TECHNOLOGY Feed

Huge machine lays asphalt street

Huge pneumatic paver lays asphalt street

Watch video and interview here. An operator high atop a pneumatic asphalt paver was assisted by two "back men" (otherwise called a screed or back end operators) at the rear of the machine on a little platform slightly above street level and by a crew of about 10 holding rakes, "lutes"and shovels laying down new street "mat" in northwest Philadelphia, Chestnut Hill. One back man who has been with the streets department since 1997 explained how this new half a million dollar computer-enabled paver is much superior to the 1996 model he originally worked with. He can monitor the job on a 7 inch display as the paver lays down what appears to be a couple inch thick layer of hot steaming asphalt and smoothly seam in a new section to an existing one, in automatic or manual mode turning the levels. It's important to regulate the speed, depth of material and and create a proper crown proper sloping down to the curb edge for rainwater to drain off. And a good back man, he says, makes less work for the foot crew who finish off the leveling work.


Buying a snow shovel

How to buy a snow shovel

Ken Roberts of Kilian's Hardware Store gives a hands-on demonstration of the various snow shovels the store has leaning outside the store. There are ergonomic ones, some with bends in the handle, and another with a straight handle and an extra handle-mounted grip. Wide curved ones for clearing large areas of light snow. A narrower feed shovel type for digging out deeper snows without breaking your back. Steel edged blades for strength. Hard plastics and aluminum for lightness. Car shovels and, most useful of all kid-sized shovels. If you get the kids to shovel, you're halfway done, Roberts jokes. Watch demonstration here.


3d Printer for Public Middle Schoolers

Middle schoolers print 3D

A generous school parent purchased a 3D printer for James Hilburt's math classes at the J. S. Jenks Middle School in the Chestnut Hill  neighborhood of Philadelphia and Hilburt is getting the students excited about designing their own projects by printing out 3-d stackable cups, a rubik's cube-like 3d puzzle, a complete chess set and small replicas of the Disney Castle and the Eiffel Tower. To help the students understand design and construction, Hilburt is first having them build a bridge with Popsicle sticks. For the 3d printer projects, Hilburt downloads digital templates onto his computer and loads them into the printer; a rapidly moving arm lays down layer after layer of threadlike strands of melted plastic through a small nozzle head to build the creations from the ground up, taking nearly a day for the more complicated ones. Watch video here.


Air stunts with RC Helicopter

acrobatic remote control helicopter

A pilot friend introduced  Patrick years ago to the hobby of flying remote controlled miniature helicopters. He got hooked and now flies a high end German model. At the Allens Lane Art Center fields, he maneuvered his copter at high speed through twists and turns, upside downs, up to altitudes where it was just a noisy speck in the sky down to eye level hovering menacingly just yards away from him. He distinguishes himself from the drone hobbyists who he claims are often reckless. His skills have been honed through flight simulator training that actual pilots use and hours of practice.his  His advice for avoiding  having your head chopped off by the rotating blades? "Don't let it hit you." Watch video here.

Makes custom pewter gifts

Forges pewter giftware

Kyle Gerckin, head of the caster department at Wendell August: American Made Gifts in Grove City, PA shows how to pour pewter into a custom-made mold to create an ornament.  Next to its flagship store featuring hand-hammered metal gift items, the forge, in operation since 1923, is open to the public and offers tours. According to Gerckin, the pewter mixture Wendell August buys as ingots and melts down is composed of 90 percent tin, bismuth for its bonding properties, copper and a little bit of silver. The advantage of pewter, Gerckin says, is that it looks like silver but is less expensive and easy to work with.

Wendell August forge tours


New composting toilets at Andorra

New composting toilets popular

Elizabeth Fink has been using the new composting toilets near the Wissahickon Environmental Center (formerly Andorra Tree House) at the northwestern edge of Fairmount Park, Philadelphia. It never smells, she says and there's Purell for hand sanitizing. She thinks it's a big improvement over the old "Johnn(ies) on the Spot". She's careful that her cell phone is in a zipped pocket, however, lest it inadvertently fall into the pit! She and a companion had been taking a walk in the woods and recommended I check out the toads mating in the pond above the tree house. Watch video here.


