Monday, April 26, 2010

Stay Classy, Blazer Fans

Rather than work on my bus on Saturday, I caught the first half of T's lacrosse game and then headed into Portland to watch game 4 of the NBA playoffs between the Portland Trailblazers and the Phoenix Suns. I do have some tiny updates on the bus front, but today I'm going to focus on the playoff experience.

I've been going to Blazer games since the mid-90's. Back when I first moved here, the Blazers were competing against the MJ Bulls for the NBA crown. Back then, the fans may have appreciated getting into the playoffs a little less, but I think they had a better respect for their opponents than some of today's fans. I remember watching Karl "the (N)ail Man" Malone throw elbows on practically every play, bloodying the nose of many Blazer opponents (Brian Grant, Sabas, etc). That was just how the game was played back then, and if Malone got the rebound, he was within his rights to clear space with high elbows. These days, if someone looks hard at another player, fans are crying for a technical. Pu-lease. The players are worse about it. If Steve Nash dribbles into a crowd and doesn't get a call, he's carping on the ref's the whole way back down the floor. Meanwhile, his opponents are setting up their offense.

Pre-Game Circus
I got down to the Rose Garden just after noon for a 1:30 tip-off. Back when the Blazers were a perennial playoff team, and Bob Whitsett was the GM, the playoff atmosphere was over the top. He would pull out all the stops, from a great half-time show to big events during time-outs. Outside the venue, there were bands, beer booths, free Blazer (and sponsor) shwag, etc. It was a crazy party in the Rose Quarter, and it kept going while the game was going on. After the game would let out, the circus would just turn up the volume.
Last season when the Blazers made it in, the "show" was pretty lame. No circus. Lame halftime show, nothing interesting during time-outs; basically, it felt like a regular season game when the teams were not actively playing basketball. So, I didn't know what to expect this year. I think the Blazers management realized that Trader Bob was doing the Rose Quarter party right after the boring show last year. Take thousands of fans, add a couple of stages and about 50 booths of marketing opportunities, and the Blazers stand to make money while giving the fans more for their playoff appearance "buck". Personally, I watched a couple bands and the drum line and then headed in for the game.

BRoy Returns and Blazers Win
Like the newspaper says, Brandon Roy rose from his seat to walk to the scorer's table to check in, and the 20k+ crowd rose with him. The players on the floor could feel the energy shift, and responded with a scoring run before he even got into the game. His steady hand in the back court (with Andre, of course) earned the win. Simply, he forced the Suns to no longer triple-team LaMarcus. After the final horn sounded, things got interesting, both in the locker rooms and outside.

Post Game Shuffle
In the locker room, the Suns players were downplaying BRoy's appearance. "He's just another one of their players", backup SF (and former Blazer) Channing Frye said. Stoudamire said Roy's presence didn't make a difference. Funny, 10 years ago players would compliment the game of their opponent when they played well. Today, players are apparently too vane or shallow to admire another player's raw ability. When it does happen now, its newsworthy. Earlier this season, Kobe said something about liking Brandon's game, and it lasted a full news cycle before some bad news leapt to the forefront. The Suns do not respect the Blazers, and from reading the chat-boards, the Suns fans do not respect the Blazer fans. Be that as it may, Blazer fans need to take the high road, and show Suns fans how to act in the post-season.

Meanwhile, in the Rose Quarter, the tents were gone, the stages were gone, the party was over and we had 20k people (that had just spent 3 hours drinking and yelling) spilling into the streets with energy that needed an outlet. For those fans that had some seasoning, this meant taking a detour into the tap room or the Game restaurant. For the fans that clearly had never been to a playoff game (or a playoff victory) before, it became an opportunity to demonstrate how classless and undeserving they were (as individuals).

Fan -v- Fan
I have no problem with fans heckling players. It is part of the business, and part of the show. The players realize that this is part of the deal when they sign multi-million dollar contracts. I have a major problem with fans heckling other fans. When someone from an opposing team buys a ticket, wears their teams colors and cheers their team, I say "good on ya". Not many folks have the guts to enter an opponent's gym like that, and its because of the fan-on-fan heckling. I watched 2 Suns fans walk through the Rose Quarter un-abused by hundreds of Blazer fans, which is what I would have expected after our many years of playoff appearances. There were, however, a small group of young stupid Blazer fans that made increasingly unpleasant (including veiled violence) shouts in their faces as they moved through the crowd. I applaud the 2 Suns fans that did not rise to the increasing threat level. In so doing, they effectively dissolved the problem, and the idiots literally ran away.

