Monday, February 29, 2016

Another Nursing Home Presentation

I have not been overwhelmed by invitations to give demonstrations of the science related projects on my Ideas-inspire website lately, but I have not made an effort to find new venues either. Yesterday I gave a presentation at a nursing home, which was the second time. The first presentation was related to aviation history through model aviation, the presentation yesterday was about the other projects on my website.

In doing the presentations I try to tailor what I talk about to my intended audience, I put some thought into how I could relate my projects to an older group. To start the conversation I tried to relate to everyone’s childhood and how it was so common for kids to be building such things as kites, model airplanes, or their own skis.  Getting much of a reaction in an older group is not easy but I felt at least I was connecting with at least a few people.

Aviation History Presentation

For the rest of the demonstration I gave a history of the various projects and how I had selected the project for the various student groups that I have taught classes for. I did start with a short flight of my Fantastic Foam Flyer model airplane because my interest in model projects started with model aviation. There was one guy that was really fascinated by the model airplane and wants me to help him build one which I will. Next I showed the water rocket design I use for classes as this was the first project I tried beyond model airplanes. 

Tractor Designed and Built by My Father

 Projects that could be demonstrated in the room next were mousetrap cars, a windmill, electric motors, and the syringe arm. People were impressed that my projects could be built with cheap or free materials. I also mentioned my father who was an inventor of farm machinery and held several patents. To end the presentation I demonstrated a Lego robot that followed a black line around an oval track. This is not one of my projects but relates more closely to what more students are interested in.

Lego Robot on Second Floor

 As I was taking everything to my car someone spotted me down on the first floor and said a few people were waiting there for my presentation which had been moved to the second floor. I went back to my car to retrieve everything and gave another presentation for a smaller group. One person that was younger than most of the residents were really interested in what I brought.

Lego Robot on First
Update 3/5/2016

I brought materials in for resident to build the Fantastic Foam Flyer airplane and he did pretty well. Some short flights were made in dining room and halls. He wants to build a different project now so I think we will build a mousetrap car next.
Bill Kuhl

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Model Aviation History Demonstration for Nursing Home

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

My Start in Learning With Lego NXT Robotics

My Lego Robotics Webpage

In the science activities on my website I have tried to utilize inexpensive or free materials to create projects related to science. The cost of the Lego NXT I feel is reasonable for what is provided but still it is rather expensive. After observing a couple of Lego League competitions sponsored by High Tech Kids I decided to purchase the Lego NXT retail unit, there is also an educational version with minor differences. 

With all the pieces, several hundred, I decided to purchase a fishing tackle box to sort and store the various pieces; it is my understanding the educational version includes a storage tub. After going through the instructions and simple projects that were provided, I purchased a couple of books on Lego NXT which have been very helpful.

Fishing Tackle Box Holds Pieces  

To become familiar with the components and assembly I started with simple projects and then tried progressively harder projects that I found in books and on the Internet. I was learning from entering the program code and assembling the many pieces but I was not creating anything with my own thought process, just following directions. At times I did have to think about what I had done wrong and correct it to complete the project.  I built a bar code simulator and a Jeep that required a good amount of assembly.

Bar Code Scanner Simulator


This winter I would design my own basic robot that I would attach all the sensors to and create my own simple programs to begin to learn the basics of programming. I believe becoming familiar with sensors that are attached to microprocessors will help a person understand so much of what is happening in this digital age. For example the modern automobile has so many sensors for detecting if a door is open, if the wheels are slipping, to help with braking, and to accurately meter the fuel going into the engine.

Framework & Caster Wheel in my Simple Robot

In future articles I will share more of what I am learning with the Lego NXT robot.

Bill Kuhl

Friday, February 5, 2016

Four Year 37,000 Miles Prius Update

It just occurred to me that the 2011 Toyota Prius I purchased new in February of 2012 is now four years old. I have to honestly say that the car has been even better than what I had hoped for. Besides having no problems with it, the acceleration is better than I expected and it goes through snow well. The average fuel mileage has varied and this past summer the average was only around 48 mpg. On a routine service appointment it was found the car was out of alignment and I am wondering if that could have reduced the mileage slightly, the summer before I had reached an average of 53.5 mpg.

Drives Through Snow Well 

With fuel prices so low the past year the savings in monetary terms really are not a big deal. On the last fill up I only spent $12.93 when gas was much more expensive $30 was the most I ever spent. My primary reason for purchasing a hybrid car was I am fascinated by the technology. I am the type of person that likes efficiency and doesn’t like waste.  The idea that energy can be captured while coasting or braking instead of creating wasted heat just seems so cool.  When you first drive a hybrid car and the engine turns off at a stop light it is a weird feeling but you soon adjust to it and you are happy the engine isn’t running for no good reason.

Tire Pressure Warning

Many other less obvious factors contribute to the overall fuel efficiency. Like many non-hybrid cars it has a tire pressure monitoring system that warns when the tire pressure is down below a certain minimum pressure. The shape of the car reduces the drag more than many vehicles.  One of the biggest factors might be that the engine design is more thermally efficient than the normal gasoline engine. The “Atkinson cycle” engine in the car wastes less of the heat energy, there is a tradeoff in that acceleration would be poor except that the electric assist portion of the car makes up for this. The transmission is an efficient design also. I was somewhat surprised how good the fuel mileage was on the highway which can average over 60 mpg if the speed is kept to 55 mph.

Room for Model Sailplanes
Until pure electric technology is a little more practical in a northern climate I am happy with a hybrid car. To get rid on the internal combustion engine altogether would be nice. With advances in batteries and hydrogen-fuel cell technology this should be possible.

Bill Kuhl

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