Sunday, November 16, 2014

An Interlude With Electric Projects

The Stevieling called me at work on Thursday asking how she could turn off the electricity in her bedroom at the breaker box.

To say this induced a small moment of panic in your humble scribe would be to understate the case by several orders of magnitude. I immediately demanded to know why she wanted to do this, and she replied that her bedroom light, part of a ceiling fan that already had a broken switch in the fan part, was jammed permanently on, had now been burning for about 14 hours and that she had talked this over with a guy from Home Despot who had sold her "the parts" and told her "what to do".

Apparently I leapt out of my chair and screamed "DO NOT TOUCH THE LIGHT FIXTURE UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES" at the top of my voice. All I remember was tunnel vision and the smell of burning roof tar, and coming to my senses a few seconds later to the sound of the usual supportive laughter and cat-calls of my colleagues.

I told the Stevieling to turn off the electricity to the whole house and then remove the bulb, then and only then to turn the electricity back on. I figured that it would take her so long to figure out the removal procedure for the glass globe and to hunt up a screwdriver to do the job that the White-Hot Bulb of Everburning would have had plenty of time to cool down, so I did not talk her through a burn-prevention checklist.

As luck would have it I had a duplicate of that fan in the Basement o Waterlogged Wonders. I had originally intended to fit one in each bedroom, but Mrs Stevie became convinced that she would somehow get her head caught in it and promptly issued an edict forbidding me to install it. Thus it had sat for lo these many decades, the box slowly mildewing away. A Plan Formed.

I would not waste time attempting, probably futilely, to obtain a new socket/switch assembly (everything was riveted in place so a simple switch-out of the switch was not possible). No, I would swap out the entire fan assembly, thereby fixing the busted fan switch and the Lightbulb Of Never Going Out issue. Ha!

So this I did. The old fan came off relatively easily1 and the new one went back with only the expected screws that wouldn't go back without cross-threading and wires that needed different sizes of wire nut this time around. In no time at all I had the fan motor c/w lighting kit hanging from the ceiling waiting for the trim, blades and a bulb.

I started with the bulb, which burst into life as soon as I screwed it home. So I pulled the chain to switch it off, and nothing happened.

There followed a few minutes of British Farce as I madly pulled repeatedly on the chain while chanting the traditional Class Three Words of Power, then dashed downstairs to check that I had not somehow become so entranced by the task at hand that I had installed the old lighting kit in the new fan.

It is a measure of how addled my wits had become over this business that I could not assume just because I had not detached the old kit from the old fan, and that the old switch had a snapped-off chain and the new one didn't, that it was in fact impossible for that to have happened.

A scenic tour of every Arse Hardware, Blowes and Home Despot in the area proved that yes, indeed, non-one had the fixture I needed in stock, so I was forced to uninstall the lighting fixture and call it a day.

The Stevieling's contempt was palpable.

She was once again thrown back on the alternate lighting source, a string of multi-color Xmas lights I ran across her ceiling when she was about four and that were still functional. Indeed, the premier of that installation had also been the occasion of the Stevieling's contempt.

The lights have an electronic box that cycles through about 20 different patterns of pulsing light effects, slow fades and chases. I switched it on, and the toddler closed her door (shutting her daddy out) so she could appreciate the Seasonal Illumination. The patterns started with slow fades up and down of each color in turn then a fade to black for a second or two before more complex things start happening. I could see the colors under her door and hear her appreciation through it.

Red fade up: "Ooooooooooh!"

Blue fade up: "Aaaaaaaaaaaaah!

Green fade up: "Oooooooooooooh!'

Yellow fade up: "Aaaaaaaaaaaaah!"

All fade down: A disgusted "Augh!"

Her tone said it all: "Useless lump! He can't even wire some Xmas lights."

Anyway, I retired from the field of domestic lighting and decided to have a bash at amateur Nerf Blastersmithing while the delectable Jenny Agutter paraded around in a thin piece of cloth in Logan's Run for background noise.

I have an example of the mighty Nerf Rapidstrike CS-18 in my Nerf Arsenal. This is an all-electric fully automatic, 18-shot submachineblaster (Nerf eschews the term "gun") that is quite clever. Motors in the barrel spin up pinch rollers when a small switch is closed with the ring finger. When the trigger is pulled a separate motor drives a piston back and forth. Each forward stroke pokes a dart from the magazine into the pinch rollers, launching it at the enemy.

The power is supplied by four 'C' cells, delivering 6 volts. This gives a somewhat anemic rate of fire of about three darts a second. Not only that, the first dart or two always land short because for some reason the designer decreed that the pinch roller motors not run at full speed until the piston is activated, so they have to "spin up" a second time, allowing anarchists, zombies or whatever to close.

Clearly this is sub-optimal, and a number of so-called "mods" have been demonstrated on the web, usually as videos that deal with upping the oomph by increasing the voltage on the pinch-rollers and doing something about that two-speed nonsense. These require substantially dismantling the blaster into its component parts, which was too much like hard work for my liking.

I simply2 replaced the off-the-shelf 4 'C' cell battery in my Nerf Rapidstrike CS-18 submachineblaster with a 3 cell Lipo battery3, overvolting the pinch-roller motors by almost 100% and converting a somewhat anemic rate of fire into a veritable hail of Nerfness. The Stevieling pronounced it "Awesome" as it spewed darts so fast it emptied the magazine in about three seconds

Of course, now you can hear the bloody thing spin up from a hundred yards away, but the trade-off is acceptable. It pumps out darts faster than I can launch them manually from the Hail Fire4.

Now, if only I can figure a way of preventing the motors from melting or the battery exploding.

  1. You have to dismantle them before you can get them down because the motor has to be hinged out of the bracket and the blades bang up against the ceiling and prevent that unless you take them off first
  2. An elision. I had to use a rotary tool to reconfigure the battery compartment quite radically to get the bits to fit
  3. A quick-charge, high-drain capable 11.1 volt battery used in VTO drones, made from a Lithium Polymer sandwich which can catch fire spectacularly if drained too low or charged too long
  4. A hybrid pinch-roller design in which the piston is mechanically coupled to the trigger, limiting the rate of fire to how fast and how long you can repeatedly pull and release the trigger

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