Saturday, August 22, 2020

Data and details on the Bowflex C6 bike with Peloton app

Early in the 2020 pandemic I realized I probably wouldn’t be going to a gym anytime soon. I already had a treadmill (see my treadmill repair guide), dumbbells, and yoga mats, so we wanted to expand that into spin classes and officially cancel our expensive gym membership. A proper Peloton bike and subscription is pretty pricy, so I wanted to see if I could get most of the premium benefits for a fraction of the cost. Short answer: you can!

The Peloton app can be used with just about any spin bike, not just theirs. And to boot, the monthly cost when you do so drops from $39/mo to $13/mo (super wacky; I guess they assume you aren't locked into their ecosystem and so have competition).

First let's talk about the bike I chose and the setup, then get into the technical details of how it works and how to get the best power data out of it.

Home gym with Bowflex C6
Home gym with Bowflex C6 and iPad Pro (with SelectTech 552 dumbbells!). I cleaned up the power cable with gaffers tape.

So which bike?

You could go cheap (~$330), and it’ll work, but I wanted to mostly replicate the premium experience. A Peloton bike runs $2245 for the base kit with no accessories, but for $950 (hmm, now $999) you can get a Bowflex C6 with all the fixins (or even spend $100 less for the Schwinn IC4 which is the same thing with different accessories [no mat] and graphics. The Bowflex had a shorter lead time when I ordered. Sales rep for the parent company Nautilus confirmed they are mechanically the same.).

Saturday, July 18, 2020

How to Carry a Bike With Another Bike

For years I’ve wanted to tow a bike with another bicycle and had this towing solution tucked away in my garage. Now I finally want to make it available to everyone! What do you do when you have one person and need to move two bikes? Maybe you’re taking a bike to be repaired, or picking up your friend at the train station but don’t want to drive there. Or you left your bike at the bar and need to pick it up the next morning. I searched all over and couldn’t find a solution that was compact, easy, and did not involve disassembling the second bike, so I designed my own device to tow one bike behind another.

Assembled bike towing system ready to ride
Ready to ride! And it won't fall over!

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Saeco Vienna Plus Troubleshooting and Repair Ultimate Guide

The Saeco Vienna Plus is a super-automatic espresso machine that has been long discontinued, but is a workhorse for many people. I bought my unit refurbished in 2013 and it has been going strong since, saving my family thousands of dollars on lattes and espresso. To keep it running smoothly takes some maintenance of the brew group, along with occasional troubleshooting of the rest of the machine.

I already have a guide on how to open up the Vienna Plus to replace some parts, and what follows here is a more general troubleshooting guide.
The Saeco Vienna Plus espresso machine
The Saeco Vienna Plus espresso machine

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Troubleshoot your ProForm treadmill and replace the controller board

Like everyone else sheltering in place, we are mostly exercising at home, so having our treadmill working is more important than ever. I thought I’d do some preventative maintenance since we had bought the unit a few months ago used. In a fit of irony, the machine stopped working when I was checking the belt tension. Bummer. (Our model is the ProForm Crosswalk 545, PFTL6193.0S)

ProForm Crosswalk 545: decent treadmill, adorable girl
ProForm Crosswalk 545: decent treadmill, adorable girl

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Mac High Sierra fresh install errors on DIY Fusion Drive

As a follow-up to my installation of a DIY Fusion Drive on the 2011 Mac mini, there are some clarifications that have become useful a few years later on. I wanted to reformat the drives with a fresh operating system to pass along the computer to a family member, but was getting errors during installation.

The bottom line is that the install process does not work on a freshly-created Fusion Drive, but you can get around this by restoring a Time Machine backup onto the new Fusion Drive. Along the way, I discovered how to make a DIY Fusion Drive with a properly working recovery partition for troubleshooting in the future. The 2011 Mac mini only supports up to macOS High Sierra, though I suspect this is all resolved in Mojave/Catalina thanks to the luxuriously simple "diskutil resetFusion" command that I was able to use on a 2014 machine.

The issue is that the macOS High Sierra installer will give errors when doing a clean installation on a DIY Fusion Drive system, reporting either “macOS could not be installed on your system - invalid request” or “the installer resources were not found”. I got nervous because I was already in Recovery mode and a fresh install was failing... was the computer just toast now?!?

First comes the "invalid request" error
And if you reboot, you get "the installer resources were not found"
It turns out that the solution is to split the drives up, do a regular install onto the hard drive, use that to create a Time Machine backup, then rebuild the Fusion drive, and restore the backup (i.e. NOT a new install). Phew! (Thanks to this thread for pointing me in the right direction.) OK let’s do this in detail:

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Engineering's Unwritten Rules

When I was at a large company managing diesel engine testing and development, my director passed along the following document he called "Engineering's Unwritten Rules". It really resonated with me because it solidified so many thoughts I had had for years.

I suspect many engineers have a similar story of documents like this being passed down through the (workforce) generations, because through some googling I found out that this was actually someone's summary of a series of three articles from 1944 by W. J. King, originally published in Mechanical Engineering magazine as "The Unwritten Laws of Engineering". (The full document has since been made available for purchase via ASME and includes some modern updates. A scanned older version is also available on Google Books.)

The Unwritten Rules of Engineering

Regardless, what I received years ago was a nice document on its own, though was surely modified by a few people over the decades. It focuses on the first portion of the original article series, on the successful behaviors of new engineers. It is presented here with minimal modification [with additions by Mike in brackets]:

Monday, November 26, 2018

Book Review—Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke

Thinking in Bets (Making Smarter Decisions When You Don't Have All the Facts) has been a wildly popular book, and I can see why. I was really excited about the prospects—who isn’t interested in better decision making? And as an engineer, finding that balance between gathering enough info and taking action is a key career skill we can all improve. Did this book deliver? Partly.

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