes later my enormous Antler case came around the belt, and I was out the door and riding away in no time at all.

Well, nearly no time at all, because to exit the building I had to pass the Qantas Valet Parking desk, which was a photo opportunity that I could not resist.  You can even see that they have a space next to the desk big enough to park the bike.  The desk staff were quite amused to see a heavily laden bakfiets roll past.

If possible, riding a bakfiets full of luggage covered in airport tags attracts even more curiosity than normal.

In any case, the whole episode was successful, convient, and a lot of fun, and I would certainly do it again.

Riding a Bullet at Linux Conf AU

This past week I have been at Linux Conf AU (LCA) in Canberra.  An unexpected surprise was having the chance to ride a bullitt (see picture below) belonging to one of the other people at the conference.

The bullitt is also made in the Netherlands, but takes a newer approach to making a bakfiets. 

The bullitt is designed to ride more like a "normal" bike, with a riding posture like that of a mountain bike, and only a few kilograms heavier than a mountain bike.  This is possible because of the use of lots of aluminium, and lighter components, such as disc brakes, and depending on the version, external derailleur gears instead of hub gears.

This makes the bullitt a great option if you have to ride up a lot of hills, or basically want to go fast, as there is no faster bakfiets.  This contrasts with the traditional bakfiets, like mine, that is focussed on comfort and convenience over speed.

The bullitt also has a really nice stand, that springs back up automatically, which is something that would be great to have, as it makes it easier to put the stand down when stopped at the lights, and then just ride off, without having to pop the stand up first.  I have been thinking about how to retrofit this function onto my bike for a while.

One thing I noticed that the bullitt lacks that would be good, is the Dutch-style built-in lock, as this means it takes a bit more time to park and depark, as you have to fish your lock out, and stow it etc.  I think the bullitt is a bit smaller, with a bit less cargo space than my bakfiets, which is admittedly the super-tanker of the bicycle world. Also after riding a bike with a low step-through, it felt odd having to climb over the (fairly low) top-tube.  The steering was felt a bit odd on my short ride, just like the steering first felt on my bakfiets, but I think that it would only be a matter of minutes before I got used to it.

At the end of the day, the bullitt is a really nice bike, and it was great to try one out, and I think it is a matter of personal taste, and to some extent geography, as to which style will suit people.

Finally, I posted something about this blog while at LCA, which as a result has been the main source of visits here this week.  LCA is not your normal cross section of internet users, indeed, they are many of the creators of various technologies we all use on the web and on our computers.  For example, I spoke with the author of Samba, which among other things, is used to let Linux and Macintosh computers talk to Windows computers. I also listened to the man who invented the world-wide-web. Many of these people create these valuable technologies and software packages in their own time, and without ever receiving any financial benefit.  We should be appreciative of their generous contributions to society.

But anyway, when I looked at the statistics today, the unusual demographics of LCA was reflected in the relative frequency of visits of users of various operating systems and browsers:

As you can see, there is a lot more Linux, Android and UNIX activity that you would normally expect.