I believe most Blazer fans supported the team 10 years ago when they were regular playoff contenders. As such, most of us understand how to behave when the playoffs begin - we respect the other team, and we respect the other team's fans. Fans of teams that regularly appear in the playoff know how to act - act like you've been there and deserve to be there. The Suns fans that walked through the Rose Quarter know this. The troupe of idiots that didn't know how to act when the Blazers won perhaps their most important game of the season to date clearly aren't ready for playoff basketball. The same could be said for the gutless anonymous chat-board posting Suns fans that believe "the Blazers and their fans deserve to be injured". I don't believe we, as a society, have really fallen that far. This is the post-season, and the players are all stepping up their game. As fans, we need to as well. Act more deserving of the honor of the playoffs, basketball fans.
Respect your opponent.
Respect your fellow fans.

Stay Classy.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Brake Switch, electrical research

This weekend was possibly the most beautiful 2-day weekend we've had in the Pacific NorthWest since the middle of last Fall. We had mostly clear skies with temps in the mid 60's on Saturday and into the low 70's on Sunday. It was perfect be-outside weather, so that's exactly how it was spent. Today, I'll talk about the brake switch installation I did on Saturday, and flap a bit about how the rest of the weekend was spent. Last, and certainly not least, my good friend from Kentucky (Andy) forwarded to me the net result of 9 months of researching circuits for the ALH TDI engine. Great stuff.

Brake Switch
In the bracket that holds the accelerator pedal to the VW NewBeetle, there is also a switch that is activated by the movement of the brake pedal. Recognizing that VW wouldn't put in a washer if they felt they could get away with it, we have to assume it has a purpose. It does, but not much of one for my implementation. First, the pedal switch turns off the cruise control. This is for safety, I believe. Second, the ECU (car computer) compares the signal from that switch with the other (and the brake lights) to see if there is a problem in the lighting. For my purpose, though, if there isn't a signal that acts like a brake switch, the ECU throws a code, and the check engine light pops on.

Fake it or Make it
There are 2 ways to handle the brake switch in a conversion. Many of the vanagon conversions have wired into the master cylinder switch and trigger the brake switch signal via a relay and a variable resistor to get the singal voltage right. I call this a "fake", but it seems to work very well for those that have done it. I actually got a switch from the donor car, so I figured I'd try fabricating a switch bracket and put it under the floor pan where the accelerator rheostat is. The picture to the right here shows where.

Clamp, Test, and Go
I took a short strip (less than 6 inches long, about an inch wide) or galvanized sheet steel that I had laying around from the radiator work. I got under the bus with the switch in hand and found a spot that allowed for the switch to open and close with the pedal motion when I held the switch against the lever. The switch button is activated / deactivated by pressing against the floor. I cut the mounting bit off of the old donor bracket, and pop-riveted it to the strip of steel. I then bend the strip of steel into an old-style capital "C" shape with little wings sticking out the end. I was able to get the clamp around the brake lever so the wings were about 3/8" apart. I removed it, drilled a couple of pilot holes, re-installed it and tightened the ends together with sheet metal screws. The clamp and the switch don't budge, and they will be covered by the same belly pan that will be covering the accelerator rheostat, so it should be weather-safe. Now, the switch opens and closes when the pedal is pressed and released - just like the donor car.

Present in the Mail
If you have followed my thread on the TDIClub, I have been anticipating a packet from one of the members there (AndyBees) containing the wiring diagram research he did for his vanagon TDI conversion project. His donor engine is from a 2002 Jetta, so much of the wiring is the same as my 1998 New Beetle donor. This significantly reduces the amount of time I will have to spend trying to figure things out. It doesn't completely eliminate my research though because there are some differences between these 2 configurations. For example, the 1998 New Beetle did not have an immobilizer, so I don't need to use the ignition key from my donor engine. Andy will have to. The circuit that deals with the starter is therefore different between our engines. And so it begins. I have barely started reading through his drawings and notes. I had some of the drawings in my Bentley for my Jetta, but his hand notes will prove to be very useful. Now, to find a wiring diagram for a 1998 New Beetle TDI without having to buy the $80 book.....

Weekend Fun
So, I did the brake switch over the course of a few hours Saturday afternoon. I spent the morning first at T's lacrosse game and the helping build raised garden beds at my kids' school. The evening was spent playing with C and reading Andy's notes. Sunday morning we skipped church to work in the yard. It was the first mow of the season, so there's the whole tune-up of the mower first. The grass looks terrible, but at least its shorter, and we were able to enjoy a picnic lunch on it. C had a lacrosse game too, so we all watched him play and then went out for ice cream. Overall, it was a great weekend with a great balance of volunteering, housework, kid time and a little project work on the old bus.

up next...
ALT belt, battery isolator, camping battery install, main battery install and, hopefully, wiring up the primary electrical (ALT-starter-battery).

top - brake switch installed with the accelerator rheostat for positional clarity
bottom - close-up of the brake switch. Hard to tell how the action works. I'll take another one from more off the side so its more obvious.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Accelerating, slowly

I haven't been able to do anything on the bus these last couple of weeks. The project that I'm working on is nearing the end of its development cycle so we're working lots of evenings and weekends to get it tight. Basically, I've worked some every day since I've gotten back from Mt. Bachelor. Good times. Better to be getting worked too hard than not have work at all, though. Anyway, I did get a few hours yesterday, so I focused again on the electrical. I'll flap about the accelerator pedal today.