Car body shop manager talks shop

Your correspondent took his wife’s car to Dr. Ralph’s Automotive Services Center in Roxborough after she discovered one morning that it had been bashed overnight.  While a technician was dusting off the last traces of the repair job, body shop manager John Klimowicz began explaining the business. While high strength steel is still used in car construction, thermoset plastics are becoming more common. To point out the strength of the repair work, Klimowicz relates that the same epoxies used to weld airplane panels are employed for car panel bonding repairs.  If repaired properly, according to manufacturer specifications, “you can hit it with a sledge hammer and it will not break.” As to a future when driverless cars are expected to reduce collisions? “That remains to be seen.” In the meantime, Klimowicz believes there is plenty of work for Dr. Ralph’s and for the other nine or so car repair shops tightly spaced alongside this industrial stretch of Umbria Avenue. Watch video interview here.


Money never sleeps: mining litecoins in basement

A father and son  "mine" bitcoins and litecoins 24/7 in their unfinished Chestnut Hill basement.

These "coins," son explains, are virtual currencies not under the control of any government.  As such, the world of digital money has attracted illegal activity such as the Silk Road online black market that the U.S. government has shut down for dealings in drugs.

Rocky relates that bitcoins are convertible to dollars and that when China recently clamped down on their use, the price crashed from upwards of $1200 per bitcoin to $700.

These exchanges depend upon an army of computer geeks called miners (like the duo) to verify transactions through the use of computers installed with software that solves complex mathematical formulas. As explained in an Internet video, miners may work together in "pools". 

The son enjoys both the technical challenge of configuring and adding hardware and the money-making aspect of mining.  A friend of theirs, he says, has earned $100,000 with a shed full of equipment. For now, the duo are transitioning from bitcoin to litecoin which uses the same peer-to-peer network protocols as bitcoin but can be mined using consumer level graphics cards. They currently earn about $16 a day from running their set-up around the clock out of which $2.50 a day covers additional electricity charges.

Dad is not new to home industry; he also keeps bees.

Watch video here.


How Lego conquered the toy industry brick by brick

Legos - it's about the brick

The Lego Company has been fantastically successful. In each of the last 5 years sales have risen 24% and profits, 40%. But it was not always so. For most of its 80-year existence, its reach did not extend so far beyond Billun, Denmark, where Ole Kirk Christiansen, a carpenter unable to secure enough wood to build furniture during the 1930s depression, began experimenting building wooden toys.

The company under Christiansen’s progeny soared in the last couple decades but tie-in products to the Star Wars and Harry Potter movies nearly doomed the company in 2003; sales of those products crashed when the movie franchises hadn’t yet come out with new films.

This, according to Wharton Professor Dave Robertson and former LEGO Professor of Innovation and Technology Management at Switzerland's Institute for Management. Robertson, a Chestnut Hill resident, discussed his new book, “Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry” at the William Jeannes Library in Lafayette Hill this past Thursday evening.

He began his slide talk by distributing baggies, each packed with the identical same six logo pieces, and instructed the audience to “Build a duck” and gave us only a minute or two. Participants then brought their “ducks” up to the front table. At the end of the talk, Robertson pointed to the wide variation of these Lego “ducks” as evidence that incredible creativity is possible even when severe constraints are imposed, a major thesis of his book.

He credits Lego Company’s resurgence to its imposition of key constraints: drastically reducing the number of parts (about 14000 different ones at peak) that had made the manufacturing process unwieldy, getting back to products that are more “Lego-y” and subjecting product proposals to the approval a committee of 3 seasoned Lego designers. And, ultimately, insisting that projected profitability be a constant constraint.

What Lego pioneered was not just a toy, Robertson maintains, but a system of play. And that system “is about the brick.”

Watch video here.