Inside Electrical
The morning started cold, with a stiff wind. After gearing up, and mentally psyching myself, I got the bus uncovered and climbed inside. I re-connected the westy electrical stuff that I had pulled out last Fall when I was looking at putting the fuel tank under the rock-n-roll bed. I discovered that the wood box thing that covers the power inverter was never physically attached to the seat frame. Huh. Now it is. I then pondered the impacts of trying to remove the fridge unit.
I had planned to remove the fridge, since I don't use it anyway, and put the harness in there. Then, I was going to build a false-bottom with a piece of plywood and use the cabinet as dry-good storage. Sounds great, eh? The problem is, that would take the better part of a day to do, and I don't have that kind of time anymore. So... that becomes another punt-it-to-Fall item. Instead, I'll be running the main harness through to that cabinet and then under the rock-n-roll bed. I'll lose a little storage for the Summer, but it will take far less time to get good-enough-for-now.

The TDI engine, like most modern marvel engines, is controlled more by the computer than it is by your foot. Sure, when you step on the "gas", you speed up, but gone are the days of stomping on it and producing a big cloud of exhaust smoke as you rocket forward. Okay... that never actually happened in a microbus, but if you drove one of those carbureted cars of yester-year, you know what I'm talking about. Anyway, the modern cars have a rheostat (variable resistor like a dimmer for your fancy house lights) connected to the pedal, and that sends a signal to your computer to tell the engine to go faster. Now, the computer is smart enough to know that you can't just throw gas into the engine like a monkey sitting atop it with a bucket. The computer figures out how to get to your intended velocity without wasting fuel, so you take off like a rocket, but no cloud of smoke. I can't really imagine that kind of force in a bus, but I should after this. Anyway...

Think, then Act
Before Christmas, Hal and I spent some mental cycles on this issue. After cutting the accelerator rheostat from the donor housing, we slid under the bus an figured that the dangle that used to connect to the old pedal could connect directly to the "V"-shaped bracket on the bus pedal that used to pull on the cable back to the old carb. All we needed was some time, a bar of steel, and some care. I put those 3 requirements together on Saturday, and fab'd the bracket. I'm the first to admit that my welding skills are just crap, but after messing around with is for a while, I got this so it will hold no matter how much pull pressure I put on the rheostat. As you can see, the rheostat housing is not in a perfect line. That was done on purpose. The "V" on the accelerator needs to travel in a straight line, but the bracket couldn't fit directly under the pedal. So, it is attached on an angle. I drilled 1/4" holes in the bar before welding so I could fit it around the accelerator pedal bolts. The one closest to the rheostat housing is for one of those screws to slide through. This helped with placement.

Mount Accelerator
Once the bracket was constructed, install was a relatively simple matter. The bracket slid right over the pedal mounting screw and I marked the 2 mounting holes by scraping the paint underneath. Unfortunately, these 2 holes were almost directly above the steering mechanism, so I had to punch pilot holes from below and drill them from above. The picture to the right here shows where those 2 holes were made relative to the bottom of the pedal. I slid the bolts through fender washers from above. Then, the bracket slid right on to the 1 screw and 2 bolts. I thumb tightened them, and with the use of vice-grips, got the bracket in.

Set Motion
Once the bracket was mounted to the underside of the bus, I had to verify the range of motion of the pedal relative to the motion of the rheostat. Up until now, I had the accelerator pedal pulled up with a loose bungy cord. Now, it was time to connect the bits. By retaining the original housing, I was able to take advantage of the original adjustability - it has an allen bolt on either side. It was a relatively simple matter of loosening the bolts, and trying the action until I was able to get the accelerator to go to the floor for full throttle and 3-4 inches off the floor for at-rest. The range of motion for the bus pedal will now be less than it used to be, but there is no standing resistance / pressure on the rheostat until a foot is placed on the pedal. The picture to the left, here, shows the pedal after it has been completely installed. It is important to note that this section of the underside is covered with a belly pan. I will be putting in a seal to keep water out, so this should be a safe location for it. If you are thinking of doing this, consider whether you like to ford streams before jumping in. If this resistor gets wet repeatedly, it will fail, and you'll have to replace it.

That's it for today. I'm working again today (waiting on a job to complete now, actually), so I probably won't be getting into the bus much today. The weather is perfect for working outside, so it really pains me to say that. I am growing increasingly concerned about my time line. If this work level keeps up, I won't hit my dates, and I won't be camping in the bus this Summer.

top left - my awful welding of the accelerator housing to the steel bar.
top right - the bracket from the other side
middle - mounting holes in the floor. note the base of the accelerator pedal barely visible
bottom - accelerator pedal control switch (rheostat) in place